One of the more pleasing trends in modern golf is the return of the short course, and the elevation of pitch and putt golf in America from an afterthought to a key part of operations. Leading resorts like Pebble Beach, Pinehurst, Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Big Cedar and Forest Dunes are all home to at least one short, par three golf course and they are generally as well built, and maintained, as any of their full tracks. Such consideration was once unthinkable, but this modern era is all about fun and there are few better ways to spend an hour late in the day than playing a bunch of expertly shaped par threes.
-- This course review of the Sandbox at Sand Valley appears in the new edition of Planet Golf USA (2020) --
The Sandbox at Sand Valley has seventeen such holes, and might be the best of the modern bunch simply because of the sheer quantity of holes on offer and the fact that a round here is basically a lesson in Golden Age golf architecture. The course was finished by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, but initially conceived and shaped by one of their long-time collaborators, Jim Craig. Craig identified the small sand prairie near the Mammoth Dunes clubhouse as being an ideal site for a short course, and was given freedom by the Keiser family to play around in the Sandbox and create something enjoyable for their guests. His preliminary shaping was followed by a final design from Coore, who increased the number of greens from 14 to 17, and discovered a way to present golfers with a variety of miniature challenges. Holes range from 50 to 150 yards.
As was the case at Bandon Preserve, the casual, carefree manner in which golfers can enjoy this course seems in direct contrast to what are a sophisticated set of golf holes. Hit and giggle golf has never been played to such gorgeous targets. None of the holes are remotely dull or unattractive, and for architecture buffs there are a number of powerful template green sites, as well as others that sit invitingly down on the ground daring you to skim past a bunker in order to set up a kick-in birdie. Each of the holes can be played with a putter, a bump and run or an aerial pitch shot.
Although the Sandbox doesn’t take the game too seriously, this is a seriously impressive piece of architecture and the equal of any modernized pitch and putt course built recently in the US.