What. A. Day. 53 holes of golf with perfect weather and great company, as I was accompanied by a fellow teacher and golf coach from a neighboring school district (Jon). We specifically chose to play on Memorial Day because it was the last day to take advantage of Spring Rates, and neither of us had teaching/coaching obligations on that day. We debated taking a caddie, but ultimately decided against it. One of the themes for the day was maximizing value and fun. Mission accomplished.
The schedule for the day was SV at 8:40, MD at 3:15. Plenty of time in between to eat and rest. We were up in the air as to whether to play the Sandbox during that time, or wait until after the round at MD was completed. More on that later. I arrived plenty early, and the staff was tremendously helpful and accommodating. Every staff member I encountered consistently went out of their way to make me feel like the most valued guest on the property. Can't say enough good things about them.
We met the other members of our foursome about 10 minutes before our SV tee time, and discovered they would be utilizing the services of a caddie, which wound up being extremely helpful as it relates to pace of play. Getting from green to next tee box is always marked, but not necessarily obvious if you aren't looking for it. He gave great advice, and was good for tons of laughs. I made a conscious effort not to ask him too much, as I had not hired him for the day, but he was generous with his knowledge. I tipped him for his time at the end of the round, and he specifically said that if we had a caddie in our group for the round at MD to ask more questions, even if we had not been the ones to enlist those services. Stand up guy. He introduced himself as C.J., which I later found out stood for Chris Johnson, a PGA Tour Canada player. To say that he was awesome would be a gross understatement. If anyone is headed up there in the next couple of weeks, request him. The tour starts up in a few weeks, so he said he won't be around these parts much longer.
The day was filled with so many fantastic moments that it's hard to pick one, but the highlight of the day might have come right away on hole #1 of SV. We decided to play the orange tees (6,500 yards, 1 set forward of the tips). Hole #1 is a 325 yard par 4 with waste area entirely up the left and the flag sitting on a shelf in the back right corner of the green. Jon laid up with a hybrid, and I decided to rip driver. It was flirting with the left waste area the entire time, and I never saw the ball come down (I rarely do, my eyes suck). I still couldn't see my ball as we got to Jon's, and I watched him stuff a wedge on top of that little shelf to 4 feet. I keep looking in the waste area for my ball as we approach the green, but am pleasantly surprised to see that my drive found the front right of the green. I gave the eagle putt a good run and tapped in for birdie, then watched Jon pour in his 4 footer. Couldn't think of a better way to start an awesome day.
The scoring wasn't fantastic after that, but I didn't expect it to be. I'm coming off of a wrist injury and have only played 9 holes in the previous 6 weeks. Absence of any type of form was expected. I made another birdie on the par 5 fourth, and played plenty of fun and interesting shots. My driver, which is the strength of my game, completely abandoned me on the back 9. I was missing the largest fairways in the world by 30 yards and duffing every shot attempt out of the waste areas. I didn't care, though. I was grinning ear to ear as I hacked my way around to a 92 (40-52...yikes on that backside). I actually putted relatively well for my mediocre standards...one 3-putt due to me leaving myself an impossible first putt, and 2 or 3 that I was able to walk in. I controlled my speed well (much better than I did on MD), I think due in large part to it still being morning and the greens still having a bit of moisture. They were pretty quick, but not like putting on ice. The roll was always true. We were told SV was definitely the more challenging of the 2 courses, and I can definitely see why that is the case. The greens repel on SV much more so than MD. And the closing stretch is no joke. What a fantastic course.
We had lunch on Craig's Porch. I got numerous recommendations that the tacos were a must try. I can confirm their awesomeness. $1.50 chicken, pork, or mushroom tacos. Ridiculously affordable, and very tasty. You could eat like a king for cheaper than a value meal at most fast food joints. It was the perfect way to refuel after a round, eating as we overlooked other groups teeing off for the day and coming in on 18.
As I mentioned before, we were unsure if we wanted to play the Sandbox in between the 18s or if we wanted to wait until after. We knew that we were going to play it at some point during the day...after all, one of the themes of this day was maximizing value, and the Sandbox is free to play for anyone playing 36 holes in a day. Although rest and pacing are important on a long day like that, we are both in decent shape and decided that the time was right to play the short course. Potential hot take here...after playing all 3 courses, I think Sandbox might be the best course on the property. It was easily the most fun we both had all day. We played match play format where the loser of a hole gets to pick the teeing area and any stipulations for the next hole. For example, I lost hole #4, so for hole #5 I chose a teeing area about 20 yards back from where the tee markers were and set the stipulation that the entire hole had to be played with only 3 woods (we took our entire bags expecting chicanery such as this, not wanting to limit ourselves to just a couple of wedges). He set a condition on #9 that the hole needed to be completed by only hitting 1-handed putts. We had such a blast trying to 1-up each other's creativity and shot making. I ultimately squared the match on 16 by stuffing a 92 yard pitching wedge to 2 feet, and we halved the final hole to finish all square. An incredibly fitting end to the craziest match I have ever played. Go out of your way to play this course. I can't heap enough praise on it.
After a little rearranging of the tee sheet, we teed off MD at 3:40 as a twosome. This meant no caddie, but I found the layout of MD a bit more straightforward. What a golf course. I can see why so many say it is the most fun course they have ever played. Every hole presents you with a new challenge, and even though it is more scoreable than SV the strokes can still pile up in a hurry. As evidenced by the 89 I shot. The back 9 woes from SV carried right into the front 9 at MD as my driver was still off the planet. And when you miss the excessively wide fairways, the recovery shots are not always simple. Hence, the strokes pile up in a hurry. Just as with SV, however, I didn't care one bit. I was still smiling, laughing, and taking in the breathtaking surroundings. Constantly searching for the answer, I found it on hole 12 and the driver was all of a sudden straight as an arrow for the rest of the day. I still couldn't putt, but I'll take what I can get. I somehow managed to break 90 (47-42), but felt the score was not at all indicative of how I played. My front 9 contained three 3-putts, my back 9 another two of them. I'd certainly like another shot at MD once I've had an opportunity to get my game in shape rather than sitting around for 6 weeks rehabbing a wrist.
Supper consisted of a "Smash Burger" at the food truck right next to the Sandbox. $8 for a really good burger and fantastic fries. Again, the quality and value of the food at Sand Valley was second to none (although I've never had the pleasure of visiting Augusta). There was enough daylight left to get in 9 more holes on the Sandbox if we desired, but Jon had an early morning the next day and a 2.5 hour drive home.
My Sand Valley experience was truly exceptional. Fantastic course conditions, world class staff, food options that can suit anybody, and an unforgettable golf experience. No coastal views like Bandon has, but I don't think they are necessary. The topography is stunning in its own right, and gives the property a very unique feel. I wouldn't change a thing about the day, except the quality of some of my golf shots. This includes the order of which we played the courses. I've heard about a 50/50 split regarding which course people like to play first. I was glad to have played SV first...I don't think it would be accurate to say it's a bit more of a grind, but it certainly can test your shotmaking (especially around the greens) a bit more often than MD. I feel it's easier to focus on those things earlier in the day than try to do it after you've already played 18 plus the Sandbox.
I will be back to SV to play again. No idea when, as my budget doesn't allow me to do things like this very often (maybe once a year). You should go out of your way to play it too. The courses can truly accommodate anybody's game. If my incredibly substandard level of play can still get around in bogey golf, anybody can. And if you've made it to the end of this post, sorry...you'll never get those 5 minutes of your life back.