I must admit that I am a sucker for all things “prairie”. As a golfer who made his very first swings at the age of 10 on the plains of Saskatchewan, Canada, I have strong and fond memories of vast grasslands. Myself and a group of friends could not always make it to the little golf course (if you want to call it that) in the nearby hamlet of Bruno, so we often found ourselves playing a lot of pasture golf. The rough, tumbling landscape made it an ideal place for youthful, and often erratic, golf swings to develop. I had no understanding that the windswept, and sandy turf was as close to the roots of the game in Scotland as it really was.
Sadly, most of that type of property is located very remotely, making it unsuitable to a business venture involving golf. The charm and suitability of the land does not overcome the lack of population and the need for customers to drive a golf course to solvency.
There are exceptions, of course. In Canada the Wolf Creek Resort sprung up in Ponoka, Alberta in 1984 and subsequent projects like Dakota Dunes (Saskatchewan) and Blackhawk (Alberta) have shown the true golfing potential of the prairies.
American golfers got their first high-profile taste of similar terrain in the early 1990′ s with the arrival of the much-heralded Sand Hills Golf Club in a unique part of Nebraska. Unfortunately the general public cannot access this stunning Ben Crenshaw-Bill Coore project. Like Sutton Bay, another more recent Sand Hills area golf project, it is a private club.
About one quarter of Nebraska is covered by the Sand Hills, the remnants of a glacial out-wash eroded from the Rockies. At the northern edge of this area, on the border with South Dakota, lies the tiny town of Valentine. At less than 3000 residents it is the unlikely home to what many golfers like myself could only dream of; a publicly accessible world-class golf destination that takes full advantage of the unique savannas in this part of the world – The Prairie Club.
This golf destination (www.theprairieclub.com) will make its debut on May 31, 2010 after much anticipation. They are finally ready to take reservations for both golf and lodging. Be sure to check out the website for stunning visuals, including some fun videos.
The club is home to two championship 18 hole golf courses and a ten hole, a par three golf course. Covering about 1260 acres along the Snake River Canyon, a day’s drive from Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, and Chicago will bring you to this prairie playground. As a semiprivate golf course, each day one of their 18 hole courses will be made available to the general public.
In addition to green fee players and lodge guests they are offering memberships. Founding members receive a wide-range of privileges. There are currently more than 170 of these Founding members. Only 200 Founding Memberships are available to those who join the club prior to May 31, 2010. Founding membership deposits begin at $15,000. The club will continue to sell memberships at an increased rate to be set after the first 200 founding memberships have been claimed with the goal of attracting up to 1,000 total members over time.
This project got its start more than seven years ago when Paul Schock met Cleve Trimble. Schock was an avid golf who had a strong business record while Trimble was a landowner who dreamed of bringing public, world-class golf to North Central Nebraska. The two shared common bonds of golf, the beauty of the Nebraska landscape, and the conservancy of that land. Three years later Schock bought what would become The Prairie Club property from Trimble and development in earnest began. He also acquired other tracts of land to make the full expanse of the development (or anti-development, really) possible. Schock modestly says he simply inherited the project Trimble began.
The heart of The Prairie Club facility will be The Prairie Club Lodge. At 40,000 square feet it will maintain a relaxed feel. It includes 31 rooms, a gourmet restaurant, two bars, a library, a 20-person conference room, covered and outdoor patios, merchandise store and golf shop. In addition to the Lodge, The Prairie also will offer a four-room cabin located on the rim of the Snake River Canyon. Complementing the Lodge is an expansive practice facility, which will allow members and avid golfers to hone every aspect of their game.
Of course, the golf is the real star here and The Prairie Club courses have what Paul Schock has called “real sincerity.” It’s an apt description based on information from those who have seen the project and the intriguing summaries provided on the courses:
The Dunes Course is an 18-hole championship golf course designed by former Ryder Cup captain and golf course architect Tom Lehman, and golf course architect Chris Brands. Its’ six sets of tees stretch from 5,842 to 8,073 yards, and its wide sweeping fairways (150 yards wide in many areas) are specifically designed to increase the playability of the course. Marked by dramatic elevation changes, endless views of the Sandhills in all directions, and immense blow-out bunkers, a player will face this wind-torn land and massive rolling seascape of prairie grass, searching for a bright, calm slick of green fairway. With a tip of the hat to natural, minimalistic links-style golf courses of Scotland and Ireland, the Dunes Course is a purely American prairie-links style experience that golfers of all stripes will find challenging.
The Pines Course, the other 18-hole championship golf course, takes advantage of the remnants of a nearby, ancient ponderosa forest situated along the banks of the Snake River Canyon. The course was designed by Graham Marsh, an internationally renowned touring golf professional, who also is recognized for his 25 years of worldwide golf course design experience. The Pines Course features five sets of tees ranging from 5,329 to 7,528 yards. The prevailing prairie winds are somewhat blocked by the western wall of the canyon and the trees, making the warming sun and the canyon views stunningly beautiful, creating a silent reverie for the golfer.
Uniquely set apart from the two championship 18 hole golf courses is the wickedly fun Horse Course. This 10 hole par 3 course takes the game of basketball’s “h-o-r-s-e” to a new level. With no tee boxes, the player with the honors calls the spot from which you tee up your next shot. Set right on the rim of the Snake River Canyon, this golf course plays from 485 to 1,125 yards, depending upon where a player decides to call the tee shot, as the traditional game of “h-o-r-s-e” dictates. Designed by renowned golf course architect Gil Hanse, along with his partners Geoff Shackelford and Jim Wagner, the Horse Course is the perfect complement to the putting green complex named The Himalayas.
In a golf world seeking diversity and where destination golf is setting itself apart, The Prairie Club looks to be offering generous helpings of pure golf.
Can I get to Nebraska fast enough?
I can hardly wait for the snow to melt.