Doak’s inland innovation: Sedge Valley

An update on the plan to build a fourth course at Sand Valley Resort


Big news from Wisconsin as Tom Doak is set to design the next course at burgeoning golf resort Sand Valley. Doak is coming off his acclaimed Tara Iti design and this will be his first American design since The Loop at Forest Dunes. The Doak course, which is tentatively being called “Sedge Valley”, will add to the resort’s stellar lineup alongside the original Coore & Crenshaw designed Sand Valley, David McLay Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes and the Coore & Crenshaw par 3 course The Sandbox. Doak earned the job, beating out Mike DeVries and Gil Hanse.

Sand Valley's Clubhouse

The new course will be located next to the back nine of the original Sand Valley course. It will bring variety to the resort’s design landscape calling for a shorter layout (6,200ish yards) and a par 68. Doak remarked to The Fried Egg “(It’s) a concept I have wanted to pursue for years — to build a great par-68 course for America like England has so many of.  Courses like Swinley Forest, Rye, West Sussex, Cavendish, and St. Enodoc are some of my favorite places in golf, and it’s a shame there is nothing like them over here.”

Tom Doak's routing map, digitized by Sarah Mess

It was an idea that Doak had pitched a few other potential clients that were hesitant due to America’s obsession with par and magazine rankings. With Michael Keiser Jr. and Chris Keiser, Doak found the right client for his bold and different design saying “Michael is the first one who’s really embraced the idea; he said as long as we were confident the course would be enjoyed equally by the customers of Sand Valley, he didn’t care so much what the raters say. That’s music to a designer’s ears.”

If the design tops out at 6,200 yards, it would roughly translate to a 6,900 yard layout par 72 for those keeping score. The benefits of shorter courses are substantial. They use less land, cost less to maintain, can be played faster and are easier to walk. At a resort like Sand Valley where guests regularly try to cram in 36 or even 54 holes, the easier and faster walk is particularly appealing. If pulled off, the impact of Doak’s design could prove to be profound on the future of design and prove that bigger isn’t always better.

With no shortage of land at Sand Valley, the course also bucks the trend of wider and bigger courses. Doak, who along with Coore & Crenshaw were the two most instrumental architects in contributing to that width trend, views this as an opportunity to reset the scale.

“The trend in golf architecture the past twenty years has been to make every new course bigger and wider than the last.  I guess I’m one of the designers who started down that road, in the interest of playability; and I still believe a course has to be wide enough that it’s fun to play. But I think that trend has gotten corrupted as designers just kept going bigger to try and outdo the last course. There’s no way we can keep going further in that direction, and it wouldn’t be healthy for the game.”

A course of this nature fits in perfectly at the American Heathland resort. Just as golf evolved in the British Islands, The Keiser’s first two forays into the resort business came on seaside links land, Bandon Dunes and Cabot. Golf moved inland in the UK in the late 1800s to the Heathlands and brought the advantages of proximity to the masses. The same has happened for the Keisers with their move to Wisconsin. Despite a short midwest golf season, Sand Valley will log 40,000 rounds in 2018 – a number which should grow to 60,000 in the coming years. It’s time for the American Heathland resort to have a course that embodies the qualities of the great UK Heathland courses.

We had the opportunity to walk the Sedge Valley routing with Michael Keiser, and came away even more excited. The working title of the course comes from the sedge that covers most of the property. Exposed sandy areas are almost nonexistent, and if Doak decides to maintain that aesthetic, the style of the course will be dramatically different than Sand Valley’s other offerings. The land has tremendous variety, with contours big and small, in addition to a subtler flat section. At the heart of Sedge Valley is a tall hill with exposed rock outcroppings that has the potential to be absolutely jaw-dropping.

We know how great the Renaissance team is at getting the fine details right. The Keisers have given them a terrific palette on which to paint this new, Healthland concept. Golf in the Midwest keeps getting better and better, and although the yardage on the card might be shorter, players can rightly have big expectations for Sedge Valley.