Five years ago, we interviewed Michael Keiser about his upcoming Sand Valley project. Half a decade later, two 18-hole courses and one 17-hole par three are open on property. Perhaps the most exciting news is the course yet to come: The Lido. In the late 1920s, The Lido was the world’s most famous golf course. It was new, brash, and brilliant. And it didn’t last. 90 years later, Mr. Keiser and his golf course architect, Tom Doak, are preparing to unveil the new Lido, 1100 miles to the north and the west. We decided that it was time to catch up with Mr. Keiser, and find out what exactly is going on in the middle of Wisconsin, and what the future might hold. Our phone call lasted nearly an hour, which was a generous donation of time from the young entrepreneur; if parts of the interview read like a true chat, now you understand why.
1~~Might you weave an introduction of who you are, with a memory of your first recollection of your father mentioning The Lido?
Our father spent 20 years ago thinking about the golf course. A few years before Old Macdonald was built in Oregon, when he got to know George Bahto, he began to consider where he might build it. It was at a meeting that my dad had with Jim Urbina that I first heard about it. Fast forward to the end of the 2010s. Charles Blair Macdonald is my favorite architect, and the Lido was among his best. Let’s rebuild it on the right piece of land. Growing up, we did hear about NGLA and Chicago, because they were real places. Our father took us there and those CBM courses became placeholders for understanding the Lido.
2~~Talk to us, in a bit more detail, about The Lido and its place in USA golf course architecture.
This could be an interview in its own right. Charles Blair Macdonald is the father of American golf and one of our greatest architects. Anything he built is of significant importance. He did not build many courses. Each one is a gem worth studying. The Lido was one of his two best, alongside NGLA. Many thought it was his best. Why did they consider it his best? Why did they rank it as his greatest? What does that golf course look like? Those were the questions that drove us to make it a reality at Sand Valley.
As of this spring, we have ten holes done. It looks unlike any course I’ve ever seen. It reminds me in ways of The Old Course at St. Andrews. There are exceptions to that comparison, like the 4th and 18th holes at The Lido, which are the MacKenzie and Channel holes. So many shared fairways, the scale of the contours, the size of the greens, bring the spirit of the Old Course at St. Andrews alive, more than any other golf course I’ve played. The Old Course impacted Macdonald more than any other course. There is a line from the home of golf through other points, to Lido.
What is different is this: the gorse at the Old Course is replaced by gentle, soft sand dunes at Lido. Exposing sand dunes is a modern thing, as long as the sand doesn’t blow away, as it doesn’t in Scotland and Ireland. (The scale of the land is not as big as Yale, but the greens are HUGE!) However, from the 15th hole, you can see every other point on the 175 acres of the course. It has a similar scale to the Chicago Golf Club that I mentioned earlier.
Returning to the notion of the shared fairway, 13 holes on the course have a partial or completely shared fairway. Only the third, fourth, eighth, ninth, and twelfth do not. Shared fairways offer a sense of enormity, and they do so on our Lido, despite the layout’s intimacy.
3~~Tom Doak is the lead architect on the project. What made him the proper choice for this once-in-many-lifetimes opportunity? What we have in Wisconsin is a flat, sandy site at Sand Valley, so we’re not destroying anything. That would have happened at the Old Macdonald site in Oregon, where our father first considered building the course. Tom Doak does strict restoration, so much of that property would have been leveled. He and Renaissance Golf Design are disciplined in restoring something to what it was. There is no temptation for them to alter what was originally on the ground. They feel, and I agree, that we would lose the credibility of the project if we were to change things, even if we improved it. Also, Tom Doak is so familiar with Macdonald’s work, as is Brian Schneider, who is the lead builder/shaper on the project. Schneider worked for a period on the maintenance crew at the National Golf Links of America, what Macdonald considered to be his masterpiece. Both men have put the time in, both academically and on the ground.
4~~People discuss wind direction, topography, soil content, and other terrain/nature elements present in a coastal site on Long Island versus an inland site in Wisconsin. Which of these has/have presented the greatest challenge as a routing has developed?
On Long Island, there is nothing to break up the wind. Most of the holes were played crosswind, and that demanded huge fairway width. The force and direction of the wind on this property and the original are nearly identical, which was absolute luck, and pushed the project forward. It was serendipitous. The cardinal compass aligns with the wind direction on both properties.
5~~Which holes at The Lido are you most excited to build and play? Limit yourself to three.
Right now I’m most excited about the 2nd hole, which Toms team rough in over the weekend. The green is enormous—over 15,000 sf. The green has three large pinable areas connected by several severe contours. The scale of the contours in the fairway remind me of St Andrews and it shares it’s fairway with 11 and 17. The bunkering is supurb and will demand that you come in to a variety of pins from the perfect angle if you want to get close.
I’m also very excited to see the 18th hole built, which was designed by Alister Mackenzie and features three fairways and another huge green.
When we add a course, it becomes harder to distinguish that course from the others. At SV, the first two have hugely different identities, and this third one is completely different from them.
Informal is the vibe at SV. Warm is the vibe at SV. It’s rough and rugged, from the roads to the landscaping, from the bunkers to the vibe. It’s local, it’s midwestern, it’s not fancy. We want genuine, authentic, cheerful, and happy to share their gem with the world. And guests are relaxed. Comfortable but not efete.
The Lido has a private club, but guests of the resort may play it. If open tee times exist, non-resort guests may also play. We’ve taken friendly pricing to the extreme, from beverages and food to other aspects…no ATM fees, no resort tax.
7~~As sort of an anticlimax, we learned that Tom Doak was originally scheduled to build a short (around 6000 yards) bunkerless course at Sand Valley. What caused the paradigm shift to The Lido?
That golf course was postponed independent of The Lido. Funding was not in place, due to Covid. Rather than sit around for six years, the new projected start date for that other Doak course, we decided to build The Lido. Sedge Valley will be built, but will be the fourth course.
8~~What question have we not asked, nor has anyone else, that you feel is germane to the development of The Lido? Please ask it and answer it below. If we get one from each of you, even better!
Do you know Peter Flory?
Peter Flory became obsessed with the course, and put it out into the public, allowing people to join in. He crowd-sourced the Lido and became the repository for all things Lido. He is selfless, not in the slightest bit a hoarder nor proprietary. We met in Madison, and I asked him to join the team. I might not have convinced Tom Doak to do the project, without the information that Peter Flory aggregated and organized. Cannot overstate his importance.