The Prairie Club
A Pure Golf Destination in the Sandhills of Nebraska
By Paul Seifert
When considering world-class golf destinations for buddies trips, most golf enthusiasts' minds immediately conjure up Myrtle Beach, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Kohler, Las Vegas, Tampa and other areas that are saturated with warm weather, quality golf courses and excellent restaurants.
When asked about the state of Nebraska, most peoples' minds conjure up thoughts of wide-open expanses, barren farmland, and seemingly endless drives during their southward travels.
Most golf enthusiasts know that Sand Hills Golf Club is the number one course in the entire country, but how could that happen in a state that is wide open and flat? The answer is this: When you enter the sand hills of Nebraska, you could put a flag almost anywhere and golfers from areas less blessed would pay money to hit balls at it.
The famed sand hills, an area encompassing 20,000 square miles of north-central Nebraska, sits atop the gigantic Ogallala Aquifer, and feature dramatically rolling hills and prairie lands that thrive on the world's best known golf course medium: Sand. Naturally blessed sand traps burst from the prairie lands, and the hills that inhabit the region rise and fall in ways that would cost a fortune for any other area's course architects to mimic. Natural prairie grasses provide almost water-like defense against wayward tee shots, and the contours of the land make for greens that receive plenty of sun and wind, and break heavily.
Five years ago, Sioux Falls businessman Paul Schock envisioned a golf resort unlike any other in the country: The Prairie Club. With a sprawling sand hills landscape, and a commitment to provide a truly world-class golf getaway experience, Paul's vision (along with the creative efforts of Tom Lehman and Graham Marsh) resulted in the numbers two and four courses in the state, a delicious and memorable dining experience, and fantastic lodging.
The Dunes course, rated number 86 on the list of the country's best overall golf courses and number two in the state (GolfWeek, 2014), was designed by Tom Lehman and provides a golfing experience that can be only explained by one word: Dramatic. Following a ten-minute cart ride to the first hole, it is easy to lose yourself in its beautiful landscape, discombobulating you to the point that you have no idea which way to go back to the clubhouse, or how to get back to "Normal civilization."
Isn't this what we all truly want in a "Golf getaway?" To feel like we're away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and honestly lose ourselves in an unforgettable experience where our only thoughts are of: How much club do I need to account for this wind (while Monday was fairly calm, Tuesday's storms in nearby Valentine fed us 40-plus mile per hour winds that tipped out at well over 60 miles per hour gusts!)? How many clubs do I need to add to account for this 50-foot-high raised green? Or, what club should I hit to make sure I don't slice over that fence into the cattle pasture?
My old sales manager, Jedd, who is from Nebraska, told me prior to the trip about the sand hills: College astronomy courses take road trips there to see depth in the night sky that cannot be seen anywhere else in the country, and the trout fishing, especially, is perhaps the best in the country.
Reviews I read told me that visiting the sand hills is a spiritual experience. The general manager of Sand Hills Golf Club, who is also from Wisconsin, told me that he believes everyone from the United States owes it to themselves to visit this sacred ground at least once in their lives. I can now say, unequivocally, that I have to agree.
Mired in a tough sales year and the stress that comes along with it, I needed some time away, and this trip came at the perfect time and provided an ideal getaway that returned me to sanity, and in the process has [hopefully] renewed my spirit.
The food at the Prairie Club lodge was fantastic - my dinners included Nebraska-raised prime rib, New York strip, ribeye and halibut, and all of them were fantastic and deserving of my highest food ratings. The fresh fried murel mushrooms and bull bites were two of the tastiest apps I have found anywhere, and the house wine, from King Estates in Oregon, would demand much higher prices anywhere else. Mind you that I am a fairly picky eater, so I had to make sure there were no onions (I am allergic to them) in my meals, but the chefs were accommodating and the servers and bartenders were charming and alert - I wanted for nothing the entire vacation.
What about the golf? Let's just say that Brian Weis, Publisher of GolfTrips.com, and I had serious discussions on the drive home on Wednesday about what courses we'd rather play.
The first question: Would you rather play the Dunes or the Pines course at the Prairie Club? If he could take one course with him to Heaven, he would prefer the Pines. Brian loves tree-lined, parkland courses with great variety, and the Pines provides that and so much more.
For me, I love the dramatic and the Dunes course provides wow-factor on every single hole! While the fairways are spacious - I hit 12 of 14 on each of my rounds there - location is key, and setting up the next shot green-ward is always paramount.
The second question: Would you rather play the Straits course at Whistling Straits, Erin Hills, or either of the courses at the Prairie Club? I would choose the Dunes, with Erin Hills - my favorite course in the state of Wisconsin, and future host of the 2017 US Open - a close second.
Sucker pins, and massive natural sand traps ensure that no terrible shot goes unpunished, but the quick fairways and even faster greens both reward and play against aggressiveness when not kept in check.
The true beauty of the sand hills, and of the Prairie Club, simply cannot be understated. Over the past couple of days I have tried explaining how incredible of an experience the trip was to co-workers and fellow golf extremists, and it has so far only resulted in one thing: Showing them pictures I took with my newly discovered "Pano" (panoramic) feature on my iPhone of the Dunes course... If my attempts to explain the greatness of these courses still has not gotten through to you, please feel through to browse the photos that I, an extremely amateur photographer, included above.
Keep in mind that the Pines course is as picturesque or more so than the Dunes. With holes running alongside the Snake River Canyon, amid mature ponderosa pines and traversing through the same sand hills as on the Dunes course, the one-two punch of the Dunes and Pines provides a one-of-a-kind buddies' golf trip experience that I have not found anywhere else.
When planning your next golf getaway, I recommend thinking outside the box: Forego your thoughts of Myrtle Beach, Florida, Arizona and other golf destinations that roll out one expensive course after another, and consider a location that has naturally become the country's premier hot spot for premium golf courses: The sand hills of Nebraska.
Revised: 06/07/2014 - Article Viewed 41,755 Times
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About: Paul Seifert
Paul Seifert is an often-proclaimed golf addict, and publisher of WiscoSportsAddict, a blog started in August, 2011, as a forum dedicated to reviewing courses and sharing the best of the best in the state with other avid Wisconsin golfers.
Having started playing in Hartland-area leagues at the age of 12, Paul is a classic over-thinker who averages between 80 and 120 rounds per year, and despite carrying a 13-handicap, is committed to the ongoing improvement of his game.
A health care equipment salesman by day, Paul does not claim to be an expert golfer, but is certainly an expert golf enthusiast who loves the sport and enjoys the writing, research, statistics and photography that make for interesting golf conversation.
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