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Rebuilding The Lido at Sand Valley: Tom Doak reflects on reviving a lost classic

January 13, 2024

The Lido at Sand Valley in central Wisconsin opened in May and is a down-to-the-inch recreation of The Lido that C.B. Macdonald built on Long Island from 1914 to 1917. Heralded as one of the country’s greatest courses, it went extinct in the 1940s when the U.S. government converted the land to a naval base.

Rebuilding The Lido has been the fantasy of many historians, but doing so accurately became possible when Peter Flory, a financial consultant and architecture enthusiast, developed a detailed computer simulation of the course based on scrupulous study of old photographs and other material. Sand Valley proprietors Michael and Chris Keiser discovered Flory’s computer model, then asked architect Tom Doak if he could use it to rebuild the course. First the animated contours had to be translated into a physical GPS topographical blueprint, a technological hack accomplished by digital mapping specialist Brian Zager. The GPS map enabled Doak and his associates to reconstruct Lido holes like Plateau, Alps, Cape and Long in exquisite detail, along with originals like the Dog’s Leg sixth and the Home 18th, making only minor adjustments for drainage and adding longer tees for modern play. We asked Doak to reflect on reviving Macdonald’s lost classic.

After studying The Lido for so many years, what were the biggest discoveries seeing it rise in physical form?

Doak: My initial surprise was the height of some of the greens, particularly at the Channel Hole (the fourth) and the 12th (Punch Bowl). I expected them to be only half that high based on the old pictures I’d seen, but scale is always hard in photos. It’s only in playing it a few times that I’ve started to appreciate the amount of thought that went into the fairway contouring. Those aren’t just random undulations—every feature out there is intentional. It is a much more intricate design than I had appreciated.

I was struck by how vacant the property is visually, with few focal points. Was this surprising or could you foresee this as being part of the playing experience?

We had to space the holes farther apart for safety, and those gaps have a lot to do with the “vacant” feeling that you perceive, and part of me wishes we hadn’t done so much spacing. However, the famous links courses that were Macdonald’s inspiration are generally “vacant” when there’s not gorse lining the edges of the fairways.

Certainly, some of the blindness is intentional, but some of what you are describing was a consequence of inexperience. Neither C.B. Macdonald nor Seth Raynor had ever built from scratch on a flat site before, and I know from my experience how easy it is to start creating cool features through the fairways and discover that they are all blocking the line of sight. There are a million contours out there, and they are there for strategic reasons, not for visual reasons.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of The Lido is how it accommodates mistakes—the wilder one hits it, the more interesting the course becomes to a point. Is there a best way to play most holes, or should golfers purposefully look for those alternative routes?

The wind changes things quite a bit, and so do the hole locations. There are holes (4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 15) in which the line would be different for me at different times, but most of it boils down to the fact that the playing surface is very firm, and the bunkers are very deep. Giving yourself a line for the approach where you don’t have to carry a greenside bunker is more important at The Lido than on 99.9 percent of American courses.

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What do you score The Lido on the Doak (1 through 10) scale?

It might be a 9. There are lots of compelling holes, and not just the templates—holes like four, five (Cape), six (Dog’s Leg), 15 (Strategy) and 18 are really original.

How did rebuilding The Lido impact your view of C.B. Macdonald?

After seeing some of those fairway contours and how they affect guys who hit it 300 yards, I can attest that Macdonald was more meticulous in his design of The Lido than most of us working today. It was the only course he built where he had to think through and design all the contours instead of just taking what the land gave him, but the amount of thought that he put into it is humbling.

Sand Valley: The Lido
Sand Valley: The Lido
Nekoosa, WI

Though there’s no Atlantic Ocean crashing near the Biarritz eighth green or stiff coastal winds swatting around balls, the ”new” Lido is a stunning representation of Macdonald’s groundbreaking accomplishment and a vivid throwback to a more daring era of architecture. Using the spacious hole corridors to explore different routes into the giant greens is half the fun. Contemplating players navigating holes like the Channel fourth, with an alternative island fairway for daring hitters and a green perched behind a high rampart bunker, using hickory shafts and Haskell balls, is the other half.

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