‘Pure’ Golf Comes to Wisconsin

Tee off at a breathtaking new resort just a few hours from Milwaukee.

Mike Keiser, the visionary who ignored convention and built a successful golf resort – Bandon Dunes – in Middle of Nowhere, Oregon, has now focused the golf world’s attention on a glorious splash of dunes and vistas in central Wisconsin.

The courses of Sand Valley – cascading sand ridges up to 50 feet high, split by emerald fescue grass fairways – were designed by the game’s top architects and have garnered the resort rave reviews. In December, Golf Digest magazine named Sand Valley its best new course of 2017. A second course, scheduled to open this summer and called Mammoth Dunes, is generating perhaps even greater buzz.

“I think it’s [the] next layout … that will really get people talking,” noted veteran golf journalist Jim Frank last year in Links magazine, adding of Mammoth, “the dunes are higher, the blowouts broader.”

The sand at Sand Valley – located south of Wisconsin Rapids, two hours and 40 minutes by car from Milwaukee – is the sprawling remnant of a prehistoric glacial lake. The resort adheres to the Keiser model of “pure” golf: walking only, with comfortable dining and lodging but no fireworks or water slides. 

During peak summer season, greens fees are $225 for the full courses, with reduced rates for resort guests, early-season play and preview play before Mammoth Dunes officially opens July 1. A new 17-hole, par-3 course called The Sandbox was expected to open in April or May.

I played Sand Valley and a six-hole preview of Mammoth Dunes on a windswept day late last summer. There are tees for all skill levels, and what’s remarkable about the courses – aside from the stunning landscape – is their playability. They require few forced carries over hazards. False fronts on the undulating greens will challenge good players, but high handicappers wo n’t lose a bunch of balls. The seventh fairway on Mammoth Dunes is 160 yards wide.

Hit away, and have fun.

“Splendor in the Sand” appears in the 2018 Health issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning April 30th, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Doug Moe is a Madison-based writer and former longtime columnist for Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times.