August 16, 2021
“You have to try this coffee.”
On this late July morning, the bearded cook in his early 30s was particularly proud of his iced coffee, which was simply the hot coffee poured onto ice from a nearby pot. A morning caffeine pop always energizes the soul so it would be hard to say no here anyway, but the recommendation came from the man behind the counter so we grabbed a mug.
“That’s good,” said my friend.
And that was our first minute in the Sand Valley.
The theme would continue at the famous three-course, multi-room, multi-restaurant resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin. They wanted you to be there. The courseparticipants. The restaurant staff. The bartender. The woman who worked in one of the restaurants but was free one afternoon and was sitting with us with her dog. The bearded, early 30-year-olds cook on the food truck yards away from a 17-hole short course on which a canoe sits roughly in the middle on a tee. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for good hospitality, but that was more than a smile and a mint on your pillow. It was a punch and a beer.
Oh, and we played great golf too.
This author, a very average golfer, and two of his longtime friends, also very average golfers (sorry, guys) drove the two and a half hours from Milwaukee for a two-day, one-day buddies trip (to the resort ranked # 4 on GOLF’s best list Golf resorts for friends). Consider doing a similar hike ahead of the Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits next month or at a later date. This is how it went for us:
“You can take one of these bags with you,” said the supervisor of the sand box, the short course mentioned above, which is on our list of the 25 best par 3 courses in the world.
It’s not like we hold our 14 clubs in one hand and a box of X-Outs in the other hand. We had our own pockets. But Sand Valley offered quiver bags that contained only the three or four clubs you needed and that made for an easier cleat. The little things again.
From there we hit No. 1. Although we could easily have putted from both the designated flatstick tees and the regular tees as several holes were less than 100 yards. The defense, however, did not take place from the tees, but from on and around the greens. If you hit them, you can score – I made seven pars and a birdie. Miss them and be prepared to keep hitting – I did a 7 and an 8 too. Designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were wild with their green shapes, and believe it or not, the sandbox had sand. Deep, deep sand.
It is here! GOLFs ranking 2020-21 of the 100 best courses in the USA
GOLF’s Course Evaluation Board & Ran Morrissett, Architecture Editor
On the second day we played Sand Valley, 91st on the GOLF list of the 100 best golf courses in the US, also designed by Coore and Crenshaw. up to 3,883 yards from the front, royal blue set, it’s playable, but certainly not a pushover. With, yes, sand from tee to green on most holes, it is difficult but not devilish. My handicap is currently in my teenage years and I shot a 90 on par 72.
This included a nice eight on the 8th. Which is a par 3. And only 97 meters from the middle tees. I hit a perfect wedge – on the screws, in the middle of the face, as perfect as the brat I had for lunch the day before (more on that later) – and my ball went maybe 93 yards, then trickled off and in a trap, so deep I couldn’t see my laughing friends on the green. Still, this Loch Sand Valley sums up well for me. Ninety-seven yards isn’t really nothing. But the 10 yards around the green were really something. Despite 8 on 8, the hole went out as my second favorite, right behind the par-5 12th, which gives you the option to hit the fairway to the left, to the right or straight onto the fairway from the tee, as it has doglegs , but requires a carry over through a tree. It certainly got me thinking.
“How did you like it?” Asked the 60-year-old shuttle bus driver about our 18 in Sand Valley.
“Tough,” we all repeated. “But fun.”
“It’s a lot,” he said. “The mammoth is a little easier for me if you get the chance.”
Pretty easy conversation. Twenty-four words. But they do a lot of work.
First the shuttle itself. You can walk to most parts of the resort – the three courses (Sand Valley, Sand Box and Mammoth), the range, the accommodations and the restaurants. Or through the air-conditioned vans. Second, the driver. You wouldn’t blink twice if our man either didn’t say a word or said empty words. Instead, he was himself, and that says a lot. And he wasn’t alone.
There was the bartender who took the time to tell us a little bit about the history of Sand Valley. The above mentioned woman who worked in the restaurant but had the day off and sat with us with her dog on Adirondack chairs near the food truck. (Her mini pinscher was called – Penny Pinscher!) She told us that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers held the sand box course record for a while. There was the woman in the food truck whose husband had played the sandbox the day we did it. It had hosted the national par-3 tournament earlier that day, and she said the pins that day were “by far the toughest he has ever seen”.
My 7 and 8 felt a little better then.
On a Wednesday and Thursday in late July, Sand Valley was very busy. But it was never difficult to find a place to stretch our legs. Could we have a beer to the chairs overlooking Mammoth’s 18? Yes. Could we take a few cans from the bar to have a drink on the chairs outside our rooms? Yes.
Oh, and wait until we talk about the price of these beers.
The food, the rooms – and lip balm?
Four dollars. And that was for a healthy 22 ounce glass. A 16-ounce cost three dollars. (There was also New Glarus Brewery on tap for Wisconsin craft beer fans and Cigar City for Florida fans.) Cans were three and two. Sorry I couldn’t wait any longer. If you come and expect to pay golf resort prices and instead be charged like you are at the corner bar, you get a little excited.
There are four restaurants on the property – Aldo’s Farm & Table, Mammoth Bar, Craig’s Porch, and the Food Truck – and we ate or drank in each. I’m a burger brat and beer guy and I ate that on the last three while we had the breakfast buffet at Aldo’s. While there’s never really a bad burger, roast, or beer, you know that: a) I’m the son of a butcher who grew up a few miles from the Miller Brewery; b) I take my flesh and foam as seriously as Tiger would do a 10-foot putt in Augusta; and c) everyone was great at Sand Valley.
There are also four overnight accommodations on the property, and we have opted for two lodge rooms. “The rooms are functional and functional, and that’s fine,” wrote one of my friends when I asked (begged) their rating. I agree. You’re there to sleep, and then you’re not back in the room until you sleep again. But here, too, there are nuances such as lip balm in the shape of a golf ball, a pack of insect spray and sunscreen as well as a bag of chips.
They wanted you to be there.
Up to a cup of iced coffee in the first minute.
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