America’s Best On-Site Non-Course Golf Facilities

One of the trends I’ve loved witnessing over the past few years has been the addition of non-course golf facilities at top-ranked resorts. These value-added venues give players fun options when they’re off the tee sheet to settle bets, enjoy the land, be social and bond especially during trips to remote golf destinations.

One of the first of these I ever had the pleasure of checking out is still my favorite: The Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford designed H-O-R-S-E Course at The Prairie Club in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

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One of an infinite number of potential tee boxes on the Horse Course at The Prairie Club

 

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“Routing” for the Horse Course – there are no actual teeing locations, and the next green can always be anywhere

 

Like in a game of basketball H-O-R-S-E, the player in charge calls a teeing location and green. From there, the competition usually goes one of two ways: Closest to the pin or fewest strokes to hole out.

Even with no official tee boxes or routing, the Horse Course at The Prairie Club was ranked the #10 Most Fun Course in America by Golf Digest in 2015.

 

Golf Simulators

One golf amenity worth mentioning is the simulator. Golf simulators have been gaining in popularity in recent years as technology has soared and courses and clubs have recognized the benefits of having them onsite. Simulators attract customers during the off-season, bringing in revenues for both the simulator(s) and food & beverage.

WiscoGolfAddict equipment reviewer John Ziemer and I recently visited Fairways of Woodside to play simulator golf on their Trackman 4 systems. With 54 courses to choose from, as well as practice/range modes, simulator golf is the next best thing to traveling south during the Midwest winter.

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John Ziemer teeing off on the short par five 7th at Prairie Dunes (KS)

 

One of my buddies from North Hills, Kyle, and I recently looked at simulator options at the 65th annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, and I think the entire membership is hoping to have one installed in the club’s basement sometime during 2018.

 

Putting Courses

A non-Championship golf course option that has been building in popularity is the putting course. Originating at the home of golf, The Royal and Ancient St. Andrews has a world-famous putting course called The Himalayas that is run by the club’s ladies group. I have not been to St. Andrews, or Europe in general, so here is a photo from Golf Digest’s gallery of Himalayas images:

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Photo of St. Andrews Himalayas putting course (photo credit: Dom Furore, Golf Digest)

 

Bandon Dunes debuted their Punchbowl putting course in May 2014. A more than 100,000 square foot green complex adjacent to the Pacific Dunes clubhouse and first hole tee boxes, The Punchbowl provides a fun experience in a stunningly beautiful setting:

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The Punchbowl at Pacific Dunes from the Pacific Grille balcony – the Pacific on the horizon (OR)

 

I spent an enjoyable 18 holes at Streamsong Black’s new Gauntlet putting course last week while in Florida. The Gauntlet is a 2-acre green complex similar to The Punchbowl, situated between the course’s new age clubhouse and its 18th hole green complex.

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The Gauntlet putting course adjacent to Streamsong’s new Black course

 

The newest facility at The Prairie Club in Valentine, Nebraska is their own putting course named Old Wagon. Opened during the summer of 2016, I have not had a chance to check it out yet, myself, so can only show a photo from their website:

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Maintenance on the Old Wagon putting course at The Prairie Club (photo credit: The Prairie Club)

 

Other golf facilities with renowned putting courses include World Woods, the Running Y Ranch in Oregon, the World Golf Hall of Fame and Angel Park in Las Vegas. I expect to see more emerge soon.

 

Short Courses

World Woods in Brooksville, Florida has probably the largest practice facility in the country, including a two-acre/36-hole putting green, three practice holes (par three, par four, par five), an irons range and a circular 20-acre “Practice Park.”

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The first of 3 practice holes at World Woods (par 5)

 

I was running late to get back for dinner with my wife last week, but my friends Nathan and Jim had time to play the par three course at Streamsong Golf Resort in Streamsong, Florida after I lost our putting match there on The Gauntlet.

My favorite par three course I’ve played is Bandon Preserve at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. A 13-hole short course, Coore and Crenshaw’s work here showcases some of the most beautiful terrain and vistas on the entire property.

A number of tee boxes are available for each of the 13 holes, and all proceeds from tee times at Bandon Preserve go toward the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, which Bandon Dunes developer and owner Mike Keiser founded to help promote healthy ecosystems within Bandon and the greater Coos County area.

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The 9th hole on Coore/Crenshaw’s Bandon Preserve (OR)

 

Maybe the most well-known par three course in the country is one I hope to check out in 2018: ThreeTops. Part of the TreeTops Golf Resort, ThreeTops played host to the annual Tylenol Par 3 Shootout. Lee Trevino won $1,000,000 for a hole-in-one there in 2001.

Sand Valley’s par three course, The Sandbox, will open May 1 with 17 holes between 40 and 140 yards. I can’t wait to see Coore/Crenshaw’s design for this short course, which I’m told has the most extreme greens on the property. Combined with the opening of Mammoth Dunes, 2018 is a very exciting year for Sand Valley Golf Resort.

When staying at a golf resort especially in the middle of nowhere, golf always takes center stage. It’s important resorts continue to innovate and add non-course golfing facilities to keep players out and engaged, and also enjoying a world class experience that feels like a bonus value. A lot of times, with these places being so remote, the alternative is either sleeping or spending time at the restaurant(s) or bar(s) – oftentimes at the expense of the next morning’s experience.

In just the past few years, golf facilities off the course have come a really long way. I love the concept of and experiences had on putting and short courses, and for here in the Midwest the availability of golf simulators does a great job of helping keep the off-season blues at bay… And playing concepts like the Horse Course are ingenious – I can’t wait to see more great facilities like these debut in the future.

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