Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Sand Valley course at the Sand Valley Golf
Resort hardly had time to bed in before a second 18-hole layout
appeared on the property in 2018. Owner Mike Keiser, who twenty years
earlier appointed David McLay Kidd to design the first course at Bandon Dunes, hired the same architect to set out the Mammoth Dunes
course within this enormous 1,700-acre site.
It’s a big course (playing to a par of 73 with five long par five holes) that’s built on a massive scale with an overall design philosophy of bringing fun back to playing the game. Fairways are unfeasibly wide, some measuring as much as 120 yards across, offering multiple paths from tee to green on many of the holes. Of massive importance, protecting par – something the architect had been criticized for on other projects – isn’t an issue here.
Building on the success of a recent development at Gamble Sands in Washington, where playability was an overriding consideration, McLay Kidd has constructed a course that allows golfers to play into greens from a multitude of angles, without paying a heavy penalty for having gone too far right or left off the tee. Essentially, looking back towards the future, the best aspects of the original design at Bandon Dunes have been brought into play at Mammoth Dunes.
Highlight holes include the short par four 6th (played to a boomerang-shaped green that was inspired by the half-moon putting surface on the 7th hole at Crystal Downs), the par three 13th, (where the green sits at an offset angle between a large sandy waste area and tree-covered ridge), and the short par four 14th, which was actually built to the design of the winning contestant in an “Armchair Architect Challenge” organized by a golf magazine.
Adam Lawrence, editor of Golf Course Architecture had this to say about the course: “Mammoth Dunes is huge. It occupies 500 acres of land and has 107 acres of maintained grass. The dune ridge which forms the dominant feature of the property is close on 100 feet high (this explains why the course’s footprint is so large). And, visually, it is simply off the charts. I do not believe I have ever seen a larger-looking golf course. Even standing on the first tee, one is simply blown away by the scale.”
The last word belongs to David McLay Kidd: “There was a lot of effort to bring this commercial timber forest back to this pine-oaks savannah that you're seeing now. And it's the latest groundwork in Mike Keiser's master plan for a bigger project to create a pine barrens resort that spreads out in every direction. I'm just thrilled that my team had a chance to be a part of this, and it's fun to see how Sand Valley has evolved in the past two years.”
Everything about the Mammoth Dunes experiences is fun and relaxing. The course isn't very hard, but the holes are memorable and engaging. The "vibe" is immaculate, and if I had to split 10 rounds at Sand Valley, I would use 6 of them at Mammoth.
Sand Valley may be a “better” course, but Mammoth was way more fun. Outstanding treat. Great visuals and a splendid walk. Loved the cabin halfway house as well. The scent of burgers on the grill as you walked 11 was restorative!
Fun, fun, fun. Funnel pins and wide fairways make for a blast. A great place to go shoot your best score, and have a great time doing it.
I was far more impressed by Mammoth Dunes than Sand Valley. It is more strategic, but still a rather easy golf course for a proficient golfer. I lost a ball on neither course, didn't even come close, not sure I missed more than one fairway - #6 where downwind I tried to drive it, wound up hole high left and made birdie. So much for any strategy as that was easily the best approach to most of this green.
The greens were fairly quick but not at all like SV - Probably pushing 12, these were 10.5 - 10.75' (I routinely play 13+) so fast greens aren't a problem for me, slow ones are.
The greens were far more interesting and occasionally designed as segmented to function as 4-6 greens tied together by significant contours (A feature totally MIA at Sand Valley). I was not a fan of too many Par 5 holes, and the holes a a group as well. It was the course's one weakness. They are as a hole type the least exciting on the course, this despite my two legitimate eagle chances as a now shorter-hitting 70 year old, so it's not sour grapes but 18 as a finisher was truly uninspired. 7 & 11 were both the more interesting of the five.
It is an exhilarating walk with plenty of vistas and ruggedness. I was the more excited to play this of the three courses and my expectations were exceeded. Again, it is a fairly easy, but interesting and scenic course, easily the better of the two. (Play was only slowed by my glacial pair-up partners, more interested in consuming alcohol as it was their second trip.) I played the last three holes alone to beat the incoming storm.
Sand Valley is one of the newest golf resorts in the world, and this 18 hole course, Mammoth Dunes did not disappoint. The facilities are world class with a stunning log cabin feel clubhouse. The course itself was in perfect condition when I got the chance to play it. The fairways are huge here and if you do miss a fairway it is just waste bunkers everywhere. The greens are perfectly cut and were rolling. This is my favorite course in the state of Wisconsin and I really recommend coming out to play here.
There are some big differences between Mammoth Dunes and Sand Valley. Sand Valley begins and ends at the same high point while Mammoth Dunes begins at the back of a putting green and returns near the clubhouse at the finish. Mammoth Dunes has wider fairways. The green complexes are very different. The green surfaces on Mammoth Dunes have more undulating green surfaces along with more tilt to them. The greens also looked to be slightly larger at Mammoth Dunes. More often the green complexes at Mammoth Dunes allow the option of running a ball onto the green or playing a bump-and-run shot. The greens at Mammoth Dunes often have banks to them. Finally, there is more land movement at Mammoth Dunes creating better vistas from the tee. While Sand Valley is attractive, Mammoth Dunes at times is stunning.
Both Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes share a wonderful routing that takes prime advantage of the land movement. I give David McLay Kidd high praise for a routing that had to incorporate and traverse a high ridge that runs through the property. With the exception of one hole, I think he did it beautifully. The holes go in every direction in order to work below or over the ridge that is nearly 100 feet high. To add to the drama of the routing, there is a fair amount of land movement in the fairways with ripples, waves, and knobs.
I did not see many times where one side of the fairway was preferred over the other side. This is where I differ from other reviewers. Perhaps it is more of a factor for players who can hit the ball longer than I can. There can be blind or semi-blind shots into the green, which is a design feature that I favor as long as it is not overdone.
I have heard from some of the longer/better players than I know that they prefer Sand Valley over Mammoth Dunes because Sand Valley offers more of a challenge. Some of these players have told me they would not go back to Mammoth Dunes or if they did a three day trip they would play Sand Valley three-four times and Mammoth Dunes only once. I can see their point of view. At times one wonders whether they are playing a golf course or having a “carnival-like” experience. Yet I would play each the same number of times on a visit because Mammoth Dunes is the more visually appealing course as well as it is slightly more fun. While it does not quite have the consistency of quality as Sand Valley, one can overlook the weaker holes quickly because the next hole is generally good. In addition, I prefer a course with more interesting green complexes and the surfaces on Mammoth Dunes are a higher challenge yet offer more options as to how to play them. One negative against Mammoth Dunes is an overuse of central bunkers.
From the Black tees, the course is a par 73 and is 6988 yards rated 72.4/132. The Orange tees are 6587 yards, rated 70.5/124. Thre are four sets of lesser tees all the way down to 4055 yards along with four sets of combination tees. Much like Sand Valley, having this many options for tees is a wonderful idea. There really is a tee for players of all abilities. For the longer hitters, there is room to go back further and make their own tees adding as much as another 300 yards.
1. Par 4 – 413/394 The first hole at Mammoth Dunes is a much better starting hole than Sand Valley’s even if it can result in a blind shot to the green if one finds the left side of the fairway. The right side is the preferred side. Having a blind shot does not normally bother me, but this one is a bit different as one has to guess a bit as to how far one’s ball will run out over the mound that fronts most of the green. It looks as though one should be able to get to the green just by clearing the mound but that is not the case. I really liked the novelty of teeing off at the end of the putting green in front of the clubhouse/restaurant/pro shop/lodging. The mound on the left side has a long bunker about 60 yards from the green along with another long bunker on the front left elbow of the green. The green has a higher left side with two smaller mounds on the right side. It is an attractive hole as the fairways has several ripples and smaller swales in it. I think it is one of the best starting holes at a Mike Keiser resort.
2. Par 4 – 410/406. From a slightly elevated tee a long waste are cuts diagonally to the right forcing one to a longer carry because the left side has sand that comes into play 210 yards off the tee. This sand eats into the left side more and more the closer it gets to the green almost cutting in front of the entirety of the green. A central bunker 260-265 yards off the tee is another reason to go down the right side even if the carry is longer. The green has a bank on the right side with two tiers at the back. It is a very undulated, large green at nearly 50 yards but one can run a ball onto it. While this hole does have the drama of the sharply uphill approach shot on Sand Valley’s second, it is a much more visually attractive hole.
3. Par 5 – 518/489. The first par 5 plays out to the right, then back to the left before a final short turn to the right for those requiring three shots. Sand is down the entirety of the left side with more room on the right. However the left side provides both a shorter route and the better view of the green for those going for it in two shots. At the final turn the fairway is still generous, but appears narrower than it is due to the hole working to the left and sand on both sides. About 50 yards in front of another large green is another center bunker that is deep. The green is raised. There is a substantial fall-off of the left side although there is short grass for a chance to recover. The right side of the green has a large mound in front that disguises the distance a bit. One should trust the yardage the caddie provides.
4. Par 3 – 207/181. This green is nearly 60 yards in length which makes it appear thinner than it is. Once again, Mr. Kidd has a central bunker this time at the front left of the green. The hole plays slightly uphill adding to the yardage. Missing left or right will likely mean one finds sand. The green is thinner at the back half. It is an okay par 3.
5. Par 4 – 456/424. The hole plays downhill with ample room down the left side. There is a small indentation of sand on the right side around 200 yards off the tee that if one gets in it they are likely not to be able to reach the green with their second. If in this area of the bunker, it is a blind shot that must be played out to the right as the sand on the left side is angled back into the fairway beginning around 130 yards from the green. This is an excellent green complex with the bunker on the right front of the green cutting into it. The green has fall-offs at each corner but a flattish middle. This is a nice hole.
6. Par 4 – 344/308. I was told about this hole due to its boomerang green. The hole is short and one has to be very precise. A smart play is to lay back of a pot bunker 240 yards off the tee on the left of the fairway although this is almost the middle of the fairway from the tee. Sand creeps in from the right near this bunker creating a narrow gap which then widens again after the bunker. A pin can be almost hidden for the approach shot given the mound fronting the middle right of the green. The back of the green is banked about 5-6 feet creating a backstop that can propel one’s ball in any direction. The green has a sharper fall-off on its far right side. I felt the hole to be too quirky due to the size of the backstop.
7. Par 5 – 560/524. This is a really nice par 5, possibly the best on the golf course. The fairway is very generous and works a bit to the right. The hole plays uphill. There are two big dangers for the second shot which is a wide cross bunker coming in diagonally from the left from 150-130 yards from the green. This bunker is also deep. The sand on the left side all the way to the green is about 5-6 feet below the level of the fairway. For bigger hitters who can carry the cross bunker, there is a central bunker about 50 yards from the green. The green is over 60 yards long, but thin. There are fall-offs on all sides of the green but into short grass. The middle right of the green has a mound. I really liked how this hole played against the side of higher ground on the left with beautiful trees.
8. Par 3 – 198/175. Some refer to this as an island green and it looks it from the tee box. However, both the front, left and back of the green offer short grass. However, to get to this green one has a forced carry over sand unless they catch the front left half. For those trying to play to the left side, Mr. Kidd has a bunker creeping from the left that looks like a finger and it is fairly deep. The green is raised so a miss into the sand on the right is going to be about 4-5 feet below the surface of the green. It is a nice par 3 both visually and in playing it.
9. Par 4 – 445/423. The ninth or the fifth are the two best par 4’s on the front. There is another central bunker about 230 yards off the tee to contend with but there is ample room on both sides to miss it. The hole plays as a slight dogleg right due to the location of the tee box. The fairway continues to be wide nearly all the way to the green. The green is shaped like a triangle with a central high point and sand off the left side. Overall the green goes right to left.
10. Par 4 – 339/323. This uphill dogleg left utilizes another central bunker, this time 230-240 yards off the tee. I did not like this hole because after the central bunker the sand comes into the fairway cutting it by two-thirds which seemed overly punitive for the longer player. It seemed to me the designer wanted to take driver out of the hands of the better player. At the green there is a crescent shaped bunker on the left middle. The green is nearly 50 yards long, angled right to left which I thought to be too large for the length of the hole, even if uphill.
11. Par 5 – 540/505. After playing the eleventh, a hole that I would normally have liked, I started to wonder whether the use of the central bunkers by Mr. Kidd had been overdone. The hole plays as a dogleg left with the first central bunker around 280 yards off the tee. Thankfully, I did not have to worry about as I do not have the length to reach it. Approximately 90 yards further up on the left inner turn of the dogleg is a large central bunker, about 25 yards wide and almost a square. Another 20 yards up from that one is a final bunker on the right side placed inside the fairway. This one is fairly deep. Sand goes down both sides of the fairway as well. The fairway snakes its way after the turn to the green with is angled opposite the bend of the fairway. The fairway goes left and the green is angled right. The green is raised with a vertical tier down the middle. While I liked the strategy of the hole I felt it asked too much of the average player versus the rest of the course. I was grateful to one putt for a par.
12. Par 4 – 433/401. Another central bunker comes into play on this uphill par 4 with this bunker being 245-285 yards off the tee. The bunker is long at 27 yards and certainly dominates one view from the tee. I did like the green, narrower on its left side with a fall-off into sand, and tilted back to front with a lot of internal movement.
13. Par 3 – 130/126. This is a wonderful short par 3 with an angled green to the left set behind a gully with a fall-off of 25+ feet. There is a high ridge behind the green. On our day, they put the orange tee box well to the right creating a straight shot that minimized the hole and took the gully out of play. I walked over to the black tee and played over the chasm which made it a fine hole. The green has a fair amount of inner movement although it does have a bit of a backstop. On the left side it falls to lower ground and a shot hit too long can go tumbling down quite a way.
14. Par 4 – 325/297. This hole is famous for the “armchair architect” contest held by a golf magazine. The marshall on the hole also said it was called out as one of the finest holes in the USA, but I was not convinced that is the case. In any event I did not like it despite my birdie. The hole plays downhill from an elevated tee with another central bunker 240-270 yards off the tee. Hit to the right of this central bunker and one can see their ball get all the way onto the green for a chance for an ace, eagle, or birdie. The green is very long at over 50 yards and has a vertical tier in it with the left side higher. I guess the biggest hitters can fly the central bunker. There is also ample room to go down the left to a small peninsula that offers a good look at the green. However, go too far left and one will end up in the sand sitting below the fairway and likely have a semi-blind shot to the green. We had a back pin position and I hit a second to 4 feet. I felt the hole should be 60 yards longer where longer players would be rewarded for finding the bottom of the hill and have a flat lie while shorter players would be forced to play perhaps from an uneven lie. The hole does emphasize the fun factor.
15. Par 5 – 522/509. The next three holes did not do much for me. Yet another central bunker at 225-240 yards off the tee is used. The sand on the left pinches in from the left about 170 yards from the green. A final central bunker is 85 yards from the green on the right although it appears a bit closer. Still, one can see there is plenty of room between this bunker and the green. This hole is basically straight with the green slightly angled to the left. Most players will be hitting their third from the left into the green going away from them. For longer hitters they will definitely have a go at this green in two.
16. Par 3 – 180/164. This hole plays downhill with trees coming into play perhaps more than any other hole on the course, more so on the right side of the green. The green is angled to the left and is massive at over 55 yards. The green sits in a small bowl from the right side and has a long bunker cutting into the front left. It is a visually attractive hole.
17. Par 4 – 432/427. Trees are on the right immediately at the tee. On the other side of those trees one will likely find balls. There is a large ravine like bunker that is nearly twenty yards long on the left side about 245-260 off the tee. The smart play is down the left side. This hole is basically straight. There is a double set of central bunkers between 70 and 50 yards from the green. The green is large but relatively uninteresting to what came before.
18. Par 5 – 536/511. This hole has the green set well to the left although it is basically a straight hole. The first long bunker of 35 yards is off the right side at 250 yards. A second smaller bunker is on the right at 145 yards from the green. Therefore the hole plays left and then left again. Bigger hitters can definitely reach the green in two even though it is placed on an uphill shelf. Sand cuts in from the left in front of the bunker but it is not much of an issue for those playing the hole in three shots. The green is tilted back to front with run-offs on all sides except the rear. It is an okay finishing hole, not quite as good as the finisher at Sand Valley.
Mammoth Dunes emphasizes the fun factor with generous fairways and very large, often undulating greens. There is good variety in the movement of both the surrounding land and on the fairways. There is a lot of “eye candy” on the course with parallel sand, large bunkers, and beautiful vistas from elevated tees. The par 3’s are visually very attractive with the eighth and thirteenth nice holes to play.
The course has a somewhat poor finish as the land gets flatter, but the routing overall is very good taking maximum advantage of the terrain. I did not like several holes, particularly the fourteenth although I suspect I am in the minority. I also think Mr. Kidd relied too heavily on central bunkers for both defensive purposes and as a distraction. Overall, as stated I would share the number of rounds at Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes. Sand Valley might be the slightly better course, but for most golfers Mammoth Dunes has the edge on fun and beauty as well as more interesting greens.
The best word to describe golf at Mammoth Dunes is options. On the short par 4 sixth hole, my playing companion had a 30 yard approach shot and commented that he had three different ways he could play the shot……“and with at least three different clubs” was my rejoinder. Options are also in vogue away from the green. Seventeen times the golfer is asked to land a shot in the fairway and on 13 of those there are strategic options to choose from. The fairways are extremely wide, but there is always a better side to be on, usually one challenged by a bunker or other hazard. There are also options on approach shots, as most greens will accept either an aerial or a running shot and finding the right part of the green adds to the challenge. Mammoth Dunes’ greens have some wild contours but green speeds are kept manageable making the often huge breaks great fun.
The holes run in all directions, challenging the player with a variety of wind conditions and the routing is completely intuitive, unlike Sand Valley where numerous signs are need to direct golfers to the next tee. Many prefer the original course here, and while I enjoyed Sand Valley, if I had 4 rounds to play, 3 would be on Mammoth Dunes.
Mammoth Dunes is true to the name- it is probably the largest scale golf course you'll ever see in America. The fairways are huge and the wide open dunescapes yield massive vistas.
Not enough credit is given to how genius David Mcklay Kidd's routing is. Mike Keiser brought in several architects to survey the property, none of whom would dare challenge the massive V shaped ridge running through the property. However, DMK uses it perfectly and to his advantage, with the uphill par three fourth and the awesome driveable 14th serving as transitions over said ridge.
Interestingly enough, McKlay Kidd originally wanted the first two and final two holes to play away from the current clubhouse location, near the current site of the Sandbox, which Keiser was against. Despite this, I honestly think that paddock occupies some really cool holes. The first is one of my favorite starters in golf, introducing the player to what will come. A massive fairway sits on the side of a hill with two distinct tiers. A shot up the dune to the right will result in a great look at the green for a downhill second, while bailing left creates a semi blind approach. 18 is another great hole played over an ocean of sand up to the clubhouse providing a final look at birdie.
There are a lot of features on this course meant to produce fun, picturesque moments. The sixth features a boomerang green, 8 is a deceptive seemingly island green par three, and 13 is a gorgeous par three over a massive crevice. While it is pretty gettable, the course still enforces a decent amount of strategy. The fairways are massive but being on the wrong side of one might result in a bad angle or a blind shot. Possibly the biggest complaint I hear from Mammoth are the blind shots, which I think is idiotic because if you have a blind shot you weren't playing the hole the right way. You're being penalized just as you would on a tight boring treelined course, but wouldn't it be more fun to be able to hit the shot off the fairway, even if you can't see the hole?
Overall, the course might be seen as rather mundane by better players, and it kind of is, but you have to understand what the motive of the course was. It wasn't built to host a major or be unfair but rather to optimize the amount of fun anyone can have on the course. A 15 handicapper can make a bunch of birdies with the bowled greens and wide fairways and have the time of his or her life. This was emphasized to me as I watched the group in front of me, which featured a veteran who had lost the use of his legs. With the help of a modified cart, he was able to hit some awesome shots and I'm sure had a ton of fun. Stuff like that is really cool to see, and an important aspect in growing the game.
Great golf course alongside Sand Valley. I tend to give the nod to Mammoth Dunes as far as which course is better. To me Mammoth has more memorable holes including a drivable downhill par 4. This course does play easier as evidenced by the scorecard however that should not take away from the overall experience of the course. With majestic dunes and gigantic fairways you truly will find this a course to remember
David McLay Kidd’s big break in course design came courtesy of Mike Keiser, who boldly awarded the commission to build Bandon Dunes to this practically unknown 27 year old.
Fast forward twenty years and Bandon Dunes is now one of six courses at the eponymous resort on Oregon’s pacific coast and Keiser has now expanded his empire into the American Midwest, opening the Sand Valley Golf Resort in 2017.
Keiser elected to go back to the architects that made the courses at Bandon Dunes a household name, with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designing Sand Valley and McLay Kidd hired to build Mammoth Dunes, which would open a year later in 2018.
I had the good fortune of visiting the resort in late July 2018, only weeks after Mammoth Dunes opened to the public.
The course sits on an impossibly expansive canvas and McLay Kidd uses that to his advantage, with massive fairways, incredible ground contours and large putting surfaces, all surrounded by rugged dunes and natural blowouts.
The aesthetics are astounding and with the massive width and scale, the course is a blast to play for even the most novice of players. Conditions were close to ideal for a brand new course – the turf was firm and bouncy and most of the greens allowed running approaches.
The course has come under criticism in some quarters for being too wide and I’ll admit, as a somewhat decent player, I had trouble understanding some of the design choices, which in certain cases rewarded players for the “safe play” as opposed to taking on a tougher line.
That all said, I liked the golf course a lot and I hope to venture back someday soon to see it again, once it has the chance to mature a little bit.
It’s a wonderful course to walk and caddies are certainly suggested for the first-timer, as there are a number of blind shots throughout the day.
Combine this with the enchanting short Sandbox, the resort’s original Sand Valley course and a soon-to-be built fourth course on the site, designed by Tom Doak, and you have the makings of yet another spectacularly successful golf resort from the Keiser family. Read more here: https://nowontheteegolf.com/2020/05/18/mammoth-dunes-course-profile/