The Prairie Club, Dunes Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #35 US public, #3 Nebraska
GolfWeek: #82 US modern, #2 Nebraska public, #21 US resort
Golf.com: #74 US public, #1 Nebraska public
Designer: Tom Lehman (2010)
The 86th rated overall course in the country, the Dunes course at The Prairie Club is the pinnacle of semi-private golf in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.
Located just outside of Valentine, The Prairie Club features natural, windswept golf that uses the beautiful Sand Hills land to create an experience that I am told is almost perfectly akin to playing across the pond in countries like Scotland and Ireland.
The stunning ebbs and floes of the terrain, expansive seas of prairie grasses and striking sand features here are all natural. Very little land was moved to make this outstanding track, and course architect Tom Lehman’s greatest challenge was not to make 18 great golf holes, but to make the very best 18 great golf holes on this huge parcel of land.
Certainly there were dozens more considered – they could have been placed virtually anywhere – and the vast landscape that was left untouched allows golfers to achieve a feeling of being lost in nature: An almost spiritual experience on rugged, “Dances with Wolves” terrain accompanied by world-class golf.
While its sister course, the Pines, provides a wonderful golfing experience and certainly plenty of beauty and challenge, the Dunes course provides ever-present drama. Everything about this course is dramatic! Almost every hole has a hugely risen green complex, and the natural bunkering makes for unbelievably difficult sand shots to re-find fairways and greens.
Cattle roam outside the perimeter fences, and mammoth jack rabbits and rattlesnakes are found in the natural grasslands. I actually found out that the USGA has a ruling about play near dangerous animals when my tee shot on the par three fourteenth was just feet away from a rattlesnake – decision 1-4/10 actually allows for a free drop in such a situation, as playing my ball from where I was may have resulted in a long trip to a -hospital.
That was actually the only rattlesnake we saw on the trip, but it was certainly a bit sobering after traipsing through nearly waist-high fescue for several days straight!
As you can see in the picture above, Nebraska – like the rest of the Midwest and central states – had a brutal winter. There was still a little winter kill on the greens and occasionally on fairways, but they were still fast and ran well. The green on fourteen probably had the most of any complexes on the course (maybe that’s why the snake chose it?).
An interesting thing about the greens on the Dunes course is how gigantic they are. The green on four, for example, is some 80-plus yards from left to right, connected in between by a sharp mound.
While our first round on the Dunes course was rather calm and warm, our second was played during a massive storm “In town” – while given a Valentine mailing address, the town is actually about 25 minutes away. Although a “Derecho” was brewing across Nebraska (hurricane-like wind and baseball-sized hail destroyed cars and homes in Valentine), almost magically the bad weather never quite reached us. We had true Open Championship conditions: The way links golf is supposed to be played, with steady 35+ mile per hour winds that peaked well over 60.
It was bombs away with the wind at our backs (and running approach shots), and keeping the ball low and straight when not. It was amazing how well we all adapted to the conditions on the Dunes course, and it turned out to be one of the most fun and interesting rounds I can remember.
For my GolfNebraska article on our trip to The Prairie Club, please visit the following link(s):
The drama on the Dunes course starts from the very first tee shot – a sharply rising, wide-open fairway with weathered bunkers along the edges. The fairways on the Dunes course are spacious, and allow for a good margin of error off the tee, but do not allow for many flat lies.
I hit eleven or twelve fairways in both of my rounds on the Dunes course, which is a feat of excellence for my game, but that does not mean I was always in the best spots. There is definitely something that feels great about hitting fairways, though!
As mentioned earlier, the fairways on the Dunes course are tremendously large, so look away from the right-side fence line on the tee at two. Over that fence is really long grass, and an almost assuredly lost ball.
The first par five on the Dunes course, the third sets up differently from a variety of tee boxes. From the blues, it is off-set to the right, allowing almost any type of shot shape from the tee. Carry the middle bunker and have a great look at the second shot…
… But miss right and see the ball fall off the face of the earth – but still in the fairway.
Don’t miss the green long, or else risk having a recovery shot from the sand like this one…
Maybe the true signature hole at The Prairie Club, the fourth on the Dunes course is one of the most challenging, and most picturesque par threes found anywhere.
With a green that stretches more than 80 yards from left to right, the potential pin locations on this hole are limitless, and the length from the tees can extend considerably farther than the 145 shown on the scorecard.
Connecting the two ends of this snake-like green is a mound that rises and falls about five feet. Especially if the wind is blowing like it was for our second round, a right-side pin location would be next to impossible.
A short par four, the fifth looks to have a tiny driving area if taking the risk…
… Unseen from the tee box, though, right of the green-side bunker is not a bad play. The green actually extends much farther back and right of this trap than is seen from the boxes.
While playing considerably shorter than other par fives on the Dunes course, the sixth is still a tough green to hit in two.
With a green that is well uphill, the 525 yards from the blue tees feels longer than it shows on the scorecard.
An awesome downhill par three, the seventh has probably the only tee box sand trap I’ve ever seen.
A look back at the teeing area from behind a back pin:
One of my favorite holes on the entire property, the eighth is a long, uphill par four with a blind approach. The sprawling green is set back considerably from the sand traps that are in view – use the cart’s on-board GPS for a good yardage and crank away.
Aim well over the sand traps, which serve almost as a visual retardant (the green is actually well past them).
View from the green beyond the sand traps – as you can see, there is plenty of room to run approach shots on from the fairway, as long as the entrance traps (picture) are flown.
A long, uphill par four, the ninth is a strong finish to the front nine.
Make sure to stop at the Dunes Saloon for drinks and snacks at the turn:
(Photo courtesy of Brian Orr/The Prairie Club)
The tenth, a long three-shotter, plays slightly downhill and slopes strong to the right from the center of the fairway. Hit the right side of the fairway, and chances are the second shot will be played from a much lower ground.
A look at the approach on ten:
My second shot on this long par five was near the back edge of the left green-side bunker. My only option was to sit down on the edge of the trap and swing away. Almost miraculously, I got out and managed par.
Setting up at 328 yards with the wind at our backs in our second round on the Dunes course, the eleventh hole, uphill and over the sand traps, was seemingly in reach. After somehow hitting the back-right of the green off the tee, I made up my mind that I was not going to leave my eagle putt short. That was not my best idea when I rifled that one 25 feet past the pin, then halved my second putt to about 12 feet and somehow managed to salvage par.
310 uphill is more than golf photographer Brian Orr was able to go for with hickory woods (below). The old hickory sticks look very great, and it’s a cool, vintage way of golfing, but… Imagine this… The past 100 years have seen some huge advances in golf club technology!
The tee shot on twelve is slightly blind. There is room to miss right, but long fescue left.
B.R. destroying the ball off the twelfth tee – this guy’s got a great looking swing:
The approach on twelve is again uphill with a green that is well guarded in front, but fairly open beyond the side traps – this is a very tricky green.
Taking on the left side traps seems like a great idea from the tee, but trust me that the right side of the fairway is much easier to reach in two from!
The green from the boxes on fourteen may look minute, but there is actually quite a bit of space to land tee shots. Make sure to take enough club to avoid everything going on in front.
Hit the ball long off the tee on fifteen – a drive uphill that ends near the tree on top of the hill.
This tree is a great focal point for the first and second shots on fifteen.
If the approach shot is blind, keep in mind that the green lies between the massive sand trap on the left and the lone tree on the right. Aiming straight at the tree invites trouble to the right.
Tom’s chip on fifteen:
A sneaky long par three, the green on sixteen lies below the tee boxes and does not allow for much sight beyond view of the top of the pin.
Had I seen the green a little better, I would have probably tried aiming further left of the rattlesnake 🙂
The seventeenth is another long par four, finishing toward the right side of the fairway.
A look at one of the fairway traps – very typical of the sand features found throughout both the Dunes and Pines courses:
Finishing with a 441-yard par four, the eighteenth is another hole that can play shorter, or incredibly long, depending on the prevailing winds.
A look back down the fairway from beyond the eighteenth green:
If I were to choose “One course to take with me to Heaven,” as Brian Weis (owner of GolfTrips.com, GolfNebraska, GolfWisconsin, and about 40 other golf-related websites) says, I would have a hard time choosing between the Dunes and Pines courses at The Prairie Club. Both are incredibly strong golf courses, and have been rewarded as such by being named GolfWeek’s second and fourth best courses in the state of Nebraska.
Nebraska is one of the true hot beds of premium golf in the United States, and plans for a third course on property at The Prairie Club have been rumored. The likely setting for this third course is beyond the Snake River Canyon, which resides west of the clubhouse and across the massive canyon that sides the guest cabins:
Tiger Woods has been rumored to be one of the potential architects for the third course (he has also been rumored to be one of the potential architects for a third course at Dismal River). I have heard that Tom Lehman is also being considered.
The Prairie Club, to me, is the ultimate buddies trip. Although I only knew one of my travel companions (Brian W) going in to the trip, the resort here provided a great setting to get to know everyone better, and to be challenged and over-joyed by phenomenal golf.
Enthusiasts who have yet to visit the Sand Hills of Nebraska probably have no idea how scenic and conducive to great golf this area is! The use of elevation here is second to only mountain courses; the prairie grasses provide natural defense against scoring; the vast sand beds that sit atop the Ogallala Aquifer provide the ideal environment for growing and maintaining turf that is both perfect for golf and sustainable to the environment; the blowout sand features found throughout the expansive region provide stunning contrast to the tall grasses, windswept land and open air… It is the combination of all these aspects, in an entirely wide-open, wind-blown space that affords The Prairie Club a challenging, yet truly peaceful and picturesque setting for world-class golf.
Location: Valentine, NE
Yardage: Black-7,583, White-7,355, Blue-6,838, Green-6,401, Red-5,752
Slope/Rating: Black-135/75.0, White-133/74.2, Blue-128/71.1, Green-110/70.0, Red-126/72.0
Course Architect: Tom Lehman and Chris Brands
Weekend Rates: $195 (includes cart and range)