Dismal River Golf Club (White Course)
Nebraska, United States of America

Fourth hole, 525 yards; Much of the first nine falls across dramatic, tumbling land forms. Yet, there can be too much of a good thing like copious amounts of chocolate from Zurich or barrels of beer from Trappist monks. Similarly in golf, sensory overload is a legitimate concern for an architect working in such an inspirational environment. This three-shotter represents a delightful change of pace and a quiet moment as its fairway occupies the longest expanse of flat (relatively speaking!) land on the course; no other stretch comes close. Yet, fascinatingly enough, the fourth remains one of the most visually striking holes, in part by the windmill incorporated into the hole.

The 'lovely valley' that first captured Nicklaus's attention became the fourth. All is laid before the golfer and Intelligent choices SHOULD be made. Yet, the sight of the flag to the left acts the siren, goading the golfer toward trouble.

The ‘lovely valley’ that first captured Nicklaus’s attention became the fourth. All is laid before the golfer and Intelligent choices SHOULD be made. Yet, the sight of the flag to the left acts the siren, goading the golfer toward trouble.

Under certain conditions, the fourth is reachable in two mighty blows but only by carrying this hazard and skirting past the windmill.

Under certain conditions, the fourth is reachable in two mighty blows but only by carrying this hazard and skirting past the windmill.

Nicklaus insisted that the working windmill stay put. In fact, the green’s orientation was carefully sculpted so that it is a mere forty yards from the front edge of the green. Its presence is amplified by front left hole locations.

Nicklaus insisted that the working windmill stay put. In fact, the green’s orientation was carefully sculpted so that it is a mere forty yards from the front edge of the green. Its presence is amplified by front left hole locations.

Fifth hole, 140 yards; How inconvenient, here lies a low tee to a high, domed green in a windy environment. Few holes of this length cause such consternation. Indeed, the first time guest might fare better than the scared member, familiar with the hole’s terrors. Without doubt, the hole is easier into the wind than downwind when the firm-putting surface becomes sketchy to hold.  The good player, even with only a short iron in his hands, won’t find the certainty of outcome he craves. The really good player knows how to appreciate a chip and putt par. According to Cochran, ‘The fifth is as pristine as any putting surface on the course. We removed maybe three inches of blown silt from the surface and the green was just there.’

The angled fifth green high in a saddle with false sides left and right requires an aerial shot into wind that blows with indifference. The green is sufficiently deep at 38 yards yet finding the putting surface is one of the more vexing tasks on a windy day.

Sixth hole, 305 yards; As noted early, this was a difficult hole to see in the routing process and it was the Great Man himself who found the depression high in the dunes that would serve as a natural punchbowl green. When given a special piece of property, Nicklaus Design responded with time honored, neat design features like punchbowl greens that aren’t prevalent across their other works. Most firms having done over 300 courses – as Nicklaus Design had done in 2005 – get stuck in their own beliefs and formulas. In short, they cease to invent. Not Nicklaus Design at Dismal River and it surely deserve both recognition and credit for adjusting its ‘style’ to such fun golf amid the sprawling hills.

A tee ball that carries 280 yards on a straight line from tee to green enjoys the chance of ending up in the punchbowl green.

Seventh hole, 435 yards; Though it’s laid over land that would stand out at most courses, the seventh melds into the fabric of the course as one of the more conventional holes. Max Behr’s “Line of Instinct,” a favorite design strategy of the author, is much on display at Dismal River. Like the first hole, the flag is visible in the distance with deep bunkers between the elevated tee and green.

This switchback hole asks for a draw off the tee and a fade into the green. The fluttering flag to the left, like a fishing lure, helps reel in the unsuspecting prey. However, stray right off the tee and the approach becomes a 200 yard plus uphill bear.

As seen from high right behind the green, the 57 yard deep green at the tenth affords all sorts of hole locations.

As seen from high right behind the green, the 57 yard deep green at the tenth affords all sorts of hole locations.

Eighth hole, 295 yards; A favorite design ploy of Nicklaus Design is the placement of a large hazard on a diagonal line from the tee with the fairway placed opposite (in this case the left) to the green. Countless playing options exist, ranging from a lay up in the fairway with a mid-iron to a slash at the green with a driver. As at the author’s other favorite Nicklaus course (Cabo del Sol in Mexico), the holes at Dismal River rotate from being very good to great with nary a weak one in the bunch. The eighth is one of the great ones. It is both reachable off the tee and drivable as well, meaning that the green complex will actually hold a tee ball from a mere mortal (a.k.a. a single digit handicap golfer). Tee balls along the boldest route are shunted onto the putting surface from high right off a dune. The annoying chance for a one putt eagle truly exists, which agitates good players to no end. Seeing the tee ball carry the shoulder of hill that hides the putting surface leaves the golfer with a most pleasurable walk wondering what sight will greet him at the green. One GolfClubAtlas.com regular even holed out here for a double eagle!

The wide fairway invites a prudent lay-up but … the nagging temptation to drive right toward the green creates delusions of grandeur!

The wide fairway invites a prudent lay-up but … the nagging temptation to drive right toward the green creates delusions of grandeur!

The eighth gets its teeth from one of the game’s most daunting hazards, a 110 yard bunker with enough deep nooks and crannies to hide four golfers from one another.

The eighth gets its teeth from one of the game’s most daunting hazards, a 110 yard bunker with enough deep nooks and crannies to hide four golfers from one another.

Simple from behind - the green, the hill that obscures it and the tee (underneath Jack’s Shack in the far distance).

Simple from behind – the green, the hill that obscures it and the tee (underneath Jack’s Shack in the far distance).

Ninth hole, 590 yards; Dismal River’s par fives run in opposite directions on each side, a huge design plus for a windy site. If all the par fives played into the wind, the golfer’s ‘will’ would undoubtedly be sapped. As it is, the superlative routing ensures that each par five plays entirely different from the others. Visually, the ninth stands out as it features the widest fairway laid across the course’s broadest slope. A central hazard  complicates matters but it is the unique manner in which the fairway falls across the canted land that lends the hole its own distinctive playing qualities.

A version of Hell’s Bunker punctuates the fairway 230 yards from the green. Getting past it in two is vital, and doing so begins with a good tee ball.

Tenth hole, 160 yards; People whine when their favorite architects slip into a pattern of repeating themselves. However, should the architect try something out of the box, they whine more! What’s an architect to do? Taking design chances is important and especially in remote Nebraska, where all members must make a concerted effort just to get there. Some might argue (especially those who haven’t been to that temple of design, Riviera!) that it is hokey to have a bunker surrounded by green. In this case, the exposed sand already existed in front of a natural hollow for the green site. Cochran found it early on and it was Nicklaus who extended the green forward and wrapped the putting surface around the bunker. The resultant front left and right hole locations shorten the hole ~30 yards from the more traditional back hole locations. Given the diminished distance when played to either front hole location, the author readily accepts this unusual design. Hard to complain too vociferously when a short iron is in your hand!

As seen from high right behind the green, the 57 yard deep green at the tenth affords all sorts of hole locations.

As seen from high right behind the green, the 57 yard deep green at the tenth affords all sorts of hole locations.

Eleventh hole, 400 yards; Traversing landforms of all manner possible is what separates great designs (e.g. Royal County Down) from good ones (e.g. Royal Birkdale). Case in point is this hole where the golfer drives up and over the crest of a hill. Other holes on this side (twelfth, fourteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth) play into attractive bowls and valleys so finding a hole to play across a valley – rather than in it – was important to a successful routing. The bunker on the far hillside must be carried if the golfer wishes to enjoy an open approach to the green.

After the uphill tee shots at the second and here at the eleventh, …

After the uphill tee shots at the second and here at the eleventh, …

… the golfer is treated to grand downhill approach shots. Nicklaus’s words about preferring his ‘landing area above my green’ ring true.

… the golfer is treated to grand downhill approach shots. Nicklaus’s words about preferring his ‘landing area above my green’ ring true.

Note how puny the golfer appears. The scale of the hazards is in keeping with the vastness of the surrounds. The design features 62 bunkers but it can feel like more as they are invariably well positioned.

Note how puny the golfer appears. The scale of the hazards is in keeping with the vastness of the surrounds. The design features 62 bunkers but it can feel like more as they are invariably well positioned.

The putting surface at the eleventh highlights the intelligent evolution of the greens on the White Course. Initially, it was much bolder and featured a sharp left to right cant. Today’s green is more nuanced, and offers many more varied - and interesting - hole locations.

The putting surface at the eleventh highlights the intelligent evolution of the greens on the White Course. Initially, it was much bolder and featured a sharp left to right cant. Today’s green is more nuanced, and offers many more varied – and interesting – hole locations.

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