The recent storyline coming from Wisconsin quite rightly centred upon Erin Hills serving as host to the national championship of American golf. A first for both Erin Hills and the Badger State.
Roughly two and a half hours northwest, a new golf development recently opened and it clearly has plans to rival any course in the State. Sand Valley is the brainchild of Mike Keiser - the same man who changed the conversation on golf course development when Bandon Dunes opened in 1999. Keiser reintroduced core elements of golf that had been either ignored or pushed aside.
Keiser is a big time proponent of classic golf architecture -the kind that maximises the fun meter, not the slog variety. Sand Valley follows the Bandon model in eschewing the role of power carts. Walking is de rigueur at Sand Valley, either by throwing the bag on your shoulder, hiring a caddie or taking a pull cart.
Sand Valley is blessed with a wide array of top quality holes, but it is the par-3 17th which is truly special for its setting and for its maximum elasticity. The long par-3 hole in golf has often been pushed aside by many architects. The belief is that such holes are more demanding because of the length, and that many players are loathe to enjoy them because of a failure to have sufficient dexterity with their longest clubs.
The 17th at Sand Valley stretches from 146 to 258 yards. The plated black tee distance is 236 yards with the tips coming in at 258 yards. The 17th begins with a tee area sitting slightly below the green complex in the distance. The hole faces the west/northwest direction and can often mean encountering a headwind of some velocity in most instances.
One of the issues for many long par-3’s is the failure to provide for options in playing such holes. Coore & Crenshaw have always realised the limitations of many players unable to fly their ball long distances, so the inclusion of a ground game option is a feature the architects include and there is a alleyway area at the 17th for players to run the ball onto the putting green. However, the width of that alleyway is not particularly wide.
The green is set in a bowl with high left and right shoulders that can be used to bounce one’s tee shot onto the putting surface. The issue with going that route is controlling one’s ball after landing. For those players wishing to fly the ball into the target that option is clearly present, but the demands are no less. Coore and Crenshaw provided for a slew of different pin locations on this contoured putting surface. The most demanding might actually be front right because getting a ball to come near that spot requires not only a deft touch, but a bit of Divine guidance.
The long par-3 for too many years has been pushed out of the equation for many golf course openings, but classic architecture was quick to see a pivotal role and Coore & Crenshaw have done their part to make sure the qualities of such holes are included when circumstances warrant. The 17th at Sand Valley clearly fits that bill.