Country Clubs Of The North
By Jason Kauflin
Golf groups are a fickle bunch. No matter how great last year’s trip was, a golfer’s nature is to always ponder what ELSE is out there. Wisconsin is certainly generating a lot of buzz in the world of golf destinations. Recently ranked the #1 golf destination in the world for 2017 by Golf Advisor.com, the Badger State has a variety of destinations that can accommodate any group’s golfing interests. One of the hottest areas in Wisconsin right now is located in the northcentral part of the state near Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point.
Much of the conversation in that region will be centered around the opening of the new Sand Valley Golf Resort this year. Scheduled to officially open to the public on May 2nd, Sand Valley will most certainly be attracting an entire new wave of golf travelers to the area. Have you heard of Bandon Dunes in Oregon? Well, Sand Valley is the same owner, same architects, and the same management team as Bandon Dunes. Groups from around the world will be putting Sand Valley on their bucket list. But with only 18 holes scheduled to be completed for the 2017 season, many golf groups will be looking to add some of the other courses in the area to their itinerary.
Probably the best known course in the area is SentryWorld in Stevens Point. Located only about three hours from Minneapolis, this Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design opened in 1982 and quickly became Wisconsin’s first destination golf course. Closed for almost 20 months for a complete course and clubhouse overhaul, SentryWorld re-opened in 2015 to rave reviews. There is also the Wisconsin River Golf Club in Stevens Point, The Ridges in Wisconsin Rapids, and the beautiful 36 holes of Lake Arrowhead in Nekoosa.
But there are two courses in the area that might not come to your attention when planning a trip into the Land of Cheese with your friends. One is Stevens Point Country Club in Stevens Point. The other is Bull’s Eye Country Club in Wisconsin Rapids. Yes, these are two private country clubs with their own membership, but both are open to the visiting Minnesota golfer whether they are coming for a custom golf package or just traveling through.
Bull’s Eye Country Club is a classic, old-fashioned layout. Built in 1927, Bull’s Eye offers bent grass greens and fairways that are both well-manicured. The course offers a tremendous variety of holes that never let you get complacent. For a heavily tree-lined course, Bull’s Eye feels surprisingly open off the tee at times and many holes require a little bit of thought to avoid putting yourself in some dire situations.
Part of Bull’s Eye’s back nine runs along the Wisconsin River, and the clubhouse sits perched atop an embankment overlooking the river as well. The clubhouse is actually situated on a spot where a giant bullseye was painted for logging ships to focus on while working their way down the Wisconsin River back in the day. This spot is now home to one of the most breathtaking “19th Hole” environments you will ever find.
About 30 minutes northeast of Bull’s Eye is Stevens Point Country Club. Stevens Point is another private club that wants to be in the conversation when you and your group are visiting the northcentral part of Wisconsin. Stevens Point CC has recently completed a full-scale renovation stemming from a rather unfortunate incident. About five years ago, a chemical used for broadleaf weed control damaged a number of trees on the property. Over 2,000 trees were eventually removed, and this led the management team at Stevens Point County Club to analyze their entire club from top to bottom. What they decided to do was invest in the future.
When all is said and done, SPCC is looking at a six million dollar renovation with half of that going to the facilities and the other half dedicated to the golf course. For the members, this investment means a completely different experience from what they have been accustomed to. There is a completely new facility layout, a new entrance road and a new parking lot. There is also a brand new swimming pool and splash pad complex which will assuredly aid in attracting new families to the club. For golfers… gone is the small, separate pro shop that looked like it could have been a glorified cart barn. The new pro shop will be attached to the completely renovated clubhouse. Stevens Point Country Club also will boast a brand new practice facility to help encourage more young golfers to pick up a club and continue to grow the game.
For the golf course itself, the forced removal of that many trees offered some unique possibilities for a course re-design. Those familiar with the course before the renovation were used to rows and rows of red pine trees lining most of the fairways in an almost military formation. There were blind tee shots that confused the eye and a couple holes that didn’t seem to quite fit in to the scheme of things. Post-renovation, golfers are treated to a more spacious golf course which is, quite frankly, more interesting than its predecessor. The natural terrain is better utilized, and this translates into a much more playable golf course no matter what your handicap.
Responsible for a majority of the improvements to the course at Stevens Point Country Club is Craig Haltom of Oliphant Companies. Along with overseeing the construction of the courses at Sand Valley, Craig took on the re-design at Stevens Point Country Club as well. He brought with him some key design elements being incorporated at Sand Valley. There was a general widening of the fairways and three completely new holes were designed to make the routing more playable. Along with the tree management program put in place, there is all new bunkering and new tee boxes throughout the golf course. Last but not least, a state of the art irrigation system was installed to maximize efficiency of the course. Stevens Point Country Club is now classically inspired, but fully refreshed.
“These are two great courses that any group from Minnesota would be thrilled to play when heading east into Wisconsin,” says Brian Jensen, part of the Management Team at Oliphant Companies. “Both Bull’s Eye and Stevens Point are great add-ons for any group looking to play Sand Valley, Lawsonia, Lake Arrowhead, or SentryWorld.” Wisconsinites are, by nature, very passionate about what their state has to offer. The members and staff at Bull’s Eye and Stevens Point are no exception. “The conditions of the courses and the enjoyment to be had at both facilities are exceptional,” added Brian. “Both memberships are very prideful of their respective golf courses, and would be happy to share a private club experience with groups coming into the area.”
In my work with Wisconsin Golf Trips, one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome are groups wanting to play a number of quality courses without having to drive very far each day. There is tons of great golf in Wisconsin, but most of the quality courses are spread out in certain areas. For the Minnesota golfer wanting to play above average golf courses, but also adhere to a moderate budget, the Wisconsin Rapids/Stevens Point area offers one of the best group trips available. Adding Bull’s Eye Country Club and Stevens Point Country Club to your potential itinerary makes the area even more desirable.
So consider these two private courses in the heartland of Wisconsin for your next golf trip, or on your way east to watch the U.S. Open, The American Family Insurance Championship, or The LPGA Classic at Thornberry Creek.
Jason Kauflin is the owner of Wisconsin Golf Trips. You can visit his site at www.wisconsingolftrips.com.