Wine and stories flowed and laughter punctuated the conversation as a group of golfers dined at Muse at Sentry, the upscale restaurant on the Sentry Insurance campus, after a chilly mid-May round at SentryWorld.
The golfers were from far-flung locales such as China, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Sweden. This was not unusual in itself, given that Sentry regularly hosts international clients at its worldwide headquarters.
What made this gathering unique was that everyone in the group was a member of the International Association of Golf Tour Operators, the global golf tourism oganization. Though most of the golf tour operators had played destination golf in the United States, this was their first visit to Wisconsin. The ambitious itinerary included rounds at Whistling Straits, the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run, SentryWorld, Sand Valley Resort, Erin Hills, the Palmer Course at Geneva National and the Brute and Highlands courses at Grand Geneva Resort.
Visit Milwaukee took the group on a tour of the city. Johan Kullenberg of Swedish-based Golf Plaisir AB said he was surprised by all the things to see and do. “To be honest, I thought Milwaukee would be more like an industrial town, like boring,” said Kullenberg, who lives in Stockholm. “I found it charming, with a lot more art and restaurants and everything. And along the lake you have these beaches. I’ve been to other areas in the United States where the towns are a little bit more industrial. Even though Milwaukee is an industrial town, it has a lot of charm.”
Wisconsin as an international golf destination?
Perhaps we don’t fully appreciate the quality of golf the state has to offer. According to Golf Digest, Wisconsin has four of the top 18 public courses in America – No. 3 Whistling Straits, No. 9 Erin Hills, No. 15 Blackwolf Run (River) and No. 18 Sand Valley – and 10 of the top 100.
“Wisconsin is fantastic,” said Giles Greenwood of Seventy2 Golf, a U.K.-based trade sales agency specializing in golf tourism. “When you live in the state, you’re like, ‘Is it?’ You take it for granted. But it is stunning. “It’s not often you come across an internationally undiscovered golf destination. This is like a blank piece of paper. The golf is really, really good.”
International golfers know about Whistling Straits and about Erin Hills (the 2017 U.S. Open venue), but some of the other places are of incredible quality as well. In addition, the variety of courses that you can experience in a relatively small area, is impressive: SentryWorld and the Meadow Valleys Course are parkland gems, Whistling Straits is a faithful links imitation on Lake Michigan, Erin Hills was laid over rugged glacial terrain in the Kettle Moraine and Sand Valley was built in the state's central sand barrens.
The knock on Wisconsin, of course, is winter. But Greenwood said the state’s relatively short golf season would not be a deterrent to international golfers looking to play “trophy” courses.
“People are not coming for 90-degree heat,” Greenwood said. “They’re coming to play great golf courses. Golfers are trophy hunters. They want to tick off the courses: I’ve played Sand Valley, Whistling Straits, Erin Hills. Tick, tick, tick. They go home and tell all their mates, ‘I’ve played all these great golf courses.’
And with the Ryder Cup coming up in Wisconsin in 2020, timing is perfect to put Wisconsin on your golfing radar as well. Tick off your bucket list, attend the ryder Cup 2020 and tee-it up on some fantastic courses yourself.
Contact Elite Golf Experiences for your unique golf experiences in the badger state.