The group played “wilderness golf” as they saw how Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have routed the first of Bandon Dunes’ owner Mike Keiser’s planned five new resort courses in Wisconsin out of “topography that words can’t adequately describe.”
Gary D’Amato, golf writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, reported on a tour that a dozen founding members of Sand Valley, the Wisconsin resort being developed by Mike Keiser, owner of the Bandon Dunes resort in Oregon, were given during the first week of October at the property in Rome, Wis.
The tour provided about a dozen of the 165 founding members who have already paid $50,000 for lifetime playing privileges at the resort with a “spectacular day of ‘wilderness golf,’ ” D’Amato wrote, as they looked at the initial routing that course architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenhaw have made for what is being planned as the first of five courses on the 1,500 acres located a few miles south of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
As part of their first look at “what could be the most ambitious golf project ever undertaken in Wisconsin,” D’Amato wrote, the group saw “topography that words can’t adequately describe.” With the start of the project, he reported, “Hundreds of thousands of red pine have been harvested, revealing a wondrous sand barren—a prairie-like habitat that once formed the bed of a massive prehistoric lake.
“The sand is 100 to 200 feet deep here, and over eons the wind has created towering dunes and ridges,” D’Amato wrote. “The land tumbles and heaves to the horizon in all directions, leaving visitors awestruck by its rugged beauty. Who knew such a place existed in Wisconsin?”
Michael Keiser Jr., the Bandon Dunes’ owner’s son who is Sand Valley’s Project Manager, described the property to Donato as “a stunning visual landscape [that’s] as calming and as inspiring as an ocean. It’s endless.”
The small group of founding members played “wilderness golf” on seven holes of the Coore-Crenshaw routing and toured the other 11 holes by foot, D’Amato reported. The golfers hit shots off mats they carried around with them, because the course has just been roughed out by heavy machinery and is a jumble of sand and brush. Wooden sticks marked tee boxes, “fairways” were all but indistinguishable, and flags flew on “greens.”
The site is still so hard to get to that the golfers had to park their cars at the property entrance and be driven in by four-wheel drive vehicles that fishtailed on a rutted path and through huge swaths of sand, D’Amato reported. And while they played, carrying their clubs and mats and picking their way slowly across the rugged terrain, ATVs and dirt bikes zipped past, leaving clouds of dust in their wake.
The Coore-Crenshaw course is in its infancy and probably won’t open until 2017, D’Amato reported, but it wasn’t hard to imagine “rumpled fairways carpeting dunes and greens perched atop exposed ridges, flagsticks bending in the wind.
Those with environmental concerns should know that the land is being returned to its natural state, D’Amato noted. The project will bring about the biggest sand barrens restoration in Wisconsin history, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Initially, D’Amato noted, Keiser was hesitant about the site because it lacked an ocean or large body of water. “For us the three ingredients a golf course needs are a brilliant architect, a sand site and an ocean,” Keiser Jr. said. “We asked the Field Museum in Chicago to come out and assess the site and tell us what they thought.
“When they got back they called us and said, ‘You do have an ocean.’ We thought, ‘What are they talking about?’ They said, ‘You have an ocean of sand and prairie and wildflowers. Its name is a jack pine sand barren.’
“Once we realized how unique this look is, we realized that an ‘ocean’ of sand and prairie could compete with an ocean of water,” Michael Keiser Jr. told D’Amato. “That’s when we were hooked and knew we could do this project.”
Details such as the type of grasses to be used and whether the first course at Sand Valley will be walking-only have yet to be decided, D’Amato reported. Plans are already in place for a second course, likely to be designed by Tom Doak, and there is room for three more courses after that, but expansion will be dependent on the success of the first course.
“We’re very deliberate and we’re just focusing on making the first course as good as we can make it, because we know if the first one doesn’t exceed your expectations, there won’t be a second,” Keiser Jr. said.