This was literally the view from our deck which we walked out onto at 6:30 am on 2 May 2017. This picture does not do justice to the scale of Sand Valley, the elevation changes, and the remarkable sand everywhere. We missed the trumpeter playing the Star Spangled Banner at 7 am sharp, but we could here it from 500 yards away.
I quickly showered, we packed up, and moved out having spent just 8 hours in our room. We drove around the property looking for the restaurant and practice range. We finally threw in the towel after ending up at the end of a gravel road with pines as far as the eye could see. We headed up to the course and inquired in the pro shop, which right now is a double-wide trailer and works just fine (the clubhouse will be completed 1 June).
These pictures were taken around 7:30 am, about 90 minutes before our tee time. We checked in with the pro shop and asked where the restaurant and the practice center were. They told us both were located at the small building in the distance when you look at the picture of me walking through the parking lot. We were confused at first, but when we got to the building we realized the restaurant was in the clubhouse which was not yet finished. Will and I ordered breakfast sandwiches but we were in for an even better treat. Remember, it was 38 degrees and windy at this point and Craig’s Porch has no indoor seating.
While we were walking through the parking lot a man in full black rain gear and black winter hat was walking by us. He said good morning and I thought nothing of it until we saw an army of people walking up to greet him outside of the pro shop. There were literally a dozen people there shaking this man’s hand. I thought to myself wow, this place really is about service. Will said to me in the pro shop, “Dad, I am pretty sure that was Ben Crenshaw.” I responded that no way that was him. Will was positive and he said the man’s Texas accent ended the argument.
Back to the breakfast sandwiches – when we ordered them I saw Bill Coore, the partner in the Coore Crenshaw design firm and architect of Sand Valley and many other great courses. Bill was wearing a Bandon Dunes “Looper” rain suit. I walked up and introduced myself and introduced him to Will, the budding course designer. Mr. Coore immediately motioned over the order window at Craig’s Porch and said we needed to meet his design partner, BEN CRENSHAW! Sure enough Mr. Crenshaw was the man in black as Will had confirmed. He was right.
We talked with Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw for about 10 minutes. We were all cold and needed to duck out of the wind. We thanked them for everything they had done for golf design since their 1993 Sand Hills masterpiece in Nebraska (which we played in 2014 and I have yet to write a review about). They could not have been nicer, and they gave Will a trove of suggestions for books to read and courses to see to pursue his design ambitions.
We wolfed down our breakfast, headed over the range, and rolled some puts before it was time to tee off. As we walked to the first tee Will said to me, “Dad, I am pretty sure that’s Michael and Chris Keiser on the tee.” I did not doubt him this time and when it comes to anything golf I will never question my son again after his Crenshaw call. Chris and Michael shook our hands and asked where we were from. They were astounded that we had come all the way from Detroit for opening day and that Will was missing school for it. They loved it! We talked for a few minutes on the first tee and both Keiser brothers signed Will’s flag, gave us each a commemorative coin / ball marker, and told us to have fun. Will absolutely ripped a 250 yard drive that split the fairway in half. The documentary film maker for the Sand Valley story, Vaughn Halyard, captured it on camera and video and the shot drew high fives all around. I hit an OK drive that was pulled slightly left that worked out great. We were off on our adventure.
We struggled a bit after the first hole. We are always a bit apprehensive playing a new course since you typically don’t know exactly where to go and you tend to struggle with aim over blind shots. We were initially paired with one of the founding members and his son but they pushed their tee time back to allow the temps to raise later in the day (it was 40 degrees with 20 mph of wind when we tee’d off). The weather was definitely rougher on the outward 9 than it was on the inward, but we gathered ourselves after the 6th or 7th hole and had a blast.
Every hole is unique and memorable and more importantly eminently playable. Will and I both used a single ball the entire round and it’s almost impossible to lose a ball. The course is designed to be played close to the ground rather than through the air, and has an amazing variety of short (8th hole) and long (17, our favorite hole – a “driveable” par 3) par 3’s / 4’s / and 5’s. There is obviously sand everywhere and we were in plenty of bunkers. After the round we went right up to Mr. Coore and Mr. Crenshaw and thanked them for designing such an amazing course and for bringing fun back to golf.
After our round we spent quite a bit of time with Vaughn Halyard, an accomplished media executive turned filmmaker. Vaughn was interested in our story – a father/son duo completely in love with the game, so much so that we made a 17-hour drive to play opening day at Sand Valley. Vaughn introduced us to Jens Jensen, the chief naturalist / ecologist on the property, the head chef John, and a few other people who were integral in launching the resort. Every employee seemed completely energized to be there serving their guests.
We cannot wait for Mammoth Dunes and the 17-hole par 3 course to open later in 2018. Michael Keiser, Jr. – we will be there!
Great article about the property and what it will ultimately grow into: