ROME, WISCONSIN | The words Sand Box connote fun, and that is a very apt way to describe the short course that Bill Coore, Ben Crenshaw and one of their design associates, Jim Craig, have crafted at the Sand Valley resort. Opened on May 1st, it features 17 holes, all of which are par-3s. They range in length from 50 yards to 150, with some borrowing design characteristics such from venerable greens as the multi-tiered Biarritz and Double Plateau. There are two sets of tees, one dubbed Crenshaw (at 1,652 yards) and the other Coore (1,272 yards), and trowels embedded in the turf mark both. The resort also gives golfers the option to play the entire track with a putter at 739 yards. Small, easy-to-carry pencil bags are provided, and as a rule, a player needs only to bring three or four clubs.
Coore and Crenshaw have built short courses before, most notably the Bandon Preserve at the first golf resort Mike Keiser ever developed, on the south Oregon coast. And the best par-3 tracks compliment the bigger courses they abut, either as venues for those no longer willing and able to play 36 holes in a single day or places to stage late-afternoon/early-evening competitions that are often contested with beers and cigars in hand. They also have a way of educating people as to how they need to execute short-game shots on the larger layouts and giving them different sorts of ways to practice them.
The Sand Box is one of the very good ones, and I liked it from the moment I stepped to the first tee, just two wedges and a 7-iron in my bag (for the two longer holes) as well as a putter. The terrain is quite similar to the 18-hole tracks that currently exist here – Sand Valley and Mammoth Dunes – with turf that plays firm and fast and testy bunkering. There are expansive waste areas of sand, and lots of character to the undulating ground. I hit full wedges, half-wedges and bump-and-runs. I also take some long putts from off the greens. And when I get thirsty, I reach into one of the iced-filled canoes that are placed between a few of holes and pull out a beer. I find a “fresh squeezed” IPAs from the Deschutes Brewery in Oregon to be particularly tasty on a hot spring day.
A round takes an hour or so, but it feels like much less when all is said and done. But time flies when you are having fun. And the Sand Box is a lot of fun.