I never wrote about our trip to north central Nebraska in 2014. I felt like it needed to remain a secret, but now seems like the right time to share the details of our trip. We wrote to the owner the year before, and Will included some of his course designs that reflected his love of Coore and Crenshaw and his desire, at the age of 10, to play the course that revived the minimalist style of golf course architecture. Dick Youngscap invited us to stay and play at Sand Hills in the summer of 2014. It is still the best course we have ever played with the best greens we have ever putted. It defines the word masterpiece. Ron Whitten does it justice in his beautiful narration of the 18-hole high definition video flyover of all 18 holes. Enjoy.
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.
Meeting the best architects on the planet!
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.
Will with his bag on the range.
Michael Keiser, Jr. (black) and Chris Keiser (yellow).
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:
We arrived after an 8-hour drive. It rained and gusted 40 mph the entire way, which made for a dicey drive. Based on the size and scale of the sand dunes we could see with our high beams we are in for a treat.
The rooms are absolutely beautiful, but still without enough hooks to hang wet clothes.
My son Willem and I will be on our way shortly, venturing to north central Nekoosa, Wisconsin to enjoy opening day at Sand Valley. The course kicks off another Keiser family development in a huge sand pit. The others include Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links & Cliffs, and Barnbougle Dunes/Lost Farm. This trip has been in the works for about 9 months and we could not be more excited. I have journeyed to Bandon six times / Will twice and we have plans to play both Cabot courses this July. Not sure when we will make it to Tasmania.
Monday 1 May – drive 543 miles from Grosse Pointe Farms, MI to Nekoosa, WI.
Stay in the Fairway Lodge, two queen beds (pic below)
9 AM tee time on opening day 2 May, which comes 18 years to the day since the original course at Bandon Dunes opened.
2 PM – 4 PM spend down our savings in the pro shop
4 PM – 2 AM Wednesday morning make the long drive home
I spent the weekend – Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon – priming and painting the inside of our garage, aka “The Center.” We chose to paint it ultra bright white to keep the space as bright as possible. It makes all the difference in the world. We are going to need the facility considering the states of our games. I am either hitting everything fine, or smothering my irons with a shut club face and hitting two inches behind the ball. Yesterday resulted in a birdie, a whole bunch of pars, three doubles and a triple all because of the aforementioned problem.
This week we will be installing two sections of 4′ x 8′ Pro Slat slat wall to hang all of our landscaping tools, ladders, auto parts and accessories, etc. and we play to hang four bikes from the ceiling to save floor space. Over time Will and I will paint logos on the walls and ceiling. Right now we are thinking of adding these:
Most of you know we rebuilt our garage in the late fall to house our golf practice center. Pics to follow later this month.
This past weekend Will and I visited the West Michigan Golf Show in Grand Rapids. Attending was great for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, we got to spend a winter afternoon together totally focused on golf while my wife and daughter were antiquing elsewhere in the city. It was bitter cold outside but warm and toasty inside.
We went first to the Forest Dunes booth and talked at length with Don Helinski about the progress of The Loop, the world’s first reversible 18 hole golf course that can be played in both directions on alternate days with only 18 greens. Don was great, and he really liked how much Will appreciates golf course architecture. We talked about our travels to Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, The National Golf Links, Sand Hills, Cape Kidnappers and how Will is a voracious reader of all of the great books on golf architecture. Don asked for Will’s contact information with the hopes of connecting him with Tom Doak sometime this year for a meeting. Don also gave Will a Forest Dunes t-shirt, which is now number 1 in Will’s shirt rota.
We spent some time at the Golf Association of Michigan booth, and then connected with Nancy Barnett who is organizing the volunteers for this year’s 116th playing of the US Amateur at Oakland Hills. Will and I will be volunteering at the tournament, which will be amazing considering the fact that USGA events (no ropes) are our favorites to attend. We saw Justin Thomas lose to Jim Liu at the 2010 US Junior Am in Ada, Michigan and we witnessed Justin Thomas and other American greats defeat GB&I in the 2013 Walker Cup at the National Golf Links on Long Island.
Will was able to get a free lesson from Mark, a rep and instructor from the PGA of America. Will’s grip has gotten extremely weak over the last 6 – 9 months, and as a result he has been hitting everything dead right. Mark watched him hit about 10 balls and then gave him a great tip using a tee in between his thumb and index finger to check for proper grip position. The tip fixed Will’s swing immediately. Mark also confirmed that Will is plenty big enough for full sized clubs (which we promptly ordered last weekend / they arrived today).
We finished our exploration of the show by spending time with the guys from the Michigan Hickory Golf Association. They got Will excited enough to want to buy an old hickory shafted mashie while visiting antique stores over the weekend.
Golf Show swag: tee shirt, True Links shoes ($35!), SLDR 21 degree hybrid ($59!), tee, hat, balls.
Lil’ cross country skiing in west Michigan the day after the golf show.
Upcoming rounds booked for 2016:
March 8 – Shady Oaks CC (Fort Worth, Texas – Ben Hogan’s course)
March 25 – Chambers Bay (2015 US Open venue)
March 28 – Pacific Dunes & Old Macdonald (Bandon, Oregon)
March 29 – The Preserve (Bandon, Oregon)
July 16 & 17 – The Loop in both directions (Roscommon, Michigan) – world’s first reversible golf course.
I played the best round of my life today, 71 (-1), at Leslie Park in Ann Arbor. We played the back tees/tips from 6,611 yards (72.0 rating/129 slope). Everything was working – I drove the ball well, my irons were crisp, my short game was there, and I felt like every putt I rolled was going in. I hit some subpar shots, but did not really miss anything, which is also a first. Will was supposed to join me at Leslie Park, but he decided he wanted to stay home and play in the neighborhood with Kate. I played with my friend and colleague Mark Fetters who made the 80 minute drive from Rochester – also impressive.
Three things I did differently today: I changed bags from my newer Ogio to my older Taylormade, and I realized after my round that I was dressed head-to-toe in Adidas hat, shirt, shorts, and shoes. And I ate raw kale throughout my round today (Josh, when are those new yoga snack bars coming to market?!).
Here are the stats:
30 putts (15/15)
7/14 fairways (all 7 misses were right, which is my correct miss and consistent)
4 birdies, 11 pars, and 3 bogeys
-1 on par 3’s, +2 on par 4’s, and -2 on par 5’s
I was even par going into the 495 yard par five 16th, and I told myself I needed to make birdie to give myself a cushion to bogey 18 to finish at even par. I hammered my drive, hit my second a hair fat to about 15 yards, and chipped to 15 feet. I made the putt for my birdie on 16. 17 is a 145 yard par 3 over water, so I was a bit nervous. I pured an 8 iron to 20 feet and barely missed the putt. On 18 I hit a tension-filled drive right, leaving myself 217 to the hole from a marginal lie in the rough. I flushed a 3h to 1 yard short of the green, rolled my putt to 4 feet, and slammed the par putt home for the 71. It felt so good, even better than my lone ace in 2012. My brother-in-law Jon has played with me on a few occasions when I’ve come to the 15th or 16th hole at even par or a few over, only to have blown up on the final few holes. Not today!
Hope to join you on the course soon. Keep swinging.
Will and I enjoyed an absolutely perfect day on the golf course today. I played last Monday, but it was the first time we got out to play 18 in almost 3 weeks.
We drove the 50 minutes to Leslie Park, one of Ann Arbor’s two muni’s. It was voted best muni in the state 5 years ago, and it was in perfect shape today. We tee’d off at 11 and finished at 3:30, walking all 18 holes in our zero-drop slipper-like True Links golf shoes. We played as a twosome and waited a lot, but we were smart – we brought a frisbee with us to pass the time. Here’s a pic from the 14th tee looking at the 16th green to the left, the 17th green to the right, and the signature barn in the middle.
Will broke 100 (48+51 = 99) for the second time in a month, and I carded my second eagle on a par 5 in five days. Our short games were on through the front nine – we got up and down in two eight times between us.
My eagle came on the par five 11th hole, which is on the far western edge of the property. The hole shapes slightly right to left, and requires a precise tee shot to hit the fairway. The landing area, if you hit it, is elevated about 25 feet above the putting surface creating a potential opportunity to go for the green in two through a shoot of trees. I drew my tee shot a bit too far left, which careened in the trees, spitting my ball out to the right in the rough next to the fairway. I had 240 yards to the back pin and a perfect lie. I picked the ball perfectly off the firm turf with my 4 wood, and told Will immediately that I pured it and I could not have hit it better. We walked the fairway, approached the green, and realized my second shot had landed on the front left part of the green and rolled to within 3 inches of the cup. I was three inches from an albatross! I actually marked my ball, let Will finish out, and tapped in for eagle. We had a great time despite me carding three double bogeys in the final 10 holes.
We’re planning to play Rackham tomorrow, and then we will play a two-man best ball scramble at St. Clair Shores on Monday so Will can prepare for his first ever match (scrimmage) next Sunday with his PGA Junior Golf team.