- Nekoosa, Wisconsin
- David McLay Kidd (2018)
- 28th Modern in USA (Golfweek)
Sand Valley has become the hottest new golf resort in the country. If you haven’t either been there by now or heard everyone talking about it, where have you been? I’ll spare everyone the details of Mike Keiser’s success because everyone knows what he has done for the game and specifically public golf. Mammoth Dunes is the second course at the Sand Valley Resort, located in central Wisconsin. The resort is built on the typical Keiser mold of finding a not so populated area and finding a great site to put multiple courses. Sand Valley is not the only game in town though. Lake Arrowhead sits just a couple miles north and features 36 holes as well but doesn’t compare to what Sand Valley boasts. The site used for Mammoth is hilly with dramatic dunes, rolling fairways and massive greens that give it a distinctly different look from the original Sand Valley course built by Coore and Crenshaw. Off the tee the course is as friendly as can be, the challenge isn’t in hitting the fairways as much as it is about finding the proper spots in the fairways to attack each hole. Chances are you will hit more fairways than you ever have here, but if your irons and lag putting aren’t spot on you can struggle. Its a user-friendly course that gives plenty of opportunities for birdies but can bite back if you get out of position.
The 1st tee is situated through the breezeway of the main Clubhouse. Once on the other side you see the dunes that give the course its name. A tee shot down the right can find a small plateau, affording you a view of the green with your approach. Anything center or left will funnel further left and into the lower level where you won’t see the green. The green is open in front with a single bunker left. Dunes await any shot that misses long, but the contour of the green isn’t too wild and recoveries are generally simple around this green. A tee shot down the left of the 2nd brings a tree and pot bunker into play but leaves you a shorter approach. Down the right you are faced with a longer approach but you will be able to see most of the green from here. The tee shot can look intimidating with the vast waste area down the right but it won’t be a problem to carry unless the wind in howling in your face. The green is angled to the left slightly and pitches from the back right towards the dunes guarding the front left. The Par 5 3rd looks daunting from the tee with waste area all the way down the left, but that is only the preferred route to the green, especially if you’re trying to go for the green in two shots which can be done at only 519 yards. There is plenty of room down the right but this will force you to come over the waste area down the right of the fairway. The waste area you see down the right ends about 30 yards from the front edge of the green, if you can just carry this nasty hazard your ball will most likely end up on the green. There is one small bunker just short and left of the green as well that can cause problems, but the most difficult hazard to the left is the deep collection areas. Long and left of the green will find a low area about 10-12 feet below the surface of the green. This hole can be had, but as is the case with most holes here, playing the proper angles will give you a distinct advantage. A partially blind shot up the hill is required on the Par 3 4th, not easy at 207 yards. Left of the green leaves a fairly simple recovery, anything short and right could spell big trouble if your ball catches the slope which could propel your ball 15-20 yards down the hill. A knob at the turn in the green on the left offers a bit of a sideboard. The 5th is one of the most photographed on the course, playing from an elevated tee at 456 yards. From the tee you see massive dunes on each side of the fairway and a small bunker cut into the right side. That bunker must be avoided at all costs, forcing you to play more down the left. This will give your ball some added distance over a ridge but…… …..most likely you will be staring into the face of the massive dune left of the fairway, completely blind for your approach. A tee shot down the right gives you a look at the green but brings the front right bunker/waste area more into play from this angle. Balls can also funnel back onto the green from the left side. Off the tee the 6th hole looks innocent. At 344 yards and to another wide fairway with not much to challenge you except for a lone pot bunker down the left. However you need to be aware of where the flag is located. The green is a fabulous boomerang, built on the model of Alister Mackenzie’s gem at Crystal Downs. Flags on the left are easily accessible with sideboards, but flags near the mound in center become more difficult. The brilliance of the green comes from the flag on the right. From the fairway it looks like there is a separate green hanging on the precipice of sand. Just a small portion of the green is visible on the right, there is much more green there than it looks and the backstop of the boomerang gives you an added buffer. What makes the hole so much fun is that any ball on the green can get to any flag regardless of where it is located. You may need to play the ball around the collars of the green to get enough speed to get to other hole locations but the firm and fast fescue allows for such a play. It is a hole you can play over and over and spend hours just on the green messing around with the contours. The blind tee shot on the Par 5 7th is over the crest of the hill but isn’t much to worry about as the fairway once again is plenty wide. The second shot becomes exponentially more difficult. A finger of waste area intrudes from the left, pinching the fairway and forcing a decision. Go over this little waste area and you will have less than 100 yards to the green, forced to play short and you will have a full wedge or more to the slightly uphill green. Playing over the waste area with your second shot also brings a devilish pit into play just short and right of the green. The entire 8th hole is just a sliver of grass in a sea of sandy waste area. The green sticks out into this waste area and only has a small front left collar where you can run your ball onto the green. Doing this will also allow you to use the contours off the left bunker to funnel your ball to the right. The small bunker in the center of the fairway off the tee of the Par 4 9th is purely directional. There is ample fairway to the left of this bunker but the bunker is there to tell you that the ideal placement is between that bunker and the right edge of the fairway. The green is shaped somewhat like a triangle with points sticking out to the left into a bunker and another to the right jutting out into short grass surrounds. Pins to the right would be easier accessible from the eft side of the fairway but because there is no real hazard to guard the right side of the green its not really much of an advantage to come in from the left. The 10th is another short Par 4. This one is well framed with a slightly downhill tee shot and a view of the uphill approach. Those who can carry the ball 290 have a chance to get onto the green at 323 yards but it plays longer up the hill. A bail out to the right isn’t a terrible spot but its pinched by sandy waste areas. A lone fairway bunker left center forces shorter hitters to be extremely accurate to have a shorter shot to the green or be forced out to the right, where it will still most likely be a wedge approach, just a longer one. From just in front of the fairway bunker you face this approach, the top of the flag is barely visible, but on this day it was as far back on the green as possible. The 11th is another Par 5 that you can potentially reach in two, at 540 yards. Even if you have the firepower to carry the large bunker on the inside of the dogleg to the left you will most likely find the bunker through the fairway because of the fast conditions. The play is out to the right off the tee, longer hitters can still get to the green in two up the hill from here. Playing it as a three shot hole just means fitting your second between some sandy scrub on either side of the fairway. The third is played up the hill as well. The green has a small rise in the front that can throw off depth perception but a ball that gets onto the front edge can take the slope to the right and onto the surface. Once again a wide fairway greets you on the tee of the Par 4 12th, but this one is split by a large fairway bunker. The preferred angle depends on where the flag is. Isn’t this how a great golf course should be designed? The ideal location off the tee is the same side as the hole location for the day. A large mound guards the front and right of the green and some backstops and sideboards offer an opportunity to get creative into and around the greens. The 13th is the shortest hole on the course, at 130 yards, and also has one of the most interesting greens. The old rule of thumb was that the shorter hole meant a smaller green, that is not the case here. At almost 40 yards deep you’d think its a no brainer of a shot, but there is a front right neck and a nasty back left neck. The front right sliver of the green isn’t terribly difficult to access, just make sure you carry the massive waste area in front. The back left neck is extremely difficult, its angled to the left and there is a large mound that guards the corner of the green. Being a short shot it allows you to attack that hole location if you want, but any miss short of the mound or over the green spells certain disaster. To also add some interest, there is a very small shelf in the middle of the green, so even the most benign of hole locations can prove challenging. Even at 325 yards, this hole can be had by just about everyone. There are many ways to get onto the green, one is to fly it on, another is to use the dramatic right to left contour of the fairway and sling your ball down the hill and onto the green, in essence the hole plays as a really long Redan. The green then flows from the front left to the back right. A single pot bunker in the left center of the fairway can cause problems but the fairway to the right is plenty wide to give you space to avoid a disaster in this bunker. Hole 15 – Par 5 – 522/509 The 15th is another Par 5, this one where a waste area turns into a bunker that acts as a split between the upper right and lower left level of the fairway. Its possible to get your ball cruising down the ridge to pick up some extra yardage to get home in two. Going for the green in two is a major advantage because there is virtually no trouble near the green. Missing short and left of the green finds a low area, but its not as challenging of a shot from there as other places on the course. Playing it as a three shot hole brings a bunker into play down the right around 100 yards from the green but there is ample fairway to the left, what this does is change the angle of the green where you will be coming across the low area in front whereas playing directly in front of that fairway bunker you can just fire at will without any hazards in front. The last Par 3 is partially blind and plays downhill over the edge of a large dune. Balls short and right can kick towards the green and the green acts as somewhat of a bowl with the slope from the back and front converging into a low spot in the center. The wide fairway of the Par 4 17th has a bunker down the right and sandy scrub left. The two bunkers in front are mostly deceptive because one of those bunkers is about 50 yards from the front edge of the green. The green pitches from the back left to front right. There aren’t really any places around this green you can get into big trouble other than in the front bunker. Left of the green is short grass and can be quick and the collection areas right don’t pose huge challenges. Long hitters again get a HUGE advantage off the tee on the 536 yard 18th because the sandy scrub and bunker down the right will not be in play. The waste area is down the left the entire length of the hole must be avoided. Those playing this as a three shot hole just need to keep their second to the left of the small pot bunker down the right side of the fairway. The further you play down the right the better because this will take the front bunker/waste area completely out of play. When you finish up on Mammoth Dunes, if you didn’t already play it, you get a peek of the SandBox, the resort’s Par 3 course. If you had no plans to play it, which is a mistake to begin with, you will most likely be talked into going around it at least once when you get a view of it to the right of the 18th fairway. While Bandon and Pebble may be untouchables as far as public golf in the USA goes, Sand Valley might very well be overtaking Kohler for the premiere resort in Wisconsin. The courses are fun and you have multiple options in the three different architects whereas Kohler’s four Pete Dye courses can really beat you up. Golf is still supposed to be fun isn’t it?