“Aim for that bunker over there, I think it’s 300 yards away”
“How far is the hole?”
“Not sure, 380 or so. I’ve never measured it”
This is a repeating conversation as we lug clubs around Sedge Valley, the forthcoming Tom Doak-designed addition to Sand Valley’s resort, which now includes the brilliant Lido, and the original 1-2 tandem of Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes (plus, Sandbox!). There is no yardage book or Google Maps overview… no scorecard or any sort of understanding of the routing other than how it flows through the expansive sandy abyss and the trees. To me, the fact that we are able to work our way through the property without the crux of golf in the 2000s is a good thing and a true testament to the tightness and flow of the routing. The golf course traverses undulating, but never overwhelming ground. I imagine the inspiration board for Sedge was droves of photos from the English Heathlands as they prance around the West London Sandhills: at Sand Valley’s newest addition, Sedge Valley works in and out of an intimate, slightly treed setting and the expansiveness the resort has become famous for, balancing the two biomes gracefully. The backbone is still the open expanse of middle Wisconsin, but less of big sand scrapes and more the local vegitation.
Granted, I’ve made my way around a course that is yet to open a few times in the past year or so (sometimes, even before construction starts!)—here, here, here, here, here, and here, for example—so finding my way around courses yet-to-open gets easier with time. Also, this is the first time the series has gone to a course with flags in the ground. In some respects, it feels like I am cheating on the original series…! Nevertheless, the routing flowed effortlessly across the landscape as if it was a light dusting of snow across the rumpled terrain. Nothing here is forced or contrived—as evident by a stretch of four holes that includes three par 4’s and a drivable par 4—and seems to fit into its surroundings as good as anything Doak has built, even if that means slightly unconventional. The rumpled terrain is what we come to expect with anyone building golf at a Keiser facility, but I find it very focussed here: it is not rumpled and undulating for the sake of just being uneven, contours, like the high side on the 10th, the bumps in the 11th fairway, the hog’s back on the 2nd, or the gentle tilt to the right on the 1st, fit the narrative beautifully. Either a compliment to the routing or the shaping fitting in the natural surroundings and the strategy of each hole, but either way, it works beautifully.
When the course was announced a whopping five (!) years ago, the thought of a par 68 golf course was intriguing. West Sussex and Swinley Forest in England both carry sub-70 pars, and Brightwood in Nova Scotia, an old Willie Park Jr. and Donald Ross collaboration, clocks in at 68 as well. There are no doubt others in North America—especially in New England, which is noticeably more quirky or free of convention than other regions—but this is different than your local golf course that reads “par 68” on the scorecard out of necessity for land restrictions, space limitations, or otherwise… they are deliberately designing this for that number. At 6,200 yards, the concept screams funk, quirk, and fun. It feels like the potential to shift the tide; almost, in my eyes at least, the antithesis of the post-WWII motto of “par 72, 7,000 championship layout.” Doak’s exclamation mark on the Renaissance era of Golden Age principals, as if he was bookmarking the complete 180 degree turn we’ve done since the era of Trent Jones and Wilson.
One thing to note, however, is the price tag at 6,200 yards. I suspect given the length of the scorecard might trick first-time visitors into tipping it out. However, it is still a good challenge from the 6,200 yards, and it will play much longer than you think. By playing a par 68, you are essentially stripping at least 400 yards from the scorecard, essentially playing to the equivilent of a 6,600+ par 72. Even so, there are LONG holes from the 6,200 deck: the par 3, 8th checks in north of 235 yards as a par 3, the one par 5 is 580~ yards, and the 3rd is a beefy 465 yard par 4. Not to mention the 14th near 450 yards up the hill, and the 16th being a long par 3 somewhere over 200 yards. If you play the black tees usually, the 6,200 deck is perfect. If you play the whites, seek out the whites, no matter the yardage.
In my mind, the concept of a sub-par 70 golf course screams a smaller, more intimate scale, especially on a property with Mammoth Dunes and Lido nearby, both of which are BIG golf courses. Sand Valley certainly isn’t small either, but intimacy comes in waves there, and especially towards the back half of the front nine. Even with the shorter, smaller concept, Sedge Valley’s scale is still large and not out of character in Doak’s catalogue, at least off the tee. That becomes apparent on the dastardly par 4, 3rd, roughly measuring somewhere north of 460 yards as a par 4… up the hill. The tee shot is big and wide, but anything up the left is immediately greeted by a direct, obnoxious view of a gnarly set of bunkers. In some way, it sort of feels like a modern take on the Punchbowl/Alps, and challenging the bunker on the right grants a slightly better look and angle in. From the left, a direct angle of the bunker feels extremely uncomfortable.
In fact, “big” holes are all around this property, even with a set of par 4’s featuring six sub-400 and one sub-300 yard hole. The second, among the better holes on the course, looks menacing from the tee with a hog’s back-ish fairway severely suggesting tee shots right of centre will end up in the low side bunkers. However, there are miles of room left. Visually, it becomes difficult to commit to; depending on the pin location, up the right might be better suited and grants an easier second shot, but trouble looms. This sort of visual trickery is evident throughout the routing: the 6th, a narrow green with a big fairway, and the 18th especially. Conceptually, Doak seems to be fitting smaller greens into big fairways and playing corridors with wings, tongues, and pockets wrapped around or tucked into landforms. This is the ethos of what “big” means at Sedge. Instead of Mammoth Dunes, which is wide for being wide with big, funnelling greens, Sedge Valley is a wide golf course, severely tightening as you approach the green. It is, in my view, the anti-Mammoth Dunes. Where Mammoth Dunes wants players to feel comfortable throughout the round, Sedge Valley is always inviting-looking off the tee, with deception, trickery, and difficulty looming into the green complexes.
This is apparent to me as we loop around Sedge Valley, where Doak & his crew camouflage tee shots and make the tee shots feel comfortable. In fact, it feels somewhat of an easy golf course off the tee if you take it at face value. Tee shots are big and wide, and seem relatively friendly. However, Sedge is a golf course that becomes more complicated with every layer unravelled, one that values repeat plays and visits. The 10th, for example, is a wide tee shot, but half the fairway—the right side—is blind into a tricky green complex. Standing on that tee makes you feel comfortable to swing the big stick, but the actual playing width is much smaller than it appears. The lower-left side is ideal, but bunkering awaits up the left and it feels like the harder side of the fairway to hit. The outside right of a gentle dogleg is friendly, but a blind second shot makes most, if not all golfers, uncomfortable.
To me, the 10th encapsulates the ethos of Sedge Valley: everything about it feels like it should be tame, and it does look that way! But like every great golf course, the more you know, the more things start to creep into your mind and doubt begins to loom. Everything here is about a false sense of security and safety: from the depression on the front right of the par 3, 7th to the fall-away green on the very long par 5, 11th, you feel comfortable throughout, but the way the greens are orientated and the shapes suggest anything but.
Interestingly, those green complexes are rather toned down against other Tom Doak golf courses, especially in contrast to his work at Bandon Dunes, another Keiser facility. The movement in the greens is not something people will write about or discuss; the contours are noticeably smaller and more intricate than other Doak golf courses. Instead, the shapes and more specifically, the sizes, are what cause dilemmas and problems. They are more subtle than bold: I guess this conceptually makes sense given the rest of the golf course, which is never flamboyant or attention-seeking, but they feel very focussed on the task at hand, and perfectly fit into the golf course. They might be more monotone, but they await difficult shots into the funky pin locations. Throughout the golf course, pockets of green are often surrounded by trouble, as is the case at the short par 3, 5th (above), or the back right pin on the par 15th. Nobody will be claiming they are toned down greens if they miss on the outside of the mounds on the 13th, or long on the opening hole. The star of the show is much more of a 30 yard radius around the greens, rather than the actual surfaces.
If there is one takeaway from Sedge, Doak and his crew feel very focussed on the task at hand: being different. In truth, this has been his M.O. for years: nobody has constantly reinvented themselves in a way that the same architect who designed Pacific Dunes, Rawls, CommonGround, Apache Stronghold, Cattle Company, etc has. Sedge Valley adds a notch to the belt: nowhere else will you find architecture like Sedge, which is uniquely tempting golfers into sleepwalking through the golf course considering the length, par, and presentation. In truth, nothing about this golf course is easy: even at a par 68, the one par 5 is likely not reachable, and there are a couple long par 4’s. The par 3’s are varied and tricky, and while there will be birdies throughout the golf course, there will be bogeys, too, and a lot.
I suspect Sedge might not immediately grab visitors on their first visit, but even on an “Early Thoughts” visit, it feels like one I’d want to play multiple times, even more than Sand Valley or Mammoth Dunes. With multiple plays, looks, and pins, one would continue to learn when to attack, where to play defensive, and perhaps even when to capitalize in a match… which is what this course is perfect for. In some respect, it is the spiritual cousin of Old Macdonald: the way to play here is in a match over stroke play, and off the tee, it feels more generous than it probably is. The difference being the green complexes, where Old Mac is big, bigger, and biggest, Sedge Valley is quaint and devilish in its smaller size. The strategies so heavily revolve around the green complexes at both, just on opposite sides of the scale.
When Sedge opens in 2024, I imagine many holes will be a hot topic of discussion in both the resort visitors and architecture affeciandos alike. In particular, lots of discussion on the drivable par 4, 18th will be lively and spirited, with numerous options and routes to play all being heavily dictacted by where the pin is. This is not only because it will be the last one played in the round (which tends to linger on a little longer), but the ability to truly choose your own route to the boomerang-ish style green: low left is the easiest tee shot, but the approach becomes difficult to a back left pin (not so bad to the front). Getting the ball up and to the right is the play, but that is quite the feat. If you can, driving at the green is ideal, unless you miss really anywhere. It is a tantalizing finish, and a true high moment to end.
Other than the 18th, standouts in my eyes include the aforementioned 2nd and 3rd, as well as the 10th. Doak’s shortest par 4 ever is here at the 12th, clocking in at under 270 yards (shorter than the longest par 3 at Pinehurst No. 10, another Doak opening in 2024), which will provide eagles and bogeys. Maybe not doubles, but that possibility looms on other holes The elesticity in length certainly provides a well-rounded assessment of ones game, too, as long as someone plays the right tees! It is not a short 6,200 yards, which is decieving and will really punish those who incorrectly look at the length and think they can handle it.
Even the more conventional holes—ie, the ones that are not half-par—are excellent golf. Namely, I was immediately charmed by the central bunkers on the 16th, the slew of bunkers in the middle of the 17th, and the Mackenzie homage at the uphill 14th. The front nine is certainly more of a quick-fest, while the back becomes a bit more open through the field, but the juxtaposition provides its fair share of call-backs: the 12th and 18th would fit in with the front nine, and the 3rd and 9th is certainly more in style with the back nine. It is cohesive, but there is an obvious story being told in the routing as it works around the property.
Will Sedge Valley be the best golf course at the resort? Depends on where you draw the line at “resort,” of course. It will be hard to top Lido, which is absolutely sublime in every way. Sand Valley is a very graceful, enjoyable Coore & Crenshaw design, and while Mammoth Dunes is not my personal style, it would win the VMA for best video every single year (in that it is a very popular choice for the public’s favourite at the resort). With that being said, Sedge Valley is a very different playing experience than the main two at the resort, and for the better from a resort guest perspective. Mammoth Dunes is the fan-favourite, the one that people go score on, and the big, picturesque one. Sand Valley is the walk in the park with some very sharp Coore/Crenshaw greens and a pleasant journey that also seems to draw inspiration from the Heathlands. And Sedge is the quirky cousin at the Christmas gathering that it just wouldn’t feel right not having them there. Areas like the narrow green at the 6th tucked into the hillside or the back right tongue on the par 3, 15th, or even the 4th, intentionally narrow with a singular pot-ish bunker on the left is unique in not only the resort and the Keiser portfolio, but Doak’s, too. It brings a unique flavour in every respect, and for that, this is a winning golf course.