SentryWorld is back! Closed for two years because of COVID-19 and to prepare for the 2023 U.S. Senior Open, it's now better than ever
STEVENS POINT — SentryWorld was closed for a major renovation in 2013-’14, reopened in 2015 and then closed again in 2020 because of COVID-19. An anticipated reopening in 2021 never occurred, due to the continuing pandemic and supply chain issues that slowed construction of a new hotel adjacent to the 18th fairway.
That history of stops and starts would be a death knell for many golf facilities. But because SentryWorld is owned by Sentry Insurance, a Fortune 1000 company, there has never been pressure to generate revenue through rounds played. The company has taken its time, and spared no expense, to make sure it gets things right.
An on-course plaque honors SentryWorld's architect, Robert Trent Jones Jr., who called the golf course "My Mona Lisa."
Wisconsin.Golf photo / NILE YOUNG JR.
The result is, in a word, spectacular.
The newly reopened and reimagined SentryWorld is stunning in its beauty and lives up to architect Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s famous declaration that it is his Mona Lisa. Links courses are all the rage these days, with their treeless terrains and “brown is the new green” mantras, but there’s nothing quite like a quintessential parkland course to stir the senses.
And, like succeeding incarnations of the Apple iPhone, SentryWorld has kept its best features and added layers of improvements. During the most recent closure to prepare the course for the 2023 U.S. Senior Open, a SubAir System was installed beneath the greens and drip-line irrigation was installed around the bunkers.
Also new when the course reopened June 1 were 20-minute tee times, which ensure an unhurried pace of play and allow the golfer to immerse himself or herself in the round with minimal distractions.
“We consciously don’t worry about the number of rounds played,” said Pete McPartland, chairman, president and CEO of Sentry Insurance. “I don’t want the course to be overplayed. It’s not about the more golfers, the better. It’s about a great experience for people that do play the course.”
As a result, SentryWorld is as perfect in its presentation as turf and sand can be. If it is not Augusta National in terms of conditioning, it is very, very close. I played it recently with Danny Rainbow, the PGA director of golf, and had to search hard for divots in fairways and ball marks on greens (all, of course, were repaired).
SentryWorld has raised its rate to $275 per round, but that is all-inclusive. Two concession buildings were completed last week; golfers pass them four times during the course of their round and have their pick from hot and cold sandwiches, a wide variety of snacks and a full bar. They can take as much as they want — everything, including tipping, is included in that $275. Pay in the golf shop and leave your wallet in your car.
It is not an inexpensive round of golf, but you’re paying for the experience: ideal pace of play, impeccable service and amenities and indulgences that cannot be found at your local jam-packed course, with its nine-minute tee times, rattling gas carts and beverage carts that may or may not show up.
When the world’s best golfers ages 50 and older descend on SentryWorld for the Senior Open next year (June 29-July 2), they will find a course that can be stretched to 7,300 yards, one that will test them off the tee and to a greater extent on shots into the bold green complexes. Deep bunkers, false fronts, falloffs into collection areas and audacious contours will require short-game imagination and execution.
Most of the fairways on the par-4s and 5s have been narrowed, some considerably. If you’ve played the course once or twice you probably wouldn’t notice, but for those who have played it often, the difference is dramatic. The narrowing of fairways necessitated the moving of fairway bunkers, and a few strategic bunkers were added. The greens on Nos. 5 and 18 were rebuilt and the green on No. 4 was modified.
The signature “Flower Hole,” the par-3 16th, was left untouched. The hole dates to the course opening in 1982 and was the idea of then-Sentry chairman John Joanis, who suggested to Jones that a “lake of flowers,” rather than water, surround the green.
“We knew that we had to make some changes,” said Mike James, PGA general manager at SentryWorld. “The USGA wants to challenge these players, especially in major championships, with every club in their bag. We also added a few new tees so the golf course now stretches just over 7,300 yards. On top of that we added the SubAir System just to make sure that we can control, as much as we can, the greens during the championship. The greens will be as firm and fast as we want them to be.”
The USGA was blown away by Sentry’s management team and staff and enthusiastic community support for the 2019 U.S. Junior Girls Championship. Hundreds of volunteers showed up unannounced on the Saturday morning of the championship to clean up debris in the wake of a violent windstorm.
“It was stunning,” McPartland said. “I’m not sure if the officials from the USGA had encountered a lot of that when they’ve had rainstorms and power outages. I would like to think that that had some influence with (SentryWorld getting) the Senior Open. The USGA is thinking that, OK, we don’t have to worry about volunteers or enthusiasm for this tournament in central Wisconsin.”
That’s all well and good, but SentryWorld is first and foremost a destination resort that must compete with Sand Valley nearby, not to mention Erin Hills, the Kohler Co. courses, Lawsonia and others in the region.
To that end, Sentry built the Inn at SentryWorld, a 64-room boutique hotel that opened March 29 and completes the resort. No longer do traveling golfers have to stay off property. The Inn was designed by Swaback Architects of Scottsdale, Ariz., using the same dramatic lines and materials it used in the redesign of the clubhouse nine years ago. The two buildings, located practically side by side, blend seamlessly with one another.
Outdoor dining is available at PJ's Restaurant at the back of the clubhouse.
Wisconsin.Golf photo / NILE YOUNG JR.
“They look like they were built at the same time,” said Chad Bates, the general manager.
All but 12 of the rooms feature balconies overlooking the 18th hole. The private third floor has a spacious Executive Lounge, accessed by guests who stay in junior executive suites on the floor. Complimentary snacks and beverages can be enjoyed on a terrace overlooking the course.
However, it’s the little things that add up to a memorable stay at any hotel, and this is where the Inn at SentryWorld excels.
Toe-stub lights under the beds are activated by motion, so a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night doesn’t become, literally, a trip to the bathroom. The bath sheets — most people call them towels — are big enough to swaddle a small car. The ingredients for a Wisconsin Old-Fashioned, along with instructions on how to make one, are left in every room ($12). Upon checkin, guests are offered a Spotted Cow or a glass of wine.
“If someone is coming over to your house to visit, you’re going to offer them a drink when they arrive, and you’re probably going to have something they would prefer,” Bates said. “It’s those little things that people notice.”
The Inn also features The Outfitter, which Bates calls “a gift shop on steroids.” In addition to the typical sundries and snacks, The Outfitter rents Trek bicycles and fishing poles in the summer and cross country skis and snow shoes in the winter.
“I think with the arrival of the new Inn, that was such a key amenity,” James said. “It really transforms us into a true destination facility. People want to stay for a couple days and not have to worry about getting in their car and driving someplace.”
The pride of ownership at SentryWorld extends beyond the walls of Sentry Insurance headquarters, just down the road from the course. There is a waiting list for volunteers for the Senior Open, the quota of 1,800 having been met more than a year in advance of the championship. People in Stevens Point are proud of the course, and deservedly so.
“I think this is a gem for our community,” said Sara Brish, executive director of the Stevens Point Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Sentry and the SentryWorld team has been tremendous to this community for the past several decades and I think the community is really appreciative of that and really embraces them. Not only does Sentry and SentryWorld take pride in the community but the community really respects what they’ve done to build this community and make it a place where people want to live and play and recreate.”
And, also, play golf.