When the idea to visit Sand Valley was first discussed at Top 100 my thoughts were immediately transported, mistakenly I should add, to the Midwestern state of Wisconsin. It soon became apparent that our trip would require a lot less time in the air as we would be heading to northern Poland to see the work of Finnish course architect Lassi Pekka Tilander and German course architect Tony Ristola rather than playing the acclaimed Coore/Crenshaw layout.
The European Sand Valley may not be quite as well known as its American namesake but the quality of the design is remarkable. This is golf on a grand scale, the wide fairways brought together by large sandy waste areas and peppered with an array of attractive rough-edged bunkers mostly set into large mounds. Good strategy from the tee will produce the best angles from which to attack the greens and what incredible greens they are. To merely describe them as undulating would certainly be selling them short, the Castle Course at St Andrews being mentioned in comparison on numerous occasions.
The 12th hole, a split fairway dogleg par-5 with a massive sandy waste area was my favourite hole but the mid-length 9th, a wonderful par-4 played over a deep valley to a shallow green set amongst mature pines gives it a run for its money. The 3rd is the shortest par-3 of around 125 yards to a raised green, the other three are all over 175 yards with both the downhill 10th and the dangerous 14th being excellent.
With so much variety and imagination in the design, including three short but fun par-4's, it was a shame that at the time of our visit the greens were in pretty poor condition with open hollow tine holes covering the greens and patchy grass coverage at best. Apparently, the watering system pump had failed just as the weather became unusually hot which led to the fire brigade being employed in an attempt to save the day with their water hoses.
At least a couple of greens are just a little bit too wacky for me, particularly the 16th which is reminiscent of an elongated, slightly flattened molehill with seemingly very few usable areas in which to cut the hole. The huge sloping 18th green is also devilishly tricky. Maybe a couple of greens could be softened in time but all things considered we had a blast and if this course had been built in my local area I would have joined without hesitation.
One final point worthy of a mention, the clubhouse serves some of the finest food I have ever tasted at a golf resort. Well done Sand Valley, a solid 4-ball rating on this visit but comfortably a 5-ball when the greens fully recover. Brian W
Date: August 10, 2018