Appeared in Fall 2010 LINKS
THE SAND HILLS REGION, which covers 20,000 square miles of north-central Nebraska, has become crowded with golf courses. That may be an exaggeration, but the opening of the Prairie Club in May has given golfers even more reasons to make the long journey to the nation’s heartland, where they can find the natural pure-golf experience among the sand-based dunes that harkens back to the game’s beginnings.
Located near Valentine, a small town just 10 miles south of the South Dakota border, the Prairie Club is a national destination club in the mold of Dismal River Club and Sand Hills Golf Club, which first brought attention to the area when it opened in 1995.
But while its predecessors, located an hour or so to the south, are private, the Prairie Club has a resort component—for now. Both members and visitors can stay at the 31-room lodge or in the first of four planned cabins sitting on the rim of the Snake River Canyon. But once memberships sell out, opportunities for outside play will be limited.
The forest at the edge of the canyon gives a shifting look to the 7,403-yard Pines course, designed by Graham Marsh. Starting in the prairie, the layout winds through the trees, among which holes resemble those found at higher-elevation Arizona courses like the Rim and Forest Highlands.
Designed by Tom Lehman, the 7,583-yard Dunes more closely resembles the
archetype of Sand Hills golf, with epic holes set through the windswept landforms. At 80-plus yards, the fairways are among the widest in golf, offering players many options and angles for attacking the well-crafted greens.
There is also a 10-hole short layout known as the Horse course. As in the basketball game, players can call their shots with a wedge to the greens—a perfect way to settle matches at the end of the day or hone the short game at any time.
Gil Hanse designed the Horse, and he is scheduled to build the club’s third 18-hole course, known as Old School. (There is an old schoolhouse on the property.) This layout will play along the Snake River Canyon and at least one hole will feature a heroic carry over a portion of it.
But even without the third course, the Prairie Club has reinvented the Nebraska Sand Hills golf experience. Golfers who have wanted to visit the area but were stymied because they didn’t know a member or a friend of a member at Sand Hills or Dismal River finally can make the journey to this Great Plains outpost.