SentryWorld's famous 'Flower Hole' brings the color to the 2023 U.S. Senior Open
Hole 16 at SentryWorld

SentryWorld's famous 'Flower Hole' brings the color to the 2023 U.S. Senior Open

Is the flower hole at SentryWorld the most colorful par 3 in golf?

There are so many famous par 3s in championship golf.

The seventh at Pebble Beach. The Postage Stamp at Royal Troon. The fearsome 17th on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

TV viewers will get a look at a new contender this week at the 2023 U.S. Senior Open: the Flower Hole at SentryWorld in Stevens Point, Wisc. The U.S. Senior Open is set for June 29-July 2 with coverage on Golf Channel and Peacock.

The 16th hole is one of the unique par 3s in all of golf - and certainly the most colorful. Every year, more than 30,000 flowers are planted surrounding the green. This colorful display of upwards of 50,000 flowers this year is sure to pop on TV, and provide an interesting moment or two, should a player shank one into the flora. The more likely hazards are the three bunkers sitting between the tee shot and the green, plus a fourth bunker directly to the left of the green.

For the U.S. Senior Open, Hole 16 will play between 175 and 212 yards, depending on tee and hole placement. You can bet the grandstands near the green will be a popular viewing spot for fans.

The origins of the Flower Hole

Robert Trent Jones, Jr., SentryWorld's original architect, tells an interesting tale about how the Flower Hole came to be. Former Sentry CEO John Joanis thought the first attempt at designing the hole was too "weak".

"(He said) 'What can we do to make it more interesting?', Jones II recalled. "I said, 'John, I can draw a little pond here down the left'. He said, 'We already have a pond hole. Can you think of something else?'

"I had just come back from Paris, where we were working in the Geneva area at the time, and I had seen the French and the Swiss decorate the background behind greens with flower beds. I mentioned that to him: 'We could put some flowers behind the green'. I went away and when I came back a month later, the pond I had drawn was all filled with flowers, so it was kind of a give and take."

SentryWorld debuted in 1982 as Wisconsin's first destination course, long before Whistling Straits and Erin Hills put the state on the map for traveling golfers. Seeing the Flower Hole was the main draw.

About a decade ago, SentryWorld turned to Heidi Heath Farms to supply the flowers and eventually handed over the planting and maintenance to the farm's team as well. Heath designs the patterns of begonias, celosias, impatiens, bounce and other beautiful grasses. For the 2019 U.S. Girls' Junior, she arranged the flowers in such a way that it spelled out 'USGA'. 

Heath brings about 4–5 semi-trucks full of flowers each year, as well as a crew of 15 people to hand-plant them over the course of two or three days. They also plant another 7,000 flowers around the course and property. In a typical year, it takes about 450 man-hours to plant the Flower Hole. With the U.S. Senior Open coming to town this year, that number rose to 650.

"The layout of the Flower Hole varies every year," Heath said. "We try to change the swales up. We try to change the colors up. We try to change the varieties up to keep it of interest. Otherwise, it's the same plain Jane. Everybody wants something new.

"I think it's improved dramatically over the years. When we originally started, it was so-so, but with experience and better growing from our part, better communication and coordination with Sentry, it's improved dramatically."

What it's like to play the Flower Hole at SentryWorld

For amateurs playing the hole for the first time, those flowers might as well be water. When I stepped to the tee in 2017, I was intimidated as heck. I knew one miscalculation could lead to an embarrassing lost ball. Nobody actually retrieves their ball or plays a shot out of the flowers. A local rule allows you a free drop. Staff retrieved more than 1,000 golf balls from the Flower Hole after the 2022 golf season.

The hole is really cool, but I'd like to see SentryWorld go a step further and make playing it a true experience for everybody every day. Why not add a Toptracer video screen like the one I experienced at the Lakes at El Segundo in California? Or how about a camera mounted on a pole that takes a photo of your group from above with the flowers in the background that can be shared online? (Social media marketing works, people!). I'm not sure building a bar would be good for pace of play, but I'm not against it, either, since having a celebratory place to buy drinks seems to work on the famous 19th hole at Payne's Valley at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri.

The good news is SentryWorld is hardly a one-hole wonder. It's been renovated/redesigned twice in the past decade (in 2014 and 2022) by original architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his team to bring the 7,218-yard course up to the highest of standards. Tee times are spaced 20 minutes apart so guests can linger longer in the new comfort stations loaded with food and beverages, which is all included in the green fees that range from $300-$415. For the best rates, and a chance to stay and play at the new Inn at SentryWorld, check out our golf package below.

SentryWorld isn't as well-known as Wisconsin's other major resorts - Sand Valley, the American Club, Erin Hills - but maybe this place will finally start to get its due after hosting its first major men's professional championship.