OK, maybe you know about the flower hole. Does that mean you know SentryWorld, too? Most Midwest golf fans know it well, but the Wisconsin gem still flies under the radar to many golfers across the country.
And you know what? It shouldn’t, and it won’t any longer. Not after a massive renovation and with the U.S. Senior Open coming to town in 2023. The course, already one of the best in Wisconsin, has been closed the last two seasons to prepare for its first major and, throughout that time only got better.
Located in Steven Points, Wis., a town of about 25,000 in the central part of the state and home of Sentry Insurance, I visited SentryWorld over the summer with my colleague, Sean Zak, to learn more. We left two days later impressed by one clear takeaway: SentryWorld can more than hang with Wisconsin’s other public golf elites.
But what makes SentryWorld worth the trek, beyond the golf, brilliant beer selection — 25 beers on tap! — and mouth-watering cheese curds served up at PJ’s? Let us count the ways.
I had played SentryWorld years ago before it’s multi-million-dollar renovation, but this was Zak’s first visit. I traveled from Minneapolis; he came from Chicago — it was the perfect spot to meet in the middle. The conditioning at SentryWorld was pristine. That’s what the staff there prides itself on. And in a state where sand dunes dominate, it makes sense. This is how SentryWorld wants to stand out. Greenery.
“Not many of the top courses in Wisconsin are parkland-style courses like what you find here,” said Danny Rainbow, SentryWorld’s director of golf. “… It’s just a scene and a golf experience a little bit unlike what you find in the rest of the state.”
The grass is green, the bunkers are white, the water is blue, the pines are towering. The flower hole — we’ll get more into that later — is, obviously, colorful. These things alone don’t make a golf course good. But they don’t hurt, either.
All the shots
So here’s the flower hole, which you’ve probably seen in magazines, on websites or your social media feed. The green of the par-3 16th has about 20,000 to 30,000 flowers surrounding it, depending on the design that year. (Yes, it changes!) The flowers grow indoors in the winter and are planted on the 16th hole during a two- or three-day spurt after Memorial Day weekend. They reach their peak bloom in late July or early August and are removed in early October.
It’s beautiful. But SentryWorld has more than just a flower hole. In fact, no hole there is alike. There are reachable par-5s, short par-4s, a Cape hole, an island green, forced carries over trouble and more. You won’t get sick of it.
Testing the best
SentryWorld was closed the last two seasons to revamp the course to properly host the best golfers in the world for the 2023 U.S. Senior Open. But that wasn’t the sole purpose. The key was to strike a balance between testing the pros and still making SentryWorld fun and playable for paying customers.
Every fairway was narrowed from about 50 yards to 25 or 30 yards in landing areas relevant to the pros (so amateurs can still find generous fairways when they play) and eight back tees were added. They modified three greens, converted some closely mown runoff areas around greens to bluegrass rough and reshaped, moved and added bunkers throughout the course. Additionally, a SubAir system was installed in every green in 2020, which greatly improves green quality and health throughout the season.
“The architect who designed the course in 1982 (Robert Trent Jones Jr.) redesigned it in 2014, and now modifying it again for the Senior Open, we had to look at it from a different lens,” said Mike James, SentryWorld’s general manager. “One, we narrowed the fairways. We knew we needed to provide a premium on driving the ball. We also looked at our bunkers. Are our bunkers going to challenge them off these back tees? We reshaped some greens, added some more challenge, some more slope to some greens, really to make the players think.”
Off the course
SentryWorld has just one course, but the massive building accompanying it has more than just a pro shop and trendy restaurant. Enter the Fieldhouse, a massive 51,000-square-foot recreational facility that’s open year-round.
Zak and I played corn hole, Ping-Pong and hit balls in the simulator. (That’s right; we “played” SentryWorld before we even played SentryWorld.) There’s also tennis, volleyball, kickball and tons more to do in that space that can be rented out.
Next to the Fieldhouse sits The Inn, a boutique hotel that received a recent facelift and is the perfect spot for a stay-and-play option. The upgrades at The Inn were made to offer golfers a relaxing place to stay after they experience one of the top public courses in Wisconsin. But only after getting a bite at PJ’s, of course.