50 Words or Less
The Lido golf course, the latest addition to Sand Valley in central Wisconsin, resurrects a long-lost C.B. MacDonald design. A stark contrast and brilliant addition to the other courses at the resort. Often visually daunting. A true challenge for your iron play.
Definitionally, a new golf course can’t have history. The Lido is the exception.
Originally designed by Charles Blair Macdonald in 1917 on Long Island, The Lido was purchased and destroyed by the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 2023 it was re-opened as part of Sand Valley thanks to the efforts of golf historian Peter Flory, Tom Doak, and Michael and Chris Keiser.
Does this design, over 100 years old, have what it takes to test the modern golfer? What does The Lido add to one the country’s best golf destinations? We’ll answer these questions and more in this review.
At the time of my visit, there were no practice facilities at The Lido. A putting green is being built next to the pro shop and will likely be open for the 2024 season. Given the speed of the greens, you’re going to want to reserve a healthy block of time to get your putting ready.
To warm up your long game – something you’ll also want to do – you need to use the practice range on the other side of the property. Thankfully, Sand Valley has plenty of shuttles running golfers wherever they want to go. The range is enormous, giving you a chance to hit every club and every shot you could want.
Customer Service & Amenities
Your complimentary Sand Valley shuttle will drop you off at a cozy pro shop similar to the one found at Sheep Ranch [review HERE]. It’s essentially a single room with a desk to check in, a curated selection of soft goods, and a snack counter at the back. Try to set a budget for yourself before you go, because The Lido has one of the best logos in golf, and it looks good on everything from head covers to polos to hats.
One thing that does set The Lido’s clubhouse apart is the workshop directly to your left when you walk in the front door. This is where the Clark Willard builds and restores hickory golf clubs. It’s a beautiful fit for a course with such a unique history.
Finally, every golfer at The Lido plays with a caddie. Our caddie, Juan, was tremendously helpful. Without a seasoned guide, your chances of finding the right line off the tee, the proper side of the green, or the correct route to the cup are greatly diminished.
If you’ve never golfed with a caddie before, check out our how to guide HERE.
Beauty & Scenery
Stepping off the shuttle, it feels like you can see the entire 850 acres of The Lido laid out around you. There is almost no significant natural elevation which leaves you with views that stretch to the horizon. The visual contrast with Mammoth Dunes [review HERE] hints at the facts that you’re in for an entirely different golf experience.
Without massive dunes or water features to capture your eye, The Lido gives golfers the chance to hone in on more subtle details. There are a wealth of bunkers to grab your attention, but I spent more time admiring all of the thoughtful curves and slopes in every fairway and surround.
None of this is to say that the course is without visual excitement. The side-by-side green sites of #4 and #12 (above) are that much more shocking for the way they break from the rest of the course. Just as with a good piece of music, all the elements – from the subdued to the dramatic – work together to enhance each other.
Off the tee, The Lido challenges your mind more than your swing. The fairways are wide, there’s virtually no rough, and – at least as I’m writing this – the waste areas are not very penal. You may draw a bad lie in the sand or against a tuft of grass, but, more often than not, you can play your next shot with minimal difficulty. It’s also not overly long, tipping out at 7,027 yards at par 72 with white tees at 6,535 and green tees at 5,990.
What makes The Lido tough are the visuals. There are only a handful of holes where you can clearly see the best landing area for your drive. Most of the drives are blind or semi-blind, forcing you to trust an aiming rock and the advice of your caddy.
The other mental challenge, ironically, is the width of the fairways. There are so few clearly defined borders at The Lido that it can be hard to pick one specific target for your drive. Force yourself to clearly visualize the exact result you want before you step up to your tee shot.
Finally, as you’ve no doubt noticed, there are fairway bunkers everywhere at The Lido. More than a few of them are just visual distractions – they’re not in play for any reasonably well-hit drive. That said, unless you have supreme control of your golf ball, these rolling fairways are likely to direct at least one drive into a deep fairway bunker. It’s important to know beforehand that part of playing The Lido is dealing with the rub of the green.
I’ll start this section with a bit of advice. If you find your drive in one of the fairway bunkers I mentioned before, get out. Sometimes this advice is easy to follow, like when you’re in the bunker above. The bottom of that trap is about six feet below the fairway.
Fairway bunkers like this one, however, will tempt you into taking on a heroic shot. Especially if you’re in the middle of the bunker, you can convince yourself that the lip is gentle enough that you can get over it. Far be it from me to talk anyone out of a bold shot, but make sure you only spend one in the sand.
If you’ve found the fairway, chances are you have at least a little undulation under your feet. Every fairway at The Lido has some movement in it, which adds to the rub of the green. Two similarly struck tee shots can yield fairly different stances for the approach. Even subtle variations under your feet become important because The Lido demands your very best iron play. Where the challenge off the tee is more mental, the difficulty playing into the greens is physical.
Between your caddie and the pin sheet, you should have a good idea where on the large greens you’re trying to land the ball. The difficulty comes from the fact that the greens are extremely firm – some of the firmest I’ve ever played. If you don’t hit your approach shots with height and spin, they’re not going to stop anywhere near where they land.
There are some holes where you can run the ball onto the green, but that doesn’t necessarily make the approach easier. Because there’s so much undulation on this course, running shots need to be as precise as aerial ones if they’re going to end up near the flag. A running shot that gets on the wrong side of a mound can easily be ushered into a bunker.
The bottom line is that the margins for error are slim at The Lido. Even a high, well-struck shot must land at the right yardage to yield a birdie chance. Throughout the round, you’ll see plenty of spots where a shot landing at 120 yards will be perfect but one landing at 124 will end up a long way from the cup and potentially off the green.
Greens & Surrounds
I want to start by giving all the flowers to the grounds crew at The Lido. The greens here are some of the firmest, fastest, and purest I’ve ever played. Despite their frightening speed, our foursome saw a lot of long putts go in because the greens are so smooth.
In addition to being fast, the greens at The Lido are quite large. This helps it to fit in well with Mammoth Dunes and Sand Valley [review HERE], two other courses with big putting surfaces. While there are some greens with exaggerated undulations, the majority are more subtle. This works well with the green speed – extreme shapes at high speed would be unplayable.
The speed and purity of the greens makes it essential to read each putt carefully. This is another area where your caddie can really make a difference. If you misread a putt or put the ball on a poor line, things can go very badly very quickly.
Around the greens, there is a lot going on. Sometimes it’s obvious, like a green shielded by am army of sand traps. Even if you have a strong bunker game, avoiding the traps is essential to shooting a good score. They are almost uniformly deep with steep walls.
Even when you don’t see a lot of sand, there’s a lot to consider. Most of the greens are at least slightly elevated, and the surrounds have a lot of movement. The grass isn’t super tight, but putting is always an option.
The primary challenge in the short game comes back to the condition of the greens. Because they’re so fast, so firm, and the undulations can send the ball off line so easily, you need to be precise. You can play high or low shots, but you need to read the green just like you would for a putt and hit your landing spot exactly.
The Lido is a brilliant golf course that I’ve been replaying in my mind since I walked off the eighteenth green. What I love about it is the combination of so many interesting design quirks with intense challenge and thrill.
The picture above is a perfect encapsulation of the type of design that I love. It’s an odd little depression about thirty yards from a green. It’s an area to the side of the main line of play – most golfers won’t find it. This could have easily been smooth fairway, but they added it to make things more interesting for a small handful of players. For me, these little extras are what separate really great, interesting designs from the very good.
In this respect, The Lido reminds me of another one of my favorite courses, Pinehurst No. 2 [review HERE]. The courses themselves aren’t that similar, but they share the sense that I could play them daily and not get bored, constantly learning new things and memorizing new wrinkles.
The other half of the equation is the challenge. This is an unapologetically difficult course. Good drives can end up in fairway bunkers. Solid approaches may run over greens. There are several shots meant to intimidate. But all this makes playing The Lido a thrill. When you successfully execute the perfect shot or use your course knowledge to your advantage, you get the rush of accomplishment that can be missing at more forgiving courses.
I will own it: this list is extremely basic, full of the obvious picks. It may change after more loops around The Lido, but this is my top three after one round.
#4 – Par 5 – 550 Yards – Channel
This hole starts with a choice: play for the wide fairway to the left or go for the island of grass to the right that you can barely see (above Favorite Holes). Playing to the left makes this a three shot hole. Dylan and I both went to the right and found the fairway. After good drives, we were faced with around 200 yards over water and what appears to be an insurmountable ridge (above).
This hole is everything you can ask for in a par 5. To have an eagle putt, you need to play two shots that are visually and physically challenging. The massive green provides a large, safe landing space for long approaches, but it also forces those playing for a conventional birdie to be very precise with their third.
#10 – Par 4 – 401 Yards – Alps
The fairway at #10 works its way to the right of a sizable mound toward one of the more dramatic greens at The Lido. There are two distinct tiers, so checking the pin sheet is essential if you want to hit one close. While the bunkers short of the green are extremely penal, being a bit long is forgiven by a surround that pushes balls back onto the putting surface.
#12 – Par 4 – 450 Yards – Punch Bowl
This hole starts with a Cape-style drive over water where you can bite off as much as you can chew. Punch Bowl is the longest par 4 at The Lido, so laying well back is not a real option if you want to make par.
Your second shot (above) is played over a massive wall of grass. It’s another very intimidating approach shot, made more so by the fact that you can’t see the green from the fairway.
Much like #4, you realize only when you’ve arrived at the green that the shot wasn’t as tough as it appeared. The green – a Punch Bowl, obviously – is receptive to all types of approaches that clear the wall. It is a very wide putting surface, so your approach needs to be on a quality line if you want a chance at birdie.
The Lido is a wonderful course in its own right and a perfect complement to the other courses at Sand Valley. Where The Sandbox [review HERE] and Mammoth Dunes are all about fun and Sand Valley seeks a modern balance of challenge and playability, The Lido delivers a true test of your skills and a chance to step back in time. Sand Valley was already one of America’s best golf destinations, but this addition lifts it into truly rarified air.