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TST Takes on Sand Valley, WI (July 18-23, 2021)


cipher

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So I walked at Stoneleigh today, 6+ miles, up and down the hills, with a temperature above 90 when we finished.  I came home and double checked typical weather for Nekoosa, and I'm overjoyed to see that the average high is just a bit over 80, which sounds just delightful.  Three weeks from today!

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10 minutes ago, DaveP043 said:

Three weeks from today!

It somehow seems like it’s still far away and like it’s snuck up on me all at the same time.

I’m trying to play more golf these next few weeks. Whatever happens, I’m not coming in rusty.

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8 hours ago, iacas said:

Sand Valley � An Early Look at Kidd�s Mammoth Dunes - All 18 pictured!

 

I love vast, expansive and 'tattered' landscapes. If it happens to be  a golf course, even better. It has been a few years but some of the elevated shots remind me of Streamsong. Another very very special place. 

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9 hours ago, iacas said:

Sand Valley � An Early Look at Kidd�s Mammoth Dunes - All 18 pictured!

 

As an engineer, I really liked the presentation of the routing against the topo map, you can see the V-shaped ridge, and how the holes work up and over and around.

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Looks like Craig Halton had a hand in Sand Valley, Lac La Belle, and Lawsonia. He helped in restoration of two of the courses as architect, but also scouted out the piece of land for Sand Valley and worked on the design of the course. 

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Haltom went searching for inspiration. He is an architect, of course, but he is also well known in golf architecture circles as a scout. In the early 2000s, he identified the sandy plot of land in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, that would eventually become Mike Keiser’s Sand Valley. Haltom, who serves as President of Golf Management at Oliphant Construction, worked on both of the resort’s existing 18s, under the design teams of Coore & Crenshaw and David McLay Kidd.

 

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Just finished my 3 day Wisconsin trip where we played University Ridge, Wild Rock, Lawsonia Links and Lac La Belle. 
 

Lac La Belle is a gem and one of the best courses I have played in a long time. For $100 it’s an amazing value and honestly not that far behind Erin Hills in terms of beauty and playability. I would consider it a “must play” in Wisconsin. 
 

Sadly I found Lawsonia to be overrated. Had I gone in with no expectations I might have seen it differently, but considering it’s lofty rating among some of the golf publications out there, I was left pretty underwhelmed.

I’ll try to post more details shortly, but the cliff notes summary is this. If anyone is debating between a round at Lac La Belle and Lawsonia, Lac La Belle would be my recommendation and it’s not close.

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31 minutes ago, Big C said:

Just finished my 3 day Wisconsin trip where we played University Ridge, Wild Rock, Lawsonia Links and Lac La Belle. 
 

Lac La Belle is a gem and one of the best courses I have played in a long time. For $100 it’s an amazing value and honestly not that far behind Erin Hills in terms of beauty and playability. I would consider it a “must play” in Wisconsin. 
 

Sadly I found Lawsonia to be overrated. Had I gone in with no expectations I might have seen it differently, but considering it’s lofty rating among some of the golf publications out there, I was left pretty underwhelmed.

I’ll try to post more details shortly, but the cliff notes summary is this. If anyone is debating between a round at Lac La Belle and Lawsonia, Lac La Belle would be my recommendation and it’s not close.

I am excited to play La Belle from the back tees because it seems like a bit of a target golf course to me and from more forward tees I could not hit driver at all. Are the greens getting a little softer? Last year they were rock hard, but they were also brand new.

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@cipher the greens were still pretty hard. But high flighted iron shots still made ball marks and two of my playing partners who tend to play lower trajectories had no issues holding greens, so I would say they were very playable. Your comment about target golf is interesting. I didn't consider it to be a target golf course (one of the things I liked about it was that you could think your way around the course, there was always a bail out area, and misses in the "correct" spot were not severely punished), but you are correct that some holes strongly encourage you to club down off the tee. I hit less than driver on 7 of 14 holes, but that was partly due to playing tees that were less than 6,400. From the longer boxes, I think you could usually make the case to hit driver.

@iacas I am not an architecture geek, I couldn't name the template holes off the top of my head, and so in terms of folks that know and discuss this stuff with regularity, yes I'm probably a 2-3 or so. In terms of your average random golfer, I would assume I'm more knowledgeable than most - to the extent that doing some research on course design, and knowing what makes a course fun, playable and challenging puts me ahead of at least 50% of the golfing population out there. Spending a couple days at Bandon really opened my eyes to the ways a good course design could lead to creative alternatives in ways to approach a hole. Despite the accolades, I just thought that Lac La Belle did a much better job of this than Lawsonia, although I will admit that some of my critiques of Lawsonia were not related to the actual design of course itself. 

To specifically comment on some of that "ancillary" stuff, the first experiences of the two courses could not be more different. At Lac La Belle, you enter the driveway and are immediately surrounded by lush fescue, flowers and trees on one side, their carriage house and newly constructed clubhouse on the other. A greeter comes up to your car and takes your bags to the carts. The driving range is immaculate. At Lawsonia the clubhouse was spartan (not a big deal, really), but I was surprised at how poor the driving range was. The range faces directly into a hill that obscures everything beyond 50 yards. As a result, there are no flags to gauge your distances and no way to see where your ball lands. It's slightly better than hitting into a net, but not much. In addition, the range runs parallel to the first hole, so the right rough of hole 1 is littered with errant range balls. It's minor in the grand scheme of things, but it just wasn't in keeping with what I perceived a top 50 public course to be. 

Lac La Belle has top of the line carts with GPS and distances to hazards, trees, etc. Lawsonia's carts are basic electric carts with no GPS. This is important because the first two holes at Lawsonia are completely blind off the tee. The starter can give you a pretty good line for hole 1, but hole 2 requires the players to drive 150 yards off the box to pick a start line and confirm that the group ahead of them has cleared. There were a few other holes that required us to drive off the tee box to see start lines or identify hidden hazards. For a walker who was playing this course for the first time, a yardage book would be a wise investment. 

As for the course itself, I loved everything about Lac La Belle. From the aesthetics (beautiful) to the green complexes, it was just a fun course to play. The 4th hole was one of my favorites - a 170 yard par 3 that looked daunting off the tee, but was actually very gettable because the contours of the green allowed balls to funnel back towards the hole. The right greenside bunker, which would normally be dead (8 feet below the green - shortsided to most pin positions) allowed for a creative play off either the back slope or the left side slope for a very manageable up and down. Those that played to the left side of the green to benefit from the aforementioned left slope ran the risk of missing too far left and leaving themselves a death shot, where everything runs away from the hole. But a well executed shot would likely leave less than 12 feet for birdie.

Lawsonia has a reputation for playability and off the tee box, that reputation is generally correct. But the front 9 felt like more of "target golf" course in regards to the approach shots than Lac La Belle did. Greens 1, 4, 6 and 8 were all fairly elevated, meaning high flighted irons were required. And the 7th hole was the epitome of target golf - a downhill 140 yard par 3 with a fairly wide green, but no place to miss. Anything off the green would run 20 feet downhill to rough or bunker. I think it compared unfavorably to Lac La Belle's 8th. A similar 140 yard downhill hole, but it offered players a bail out area on the front left that sloped towards the green. So while a nice piercing wedge shot was preferred, golfers were left with the option to hit a lower flighted shot into the front left and run it into the green. 

I will say that the back 9 on Lawsonia was a much more enjoyable experience and was much closer to my expectations. It was open, expansive and beautiful and had a much more "links-like" feel to it.

But upon reflection, what I really enjoyed about Lac La Belle was that they merged two competing elements beautifully. They utilized elements of the traditional tree lined Midwest courses without making it overly punitive or impeding lines of play. The trees were there to shape the contours of the hole, and occasionally provide lines of sight, but they rarely came into play except on shots that were significantly off line (hole 2 - where your drive had to go down a chute of trees about 25 yards wide was the sole exception to this). This meant that Lac La Belle was every bit as playable as Lawsonia Links, but the holes themselves were much more distinctive and memorable. 

My commentary is less a critique of Lawsonia (for $80, it's a fine value, even if I find the course a bit overrated), and more of an endorsement of Lac La Belle. Lawsonia strikes me as the type of course that embraces it's humble roots, while Lac La Belle strives to gives golfers a first class overall experience from start to finish. My hunch is that as their renovations continue to  mature and the course gets a bit more play, it will start to gain more acclaim in the golfing world. 2 years from now, it would not surprise me one bit if the green fees were closer to $200 and it started to find it's way onto lists of top public courses in the U.S.

I would be glad to share my thoughts if anyone else has specific questions. I'm sure you guys will love your trip!

 

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@Big Cnice writeup and thanks for the info.  I am very excited to play La Belle from the back tees with a new perspective and also with a driver. The 4th hole is also one of my favorites, they modeled that after some sort of lost green from the past. I agree, it looks crazy from the tee but is more subdued once you get up there.  I also really liked the par five with the tree splitting the fairway.  Very reachable in two if you go left of the tree and not so much if you play the more safe shot to the right. I am super happy you found La Belle to be a nice surprise, I hope the rest of the group will enjoy finishing our trip there.

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Yeah, so everyone gets to like what they like, or course, but nothing you said there sways me into thinking I’ll end up liking La Belle over Lawsonia. Maybe I will, but nothing you said points me that way.

I care very little about the things you care about. I care tremendously about the course itself.

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It’s tough for me to have proper expectations based solely on golf course rankings. For me, course maintenance is the first thing I like to see, especially for the price. 

besides that, I’m a big fan of Donald Ross courses. I like courses that look like they fit on the piece of land.
 

from there, don’t have an absurd amount of blind shots, target golf, and wonky holes. I like courses with good risk/reward options. Don’t penalize good shots from an amateur perspective.

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3 minutes ago, saevel25 said:

besides that, I’m a big fan of Donald Ross courses. I like courses that look like they fit on the piece of land.

Maybe don’t read up on Langford and Moreau then. 😉

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