Prairie Dunes Country Club

Twelfth hole, 390 yards, Briar Patch, (Press); Similar to the third hole, Doug Petersan relocated the back (and middle) markers to the highest ground on the back nine. The hole is all the better for it with the golfer once again feeling the full brunt of the wind. Two cottonwood trees seventy-five yards forward of the green narrow the approach. Given Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s deep admiration of Prairie Dunes, perhaps they had this hole in mind when they used trees to shape the strategy at such holes as the seventh and twelfth at Cuscowilla. Also, one of the course’s subtler features was recently highlighted here. A player pushed his tee ball to the right and hit a knockdown to stay beneath the branches of the right cottonwood. The ball was well struck but carried too deep into the green and bounded into a back bunker. So what, you may say?Well that bunker is fifteen (!) paces behind the green and was placed there for that very scenario. This is a perfect example of a Green Keeper understanding the design intent of the architect and providing the optimal conditions for the design to shine. Without firm conditions, the back bunker would be just window dressing and Prairie Dunes would be half as much fun to play.

As seen from the tee, the tall cottonwood trees pinch in the approach to the twelfth green.

The cottonwoods dominate the conversation when it comes to the twelfth which is a shame as its potato chip style green is one of the very best on the course.

This golfer's approach just failed to hold the green and finished in the back bunker, courtesy of the firm playing conditions and the tightly mown short grass.

Thirteenth hole, 445 yards, Sumac, (Press); The nasty inside bunker on this dogleg left is both deep and (seemingly) filled with yucca plants. Though not a heavily bunkered course ala an Oakmont, the ones at Prairie Dunes nonetheless fill the tenet of being hazardous with the player needing to avoid them. Once around the bend, the golfer sees another well placed green benched into the hillside. Coore calls the putting surface here ‘absolutely fabulous.’

Flirting with this yucca filled bunker on the inside of the dogleg is the ideal play off the thirteenth tee. The area just past the bunker offers the more level stances as opposed to the sloping ground on the outside of the dogleg. The red flag is barely visible over the top of bunker.

Prairie Dunes features some of the game's finest hazards with one such example being this greenside bunker at the thirteenth.

Fourteenth hole, 370 yards, Cotton Wood, (Press); A first rate misdirection play with the sight of the flag pulling the golfer ever more to the left, which is where a series of bunkers await. In addition, the green and its slopes best receive a shot from the right center of the fairway. Unlike many modern architects, Press didn’t believe that the golfer had to have perfect visuals of where he was going. In this case, a large hump 130 yards from the green obscures the ideal landing area off the tee.

The sight of the distant yellow flag often lures the golfer into getting too greedy of the fourteenth tee. Better to aim at the bunker on the outside of the dogleg.

From the 1970s until 2006, the left side of the hole was guarded by one large 130 yard long waste area that was out of character with the rest of the work done by the Maxwell's. In 2006, Coore & Crenshaw broke up the waste area into several formalized bunkers.

Fifteenth hole, 200 yards, The Chute,(Press); Press’s own comments make it clear that he thought that the cottonwoods added character and thus he was keen to see them incorporated into the design where possible, namely at the twelfth, fourteenth and here. From in a chute of (now) very tall cottonwoods, the golfer is protected from knowing what the wind will do with his tee ball. Coupled with its length, the green is one of the most frequently missed ones and an up and down is anything but ordinary thanks to the green’s high point being near the front center before it falls away toward a lower back right section. At 4,900 square feet, the golfer may consider this green a relatively small target but indeed it is the largest green at Prairie Dunes, where the average green size is under 4,300 square feet. This is another excellent putting surface and Coore marvels at how well Press’s greens tie in with those of his father’s which are considered among the best in the game.

The chute effect from the back markers on the long one shot fifteenth is evident above.

Visually, the fifteenth hole was better tied to the other holes when Dave Axland helped Bill Coore carve out the big sweeping bunker behind the green in 2006.

Sixteenth hole, 415 yards, Blue Stem, (Press); An underrated hole of great merit, the outside of this dogleg is bunkered and guards the ideal line into the green,which angles from front left to back right. Down wind, the golfer may find himself incapable of stopping even a pitching wedge on the putting surface, again highlighting Stan George’s excellent work. Press deserves great credit for getting the ground contours just right at the sixteenth green complex as a low running shot can take the left bank and chase toward the back right hole locations.

The sixteenth features two fine diagonal angles, one from the tee and one at the green which angles away from front left to back right.

Seventeenth hole, 520 yards, Pheasant Hollow, (Perry); Though this par five is bunkerless save for the one by the green, the location of its green atop a knoll combined with wicked interior green contours is all the defense that this modest length three shooter requires. In fact, P.J. Boatwright told the author in 1985 that this was his favorite green in golf. Rather than slap a second shot somewhere near the green as visitors are prone to do, many members elect to lay back and leave themselves their favorite wedge distance to the green. The two smallest green at Prairie Dunes are at the second hole and here, with each measuring approximately 3,400 square feet. Perry Maxwell stands alone among the other grand master golf architects in his ability to create small targets with severe interior contours that still function well for golf.

The sole bunker on the seventeenth hole is friend to no man.

As seen from behind the green, the pinnacle seventeenth green is a tiny target to hit - and hold - from 200 plus yards away.

Eighteenth hole, 390 yards (Perry); The golfer finds himself one last time high on a dune with a rumpled fairway below. The more level lies and the better angle into the green are down the right but that requires the longest and toughest carry from the tee as plum thicket hugs that entire side of the hole. Symbolic of the entire course which measures just over 6,700 yards from the back markers, the eighteenth hole highlights that length isn’t required to make a hole full of challenge and interest.

Does one have the nerve to hold a tee ball down the right of the fairway?

The last view of the course before repairing to the clubhouse is this side one of the eighteenth green complex, which shows how much the green falls away toward the left.

Thus ends the round at Prairie Dunes. While a view of the North Sea never materializes, for many, as at Sand Hills, there is no better course as it possesses the five classic elements required for an ideal course: wind, sand based property with rolling topography, well conceived holes of strategic interest, a predominately treeless environment and uniformly firm playing conditions. Importantly too, it accurately reflects its natural environment and is true to its name: it is a prairie first and foremost thanks in large part to Stan George’s on-going controlled burn policy which allow the prairie grasses to thrive.With 75% of Prairie Dunes’ acreage maintained in its native state, maintenance costs remain reasonable as well, which is another example of Prairie Dunes being true to its Midwest sensibilities.

As one can see, the Maxwells never did anything forced or contrived in building their holes as Prairie Dunes lies peacefully upon the ground. Yet, there is a tremendous amount of architectural integrity found within each hole and it is this combination that makes it the height of great architecture. All in all, it is the ideal course to study to gain a true appreciation for the perfect meld that can occur between nature and the light hand of man.

The End