We ended up at Big Sugar only because Stonebridge Meadows, the course we wanted to play in Arkansas, had aerated a couple days before we got there. Based on Big Sugar’s website I was prepared for an average course which was really too bad because Northwest Arkansas was much more populated than I ever would have guessed. A search shows that Fayetteville has a population of about 75,000 and the surrounding area about 465,000. I spent probably an hour looking for public courses in this area and couldn’t find many that I wanted to play. If it wasn’t for my 50 states goal we probably would have best been served to continue driving to Branson, Missouri and play some of the courses there. I found a half dozen there that I wouldn’t mind playing some day. So that is my disclaimer before posting this review. Northwest Arkansas is a scenic area and the terrain got a bit more rugged on the drive from Oklahoma all in about the last 60 miles.
The clubhouse sits at the bottom of a small hill with about 10 parking spots and no cart barn so it has an unusual setup from the get go. We parked at the top of a hill and grabbed a cart from the parking lot before checking in with the proshop. The proshop was the barest one that I have ever been in and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the person working the shop assisted with the maintenance. I got the impression of a small crew running the place. The price was $25 (ridding) for a twilight time which turned out to be reasonable as I thought the course was interesting except for the last five holes which I found frustrating. We played the Blue tees which are 72.2/133/6629 and these tees provided plenty of challenges. The front nine is pretty much split with the holes on the flat by a river and in the hills while most of the back nine plays in the hills on the other side of the clubhouse. The 1st is a formidable par 5 that plays 590 yards with dense vegetation all down the left and a river down the right before the 2nd through the 6th are more target style golf. The 2nd, a 358 yard par 4, is a unique hole as it plays uphill and around a corner to the narrow green perched on a ledge with trouble all around. It is a hole where the accuracy better be spot on the whole way. The 3rd is a 229 yard par 3 that plays even longer as it is uphill. The green is large and in a bowl so it allows some room to miss. The 6th plays from an elevated tee over trouble to a wide fairway with a 2nd shot over the river. The rest of the holes on the front nine are parallel holes and play on the flat by the river. The 8th is a 319 yard par 4 but it needs a long carry to the fairway so it loses points in my book as it limits the options when playing a short hole. The back is more interesting with sharper dog legs, more trouble, and some unusual holes. The 11th is a 475 yard par 5 where a big hitter can cut the corner off the tee before a second or third shot is played over a hazard to the green. From the 12th on I think the course will generate some stronger opinions of like or dislike. The 12th is a 416 yard par 4 that requires a layup off the tee to avoid running through the fairway but there is a creek that zig zags its way through the hole and makes it tough to even lay it up if out of position. The 13th is a scenic par 3 from an elevated tee and is the standout hole on the course to me. It is 150 yards on the card but played at least a club less. The green is small and requires an accurate shot to avoid the trouble all around the green. I lost some interest starting on the 14th which is a short par 4 that moves almost 90 degrees left. The hole has so much slope from right to left that the trouble left of the green is in play. The 15th is a 373 yard par 4 that needs a tee shot hit on a straight line from the tee before the ball will catch a slope and roll 40 or 50 yards straight right down the fairway to the bottom of the hill. The green is sloped severely from back to front and I thought it was a weak hole with some tricks. The 17th is another dogleg right with a fairway that runs out and the 18th is a 488 yard par 5 that plays downhill. We were finishing in the dark and I had no idea where to hit it on the tee shot or on the 2nd shot. Out of bounds lines each side of the fairway and then the 2nd is played over a mass of trees on a blind line to the green which has trouble short and right. I might have liked it a bit more if I played it earlier in the day as it is a risk/reward hole.
The maintenance was disappointing as the grass was inconsistent in both the fairways and the rough. Sometimes it didn’t help to hit the fairways because the lie would either be bone dry or muddy if it was a spot where water collects. Other times there would be patches of grass or weeds behind the ball so it was tough to hit it solid. All the tees were spongy and some of the tees and greens were beat up with very little grass. For the most part the greens were okay, but rolled much slower than they looked. Another thing I noticed is that some of the river holes had washed out parts where I could tell that the grass had been under water for a while and died. I don’t know when this happened, but it affected the score. The course was unkempt in this regards with washed out trees and rocks all over these holes and an almost impassable walking bridge to the 13th green. Getting to that green was a rough experience and almost could be considered a liability for the course. The round took a long time too as many of the tees and greens were a walk from the cart paths. I wanted to like the course because the area where its located is so natural and undisturbed but because of some odd holes and the lacking maintenance this would go on the avoid list.
#11 from the fairway: