America’s next great golf resort: Sand Valley

An in-depth look at the evolution of the Sand Valley Resort


Sand Valley Golf Resort is in the middle of nowhere. And yet, for Midwestern golf nuts, it has become the epicenter of buzz in very short order. The resort is now a sprawling campus with three courses, hiking trails, fishing, grass tennis courts, copious lodging, and more in the works. Early visitors will recall that Sand Valley adventures used to originate on a dune top at Craig’s Porch. Aptly named and situated given that this special place was born out of the adventures and dreams of Craig Haltom.

Sunrise over the course

Dream golf comes to Wisconsin

Craig Haltom is a relatively quiet guy, but that does not mean that there isn’t a great deal going on in his mind. Educated in both environmental sciences and landscape architecture, in both the U.S. and U.K., he brought his worldly perspective to his work as an executive at Oliphant Golf Management. He was also harboring a desire to find a piece of land on which he could apply his deep experience to build a great golf course in his home state of Wisconsin. While out hiking with his wife, Craig discovered just such a piece of land and set about making his dream a reality.

Enter the Keisers. Craig met the developers through a mutual connection in 2012, and shared his idea and its location. Previous winners in Bandon, OR; Inverness, Nova Scotia; and Bridport, Tasmania had proven to Mike Keiser and his sons Michael and Chris that far flung golf resorts could work. A key ingredient in their formula for success was water, and Craig’s site in Nekoosa didn’t have it…at least not in this millennium.

Roughly 18,000 years ago, much of Central Wisconsin was covered with a glacial lake. The ice holding the lake in place broke and the water rushed out, leaving behind the area now known as the Wisconsin Dells. Portions of this vast lake bed that were left exposed continued to be shaped by ice, wind, and weather over thousands of years. Massive dunes and other breathtaking landforms were the result that Craig showed to the Keisers. There is no denying that seaside golf courses do provide players with an added level of experience. Those settings are soul stirring. The realization came to this group of men that a sea of sand dunes can evoke that same stir, and so they decided to purchase 1,700 acres in 2013.

The land had been used as a pulp tree plantation for many years and was covered with non-native pines. The golf courses that would be built pay aesthetic homage to the heathland designs outside of London – Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and other masterworks of Harry Colt and his contemporaries. Bu that is not where the lofty intentions for Sand Valley end. The Keisers brought ecologist Jens Jensen and his team on board to slowly but surely restore the land to its native state as a pine-oak sand barren. This aspect of the development is of particular importance to Michael Keiser, a dedicated outdoorsman and naturalist in the tradition of Aldo Leopold. Plans to extend the resort’s offerings to include eco-tourism are percolating.

Sand Valley is centrally located for many Midwest population centers

With this core group of accomplished dreamers in place, the community was engaged and construction got underway. Coore & Crenshaw were first up beginning in 2014, and progress has continued steadily ever since. Given our home base in Chicago and the founding of the site in 2015, we have been fortunate to witness first-hand over the course of numerous visits how Sand Valley has evolved. From those early days of unpaved roads and dirt golf to the hustle and bustle of the resort today, it is hard not to be impressed.

We celebrate Sand Valley not just because the golf on this unique land is world class, but because so too are the people who are building and running it. Ownership, collaborators, staff, and the community, together with great golf adventures make Sand Valley a world-class golf destination.

The Fried Egg’s Sand Valley coverage: