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Offseason Opportunity

Wisconsin Golf Resort Transforms Itself Into Winter Destination Following Pandemic

By Steve Pike | January 6, 2022

For those summer and fall visitors to Sand Valley Golf Resort who believe it can’t get any better…welcome to Sand Valley’s Winter season. For the second consecutive winter, the 12,000-acre property in Rome, WI, has transformed from a golfers’ paradise (three highly acclaimed courses, including The Sandbox short course) to a winter wonderland, with activities such as snowshoeing, ice fishing, ice skating, sledding and cross-country skiing.

“My brother, Michael, and I have been enjoying Sand Valley year-round with our families for several years,” said Sand Valley co-owner Chris Keiser. “We’ve always been hopeful that Sand Valley could be a four-season resort. In the spring of 2020, as the pandemic surged, we sent out an email campaign to promote family getaways and remote working in Sand Valley’s four-bed homes. At the time, it produced our highest open rate for an email campaign since we opened the resort in 2017.

“Since then, the response we’ve received from couples, families and friends who have visited during our fall and winter seasons has been incredible. And, we have some exciting new amenities in the pipeline that should only enhance the guest experience in all seasons.”

The Keisers, of course, are no strangers to success. Their father, Michael Keiser, Sr., is the mastermind behind such high-profile golf resorts as Bandon Dunes in Bandon OR, and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia, as well as Sand Valley.

“So often with travel, you don’t know how amazing a place is until you’ve been there yourself,” Chris Keiser said. “While our golf brand is incredibly strong and has allowed us to grow quickly since opening in 2017, not as many people naturally look to Sand Valley to deliver incredible winter getaways, as it’s not what our brand was founded on. We’ve had to come up with creative ways to get the attention of our golf guests in the winter and inspire a new audience of families and couples to visit. Once they have made the trip, however, we’ve found that they’re usually blown away and want to return with more family members and friends.”

Because Sand Valley’s golf season is only six months long, the resort has nearly all of its guest amenities available for the Winter season. Those include four- and eight-bed cottages, single and double occupancy lodge rooms, Mammoth bar and locally themed sit-down restaurant Aldo’s.

“We have not yet needed to build any new structures or buildings for the Winter season,” said Chris Keiser.

The Winter season events at Sand Valley include Snow Valley with Visit Rome (Feb. 3-6, 2022), where families can partake in activities such as sledding, tubing, ice skating, pond hockey, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowman building. In addition, there is the Sand County Classic Pond Hockey Tournament (February 18-20), a 12-team round robin tournament that takes place on one of Sand Valley’s three frozen lakes.

A Brews & Brats weekend is scheduled for March 4-6, where guests and visitors can feast on artisanal brats and local craft beers, while learning about the history of microbrewing.

“We had been thinking about [a Winter season] for years, but the pandemic tipped us over the edge to give it a shot. Part of our rationale was that families and couples who might otherwise travel to Florida or Mexico for a beach vacation, or out West for a ski trip, would stay close to home but still crave an experience that would be fun and safe,” said Chris Keiser.

He added, “Our property is highly dispersed with great food, great lodging and amenities and plenty of outdoor activities that are all geographically dispersed. Guests were really excited to have a safe winter getaway that was only a drive away from many of the major Midwest cities. We’re really happy with the decision that we made and are planning on plenty of future growth.”

Keiser further detailed the company’s strategy to attract and satisfy guests.

“As with any destination resort, you need to have a hook that gets people to take the risk of spending their time, energy and money to make the trip. In the summer, golf is our primary hook and we felt strongly that guests would appreciate and savor the serene beauty of our rugged central Wisconsin resort. Thus far, we’ve proved that to be true.

“Second, you need to anticipate the wants and needs of your guests, often before they arise. In the winter at Sand Valley, that means paying attention to the details such as using heavier blankets in our guest rooms to provide a cozy sleeping environment; including water heaters for hot cocoa in all of our cottages; offering an activities concierge to help coordinate our many outdoor activities; and generally keeping an ear out for anything we could do to enhance the stay of our guests. It’s a lot of fun.”

Steve Pike

Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than 25 years ago and has covered all sports including Major League Baseball, the NFL, NHL, NBA, as well as beat writer for nationally ranked collegiate baseball and basketball teams. As a travel and golf writer, “Spike” has climbed volcanoes in the Canary Islands, ascended the Great Wall of China, teed off in the Austrian Alps, and shared single-malt scotch with Sir Michael Bonallack at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. A die-hard baseball fan, Pike named his son Zachary Seaver after his childhood hero, New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver. Pike lives with Zachary, daughter Keilly, and wife Brenda (an ovarian cancer survivor, trained journalist, master teacher, and an active member of the DAR) in the South Florida village of Wellington.

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