In just a few short years, brothers Michael Keiser and Christopher Keiser have turned a former red pine plantation in depressed Adams County into one of America’s leading golf resorts.
With acclaimed courses designed by David McLay Kidd and the team of Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore and a delightfully quirky short course, the Sand Valley Resort has jumped to the top of many golfers’ must-play lists. The holes tumble over sand dunes and weave through massive blowouts, the scale of which must be seen to be appreciated.
The Keisers borrowed from the model established by their father, Mike Keiser, who developed Bandon Dunes in coastal Oregon, but the elder Keiser is not involved in the day-to-day operation of Sand Valley. The brothers – Michael is 39, Chris 32 – are making their own mark with outside-the-box thinking that appears to be ingrained in the Keiser DNA.
Nothing they or anyone else has done, however, compares with their newest project: a faithful reproduction of the Lido Golf Club, a fabled course on Long Island that is still considered the paradigm of golf course architecture nearly 80 years after it closed.
The Keisers have partnered with architect Tom Doak to re-create The Lido, which will be a private club, separate from the Sand Valley Resort (though some weekday tee times will be available to Sand Valley guests). Funding and zoning approval is in place and pre-construction has begun. The course is scheduled to open in 2023.
According to a document filed with the Town of Rome, the total cost of The Lido, including road improvements, maintenance structures, a water detention pond and sand barren restoration, is $13.1 million. In addition, 17 to 20 homesites are planned for The Lido, which will be part of an 850-acre conservancy, with the majority of the land restored to its original sand barren landscape.
Why The Lido?
Designed by Charles Blair Macdonald and protégé Seth Raynor, the Lido opened in 1917 but was demolished during World War II by the U.S. Navy, which declared the area a strategic defense site. Raynor had built the course with 2 million cubic yards of sand dredged from a nearby channel in what was, for its time, an incredible feat of engineering.
“It was the longest, hardest course in the world at the time,” said Peter Flory of Chicago, a student of classic course architecture and perhaps the world’s leading authority on the Lido. “And it was incredibly wild out there with the grasses and the sand and the wind and the ocean.”
Over the years, the Lido has taken on exalted status among course architecture buffs because of its collection of template holes and the fact that they were designed by Macdonald, a towering figure in early American golf, and Raynor, considered one of the great Golden Age architects (and whose work includes Blue Mound Golf & Country Club in Wauwatosa).
Adding to the romance, a budding course architect named Alister MacKenzie designed a hole that won a magazine contest in the U.K.; Macdonald liked MacKenzie’s concept so much that it became the 18th hole at the Lido. MacKenzie, of course, went on to design Augusta National and Cypress Point.
A course bearing the handprints of Macdonald, Raynor and MacKenzie? If it wasn’t quite Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, it was unlike anything in golf course architecture, before or since.
In the years since the Lido disappeared, developers and architects have toyed with the idea of trying to re-create it – Mike Keiser among them, before he determined a site at Bandon Dunes was imperfect and instead built an homage course called Old Macdonald. And anyway, no one had enough information about the Lido to replicate it. Most of the details – fairway contours, green dimensions and slopes – were lost to time.
Enter the Keiser brothers, Doak and Flory.
“I went down a rabbit hole last winter and became obsessed with the Lido,” Michael Keiser told Wisconsin.Golf. “It was something my dad had thought about for years, but he decided to build Old Mac instead and that was sort of the end of it for him.
“But a lot of people in the golf industry have been talking about doing it, thinking about doing it, and as soon as I studied it in detail, I was convinced I wanted to do it. Chris and I were in the right place at the right time and we said, ‘Let’s give it a crack.’ ”
The Keisers identified a site for The Lido on land north of Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes course. The land is part of the resort’s 10,000 acres, the vast majority of which is being restored to its natural habitat by the Sand Valley Restoration Trust.
“It’s a blank slate,” Michael said of the site. “By Sand Valley standards, it’s flat. There’s probably 12 feet of movement. It’s a sandy site but it’s not a phenomenal golf site as is. We’re going to turn it into one. We’re going to turn it into The Lido. And then the other thing is it fits length and width with the original angles with relation to the wind. That’s lucky, too, that it just happens to fit on the site.”
The Keisers already had hired Doak and his Renaissance Golf Design team to build Sedge Valley, which would have been the third 18-hole course at Sand Valley. The coronavirus pandemic and economic uncertainty put Sedge Valley on hold, however, and with The Lido fully funded by founding members, the projects were flipped.
“Sedge Valley is certainly in the future,” Michael said. “We still need the money to pay for it, so we’re still trying to figure out how to finance it. Right now, we’re focused on this. The Lido is our third course and resort guests will be able to play it, so we’re not going to rush to Sedge Valley. We’ll build it when it’s appropriate to build it.”
Doak, 59, is considered one of the world’s preeminent course architects. As a young man, he worked with the late Pete Dye, but built his own brand as a minimalist with exacting standards and a succession of highly acclaimed courses that populate the golf magazine “top 100” lists.
“Tom Doak and his team are the right team for this project,” Michael Keiser said. “They’re meticulous. They’re not going to try to change or improve the Lido. In all of their restoration projects, they are vigilant about staying true to the original vision of the original golf course. They’ve earned that reputation from other projects.”
Like many who have studied the work of Macdonald and Raynor, Doak holds the Lido in such high regard that he likely would not have taken on the project if he couldn’t exactly duplicate the routing and the dimensions, angles and contours of the holes. Anything short of that would cheapen a course that purported itself to be a Lido re-creation.
“I’ve been adamant that no project should be called The Lido unless it’s a faithful re-creation of the original course,” Doak said in a statement.
Flory, a scratch golfer who ran a consulting company in Chicago, tinkered in his spare time with digital golf course design on his computer. He started researching the Lido and amassed information from a variety of sources, including fellow architecture buffs who frequent the website golfclubatlas.com.
“It was a massive puzzle to put together,” Flory said. “There’s ground-level photos. I uncovered a bunch of aerials. People sent me pictures that weren’t known to exist.
“One guy down in South Carolina, Craig Disher, gave me something that was incredibly valuable. It was a stereo pair of aerials taken from a military survey flight. Because they’re taken consecutively, you can make an anaglyph, which is basically when you pair the two together and color-code them and then put on 3D glasses. So, I could look down like I was hovering over the actual site and I could see the relative height of things, which was amazing. Before that it was shadows and a lot of math, trying to calculate how high things must have been by various shadows.
“Things just came out of the woodwork. I’m glad I kind of open-sourced it. I sort of did this project out loud on Golf Club Atlas. It drew a lot of attention and then people who had information sent it to me.”
When Doak saw what Flory’s research had yielded, he was convinced he could re-create the Lido.
“We have the information and the will to rebuild the course the way it was,” he said, “and my team can supply the talent and the enthusiasm to build it in every detail.”
Said Michael Keiser, “Peter is an enormous part of this project. One, he’s going to save Tom Doak an enormous amount of time in getting to the rough shaping. Chris and I were committed to doing the project before we met Flory, but honestly, I don’t know if Tom would have signed up without Peter because Peter has collected so much data on it. And I don’t know if I could have sold the members without his beautiful images.”
Can the fairway contours and green dimensions be replicated down to the inch? Probably not, but Keiser believes Doak can come very close to the original. It will be more than the Lido in spirit; it will be the course brought back to life.
“Some contours you can get to the inch, where there’s enough information,” Keiser said. “Others, you certainly can’t. Where we can’t, we’ll rely on Tom’s understanding and photographic memory of all things Macdonald and Raynor. I think he’ll be able to get it pretty darn close to what they built.”
Though the routing will be true to the original, some greens and tees will be spaced apart because of safety considerations; the original Lido was built ingeniously on a 113-acre site in tidal marshland and played with hickory-shafted clubs and balata balls.
“We’re not going to change any turf,” Keiser said. “Every tee, every fairway, every green, every bunker will be exactly as is. What we have done in some instances is separated them out, pulled them apart from each other for safety reasons. In pulling them out we’ve also added a back tee on many holes and in some cases a more forward tee. But the actual turf will be true. And the angles of the holes will be exactly as they were on Long Island.”
The re-creation of the Lido promises to be the most watched and anticipated course construction project in years. Given the intense interest and scrutiny by architecture buffs and the golf world at large, not to mention the founding members who have financed the bold and unprecedented undertaking, Keiser admits the pressure to get it exactly right is daunting.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It was such an extraordinary golf course that the pressure is on to faithfully deliver that. When we build an original golf course, there’s pressure. But there’s no comparison. This was so highly regarded that, yeah, it’s an enormous pressure. But we wouldn’t have started the project if we didn’t think it was possible.”
As for whether he can deliver, Doak is his usual confident self.
“I know there will be skeptics,” he said, “and I look forward to the challenge and making them admit that they were wrong.”