“The premier golf destination in Wisconsin.”
So begins the SentryWorld description. It’s a definite and expressive claim, given Wisconsin’s position as one of the greatest golfing states in America. Destination style golf has proliferated over the past two decades, inspiring dreamers to plan great trips for their friends around the world. With that in mind, I was intrigued to see what a “first destination route” might look like in Badger State. I was expecting something classic. Something with history and personality. But I found something I didn’t expect from an 18-hole in a small town in central Wisconsin: innovation. sure enough, guard world It provided two great experiences that I had never seen before.
What is SentryWorld?
To understand where SentryWorld is heading, it is worth understanding where it was and what it is. The lush gardens trail runs through Stevens Point, Wisc. A charming college town and outdoor getaway, with a population of 30,000, it is located right in the heart of the rural Midwest. Stevens Point is also home to the global headquarters of Sentry, one of the largest mutual insurance companies in the United States. Across from this residence 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, the island was green – but flowers, rather than water, surround the fetch surface. He brought Robert Trent Jones Jr. to handle the job, and they went away: Sentry had its course, and Jones was so proud of his work that he called it “My Mona Lisa,” a nickname now proudly displayed on a plaque by Sixteenth “The Flower Hole.”
After three decades of play, the course required some updating. SentryWorld closed in 2013 for a major renovation, and reopened in 2015 to stir up comments. The course won its bid to host the 2019 U.S. Junior Championships, and following this success, won the U.S. Open next year. The course was closed again due to the pandemic and did not fully reopen until June 1, 2022. This hints at the SentryWorld obsession these days: if you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all.
“The air conditioning of the golf course is excellent,” General Manager Mike James told us. “Every blade of the lawn matters. Any little details we can do, we do. All kinds of technology we can get our hands on and we install.”
They brought this obsessive quality to their readiness for the elderly. Lanes narrowed, making tips a particularly difficult test from nearly 7,400 yards. The roughness grew, adding to the value of accessing those narrow lanes. I tend to compare greens to rugs, but no rugs are this smooth and fast. The new SubAir system gives them an even higher level of control. And they’re taking every step to make sure golf legends don’t find wrecks when they arrive: When the course closes for the season at the end of September, it won’t open again for public play until the USGA leaves the city for the next summer. At this point, tee times can be hard to reach.
This summer also saw the debut of the Inn at SentryWorld, a 64-room boutique hotel with the majority of rooms overlooking the 18th hole. I had been traveling for two days to meet colleagues Luke Kerr-Dineen and Claire Rogers for a business summit and two days of golf practice. We met in Chicago, which is just over a three hour drive away. Stevens Point is centrally located within an easy road trip from Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and more. As golf destinations in the Midwest go, this is so good, and the experience is starting to attract visitors from all over the country. They tackled the big challenge by focusing on the little things. This starts at check-in, our group was greeted with glasses of wine and chilled spotted cows to take to our rooms. You pay for the experience, of course — a SentryWorld room and tour runs $375 under current offerings — but once you’re in accommodations, life is good.
Innovating the time to go
Most of the courses based on bucket lists maximize revenue. Who can blame them?! This is what companies do. But SentryWorld has the advantage of being owned by a multi-billion dollar insurance company, which means it can put your enjoyment — and its reputation — into its pricing model. While reimagining the course, mental trust SentryWorld came up with a plan that might reduce their total rounds but ensure a better experience for their customers: 20 minutes between tee times. It’s extremely rare to see a training session lasting more than 12 minutes, and most of them pile into sets every 10 minutes or less.
“We’re trying to offer a truly unique golf experience here,” said golf director Danny Rainbow. “Something different from what people experience even in other high-end facilities.”
Think about the stresses you might face while on the course of golf. A crazy experience is waiting for the group in front of you to clean the green, mumbling under your breath, raising your blood pressure and disrupting the flow. There’s also the worry of holding the group behind you, trying to squeeze them while also worrying that you’re sabotaging their ride in the process. Countless golfers pounded for what they hoped would be a round of their lives only to get flocks around the course like cattle, rushing only to wait. Eck!
But most of that is due to the tee time crisis. With 20 minute intervals, all the tension dissipates. It is unlikely that a group will wait at the front because they are so far ahead. You are not likely to delay a group because they are too late. And if there’s a difference in pace, you let those guys pass, knowing there won’t be more for another 20 minutes. A drop in the number of players in a tournament at any one time gives the impression that this tournament is yours for the day. This is how they want you to feel.
You’ve seen a snack shack in your day. You’ve never seen them like this before. SentryWorld’s “refreshment stations” are where the warmth of Wisconsin meets Willy Wonka. Admittedly, I’m fond of this sort of thing, as a thirsty snack with a sweet tooth and a love of burritos, but this was an absolute game-changer. They threaten to overwhelm the senses: on one side there is an open bar, ready for any cocktail you can dream of. There are sandwiches, savory snacks, healthy snacks, granola bars, and fruits and vegetables. There are cookies, sweets and sweets. There are refrigerators stacked to the brim: water, energy drinks, craft beer, light beer, seltzers, soda, mixed drinks, more. There is ice cream, of course, in four flavors as well as a variety of bars. Oh yes – and it’s all free.
The first stop is located between the first and tenth tees, allowing you to activate a pre-tour (hence the breakfast burrito) or refuel at the turn. Lunchtime means a hot, fresh sandwich from the grill. There are also, of course, sandwiches in the fridge, if you prefer.
Quoting philosopher Michael Scott: “Every year I get a $100 gas card. Can’t put a price on that.” Here’s the joke, of course: You can literally put a price on it. You could theoretically do the same thing while looting refreshment stations at SentryWorld, and imagine the cost of each item at your local country club. But here’s the point: You’re not exposed to nickel or dim. Nobody’s watching whether you snag a granola bar to go or take notes when you come back for a second serving of Oreo Grasshopper ice cream. SentryWorld wants this to be your story. Type any ending you choose.
Check out our video from SentryWorld below.