The chairman asked the architect to invigorate his original design for the 16th hole at SentryWorld. Then he had an idea.
Rare is the golfer who plays SentryWorld in Stevens Point for the first time — or even the 10th — and doesn’t whip out a camera or smartphone to take photos of the par-3 16th hole, famously known as the Flower Hole.
“I still take pictures, and I see it all the time,” said Mike James, SentryWorld’s general manager.
It’s one of the most unique and photographed holes in the world, measuring 200 yards from the back tee, playing slightly uphill and featuring approximately 33,000 flowers surrounding the green, give or take a mum.
The colorful hole will be front and center this summer, when SentryWorld plays host to the U.S. Senior Open, June 29-July 2, and the 103rd Suter Ward Group at Morgan Stanley Wisconsin State Open, Aug. 14-16.
But if not for then-Sentry Insurance Chairman John Joanis, the Flower Hole would have been just another ho-hum par-3.
Robert Trent Jones Jr., who designed SentryWorld, which opened in 1982 as Wisconsin’s first upscale public facility, originally envisioned the hole as a fairly benign one-shotter.
Joanis’ reaction? B-o-r-i-n-g.
“John said, ‘Bob, this hole needs something. What can you do?’” Jones recalled. “I said, ‘Well, we weren’t able to use some of the water at the far end of the property. Why don’t we put a little pond in here?’ He said, ‘Draw it for me.’ So I did, and he said, ‘Do you have anything else in mind?’”
Jones mentioned that he had recently returned from Europe, where he saw the tulips in bloom in Amsterdam and flowers planted around a course in France. But he still thought a pond in front of the green was more practical.
Joanis had what turned out to be a much better idea.
“I came back and John said, ‘I want to show you something,’” Jones said. "He had taken the pond and crafted it into a lake of flowers. And thus, the famous Flower Hole was born.”
The annuals are grown at Heath Farms in Coloma and are planted around Memorial Day. The design of the flower beds changes every year. Balls hit into the flowers are not allowed to be retrieved, a local rule dictated by Joanis himself. James said 2,000 to 3,000 balls were recovered at the end of every golf season.
SentryWorld underwent a renovation in 2013-’14, overseen by Jones and executed by associate Bruce Charlton and former associate Jay Blasi. The course was given a few nips and tucks more recently to prepare it for the U.S. Senior Open.
But only very minor changes were made to the Flower Hole.
“I could only imagine the idea of somebody changing the Flower Hole concept, how that would have been a very deep conversation, and it would have been all powers that be thinking that through,” James said. “It was such an important hole for us, and it continues to be.”
Thousands of spectators and TV viewers will see the Flower Hole for the first time during the U.S. Senior Open. What will the players think of it?
“With their skill level and ability, the flowers aren’t in play in any way, shape or form,” Blasi said. “They’re going to be competing to win a national championship. Their focus is going to be on the flagstick and the internal green contours and where to land the ball in order to give themselves the best chance to make a 2 or a 3.
“In terms of their personal take on it, I’m sure they’ll all be somewhat in awe of the look. These are people who travel the world playing golf and have seen everything everywhere, but they probably haven’t seen this.”
The flowers and the maintenance of them is expensive, but James only laughed when asked if he could reveal the cost.
“I could,” he said, “but I have been sworn to secrecy.”