The Prairie Club: Dunes Course (Valentine, NE on 08/04/14)

The Dunes course has more of a prairie links feel than the Pines course as it is laid out on treeless surroundings. Tiny pot bunkers, large fairways and greens, sand dunes that create blind shots, odd stances, and openings to run the ball onto the greens all await a golfer at the Dunes course. Bandon Dunes is the only links golf that I can make a comparison to as I have not traveled overseas to play. It felt as if I stepped back in time to when I played at Bandon Dunes only without the snow, sleet, rain, and hail.

Some rain actually blew through during the night and it was a gloomy, cool, and windy morning with storms off in the distance. Thankfully, the sun came out for the second round but the wind increased too. The course played soft for the morning round with the recent rain, some dew, and maybe some water from the sprinklers. As the day went along the course dried out some and I was treated to a style of golf that I don’t normally get to experience. I don’t want to give the impression that the course was running out like any of the British Open courses for the second round, but it didn’t have to be played all in the air like the morning round.

It is about a 10 minute ride from the clubhouse to the first tee and when we got there we weren’t sure if we were in the right spot. The GPS wasn’t working and we basically guessed that we were at the first hole. It turns out that we were right but trying to find the next hole was a common theme during the first round.  The holes aren’t marked and the cart paths are dirt in an attempt to keep a natural look, so some markings would have been nice.

The Dunes course is also a par 73 with five par 5’s so both courses pack a lot of yardage. We played the white tees both times around which play 74.2/133/7355 and there is even a set that plays almost 7600 yards. Moving up the blues are 6838 and then there is 6401 and 5752 so it seems that tees are a little better spread out than the Pines. I knew that 7355 yards is too much for me to handle normally but I was counting on some long holes playing short because of the wind and that’s what I got. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the yardage except for a couple holes and was able to navigate my around the course better than I originally thought.

I feel that the layout of the Dunes course is deserving of its top 100 ranking and if the conditions were better then it probably gets ranked among my personal top 25 courses. To me, the course was challenging, fair, and offered different ways to play almost every hole. There was never any one shot that I had to pull off to keep a good round going. If I ever felt uncomfortable about a shot I could play to a bail out area and give myself a chance at a par.

There are a few things that stood out to me when playing the course. First, missing short of some greens is best while on others it is important to be green high but right or left. Some greens are built into sand dunes and those typically were the ones where missing short is best. I’ll point out a few of these on the hole by hole section but the dunes are covered in fescue grass so a shot could be a couple yards off the green, but in a horrible lie. The GPS will help out a lot so make sure to pay attention to it. Second, the course offers two ways to play off the tee on many holes. The fairways are large, but sod just wasn’t laid down without any thought. One option was to play an aggressive club off the tee and have a shorter club into the green. The trouble with that play is that it very likely could be a blind approach into the green. The other option is to play for a clear view into the green but that could leave an extra 20 or 30 yards into the green. As the day went along, I enjoyed putting some thought into which spot of the fairway that I wanted to play from. Finally, there was no first cut of rough. A ball would go from the fairway to some longer grass with weeds and dirt patches before getting into the fescue. It looked that there was a cut of rough at some time, but that it wasn’t maintained to allow for the rugged look. Just off the fairway the course looked like Pinehurst #2 for the U.S. Open earlier this year.

The wind blew probably 20 to 30 mph for the afternoon round and I had a blast. I enjoyed trying to flight shots through the wind and even was successful knocking down a couple irons on downwind approaches. The fun part of it was trying to get the carry correct with the flight of the ball. I typically don’t like to play in the wind as my swing has a lot of moving parts which makes it tougher for me to time everything while being knocked around by the wind. Plus, now that I play most of my golf on tree lined courses a bad shot in the wind is most likely a lost ball. The great thing about this course is that it is designed to be played in the wind so run up shots can work if the grass isn’t wet.

I’d call this a “must play” course for a course addict who lives in one of the Plains States.

#1 (441 yard par 4):

This is the first of two tough par 4’s to open the round. Depending on the wind, that fairway bunker on the left could be carried. There is plenty of fairway to the right but that will add some extra distance. The most difficult shot on this hole is going to be the second shot. If someone wants to challenge the green with a long iron then it better be a straight one because there is trouble just off the green on both sides. A miss short can be played.

1-1 1-2

#2 (444 yard par 4):

I think the only out of bounds on the course runs down the right side but someone shouldn’t have to challenge it. The fairway is bowl shaped so anything left or right should feed towards the center. I got away with one as I flamed it up near the out of bounds and it kicked down to the center of the bowl. The second shot is another long iron to a narrow, deep green. Similar to the 1st, a miss short is best. From 200 yards out I wasn’t even trying to hit the green as I thought it was too risky. I played short of the green and tried to chip it close for my par.

2-1 2-2

#3 (554 yard par 5):

This par 5 is similar to the 15th on the Pines course. The longer hitters can challenge that lone fairway bunker for a better angle on the layup. Everyone else is probably going to play it out to the right which leaves a blind layup. If the layup can find the fairway then its a birdie chance.

3-1 3-3

#4 (145 yard par 3):

This is one of my favorite holes on the course. It is a short par 3 (at least on the scorecard) to what looks like a small green. I hit pitching wedge both times, but out to the right is another section of the green. I think someone could hit another three clubs to get it to the back section.

4-1

#5 (326 yard par 4):

This is one of the holes where someone can take the shorter line (out to the right) and leave a blind shot or play out to the left between the bunkers and have a more clear view of the green. The green is tucked between some mounds so it is a visually intimidating hole.

5-1 5-2

#6 (542 yard par 5):

It is pretty much bombs away on this par 5. A tee shot down the left leaves a shorter distance but it challenges the fairway bunkers. Most golfers will be faced with laying it up short of some cross bunkers or trying to blast it over for a pitch into the green. If someone is going for the green in two then there is a chipping area left of the green which is going to a lot better miss than the bunkers and hillside on the right.

6-2

#7 (161 yard par 3):

While this looks like a simple enough par 3, the wind made it tough. I played three more clubs than normal and ended up pin high. The green is large and a miss right is best as it has a chance to find the green.

7-1

#8 (481 yard par 4):

This is the most difficult hole on the course. It is a long par 4 that moves left. I hit a drive down the left side my first round and had only 9 iron into the green. The second time around I drove down the right side and hit a 3 wood into the green. That shows how much the wind and placement on some of these fairways plays. The completely blind second shot over the dunes makes it tough. This is a green that is better to miss green high and right or left than short.

8-1 8-2 8-3

#9 (473 yard par 4):

This is another long par 4 to close out the front nine. It is the third hardest hole on the course and I’d say that is just because of the length. The tee shot is semi-blind but there is more green grass out there than it looks. The approach is uphill and might require landing it short and right of the green hoping to get a kick onto the surface.

9-2

#10 (576 yard par 5):

This is the second hardest hole on the course and ends the toughest stretch on the course. It has bunkers everywhere and there is actually is fairway to the right where that cart is located. I don’t know why someone would play it over there intentionally though. I think it is a par hole as I’m not sure that I’d have a short iron third on many occasions.

10-1

#11 (364 yard par 4):

This is a par 4 that offers some options off the tee. The green sits over the left side of that large bunker so someone might think about trying to carry it as there is fairway over there. I tried that first time and didn’t hit a good one. Even if I did, I’m not sure it would have been enough. The second time around I played a long iron down the center of the fairway and had a mid iron into a blind green. I don’t like having to take a huge risk off the tee or face a blind second shot. It seems there should be some in-between.

11-1 11-2

#12 (548 yard par 5):

This looks like a tough tee shot, but anything down the left side of the fairway in the picture should be fine. Someone can easily reach this par 5 in two even with probably a 3 wood off the tee because the ball is going to hit a down-slope and roll out. I’m not a very long hitter and managed to get it around the green in two both times. The second shot is a bit uphill to another green that is in the dunes. Make sure to take advantage of this one.

12-1 12-2

#13 (429 yard par 4):

This par 4 has a split fairway and there are plenty of places to play off the tee. The left side of the left fairway leaves the shorter shot into the green, but it is semi-blind. There is some slope left of the green which can feed it towards a flag over there.

13-3 13-4

#14 (157 yard par 3):

The green surface cannot be seen from the tee, but its large so something over the bunkers most likely is going to find it. It could be a challenging two putt though.

14-2

#15 (602 yard par 5):

There is plenty of fairway on this long par 5. The fairway must be 60 or 70 yards wide where the tee shot is going to land so that isn’t the hard part. The layup is however as it plays uphill and it is blind. I found the lone tree out in the distance a decent line to swing towards on the layup. From there it is a birdie chance.

15-1 15-3

#16 (201 yard par 3):

The tees were up maybe 20 yards when we played but even from there it is an intimidating hole. There is a false front short of the green and a large chipping area to the left which is hidden from view in the picture. There is some trouble short of the green, but the miss left can be played. The pin was in front when we played but it is another one of those greens where I could three clubs more to get to a back flag.

16-4

#17 (443 yard par 4):

The conservative play is down the left side which will leave a clear view of the green. A play down the right side is going to be a shorter approach, but blind.

17-2

#18 (468 yard par 4):

This is a strong finishing hole although it played short during the second round and I only had a pitching wedge into the green. The fairway slopes from right to left so a fade starting out over that hay bale is a pretty good line. I don’t know why someone would play left of the fairway bunkers, but it is possible and leaves no angle into the green.

18-2 18-3

 

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