What is it about golf that keeps people returning season after season? On any given golf course, you can find men, women, students, farmers, overworked businesspersons, and the occasional U.S. President.
While television has brought the world’s most storied and beautiful golf courses into American homes, we can’t overlook the fact that there are far more golf courses around the U.S. (we have around 15 thousand in total) that aren’t well-known.
They are every bit as enjoyable and fun to play and guess what—there’s probably one located near your country home.
A different lifestyle
Unlike the urban or suburban golf courses and private golf clubs, most country golf courses are “open” in a way their city counterparts can’t embrace.
For instance, it’s hard to imagine Georgia’s oh-so-proper Augusta National Golf Club beginning a golf tournament with a shotgun start. (A shotgun start tournament has teams teeing off from different holes simultaneously at the boom from a shotgun.)
Similarly, many upper level golf courses and country clubs depend on exclusivity to build their cachet and keep their doors open; courses in the country are typically open to anyone, and invite all skill sets and economic levels to play.
Social, small-town charm
When you golf in the country, the clubhouse may be a small town’s community event center, where everybody goes—some in the clubhouse may not even golf, but show up for socializing. The Friday Night Fish Fry is likely to be well-attended by anyone from both town and country.
It’s a sure bet you won’t find an event like this at, say, the prestigious Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif. Conversely, you can just drive up to the country course, pay a greens fee that costs less than lunch, and play without the need for reserving tee times weeks away.
On a beautiful spring day at nearly any rural golf club, expect to see dozens of pickup trucks parked with empty golf cart trailers. The golf cart has become the leading status accessory to own, and country golfers are not shy about customizing theirs to stand out. Dazzling specialty paint—check. Alloy wheels—check. Multi-speaker sound system—check. Onboard beer cooler—check.
Easy does it?
Small-town golf courses run the gamut from offering a leisurely, frying-pan flat nine-hole experience to courses literally carved out of hardwood forests and up and around hills, valleys, mountains…and maybe even over a stream or farm pond or two. Try not to hit the windmill.
The fact that small town golf courses are often municipally-owned shouldn’t mean they aren’t challenging, or that they can’t be breathtakingly beautiful. After all, the aforementioned Torrey Pines course overlooking the Pacific Ocean is owned by the City of San Diego.
Breathtaking scenery isn’t the domain of prestigious big-city golf courses, either. Take the Prairie Club golf course just outside Valentine, Nebraska, population 2800. This course plays off the natural rolling hills of Nebraska’s Sand Hills region. You get breathtaking open prairie vistas punctuated by greens and bunkers (sand traps) made by God.
Big city amenities on the prairie
The Prairie Club offers two challenging 18-hole courses—the Pines Course edges along the rim of wooded canyon, while the Dunes Course offers its signature long, wide fairways— and a compact 10-hole course, as well as dining and lodging. Country-chic rooms can be had in the Lodge clubhouse, in the Bunkhouse with motel-style single occupancy rooms, or in one of four cabins.
Yes, it’s a bucket-list quality golf destination. In rural Nebraska, mind you.
Eighty miles to the south in nearby Mullen, Neb.—in this part of the world, “nearby” is anything under 100 miles away—is another world-class golf course, laid out by golf great Ben Crenshaw and noted golf architect Bill Coore. The Sand Hills Golf Course is members-only and fairly exclusive, as befitting it’s rating as the Number One golf course in Nebraska and in the Top 10 in the U.S. Non-members can play with members, though.
You get the same challenging vistas built in and around sand hills, and more. Experienced golfers compare it to The Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, which is virtually Mecca to golfers.
Just down the road is another members-only organization worth joining, the Dismal River Club, which offers spectacular golf on its two rugged courses—its White Course was designed by Jack Nicklaus—but seasonal hunting, as well as hiking, shooting, fishing, archery, and mountain biking.
Again, breathtaking, rugged scenery and nothing-but-nature sounds will accompany your rounds. Golfers report it is a “bucket list” destination.
If this is too much, too fancy, or too expensive, then head back to tiny Mullen and ask about the local in-town golf course. It features nine holes, a club house, and you can probably buy a refreshing beverage and learn about all the news in town from locals.
For more information:
The Prairie Club
The Dismal River Club
The Sand Hills Golf Club
Written by Jonathan Reed
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