Is Wisconsin becoming the United States' version of Scotland for golf?
Between Sand Valley, Erin Hills and Whistling Straits, Wisconsin is moving up in the golf world
This summer's U.S. Open will be my fifth major championship to cover. Two at Augusta National, one in Washington, one in Pennsylvania and two (?!) in Wisconsin. The U.S. Open is heading to Erin Hills in 2017 after the 2015 was played at Whistling Straits. Both are about an hour outside of Milwaukee, which does not feel like the golf epicenter of the midwest, but we might need to take a closer look.
There is a tremendous series of pieces running right now in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel detailing just how in the world the U.S. Open ended up at a place like Erin Hills. This venture just west of Milwaukee coincides with the grand opening of Sand Valley which makes its debut 100 miles north of Madison, Wisconsin.
Tom Redburn of the New York Times recently visited Sand Valley. One theme he kept circling is how much Wisconsin, and specifically the land that contains Sand Valley, is starting to represent a sort of American Scotland. Here's Redburn.
The firm, sandy fairways, long open views, and exposure to strong winds would evoke the famous links of Scotland and Ireland and pay direct homage to the less well-known but well-loved "heathland" courses outside London. Mr. Keiser bought 1,700 acres from a tree plantation owner. He commissioned the golf design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, a former touring pro, to create a new course, to be known as Sand Valley. It opened last week.
"There's already great golf in Wisconsin," said Josh Lesnik, an executive at KemperSports, which will manage Sand Valley for the Keisers. "But soon golfers will look to Wisconsin as a place like Scotland or western Ireland, where they can go for a week and, within a short drive, play someplace special every day."
This is music to the ears of a golf nerd like me. The man, Mike Keiser, who created Sand Valley also created Bandon Dunes, which is Oregon's take on Scotland. It appears he's done it again with Sand Valley which only adds to Wisconsin's startling collection of elite courses.
Only time will tell if Wisconsin can be a poor man's version of old-time Scottish golf where the game was forged. Golf Digest has four Wisconsin courses in its top 100 (and Sand Valley is not one of them probably because it just opened). That seems like a lot for a state not known for its golf and unable to play year-round. No matter what happens in the future, things are happening in Wisconsin in the present. They might not ever overtake some of the other golf-crazed states in this country in terms of quality, but it appears to all as if they're off to a really great start.
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