More than just Flower Power
By Jerry Slaske
If any golf course owner or player wants to see how a club should be run, they've got to check out SentryWorld. It's where people and technology come together to make golf the game it should be: enjoyable, challenging, and inspiring.
Notwithstanding the 40,000 flowers on the par 3, 16th hole (there are 100,000 flowers throughout the course), SentryWorld has always been a Midwest favorite. But with the redo completed last year by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., and architects Jay Blasi and Bruce Charlton, it is now a nationwide winner. Don't be surprised if it hosts some significant tournaments in the near future or, at the very least, moves up in the rankings among America's best.
Located in Stevens Point, WI, a city of about 30,000 150 miles northwest of Milwaukee, on the manicured and coiffured grounds of Sentry Insurance corporate headquarters, SentryWorld has the feel of a high-end, year-round resort. Unfortunately, it still has no hotel with all of its related amenities like swimming, spa, etc. to make it a real resort. But it's sprawling, renovated and recently enlarged two-story clubhouse does have indoor tennis courts; meeting rooms; and an airy restaurant with a relaxing patio that includes multiple fire pits and plenty of comfortable chairs to watch the play on several tees and greens. While SentryWorld may not be a self-contained resort, there are several motels in the immediate area offering stay & play packages.
Being in a small city smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin gives SentryWorld a kind of insularity that adds to its charm and attraction. The people are genuinely nice and respectful, and the course staff is knowledgeable and protective of this gem. I happened to pair up with Tom Stenborg, one of SentryWorld's starters, on his morning off. It was obvious he was proud to be able to work and play there, and he knew exactly what a visitor like myself wanted and needed to know.
Several holes have been completely reconfigured and rerouted, giving the course its first facelift since opening in 1982. The greens are devilish to say the least. Combine their speed (running about 10 on the stimp when I played) with the sometimes severe undulations and oftentimes subtle breaks, and you end up with, well, devilish. Get on the wrong side of the hole and don't be overly disappointed with a three putt. Take your lumps and move on. Then there are the false fronts, false sides, and the almost invisible line between the fringe and green surface ("infinity greens" as they're called) that make club selection sometimes problematic.
All 54 bunkers are large and deep, and filled with fine white Ohio silica, making them a delight to play from because of their consistency. And they're constructed in such a way as to hold the sand in place (they're called "Better Billy Bunkers") even in heavy downpours that probably would wash out regular traps. The bright white sand adds to the resort feel and to SentryWorld's uniqueness. After all, the only time you see white in the Upper Midwest is during the winter. It's called snow.
And water? Ten holes sport the wet stuff and none of it is just for show. It's all in play. Of course, what would you expect in a state with more than 10,000 lakes?
For all golfer levels, it adds up to beauty and the beast.
You can walk SentryWorld, although distances between a couple holes are a bit lengthy. But in this case taking a cart adds to the fun. The GPS is state-of-the-art with touch screens that provide distances from any point to any point on a hole. And the sytsem automatically slows the cart when crossing bridges (inclines and declines are no problem here because there are no elevation changes to speak of). Moreover, it doesn't allow the cart to get too close to greens, traps, and water hazards, and it keeps the cart on paths during times of cart path only. (If you stray from the paths, the carts will go very slowly in reverse until the cart is back on the path.) Warnings pop up on the screen when you're lagging behind the group in front, thus facilitating a decent pace of play and adding to the game's enjoyment.
When making your plans to play SentryWorld, keep in mind it's closed on Mondays to give the course a breather and the maintenance staff a chance to keep it one of the finest tracks anywhere. Other than at country clubs, where else do you get such commitment to the game at the expense of revenue?
The golf industry wouldn't have to worry about growth if there were more SentryWorlds. It's another reason Wisconsin is becoming a golf mecca.
Oh yeah, in case you're wondering, should your ball stray into the flowers on the 16th hole, it's a free drop. And don't bother to look for your ball because you may be asked to leave and never come back again if you're foolish enough to stomp around in the Wizard of Oz-like fields of flowers.
Revised: 09/11/2015 - Article Viewed 33,352 Times
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About: Jerry Slaske
KEY Milwaukee is a tradition in Wisconsin's largest city. As the leading visitor guide in Southeastern Wisconsin, we're distributed in hotels, motels, restaurants and visitor centers throughout the metropolitan area, beginning at the Illinois-Wisconsin border.
Contact Jerry Slaske:
Key Milwaukee - Golf Writer