The Harvester Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #42 US public, #1 Iowa
GolfWeek: #99 US modern, #1 Iowa public
Golf.com: #55 US public, #1 Iowa public
Designer: Keith Foster (2000)
This past summer, Brian Weis (owner/operator of GolfTrips, GolfWisconsin and 40-plus other golf-related websites) and I had the magnificent opportunity to attend a market trip to The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.
We had an 11-1/2-hour drive ahead of us to Valentine, and 36 holes of golf per day started the next morning. Being the golf enthusiasts that we are, we drove the extra hour out of the way to Rhodes, Iowa, home of the number one golf course in the state of Iowa and Golf Digest’s number 42 rated public course in the country: The Harvester.
The extra hour and ten minutes of driving was well worth it, and we were treated to some extremely special golf on a course that deserves every accolade sent its way since opening in 2001.
Course architect Keith Foster’s masterpiece at The Harvester beautifully blends unique and challenging hole layouts with the rolling Iowa countryside and inland lakes that abound on this fantastic piece of land.
The course is beautifully maintained with its squared off tee boxes and large, undulating greens. The huge changes in elevation offer gorgeous vistas of the property, and advanced golf course architecture designs put a premium on shot-making and strategy.
Throughout the course, the back tees make for a long and intense golfing experience: 7,365 yards of championship distance that includes par fives of 650, 575, 565 and 560 yards, par fours of 530, 470 and 465 yards, and par threes of 230, 200, 180 and 180 yards.
The big difference between the championship and blue tees is first noticed on the first hole, where the tips make for a tough starting experience from 425 yards, while the blues are a significantly less intimidating start from 390.
This 390-yard start treated me well, with a tap-in birdie to start our round (excluding my breakfast ball, in full disclosure, after I decided I’d rather not climb the ladder to go out-of-bounds and look for my original tee shot)
Two is a very interesting par four. Short by all standards, and especially on a course that reaches nearly 7,400 yards, the play here is to safety. A long iron or hybrid, for example, should leave a great approach to the green.
As the crow flies, the green is certainly reachable from the tee, but has to fly a long way uphill and over the fescue out-of-bounds to the right.
The third hole at the Harvester is an absolutely beautiful par three. Measuring 180 yards from the tips, and playing significantly downhill, the distance measuring on three was made even trickier by the gales of wind that played in and to our right. This was one of the windiest days I have ever played golf on, and both Brian and I were pretty excited just to stay dry on this hole.
The first par five on the course, the fourth is a tricky hole especially when considering all the changes in elevation from the fairway. Nicknamed “Cattle Run,” a large swale is found in the fairway around the driving target area, and requires a mostly blind second shot to set up the approach.
The fifth is the easiest hole on the course, being a mid-length par four with a slight dogleg left and a wide and inviting fairway. Distance is key on the approach, as three deep bunkers protect the right side of the green.
A number of nostalgic extras are found around the course, including this halfway/restroom house between the fifth and sixth holes:
A long, wild downhill par five, the tee shot on six is strikingly beautiful from one of the course’s highest vantage points. The fairway runs downhill from the right to left, and is bordered on the right side by a multitude of sand traps.
The toughest shot on six is the second, which is required to set up a manageable approach over water to a secluded, heavily-breaking green. Stay short of the bunkers that line the end of the fairway for any chance at birdie or par.
Running hard uphill while winding to the right, the seventh features a fairly open tee shot, but a very challenging approach. Bunkers both left and right, and a sharp false front, make this hilltop green a treat to hit in two.
The Harvester has one of the best sets of par threes I have seen anywhere, led by the third but nearly equaled by each of the others.
One of the most challenging of these par threes, especially with considerable wind gusts, is the eighth.
The infinity green on eight abuts the largest of The Harvester’s inland lakes, and has a massive ridge on the middle-right section that was next to impossible to judge accurately.
As far as tough finishing par four holes goes, the ninth at The Harvester is one of the best. With the lake running the length of the driving area on the left, the tendency would be to cheat right to stay dry. The rough to the right is deep – trust me on that one – but is preferred versus the alternatives of three-from-the-tee or outdriving the usable fairway area straight.
Weis hit the drive of the day on this hole, and was sure he’d have under 100 in from the center of the fairway, only to find out about this little devil of a stream running across the approach area:
The second longest of the par fours on the course, my favorite aspect of the tenth hole at The Harvester is it’s punch bowl green.
With a back pin location, the worst idea here is to play the approach short. The high walls on the back side of this green can be utilized to funnel approaches closer than running the ball up the steep back-to-front green slope.
Mentioned on the course’s website as being Foster’s favorite hole on the course, the eleventh is nicknamed “The Sickle,” and features a subtle right-to-left dogleg in the fairway. Sand traps are set in to the ends of each shot’s target distance, making it important to not out-drive targets.
The eleventh is a beautiful hole that reminds me a lot of several layouts at Sweetgrass in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
If eleven reminds me of Sweetgrass, twelve reminds me of another of my favorite golf courses: Wild Rock in the Wisconsin Dells.
The 410 and 390 yards from the back and first in tees, respectively, on the scorecard are a bit deceptive as the fairway runs uphill and to the right. Aiming just right of the oak trees on the left side of the fairway, the approach has to carry a chasm short-right of the green and find a way to stay on the right level.
The green on twelve is the most undulating one on the entire course at The Harvester, which says a lot. Split in half by a left-to-right sharp ridge, it works heavily from back-to-front.
With the wind at our back, the thirteenth was a go-for-it type of hole… From 355 yards. We were greeted by a foursome of guys from Connecticut, who were on-site for a stay-and-play at The Harvester and were telling us how excited they were to be there and play it three days in a row. The Harvester is definitely the kind of course that can be played over and over – if only we didn’t have seven and a half hours of driving ahead of us, we would have happily replayed, too.
I hit probably my best drive of the day on thirteen, which had the Connecticut guys going “Who the hell are you people?” As though it happens all the time, I told them “Sometimes it goes where you want it to go.” Twenty or thirty yards out from the green, it was an easy two-putt par.
The outstanding par threes at The Harvester continue on the fourteenth, which has several sets of tee box angles depending on the day. Set up on the left side the day we visited (the other black/blue/white sets of tee boxes are about 100-150 yards right), the tee shot was in to a sharp right-to-left wind and made this 205-yard par three a real brute as we were both concerned about hooking toward the water.
The longest hole on the course, the fifteenth tees up from 650 yards from the championship tees… And is uphill the entire way!
A wide, forgiving fairway is the only thing that makes “Big Hog” even remotely possible to dream of par on. However, the strong wind in our face made that a pipe dream, for sure. Either way, this is a gorgeous, tough golf hole and was a tremendous challenge for both of our games.
The beautiful look-back downhill from the green on fifteen:
A 480-yard par four from high atop the same hill shared by the fifteenth green, the sixteenth played with the wind and was almost a reprieve for us after its 600-yard behemoth of a predecessor!
Playing back toward the lake, the sixteenth is heavily downhill and sloped along with its soft dogleg left. Framed by the lake on the horizon, this a gorgeous par four.
The last of the par threes at The Harvester, the seventeenth is an all-flight one-shotter that requires perfect distance and command of ball flight. The lake surrounds three sides of the putting surface, and long is not much better as finding sand will require a downhill shot back toward the water.
With a fierce wind at our back, Weis and I couldn’t help but contribute a half-dozen or so balls in to the lake on eighteen. We figured the distance was a bit over 300 as the crow flies, but with the huge wind it seemed semi-possible. It turned out not to be, but we did play the rest of the hole pretty well, especially Brian who finished the round with a three-putt par.
Running alongside The Harvester’s largest inland lake, opposite of the tight fairway on nine, the fairway on eighteen is even tighter. A stream flows through two sections of the semi-circular playing surface, and leads to the course’s final green that resides on a beautiful peninsula overlooked by the course’s stately clubhouse.
25 miles northeast of Des Moines, the secluded Harvester location is not exactly the easiest place to get to, but is beyond a doubt worth the travel.
I am actually in the process of trying to find friends to make the trip back to The Prairie Club in Nebraska again this summer, and the golfing experience at The Harvester is one that I would love to try to replicate with a larger group on our way back down.
With 7,365 yards of championship golf, and a slope/rating of 140/76.0, it is no wonder The Harvester is the toughest and highest rated course in the state of Iowa, and consistently ranked as one of the top 100 in the United States.
The use of elevation here is tremendous, and the way Foster set up many of the holes to work on such interesting angles is unparalleled from what I have played. If anything can compare to this aspect that I have seen, it is probably the way Langford and Moreau set up similar lines and angles on courses like Lawsonia and Ozaukee Country Club. The biggest difference, of course, is that Foster’s work brings those angles and need for strategic approach to a new-era look and feel, and one that I am sure will endure for generations.
Location: Rhodes, IA
Yardage: Black-7365, Blue-6840, White-6430, Red-5180
Slope/Rating: Black-140/76.0, Blue-132/73.1, White-128/70.8, Red-120/68.9
Weekend Rates: $129