April 30, 2014
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are so highly regarded as golf course architects that the United States Golf Association hired them to renovate Donald Ross’ masterpiece, Pinehurst No. 2, for the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens this year.
Coore and Crenshaw also designed Sand Hills in Mullen, Neb., which is widely considered the modern standard for golf course architecture.
Now, they have been hired to design the first course at Sand Valley, a planned multi-course resort on 1,500 acres about 15 miles south of Wisconsin Rapids.
Developer Mike Keiser told the Journal Sentinel on Tuesday that he had selected Coore-Crenshaw from a short list of architects that included Tom Doak, David Kidd and Jim Urbina.
“Aesthetically, it was a three- or four-way tie,” Keiser said. “It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.”
The first course at Sand Valley will set the tone for a resort that eventually could join Whistling Straits/Blackwolf Run in Kohler and Erin Hills near Hartford to make Wisconsin one of the top summer golf destinations in the world.
Coore and Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion, have never worked in Wisconsin. They are known for a minimalist approach and for their strategic and visually stunning links-type courses laid over sand dunes in Nebraska, Oregon, Florida and on Long Island.
Among the courses on their portfolio are Friar’s Head in Baiting Hollow, N.Y.; Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas; and Lost Farm at Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania.
One of their early projects, the Kapalua Plantation Course on Maui, has hosted the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions since 1999. Zach Johnson won the tournament Monday.
Sand Valley is similar to sites on which Coore and Crenshaw have done their best work. The land once formed the bottom of a prehistoric lake in what is now Adams County.
Keiser, a Chicago businessman who made his fortune in greeting cards, will be heavily involved in the routing. He plans to harvest tens of thousands of red pine trees and restore the site to its natural sand barren state. The holes would be laid over the exposed dunes.
“When you look at this course it will look a lot like Sand Hills,” Keiser said. “Big, open dunes with a lot of low ground cover on it. You will see a lot of sand. You’ll walk in and say, ‘That’s Sand Valley.'”
Coore and Crenshaw will begin working on the routing this spring and construction will begin in September. Keiser said the course tentatively would be opened to founding members in 2016 and to the public in 2017, the year the U.S. Open will be held at Erin Hills.
Coore and Crenshaw typically work on only two projects annually. They are currently overseeing construction of Cabot Cliffs on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. That course is part of a resort co-owned by Keiser.
“One of their big concerns if I picked them was that they would have to begin construction immediately at Sand Valley,” Keiser said. “They’ve very patient in terms of their routing. I am, too, especially at a site like Sand Valley.
“Deciding where to start and end and the best routing on 1,500 acres is a huge question.”
Keiser said Coore and Crenshaw would be given a blank slate, keeping in mind that additional courses — perhaps as many as four — eventually would be built.
“They will make numerous exploratory trips,” Keiser said. “Their first goal is to get comfortable with the entire 1,500 acres.”
The first course at Sand Valley and a modest clubhouse will cost between $5 million and $6.5 million to build, Keiser said. Green fees will be $125 to $150.
The Oliphant Companies of Madison will construct the course.
Coore and Crenshaw designed Bandon Trails at Keiser’s Bandon Dunes complex on the southern Oregon coast, regarded by many purists as the finest golf resort in the world. All four 18-hole courses at Bandon Dunes are ranked among the top 11 resort courses in America by Golfweek magazine. Whistling Straits is No. 4 on that list.
Bandon Trails opened in 2005 and followed Bandon Dunes (Kidd) and Pacific Dunes (Doak), which is one reason Keiser tabbed Coore and Crenshaw to design the first course at Sand Valley.
“Coore-Crenshaw got what many considered to be the least spectacular ground to work with and did a remarkable job with Bandon Trails,” Keiser said. “So, No. 1, maybe in fairness we pick Coore-Crenshaw to go first at Sand Valley.”
Keiser also surveyed 120 founding members of Sand Valley about potential architects and said roughly 80% of them picked Coore-Crenshaw.
Founding members pay $50,000 for what is essentially a lifetime membership that is fully refundable and can be passed down to an heir.
Whistling Straits, which hosted the PGA Championship in 2004 and 2010 and is scheduled to host a third PGA in 2015 and the Ryder Cup in 2020, was built on sand, but it was trucked in from an off-site location. Erin Hills was built on eskers and kettles left behind by retreating glaciers.
Many of the other notable courses in Wisconsin, such as the River and Meadow Valleys courses at Blackwolf Run, The Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Sheboygan and the courses in the Lake Geneva area, are parkland-style designs integrating trees and wetlands.
There are no wetlands on the Sand Valley site and when Keiser is done there will be only a handful of oaks dotting a vista of rolling dunes and sand blow-outs.
“My model for Bill and Ben is a combination of Sand Valley, Sand Hills and National Golf Links on the dunes of Long Island,” Keiser said. “Those three are my models — not to duplicate but just to be inspired by.”
In addition to his short list of architects, Keiser also talked to Tom Fazio and Jack Nicklaus, “both of whom would love to be involved in Wisconsin and both of whom I respect greatly….They’ve both done amazing courses and we will consider them (for future courses).”
If fully realized, Sand Valley would create hundreds of jobs. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin Rapids is about 8%, according to Mayor Zach Vruwink, and the region has struggled since the 2008 closing of the Port Edwards paper mill.
Article Written by Journal Sentinel