“Wisconsin’s premier destination golf course.”
Thus begins the description of SentryWorld. That’s a specific and telling claim, given Wisconsin’s position as one of the greatest golfing states in America. Destination-style golf has exploded over the past two decades, inspiring dreamers to plan epic trips with pals around the world. With that in mind, I was intrigued to see what Badger State’s “first destination course” might look like. I was expecting something classic. Something with history and character. But I found something I didn’t expect from an 18-hole course in a small town in central Wisconsin: innovation. Sure enough, SentryWorld delivered two great experiences that I had never seen before.
What is SentryWorld?
To understand where SentryWorld is going, it’s worth understanding where it’s been – and what it is. The lushly parked course spans Stevens Point, Wisc., a charming college town and outdoor getaway, population 30,000, located right in the heart of the rural Midwest. Stevens Point is also home to the world headquarters of Sentry, one of the largest mutual insurance companies in the United States. And across from those headquarters is an 18-hole championship golf course.
SentryWorld opened in 1982 as a point of pride for the company and its CEO, John Joanis. Among Joanis’ unique requests was an island green – but that flowers, rather than water, surround the putting surface. He brought in Robert Trent Jones, Jr. to tackle the job, and off they went: Sentry had his class, and Jones was so proud of his work that he dubbed it “My Mona Lisa,” a nickname now proudly displayed on a plaque by the 16th “flower hole”.
After three decades of play, the course needed an update. SentryWorld closed in 2013 for a major renovation and reopened in 2015 to rave reviews. The course has won its bid to host the 2019 US Girls’ Junior and, following that success, next year’s US Senior Open. The course closed again for the pandemic and didn’t fully reopen until June 1, 2022. This alludes to SentryWorld’s obsession these days: if you’re going to do something, do it right or not at all. everything.
“Golf course conditioning is a bonus,” general manager Mike James told us. “Every blade of grass matters. Every little detail we can do, we do. Every kind of technology we can get our hands on, we get our hands on it and install it.
They brought that obsessive quality to their preparation for the Senior Open. The fairways narrowed, making spikes a particularly tough test at nearly 7,400 yards. The rough grew, emphasizing hitting those skinny fairways. I’m tempted to compare greens to mats, but there are no such smooth or fast mats. The new SubAir system gives them an increased level of control. And they’re taking every step to ensure golfing legends don’t find a divot when they arrive: when the course closes for the season at the end of September, it won’t reopen for public play until the USGA leaves. not the city. summer. At this point, departure times can be difficult to find.
This summer also marked the debut of the Inn at SentryWorld, a 64-room boutique hotel, the majority of which overlook the 18th hole. I had flown in for a few days to meet my colleagues Luke Kerr-Dineen and Claire Rogers for a work summit and a few days of golf. We met in Chicago, a little over three hours away; Stevens Point is centrally located within easy driving distance from Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and more. As far as golf destinations in the Midwest go, this one is pretty good and the experience has started attracting visitors from all over the country. They took on the big challenge by focusing on the little things. It starts at check-in, where our group was greeted with glasses of wine and ice-cold spotted cows to carry to our rooms. You’re paying for the experience, of course — a room and a ride at SentryWorld runs you $375 under current deals — but once you’re on the property, life is good.
Departure Time Innovation
Most bucket list courses are all about maximizing revenue. Who could blame them?! That’s what companies do. But SentryWorld has the advantage of being owned by a multibillion-dollar insurance company, which means it can factor your enjoyment — and its reputation — into its pricing model. During the re-imagining of the course, SentryWorld’s brain trust came up with a plan that could reduce the total number of its rounds but would ensure a better experience for its customers: 20 minutes between tee times. It’s incredibly rare to see a course exceed 12 minutes, and most group jams every 10 minutes or less.
“We try to provide a truly unique golf experience here,” said golf manager Danny Rainbow. “Something different from what people experience even at other high-end facilities.”
Think about the stressors you might encounter while playing golf. There’s the infuriating experience of waiting for the group in front of you to clear the green, muttering under your breath, raising your blood pressure and disrupting your flow. There’s also the anxiety of holding the group back behind you, trying to hit a pressure putt while fearing they’ll ruin their turn in the process. Countless golfers have paid for what they hoped will be the game of their lives only to find themselves herded onto the course like cattle, rushing to wait. Eek!
But most of this is created by the lack of starting time. With 20-minute intervals, any tension dissipates. You are less likely to wait for a group ahead of you because they are so early. You are less likely to delay a group because they are so late. And if there’s a speed gap, you let those players through, knowing there won’t be any more for 20 minutes. A reduction in the number of players on the course at any given time makes that course feel like yours for the day. That’s how they want you to feel.
The snack revolution
You’ve seen a snack shack in your day. You’ve never seen them like this. SentryWorld’s “fueling stations” are where Wisconsin heat meets Willy Wonka. I’m admittedly a sucker for that sort of thing, as an avid nibbler with a sweet tooth and a love of breakfast burritos, but these were a complete game-changer. They threaten to overwhelm the senses: off to one side is an open bar, ready for any cocktail you could dream up. There are sandwiches, savory snacks, healthy snacks, granola bars, fruits and vegetables. There are cookies, candies, sweets. There are refrigerators stacked to the brim: Waters, energy drinks, craft beers, light beers, seltzers, sodas, cocktails, etc. There is of course ice cream in four flavors and a variety of bars. Oh yes – and it’s all free.
The first station is located between the 1st and 10th tee, allowing you to refuel before the turn (hence the breakfast burritos) or refuel at the turn. Lunch time means a hot sandwich, fresh off the grill. There are also, of course, sandwiches in the fridge, if you prefer.
To quote philosopher Michael Scott: “Every year I get a $100 gas card. I can’t put a price on that. That’s the joke, of course: you can quite literally put a price on it. You could theoretically do the same while looting SentryWorld refreshment stations, imagining what each item would cost at your local country club. But that’s the point: you’re not nickel-and-diminished. No one is watching if you grab a granola bar to go or take notes when you come back for a second helping of Oreo Grasshopper ice cream. SentryWorld wants this to be your story. Write the ending you choose.
Check out our SentryWorld video below.