If you are a golf nut, follow mainstream golf media, and have been at least half awake over the past year and a half, then you have heard of America’s new golf destination, Sand Valley Golf Resort in Nekoosa, Wisconsin.
Built on native sand dunes, the Sand Valley course (Coore & Crenshaw design) was recognized by Golf Digest as the Best New Course of 2017, and after the recent grand opening of Mammoth Dunes (David McLay Kidd design) this past May, the resort itself was pegged as #3 on Golf Advisor’s 10 Best Golf Destinations to Visit in 2018.
I had been made aware of Sand Valley shortly after its grand opening in 2017 after a few friends of mine from Chicago made the 4 and a half hour drive north to see what the hype was all about. Shortly after their return home, talks of an inaugural golf trip were in the works, and one year later, a dozen of us found ourselves driving north on the country roads of Wisconsin.
I’ll cut to the chase quickly; Sand Valley Golf Resort is the perfect golf trip destination. The golf courses are unique and memorable, but it’s an absolute ‘must visit’ for reasons that extend beyond the golf itself. Plenty has been written about the Sand Valley golf courses, and I’ll gush over the golf in separate posts over the next week. However, it is paramount that the Sand Valley Resort leadership team and its staff receive a great deal of credit. They absolutely must be recognized for their incredible attention to detail, and for taking what I had previously thought to be exceptional service to the next level.
Word of mouth marketing and creating repeat customers are vital in terms of success and new business. This is usually accomplished by providing excellent service, which is exactly what the Sand Valley staff provided to our group. Here I am writing about it. I have a couple of stories to share about the Sand Valley staff that exemplify excellent service.
Flexibility. On Day 1 of our trip, there was a threat of inclement weather for our second round of the day, so the staff sent us off the back nine of the Sand Valley course to increase our chances of finishing our round (and yes, we finished). Many courses stumble over doing something like this even when it’s possible. Thankfully, Sand Valley is not one of them.
Going the Extra Mile. We split our 12 man group into groups of 6 for a two day Ryder Cup style competition. On Day 1, we played the full 18-hole Sand Valley course knowing that there were two temporary greens that were being used thanks to a late, unexpected snowfall that damaged a few of the greens. The Sand Valley staff responsibly notified us of the temporary greens a few weeks before our trip and provided us with a discount.
The temporary greens were not great by any stretch. The local rule was an automatic two putt due to the greens being quite hairy and unplayable. This caused some problems for our handicapped FourBall matches. Since we also had singles matches scheduled for Day 2 on the Sand Valley course, we threw out the idea of playing the back nine one the Sand Valley course, which had no temporary greens, and the front nine of Mammoth Dunes for our last 18-hole round of the trip.
The Sand Valley staff took our request in stride. Not only did they allow us to mix it up, but they even went the extra mile by picking up our entire group (plus our caddies) in two staff members’ trucks after our closing hole on the front nine of Mammoth Dunes. All 24 of us piled in the cabs/beds of the trucks and went off-roading through the dunes back to the pro shop. Again, many resorts would stumble over doing something like this and wouldn’t flinch at this type of request. Again, Sand Valley is not like other resorts.
Finally, not so much of a story, but it’s also worth noting that I had already been traveling for two weeks and ran out of clean underwear after Day 1 of the trip. Of course, housekeeping did some laundry for me and had it ready by morning.
The Sand Valley Resort staff is that good.
Excellent Culinary Concepts
After you are done walking 36 holes, you have earned a great meal. Sand Valley Golf Resort absolutely aced the culinary part with its excellent Aldo’s Farm & Table restaurant on premises. Steaks, walleye, and the ridiculously awesome pork chop are just some of the highlights. These entrees are plated perfectly with delicious purees and modern hashes. Live bluegrass music really brings it home.
It gets better. While Aldo’s may serve you one of the best meals of your life, the menu is also modestly priced. I remember thinking how I’d have no problem dishing out in excess of $100 at home in the Bay Area for my $20-$30 entrée at the resort.
We also ate at the Mammoth Bar on our last night, where we enjoyed some of the best wings of our lives. Be sure to save room for a Nye’s ice cream sandwich. It most likely will not be your first of the day, as these sandwiches are available wherever food is being dealt at the resort. Oh, and the cheese curds. They are so good, and so Wisconsin. Cheese curds before every meal is a must.
Live Betting on Craig’s Porch
Craig’s Porch sits on the head of the triangle formed by the 1st, 10th, and 18th holes on the Sand Valley course. Whoever designed the resort layout is pure genius, because you need to take a shuttle from the resort’s pro shop out to the Sand Valley course to play it. Many golfers will be coming right off of the Mammoth Dunes course and will be hungry for a pre-round bite before they tee it up on the Sand Valley course.
The great food continues here with very modestly priced grub, which includes excellent pulled pork, brisket sliders, Wisconsin brats, and of course, Nye’s ice cream sandwiches.
Craig’s Porch is a popular outdoor hangout for resort guests. A really cool moment on our trip occurred when some of the resort guests lounging outside Craig’s Porch overlooking the 18th hole were betting with each other on my foursome. Imagine walking up a 500+ yard hole to roars (or boos) from the Craig’s Porch gallery, who are providing color commentary on your shot, and draining your putt to make your proud supporter a dollar richer. Pretty cool stuff.
Playing the Sand Valley course, Mammoth Dunes, and the Par 3 Sandbox course weren’t enough? That’s ok. The resort has you covered with some night putting. I’d never taken part in night putting. Heck I’d never even seen or heard of it. Basically, you are putting in the dark into lit up holes.
All 12 of us were out there playing all sorts of money games on the night putting green. The putting green is next to a fire pit and steps from the Mammoth Bar, which I’m convinced stayed open for us to keep our mind right as we tried to figure out which way the putts broke in the dark.
Many of the caddies are young men and women in high school or college. Simply put, these kids were class acts. The caddies show up for work early and congregate outside of the pro shop next to the bag room while they wait for their assignment from the caddiemaster. Sure, some are better than others, and some are even a little goofy. It only makes for some great laughs and stories over dinner and drinks.
I commend Sand Valley leadership for their caddie program, as it not only gives the local kids an opportunity to earn some cash over the summer, but it also helps to grow the game as well.
There are more expensive (and older) caddies available at the resort, but I went with a junior/mid-level caddie on both days. Kudos to Marcus and Brett for spending their days with me and watching the live horror show that was my short game. Overall, it was no issue for any of us to dish out some extra cash to these solid young men and women.
Swank Pro Shop
The Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes, and Sandbox logos are so damn cool that Sand Valley staff could probably start their own clothing business on the side.
The pro shop is stocked with a number of name brands, but heavy on two of my favorites: Peter Millar and Linksoul. They have everything from knitted logo belts to wool headcovers. Everyone in our group did quite a bit of damage in there to say the least.
As the saying goes, there’s nothing like that new car smell. What’s also good is that new lodge smell. Sand Valley Resort offers several lodging options, from simple rooms literally a lob wedge from the course fairways, to four bedroom houses. We stayed in the Clubhouse rooms which overlook the vista provided by Mammoth Dunes’ 1st and 18th holes.
These rooms are steps away from the (night) putting green. You’re so close to #1 on Mammoth Dunes that you may feel the urge to play the hole in the dark like one of us tried to do.
In summary, if you had asked me before the trip to define success, I probably would’ve said simply good conditioned golf courses and no rain.
Honestly, the golf was great and we got all of our golf in, but my lasting memory was how the Sand Valley Resort staff literally nailed every detail. They truly put the cherry on top to our excellent inaugural golf trip. The Sand Valley Resort staff knows what they are doing. Throw in some incredible golf courses and you have a golf destination that I highly recommend you visit.
Cover photo courtesy of Jeff Bertch, @linkslandphoto
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