By Merry Dudley
SentryWorld is almost ready. And we’re not just talking about the golf course.
After a renovation that clocks in at just shy of two years, nearly every area of SentryWorld has undergone changes. The golf course was completely altered, the old Sports Plate restaurant was razed, and the sports complex looks quite different. About the only thing that has remained the same is the restaurant @1800 and the theatre.
According to Mike James, the general manager of SentryWorld, “We’ve worked through the minor setbacks and delays caused by the unseasonably cold winter, assembled an excellent core service team and are very excited to be able to unveil the new SentryWorld to the community. We have a great lineup of special events for worthy charities and a fantastic new facility and restaurant to share with the public.”
A Stevens Point native, James is happy to be back in the area after spending several years in the golf industry in several warmer states.
“I was born and raised in Stevens Point, right down highway 66,” James said. “I went to St. Stans, then transferred to PJ Jacobs. I graduated from SPASH and then went on to school at the University of Minnesota.”
James even worked at the old SentryWorld golf course in the cart barn in 1989 and 1990. He didn’t play golf in high school, but he thought working at the golf course was a great summer job and he learned the basics of the game.
When James’ wife (then fiancée) was accepted to veterinarian school at NC State, James followed, and his golf experience worked to his advantage.“Because I had worked at a golf course before, when we moved to North Carolina I got a job in the golf industry and it sort of blossomed from there. I worked at a really nice private club in North Carolina,” James said.
Over the years, James has worked his way through various positions in the golf world in North Carolina, Florida and West Virginia. But James always talked about bringing his family back to the Stevens Point area.
“It was always something I meant to do,” James said, “but the timing and the opportunity had to be right. I had a nice job in Florida and a nice job in West Virginia. But when this opportunity came up, I knew it was a perfect fit.”
Everything at SentryWorld falls under James’ responsibility. That includes the golf course, the pro shop, the restaurant @1800 and the theatre, plus the sports complex and the new restaurant near the golf course. The sports complex, renamed the Fieldhouse, is set to reopen before the end of the year. It will feature six indoor tennis courts, two of which will be striped for other purposes, such as volleyball and badminton, to name a few. There is also a large Atrium area that can host weddings and meetings, but this space is also a few weeks away from completion. Smaller rooms such as the Community Room and the Celebration Room, are ready to go right now.
A New Taste in Town
For those of you who remember the old Sports Plate, prepare to be amazed at PJ’s–SentryWorld, which was named for PJ Jacobs, the man who brought Sentry Insurance to Stevens Point.
“We’re excited for the public to join us at PJ’s–SentryWorld,” James said. “Our staff worked hard to design a new menu to complement the new design.”
PJ’s menu is a tribute to the flavors of Wisconsin, using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Menu items range from fried perch bites, hearty beer cheese soup or venison chili, potato and bacon salad, hand-made burgers, a Reuben constructed from all homemade ingredients, daily blue-plate specials and desserts such as warm apple pie with Wisconsin sharp cheddar or a Point Root Beer float.Before you enter the Grand Hall through those doors in the back, your guests can relax and mingle, beverages in hand, in this reception space.[/caption]“Wisconsin’s agriculture industry is showcased in this menu,” said Brandon McCormick-Guthu, the executive chef at PJ’s. “Every item has some sort of tie to Wisconsin. The flavors will be comforting – not overshadowed by exotic spices.”
An exciting addition to the restaurant is a wood oven used for baking hand-made pizzas and other entrées. The pizzas are a fusion of Neapolitan and Wisconsin styles, featuring a thin crust with great authentic flavors. You’ll be able to watch the pizzas bake in the wood oven while you wait.
An outdoor seating area will be very popular during the summer months and even during cooler evenings, thanks to outdoor fire pits fueled by gas.
PJ’s, which will be open year-round, enjoyed its grand opening on September 22. Hours of the restaurant are 11:00 am to 10:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 am to 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.
The Golf Course
Famed course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. created the original layout of the SentryWorld golf course in 1982. Now Jones Jr., along with co-project architect Bruce Charlton and onsite architect Jay Blasi, have been part of renovating the course to be even more spectacular.
The course is not yet open to the general public, but SentryWorld has been donating rounds of golf to various charity fundraisers, including the United Way’s Golf United event. People were allowed to bid on a foursome at SentryWorld, and winners golfed on September 23. The event raised a little more than $15,000 for charity.
Along with supporting United Way, SentryWorld has invited former pass holders and league players to participate in charity events throughout the fall. These players will be able to purchase rounds in exchange for a $100-per-round donation to either the Humane Society of Portage County, Operation Bootstrap of Portage County or St. Michael’s Foundation. All donations by pass holders and golf-league players will be matched by the Sentry Insurance Foundation.
The golf course will open to the public next spring, but the rate structure has not yet been decided. According to James, “We will know the rates some time this winter. We do know that we will have a public rate, which will be our highest rate, but we will also have a community rate to encourage people in the surrounding counties to come and play.
What that discount will be is still being determined, but it’s going to be a significant discount.”
With the renovations, and some cool new GPS technology, SentryWorld is poised to join a short list of the most elite golf courses in the country – and perhaps even the world.
The Visage system is a GPS system that has been installed on each golf cart. Each cart has a monitor, so as you’re approaching each hole, there will be a brief tutorial from Robert Trent Jones Jr. about that particular hole. Jones Jr. will explain what’s unique about it or if there is a story behind it. The screens also provide a flyover view of the actual hole. This 3D view prepares you for what you’re about to encounter.
“After you hit your tee shot, you drive up to your ball and the golf cart monitor will tell you where you are and how far you are from the hole location on the green,” James explained. “That technology has been around for a little while, but Visage is so cutting edge that now you can tap on the monitor and find certain features.
“Let’s say you tap on a greenside bunker. The monitor will give you the yardage to the greenside bunker so you know how far you need to hit the ball to clear that bunker.
This kind of technology certainly helps the professional golfers on the course, but James explains that it’s also very helpful for the rest of us.
“The system is really great for the mid to upper handicappers because it helps them figure out how to be more successful on the golf course.”
Another important feature of Visage is helping players stay on pace.
“One of the issues that golf faces today is getting people through the round in a reasonable amount of time,” James said. “And the onus is on the golf facility to see that everyone stays on pace.”
The pro shop, beverage cart and the rangers can all see a “marshal view” of the course, which shows the position of every cart on the course. Each cart is color-coded depending on how fast they are playing. Carts that are way behind pace show up in red, carts that are a little behind pace show up in yellow, and carts that are on pace show up in white.
According to James, this technology is essential for the rangers.
“They can very easily identify where the problem is on the golf course, thanks to the monitors, and they can go right to the problem and fix it rather than having to figure out what’s going on by driving around.”
The technology is also useful for the beverage cart. On slower days, they don’t have to drive around, looking for people. By using the monitors, they can check in with golfers very quickly.
For those golfers playing the full 18 who get hungry at the turn, the system will also prompt you at hole number 8 to see if you would like to order beverages or food. If you do, it will be ready for you at the end of the ninth hole so you don’t have to wait.
The pro shop can also send messages to individual carts, or they can send a message to all carts. This is especially useful when bad weather is on the way. Golfers need to acknowledge the message by pushing a button to get their screen back.
Individually, each of these features are incredibly useful. But when you add them all together, you can see how the Visage system really enhances the entire golfing experience.
“We’re in a very elite group of courses that are able to do something like this,” James said. “This system sets us apart from our competitors.
“Very few courses have the GPS system. There is a pretty substantial cost to setting up a system like this, and not everybody can do it. Even if they want to provide premier customer service, it’s an expense that not everyone can afford. But we wanted to make sure the SentryWorld golf experience is very high quality, so it was a no brainer to have it here. There are some great golf courses in the country – top 100 golf courses in the country – that do not have this GPS system.”
A Wedding to Remember
Sweeping vistas of the golf course, a reception room that makes guests feel welcomed and honored, plus a myriad of elegant touches designed to make every bride feel like a princess – SentryWorld boasts all of this and more with its new Grand Hall.
“One of the goals of the leaders of this redesign was to create the finest wedding space and function space within a 70-mile radius,” James said.
A grand staircase leads the guests upstairs to the Grand Hall, which was built with wedding receptions in mind. The room features floor-to-ceiling windows that boast views of the golf course and surrounding trees, and there are small balcony areas for people who desire a breath of fresh air. An area outside the Grand Hall features built-in bars, and there is easy access to the kitchens for the banquet staff. The Grand Hall can accommodate up to 280 people comfortably, which is the perfect size for most weddings.
“We have our own banquet chef and culinary team for banquets and receptions,” James explained. “Our banquet chef, Dave Fischer, is really talented. While we have a number of [standard] options that people may want to choose, we can also do other things. I’ve already witnessed Dave talking to a bride, saying, ‘Tell me what you want and I’ll make it.’ We really pride ourselves on our homemade items. We’re definitely not cookie-cutter here.”
James said they have had a lot of success booking weddings already simply by showing people the renderings. Now that the construction is complete, they have been able to let people come in and look around, and the SentryWorld staff has received plenty of compliments on their level of service and the quality of the food.
“Weddings, events, meetings, banquets – those are very much a part of what we can do here. We already have a wedding this month,” James added.
Other touches include state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment. There are monitors in every meting room and Apple TV connections, so you can easily display files or presentations via your iPad or iPhone.
And something that all bridal parties will appreciate is the bridal salon. This large room was created with the bride in mind, including full-length mirrors, a long vanity with great lighting, couches for reclining, high hooks on the wall for hanging gowns, and even a small refrigerator.
For information about booking weddings or events, contact Tawnya Schilt, SentryWorld sales manager, at 715-346-8793 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.