The multicourse Prairie Club in far north Nebraska, has a clear point of difference with the other remote duneland developments through the American Midwest. For a start, this is a semi-private facility that welcomes green fee players throughout its golfing season. It’s also home to a rather diverse landscape, with an attractive wooded area alongside a canyon that Graham Marsh incorporated into his Pines Course. As good as the Marsh course is, golfers trekking to this part of the world expect to see tumbling sand dunes. That’s where the Tom Lehman and Chris Brands–designed Dunes Course appeals.
Bigger and brawnier than the Pines, the Lehman/Brands creation occupies an enormous stretch of apparently endless rolling dunes. The pressure was on the design team here, as they appear to have been given the premium land and were certain to be compared with the offerings at Sand Hills, Sutton Bay, Ballyneal and the inevitable others to follow. For their design credibility, the pair needed the Dunes to be more than just a good course; they needed it to be exceptional.
As Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw had been earlier at Sand Hills, Lehman and Brands were patient with the most crucial aspect of the design process, the routing. There were literally of hundreds of potential golf holes draped naturally across their selected landscape, and it took the best part of a year to determine how the final 18 would be arranged. The chief decision, and in some ways the greatest risk here, was to select a very large single loop arrangement, and ignore some of the softer dune valleys in between the nines. The outward holes are often several hundred yards removed from the incoming ones and, as a result, the total footprint is enormous. The area used for golf is almost twice the size of the Pines Course, or somewhere like Sand Hills.
Opting for isolation and to highlight a sense of scale over the intimacy of a more compact routing was a very clear design preference. Whether it was the right move depends entirely on your perspective, and fondness for the final designed holes. Unsurprisingly, not only is the golfing area larger than the other course, so to are the playing surfaces and the internal undulations. Both fairways and greens are generously proportioned, and generally the golf is quite spectacular.
Among the highlight holes are the strategically bunkered back nine par fives, the gorgeous valley par four 2nd and cross blowout approach shots into the short 7th and mid-length 11th. The use of native sand and waste areas as hazards is quite well done, and some of the natural saddle greens and larger putting complexes are beautifully contoured and interesting to both hit into and then chip and putt around. On the negative side, a couple of the elevated targets seem unduly penal on the weaker hitter, while the continual use of central driving bunkers on the longer holes is less than ideal. Each in isolation makes strategic sense, but more variety when it comes to positioning your ball off the tee would have been preferable.
These minor concerns aside, the Dunes Course is handsomely built, great fun to play and an ideal companion to the other golf available on site. Beyond the golf, the Prairie Club offers wonderful accommodation and dining, and is the perfect place for a group of mates to escape for a few days. The fact that green fee golfers are now able to experience truly outstanding golf in these pristine sandhills makes this a club that we strongly endorse.
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