After the round at Green Valley Ranch we hit the road for Nebraska. The courses that we wanted to play the most on the trip were at The Prairie Club which is up near the South Dakota border, but we went a little out of the way to make sure that we stopped to play Wild Horse. Wild Horse is just off I-80 in the middle of the state so it is easy to get to for anyone traveling and one that I would call a “must play” for a serious golfer passing through the state. It certainly is worth pulling the U-haul truck over on a cross country move to stop and play. The course has a long list of awards from multiple golf magazines and is ranked as one of the public courses in the state, one of the top 100 public courses in the country, and it is an exceptional value.
We showed up shortly before our morning tee time (keep in mind that the course is in the Central Time Zone if traveling east on I-80) and paid $66 on a weekend morning which included a cart. Many of the top public courses have a high green fee and some can be $150 to $400 for just one round of golf. Pebble Beach, Pinehurst #2, and a couple in Las Vegas all are around $400 to play and in my opinion, such a high green fee limits the “public’s” ability to play those courses. I’m a course nut and don’t mind spending money for green fees, but I’d much rather play four $100 courses than one $400 course. Wild Horse has to have one of the lowest green fees of the top 100 public courses and for that reason it is extra special in my opinion. It is a course for the average person and I didn’t feel like I needed to drive a Mercedes or wear a Rolex just to fit in while playing there.
Wild Horse is out in the middle of nowhere. It is hours from Omaha and Denver, located on the prairie amongst the cornfields. The course is a links style layout on a treeless piece of property that has some rolling hills. The course was designed to have a natural look and blends into the surroundings. When I say “links style” I don’t mean that the course played like a links course. My only experience with links golf is at Bandon Dunes where the ball ran out. Wild Horse looks like a links course, but it was wet from the sprinklers and very green so most of the shots didn’t run much once hitting the ground. A traditional American round of golf with the ball in the air the whole time should work just fine here unless the superintendent has the course playing firm and fast.
Like a traditional links course, the course has wide fairways, lots of deep bunkers, and large greens with plenty of slope. Because of where the course is located someone could need every inch of the large fairways and greens if the wind blows. There is very little manicured rough at the course with only a few paces lining each fairway before getting into the high fescue. The fescue was very deep when I played and I had to know exactly where the ball ended up to have any luck finding it. From there the only play was a wedge back to the fairway. Because of the tall fescue, I’d say there is plenty of target golf that needs to be played around the course. I played the Gold tees (73.6/134/6805) and struggled on the first seven holes before the course became more forgiving. As the round progressed there were more chipping areas and parts of fairways hidden over bunkers compared to the early holes, at least in my opinion. The other thing is that all the mounding creates plenty of semi-blind shots and can lead to some odd bounces in the fairways.
Words like “awesome”, “fantastic”, and “perfect” all come to mind when trying to describe the condition of the course. It very well could be the best conditioned course that I’ll play all year. The ball sat up in the fairways and there not many divots in them or on the tees. I could spin the ball a little when chipping around the greens which is something that I don’t normally do and I credit the great lies. The speedy greens had lots of slope so someone could great creative and play away from the hole and still end up close to the flag. The greens didn’t have many ball marks and rolled as well as anything that I’ve putted on. As soon as the putt left the blade I knew if it was dropping or not. When putting on greens this nice there is only one reason a putt didn’t go in, and that was me.
The USGA and PGA of America have recently launched a program to encourage golfers to move up a tee in hopes of a more enjoyable round. I don’t think that is the only way to accomplish that and think courses can be made more playable. Because of all the tall stuff I can see the average round taking a long time so the only fault I can find is that I think the course is a little too tough for the average golfer. I think there should be a local rule allowing the fescue to be played as a hazard, similar to when a ball enters the desert in the Southwest. Or, there could be a couple cuts of fescue so that a ball won’t get lost as easily just off the rough line. Our round took nearly 5 hours which is way too long to be on the course, even for a golf nut like me. Even with a long round, the course is still worth a play.
#1 (363 yard par 4):
This is one of the easier holes on the front nine, but it puts an emphasis on finding the fairway. The prairie grass all around will grab a wayward shot so someone should hit whatever club they are most confident with to find the fairway. From there it is a most likely a short iron to a green that slopes from right to left.
#2 (431 yard par 4):
This is a long par 4 and I had a tough time picking the correct line. A tee shot at those trees off in the distance is probably the best line. The hole shares a fairway with the next hole so it opens up left and the approach plays a bit downhill. It is a tough hole.
#3 (537 yard par 5):
It felt like a lot could go wrong on this hole as it has a semi-blind tee shot so I hit a 3 wood off of the tee just to get it over the fairway bunker. From there the layup needs to avoid some fairway bunkers and the green is one of the more devilish ones on the course with a lot of slope from back to front.
#4 (171 yard par 3):
The pin was tucked over on the right side of the green but there is some slope in the green that can feed it right. It is a good par 3.
#5 (367 yard par 4):
This is a short par 4 that plays downhill. The tee shot should favor the right side for a kick to the left. From there the ball will above the feet of a right hander which makes it tough to knock it on the green as there is large mound short of the green. I find it tough to hit a high draw or hook.
#6 (548 yard par 5):
This was another tough line for me to pick off the tee as it is a semi-blind shot. I think something less than driver is the play to keep it from running through the fairway down the left. The layup plays into a bowl shaped fairway and there is a big fall off left of the green.
#7 (364 yard par 4):
This short par 4 is well bunkered and the tee shot needs to be played out to the right of bunker in the fairway to allow for the best angle into the green. Even with a short iron into the green I think someone has to be careful not to attack the flag and risk missing it on the short side.
#8 (451 yard par 4):
This is a great hole and plays much more interesting than the pictures indicate. It is a long par 4 with plenty of mounding in the fairway. The tee shot needs to be played at those fairway bunkers which could be reached by the longer hitters. The ball might get a kick right, but there isn’t much room to miss right. If it doesn’t kick right then the approach could be semi blind. After a good tee shot I had about 200 yards into the wind from an upslope and had to try to flight a long iron from that lie.
#9 (155 yard par 3):
This par 3 plays a little uphill to a table top green with a fall off to the right. Anything landing on the right side has a chance to feed off into a collection area. It can be a birdie hole if someone wants to take an aggressive line.
#10 (408 yard par 4):
This is a mid length par 4 that plays a little longer than the yardage as the second shot is back uphill. There is a chipping area left of the green which can catch some balls.
#11 (126 yard par 3):
This short par 3 is my favorite hole on the course. Unfortunately I got a blurry picture of it, but it has a natural look with the bunkers short of the green. The green is large and slopes from back to front and right to left. There multiple ways to get it close to some pin locations as someone can go right at it or sling a hooking and spinning wedge into the green. This could be the site of some aces depending on where the flag is located.
#12 (442 yard par 4):
This is a long par 4 on the scorecard, but it plays downhill and a tee shot can run out so it played a lot shorter during my round. The fairway is wide and extends past that fairway bunker so it isn’t a tough drive. I’d call it a good birdie chance considering its length.
#13 (208 yard par 3):
This is a long and tough hole. The green can work the ball from right to left so a miss right is better than left but there is still some room left of the green which is nice.
#14 (524 yard par 5):
This is a reachable par 5 depending on the conditions. An aggressive tee shot is played down the left side and then the second needs to carry some cross bunkers maybe 40 or 50 yards short of the green if someone is going for it.
#15 (342 yard par 4):
This is a short par 4 with options off the tee. The fairway plays at an angle so if someone hits more club off the tee they should aim farther left. I hit a hybrid out to the right and had a mid iron into the green while my friend hit a driver down the left side and had just a wedge. I think the tee shot selection depends on the wind and what club someone is hitting good (or bad) on the day of play.
#16 (445 yard par 4):
This is the hardest hole on the course. It is a long par 4 that plays a bit uphill for the second shot. The green is large and there is a back tier to it.
#17 (505 yard par 5):
This is a reachable par 5 as the tee shot should get a kick off a downhill slope. From there it is a long iron or wood to a semi-blind green with a lot of humps and bumps. We hit a couple practice shots around the green after playing and it allows for some creativity. Someone can use the slopes to get feed the ball closer to the hole or the slopes can work against you and run it off the green.
#18 (418 yard par 4):
This is a strong closing hole. The green sits over that large bunker on the right side of the fairway, but there isn’t any fairway to the right as the first hole is out over there. That means not much of the dogleg can be cut off. The green is large and has some slope from right to left so keep that in mind to try to get it close to a flag on the left or leave it under the hole on the right. It seems that the big bunker could have been placed down the middle to allow for a split fairway to make it a bit better, but that is my $0.02.