In Wisconsin, restore historic golf course and national park together
A powerful family of golfers come together to recreate a legendary course, and they will restore thousands of once heavily forested acres in National Park lands along the way.
Chris Keizer and Michael Keizer Jr., the creative force behind the Sand Valley golf resort in rural Wisconsin, have taken to the national stage with elite golf courses and real estate developments built as part of an effort parallel to restore the surrounding landscapes to their natural ecosystems.
Their latest project in the expanding far reaches of Sand Valley will bring back a beloved lost golf course to players by 2022. Among game historians exploring the ghosts of the ancient game, there is no course richer in history to restore as the Lido.
Opened in 1917 along Lido Beach on the south shore of Long Island, NY, the original 18-hole course was designed by CB Macdonald, the first major American course designer. He mapped out the rugged and difficult links-style course over approximately 115 acres of marshland.
Struck by the Great Depression, the Lido Golf Club was sold and ultimately turned into a US Navy facility during World War II.
The Keizer sons wanted to bring the course back to life, but in Wisconsin. They hired designer Tom Doak and Renaissance Golf to restore the Lido to exacting specifications in Sand Valley, including a small private golf club for residents. According to Michael Keizer, efforts to reintroduce the Lido to the world continue along with restoration work on what will become the national park space around the course.
Keizer says the Lido’s return began as an ecological conservation project with no golf course involved, as part of a goal to restore more than 200,000 acres in central Wisconsin within the national park expanse. An opportunity arose out of this plan.
“Every year we look at the next footprint in restoring this park, and we have a number of models that help us accomplish those phases,” says Keizer. “At that time, I was reading about a number of wealthy people who left building sanctuaries for themselves and instead invested in leaving an ecological legacy. This project started with only 1000 acres that we wanted to restore as part of the park. Then it gave us a chance to bring back something special for golfers.
This plot did not seem to the Keizers to be a prime candidate for a golf course. The flat, benign site lacked the drama of other Sand Valley venues, and various stretches of nearby land seemed to offer more excitement if plans emerged for 18 more holes in Wisconsin.
“Nonetheless, the community there wanted another golf course, and I always wanted to restore the Lido because it was so exceptional and unique,” adds Keizer. “The Lido was one of the best courses ever built, and it was built on a sandy swamp that was flat like our site. It was a match. “
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Michael Keizer Sr., the man behind the creation of the Bucket List Golf Course at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, a set of walk-only courses with a topography similar to that of Sand Valley, publicly states that he loves the legend of the Lido: restoring the Lido for some time, and I am proud that my sons have decided to make this dream come true. “
According to the plans of the Keiser, the majority of the lands of the Lido will return to their original landscape and bare of sand. Grading is underway and seeding will begin this spring, with the course scheduled to open in 2023. The hole layout will remain true to the original design of the Lido.
While the Keizers see themselves as environmentalists like many 21st century golf course stewards, Michael recognizes that the main business element in restoring the Sand Valley region to its natural surroundings was to provide aesthetic value to golfers and to owners.
“If a golf course occupies 250 acres, the 100 acres around it are sightseeing,” he says. “We started by restoring that view and were captivated by what the surroundings offered. It was amazing to see these native seeds that had been dormant for 100 years reappearing as the soil healed itself. “
There are endless challenges in the attempt to create a national park, and Keizer identified the state’s forest law as the main obstacle. He explains that the high tax penalties for restoring managed forests to their natural state threatened to discourage environmental reclamation. The family was able to work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to move the project forward.
“The [organization] has been very helpful and creative in helping us find ways to push the boundaries of forest law, while also promoting the reestablishment of these surrounding grasslands, ”Keizer said. “As soon as they toured the property and saw that we weren’t just lip service to the idea of an industrial-scale conversation, they supported the project and helped us make it happen. We wouldn’t have gone beyond the limits of the golf courses without their help.
As the Lido is resurrected in north central Wisconsin, Michael Keizer is leading another revival effort in his adopted hometown, the state capital of Madison. When Keizer learned that Glenway’s executive-style nine-hole municipal course was struggling due to municipal funding issues, he stepped in to keep it as an important city resource.
With the cooperation of local authorities and in accordance with applicable laws and regulations, Keizer will fund a restoration of Glenway to a mixed-use property with a refurbished golf course, park and hiking trails. As with the Sand Valley projects, an ecological recovery plan is included in the design of Glenway.
“We will be working with our ecology team, the city ecology team and an ecology team from the University of Wisconsin to bring back native plants and species,” Keizer said. “Like our other Wisconsin properties, this is the rebirth of beautiful land.”