The Harvester Club
Iowa, United States of America

Tenth hole, 450/430 yards; After holing out at the ninth, the golfer stops in the clubhouse for a refreshment before heading over to a different part of the property. Given the appeal of the front, trepidation exists, can the course sustain the same level of playing excitement? Shockingly, any hint of a letdown fails to materialize.

Note the old-fashioned ‘top shot’ bunkers, only 150 yards from the tee. Strategically, they may be unimportant but imagine the hole without them and one concludes that aesthetically, they play a fine role.

This bunker was added as part of the 2018 revamp. The real kicker though is how the crest of the hill blocks a full view of the green and its false front.

Eleventh hole, 440/360 yards; From the new back markers, the tee ball is a full bloodied, 260 yard diagonal carry over lowlands. For mortals, the hole is more humane, though it still represents something that the golfer has yet to encounter: a flat hole! Foster’s customary steep, grass faced bunkers lend the hole a 3-D quality and their intelligent placement keeps the golfer on his toes.

Upon standing on this tee for the first time, the author was instantly reminded of Australia’s bushland, so attractive is the backdrop to the 11th. Meanwhile, his opponent had memories stirred of the Serengeti in Africa. Both positive reactions weren’t by accident. Great effort was spent over the 2019/2020 winter to clear away the brush to create/reveal that very image.

Twelfth hole, 420/370 yards; Jensen’s thesis that the land determines the course is born out in the three stretch from eleven to thirteen. The flat eleventh fairway is followed by this playing corridor in its own 80 yard wide valley that ascends from tee to green. What comes next at thirteen? A hole routed along a spine with fall-offs on either side. What more variety can the golfer possibly ask for?! Foster’s routing nailed the opportunity that Jensen created by his purchase of the four tracts of land. Courses on more mundane property simply can’t compete with the different asks posed during a round here. As with the other uphill holes, the green can be a terror.

Beware the false fronts at The Harvester! Randall’s firm conditions prey on the golfer’s mind – to carry too far past the false front is to invite a swift downhill putt but to come up short is no good either.

As seen from behind, the squared off, L shape bunker that was added in 2018 is the sort one expects to find on a course 100 years older.

Thirteenth hole, 420/340 yards; A tightrope act is called for as the domed fairway and green are the high spots with the hole otherwise giving way both left and right. A wayward drive left leaves an approach blocked by trees while one flared right can really become a mess, if not a lost ball. It is a very fine position hole for the 6 handicap, assuming he is smart enough to leave the driver in the bag. Meanwhile, played from 340 yards, it can be a real hand-grenade for the tiger – does he rip driver and try and reach the putting surface that is open front left or lay back? So good are the hole’s natural defenses that the author actually wonders about the merit of the back marker, preferring the conundrums posed at the risk/reward drivable length. Given how the green essentially sticks out on a peninsula, well elevated from its surrounds, one might think long views abound. However, a series of gnarled oak trees frame the green. They are so character-laden and distinctive that to remove them would be a mistake, especially as the course already enjoys so many sweeping views.

A prudently placed layup off the tee leaves this pitch to the green and diffuses the possibility of a double – or, conversely, an eagle.

Fourteenth hole, 180/145 yards; Classic design elements abound at The Harvester and no fan of golf course architecture will stand on this tee and not be reminded of the Macdonald school of architecture and its famous template Short hole.  It now comes complete with a ‘thumbprint’ or ‘bath tub’ feature front right. Importantly, it possesses something that enhances all Short holes, namely marked exposure to wind. In this case, it glides uninterrupted across the 60 acre lake and the player either has to judge the effect of hoisting a short iron up into the wind or better yet, demonstrate trajectory control. Think about the backdrops of the prior few holes: the hillside at eleven, the twelfth cocooned in its own valley, the thirteenth framed by the oaks and now this one with the green and flag silhouetted against the lake. Such diversity of backdrops immensely adds to the game’s appeal here.

Today’s location is the hole-in-one position, as there are several ways to see a tee ball disappear.

Fifteenth hole, 650/550 yards; Herbert Warren Wind once wrote of 16 at Royal Dornoch that it was the type of hole that would appear in his nightmare as it went up and up with no end in sight. Such could have applied here as it could easily have been a long, dreary trudge uphill. After all, it is the course’s lengthiest hole with each shot progressively climbing uphill.  So what does Foster do? First he builds his version of a Hell’s Half-Acre some 200 yards from the green. The golfer needs to find the fairway off the tee to successfully clear this minefield of bunkers. Having done that, the task isn’t complete because the green is one of the course’s most heavily contoured.

Getting past this cluster of bunkers in two is of paramount importance but …

…plenty of work remains ahead at the green. Its sides are shaved up, giving it a semi-punchbowl flair but the green’s tilt follows that of the land, which means any putt from above the hole is full of strive.

Sixteenth hole, 520/445 yards; A thriller, this hole was a prime beneficiary of the 2018 work as its tee placement was brought lower and left than previously. Additionally, at the time, golfers needed to lay up off the tee to stay short of a gulch before then hitting a hybrid to the green. Now, the fairway tumbles downhill uninterrupted. As at the fourth, the golfer stands a chance of getting a huge turbo-kick forward if he play his tee shot just right. The notion of a 300 yard tee shot rarely exists for a 6 handicap golfer but it does several times here, namely at four, six and here. Such potential, one-off joy exists on fast running fescue fairways in the United Kingdom; to find it available in Iowa on bent fairways is a revelation.

The day’s back left hole location takes conviction to chase after and is made all the more appealing by the lack of framing.

Seventeenth hole, 190/155 yards; The finishing pair provide equal measures of excitement and dread. Both are water strewn and the water is on the right which is more problematic the higher one’s handicap. All of the day’s good work can come undone, so the golfer needs to stay calm and golf on. The ‘miss’ obviously needs to be left but that’s the rub – just how far left and where? Neither of the two back bunkers are particularly appealing, as they leave the golfer a splash shot toward the lake. A tee ball short left of the putting surface is fine as long as it doesn’t turn into short right. Can the golfer stay committed to his shot at the top of his swing? The hole is full of questions, and only multi-rounds will provide satisfactory answers. To the author, that’s a mark of design greatness, which this hole achieves.

What a nervy shot, especially as the penultimate hole. To date on the back, water has only served as the backdrop at 14 and 16 but that changes right here.

Hopefully, the golfer simply walks past the dropping zone.

Eighteenth hole, 560/555 yards; In addition to the eleventh, this is the only other hole that can be construed as flat; What a roller-coaster ride it has been! The hole button hooks around Crab Tree Lake, meaning that drive of ~250 yards along the right leaves an approach on the direct line to the flag of only ~225 yards. The scorecard measures it as a three shotter but as a half par, risk/reward finisher, this hole provides all the drama one could ever wish.

The green is at the base of the hill with all the trees. Does the golfer dare take a crack at it or should he lay up well to the left?

Played in a conventional three shot manner, the golfer needs to get past this burn in two and then wedge on.

Having toured the course, several things stand out. First, the absence of a weak or indifferent hole. Second, superior green keeping practices are exhibited throughout, from mow lines to the firmness of the playing surfaces. Third, there are standout holes hugely capable – indeed likely – of producing one-off, thrilling events that will stick in the golfer’s memory bank. Wrap up those attributes in the farm-like setting and you have a course of great distinction. More specifically, you have a course that is unique, that doesn’t remind one of another course elsewhere. Indeed, it is hard to stereotype exactly what kind of course it is. Parkland is inaccurate, it plays more like a links but clearly isn’t – how to describe it? One suggestion is to call it a farmland course, which accurately conveys its rural appeal.

Some courses like Pinehurst No. 2 and Sand Hills provide a homogeneous playing experience with their holes all cut from the same fabric. Other courses like Cape Breton Highlands and Bandon Trails take the golfer on a meandering walk through different pockets of property. Clearly, The Harvester falls in the second category, which came as a great surprise to the author. Foster’s use of the tumbling land juxtaposed along the 60 acre lake create a host of indelible moments.

In the same decade that the Jensen family enhanced their course, Ron Forse was working at Davenport Country Club to help restore C.H. Alison’s features to that design and Ron Prichard was at Cedar Rapids, polishing that Donald Ross gem to near perfection. Add in The Harvester and you have a triumvirate of excellent designs that would make any state proud. It has been 25 years since Jensen mused what it would take in his lifetime to bring world class golf to his home state. Now he has his answers.

With cottages on site, The Harvester is a grand place to wake up and start your day.

The End