“Wisconsin’s first vacation spot golf course.”
So begins the outline for SentryWorld. It’s a selected and telling declare, given Wisconsin’s place as one of many biggest golf states in America. Vacation spot-style golf has exploded over the past 20 years, inspiring dreamers to plan epic buddies’ journeys throughout the globe. With that in thoughts, I used to be intrigued to see what the Badger State’s “first vacation spot course” would possibly seem like. I anticipated one thing traditional. One thing with historical past and character. However I discovered one thing that I wasn’t anticipating from 18 holes in a small city in central Wisconsin: innovation. Certain sufficient, SentryWorld delivered two terrific experiences I’d by no means seen earlier than.
To grasp the place SentryWorld goes, it’s price understanding the place it’s been — and what it’s. The luxurious parkland course sprawls throughout Stevens Level, Wisc., an enthralling school city and outdoorsy escape, inhabitants 30,000, located squarely within the coronary heart of the agricultural Midwest. Stevens Level can also be dwelling to the worldwide headquarters for Sentry, one of many largest mutual insurance coverage firms in the USA. And throughout the road from these headquarters sits an 18-hole championship golf course.
SentryWorld opened in 1982 as some extent of delight for the corporate and its CEO, John Joanis. Amongst Joanis’ distinctive requests was for an island inexperienced — however that flowers, slightly than water, encompass the placing floor. He introduced in Robert Trent Jones, Jr. to deal with the job, and away they went: Sentry had its course, and Jones was so happy with his work he dubbed it “My Mona Lisa,” a moniker now proudly displayed on a plaque by the sixteenth “Flower Gap.”
After three a long time of play, the course required some updating. SentryWorld closed in 2013 for a significant renovation, reopening in 2015 to rave opinions. The course gained its bid to host the 2019 U.S. Ladies’ Junior and, following that success, subsequent 12 months’s U.S. Senior Open. The course closed once more for the pandemic and didn’t totally reopen till June 1, 2022. That hints at SentryWorld’s obsession nowadays: Should you’re going to do one thing, do it proper or under no circumstances.
“The conditioning of the golf course is a premium,” normal supervisor Mike James informed us. “Each blade of grass issues. Any little element that we are able to do, we do. Each type of expertise that we are able to get our fingers on, we get our fingers on and we set up.”
They’ve introduced that obsessive high quality to their preparation for the Senior Open. The fairways have narrowed, making the information a very powerful take a look at from practically 7400 yards. The tough has grown, placing a premium on hitting these skinny fairways. I’m tempted to match the greens to carpets however there aren’t carpets this clean nor speedy. The brand new SubAir System provides them an elevated degree of management. And so they’re taking each step to make sure golf’s legends gained’t discover a divot after they arrive: when the course shuts down for the season on the finish of September, it gained’t open once more for public play till the USGA leaves city subsequent summer time. At that time, tee occasions could also be powerful to return by.
This summer time additionally introduced the debut of the Inn at SentryWorld, a 64-room boutique lodge with a majority of rooms overlooking the 18th gap. I’d flown in for a pair days to satisfy colleagues Luke Kerr-Dineen and Claire Rogers for a piece summit and a pair days of golf. We met in Chicago, which is simply over three hours’ drive; Stevens Level is centrally positioned inside a simple street journey from Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and extra. As Midwest golf locations go, this one’s fairly good, and the expertise has begun to draw guests from throughout the nation. They’ve tackled the large problem by specializing in the little stuff. That begins at check-in, the place our group was greeted with glasses of wine and ice-cold Noticed Cows to hold as much as our rooms. You’re paying for the expertise, after all — a room and a spherical at SentryWorld runs you $375 below present choices — however when you’re on property, life is nice.
The Tee Time Innovation
Most bucket-list programs are within the enterprise of maximizing income. Who might blame them?! That’s what companies do. However SentryWorld has the good thing about being owned by a multi-billion greenback insurance coverage firm, which suggests it will possibly issue your enjoyment — and its status — into its pricing mannequin. Throughout the course’s reimagining, SentryWorld’s mind belief got here up with a plan that may cut back its complete rounds however would assure a greater expertise for its prospects: 20 minutes between tee occasions. It’s extremely uncommon to see a course go over 12 minutes, and most jam in teams each 10 minutes or much less.
“We’re attempting to offer a extremely distinctive golf expertise right here,” director of golf Danny Rainbow stated. “One thing totally different than what folks expertise even at different top-end amenities.”
Take into consideration the stressors you would possibly expertise throughout a spherical of golf. There’s the maddening expertise of ready for the group in entrance of you to clear the inexperienced, muttering below your breath, elevating your blood stress and disrupting your movement. There’s additionally the anxiousness of holding up the group behind you, attempting to hit a stress putt whereas additionally worrying that you simply’re ruining their spherical within the course of. Numerous golfers have shelled out for what they hoped can be the spherical of their life solely to get herded across the course like cattle, hurrying up solely to attend. Eek!
However most of that’s created by tee time crunch. With 20-minute intervals, all rigidity dissipates. You’re much less more likely to look forward to a gaggle forward as a result of they’re up to now forward. You’re much less more likely to maintain up a gaggle behind as a result of they’re up to now behind. And if there’s a discrepancy in velocity, you simply let these gamers by, realizing that there gained’t be extra for an additional 20 minutes. A discount of gamers on the course at any given time yields the impression that this course is yours for the day. That’s how they need you to really feel.
The Snack Revolution
You’ve seen a snack shack in your day. You’ve by no means seen ’em like this. SentryWorld’s “refreshment stations” are the place Wisconsin heat meets Willy Wonka. I’m admittedly a sucker for this type of factor, as an avid snacker with a candy tooth and a love of breakfast burritos, however these had been an absolute game-changer. They threaten to overwhelm the senses: On one aspect sits an open bar, prepared for any cocktail you may dream up. There are sandwiches, salty snacks, wholesome snacks, granola bars, vegatables and fruits. There are cookies, candies, sweets. There are fridges stacked to the brim: Waters, power drinks, craft beers, gentle beers, seltzers, sodas, combined drinks, extra. There’s ice cream, after all, in 4 flavors plus quite a lot of bars. Oh yeah — and it’s all free.
The primary station is located between the first and tenth tees, permitting you to energise pre-round (therefore the breakfast burritos) or refuel on the flip. Lunchtime means a scorching sandwich, recent off the grill. There are additionally, after all, sandwiches within the fridge, in the event you’d choose.
To cite the thinker Michael Scott: “Yearly I get a $100 gasoline card. Can’t put a worth on that.” That’s the joke, after all: you’ll be able to very actually put a worth on it. You possibly can theoretically do the identical when you’re pillaging SentryWorld’s refreshment stations, imagining what every merchandise would value at your native nation membership. However that’s the purpose: you’re not being nickeled nor dimed. No person is monitoring whether or not you snag a granola bar to go or taking notes whenever you return for a second serving of Oreo Grasshopper ice cream. SentryWorld needs this to be your story. Write no matter ending you select.
Take a look at our video from SentryWorld under.