Landmand: A New American Links Classic of Epic Proportions

<strong>Gregg Thompson</strong>
Gregg Thompson

Gregg Thompson earned a BS degree in Environmental Engineering from UW Madison in 1980 and has been a commercial builder/project manager since then. He picked up golf at age 40, having been occupied with raising a family of 5, fishing and tennis until then. He prefers match play on the course, loves links golf especially in Scotland & Ireland and enjoys golf history & architecture. A member of Kenosha CC, he serves on the Board and Restoration Committee and is also a Member at the Saint Andrews GC next to the 18th green of the Old Course.

By now, many have heard about & seen the impressive images from the recently opened Landmand GC in the Loess Hills of Homer, Nebraska.  Landmand (pronounced “Lanman”), Danish for Farmer, is owned by the Andersen farming family.  Will Andersen, the 4th generation of his farming family & a talented amateur golfer, had the vision to develop the course on land that was no longer used to raise crops.  Several years ago, after an enthusiastic visit from the talented duo of Rob Collins & Tad King, Will hired King-Collins to design the inland links style course on this rugged site featuring close to 200′ in elevation changes from the high to low points.

On the first page of the beautifully illustrated yardage book (must get) is a quote from Rob Collins:  “Landmand is a love letter to golf of a bygone era.  The grandeur & ambition of these strategic holes is a tribute to the otherworldly Loess Hills landscape and the Andersen family who have farmed the land for generations.”  Like the great links courses of Scotland & Ireland, Landmand is open to the public but also has members.  The model proved wildly successful at Sweetens Cove (once word got out) and should draw a passionate group of golfers seeking a pure & stimulating experience for the senses.

As Rob Collins shared with me, at the flat Sweetens site they had to create the land movement.  At Landmand, they had to shape & tone down the dramatic slopes to make it playable & walkable.  Langford & Moreau, as well as other architects from bygone days, would’ve marveled at the creation of this course from such wild land.  From my builder’s perspective, this was a massive cut, fill & grading operation driven by the imaginations of a very humble but brilliant architect & master shaper.

Understated entrance sign off the gravel road

Getting to the greens is at least as much of an adventure as when you set foot on them with your flatstick.  The fairways are generously sized, up to 150 yards wide on the opening & closing holes.  The strategic part is being in the correct position for the even more important approach shot.   Missing the green on the wrong side or finding your ball separated by swales & mounds to reach the pin can make for challenging 2 putts.  I was fortunate to hit a lot of fairways & found the proper side when missing a green.  Others in my group were not as lucky and some had choice words for a few greens that they considered “overdone” or extremely contoured.  I thought they were all fair and just tons of fun.  If you’ve been to Sweetens Cove, you would expect to see some large and contoured green complexes and you won’t be disappointed at Landmand.

I won’t be describing the course hole by hole for brevity & not to spoil the enjoyment of discovery when you go.   I did have some favorites such as the 3rd with a barranca feature, the par three 5th (huge green & my only birdie of the day), the drivable 7th, the short par three 8th that calls for a run up shot, the enormous punchbowl at 10, spectacular views on 11 & 12, the par three Redan at 14, the gorgeous Reverse Cape at 16 (looks like a green was meant to be set in that hillside) and the tribute to MacKenzie’s lost “Sitwell Park green”  at the drivable 17th.  An unusual scorecard feature is that the hole handicap is based on the wind direction of the day.

A quote from my friend Nick LaRocco who played 3 rounds at Landmand a week after me:   “Imagination is often at play with slopes and backboards… sometimes the smartest route to the hole ISN’T the most direct line but rather the more fun and circuitous one!!”    Hmmm, reminds me of golf in Scotland!

My Q & A with Rob Collins revealed some very interesting nuggets:

Landmand Owner Will Andersen, Golf Writer Vaughn Halyard, me, Rob Collins

  • (Gregg Thompson/GT) I was stunned to read in Jim Hartsell’s article that you & Tad routed & staked Landmand in just 2 days. Did you have ideas in mind from your previous visits & studying topo maps, aerials, etc.?

    (Rob Collins/RC) In hindsight, the duration of time involved seems rather miraculous. We set aside close to a week to do it, and the routing just flowed out so easily that it surprised us both. The overall was to find as much variety as possible going into the routing process….ie. Variety in length, distance, and strategic considerations in each class of hole (par 3/4/5)….we knew right away that we’d nailed it. Sometimes you can just tell. As an example of how serendipitous the whole process was occurred on the 6th hole….keep in mind we had no idea what was over the next ridge or around the next corner….I distinctly remember saying to Tad, “we’ve got a great start, but it would be great if we can find a great short par 4 and a great short par 3 before we get out of this 9…” Well, lo & behold, we came up on the site for the 7th & our jaws hit the floor. And we routed the short 8th right behind it…

    The only thing we knew going in is that the 12th hole had to be part of it, and a Sitwell homage was something we really wanted to include as well.
  • Par three 12th

    • (GT) Did Will Andersen have any input or ideas that he wanted to see on the design?

      (RC) Will made a substantial contribution to the routing on 8/9/10. Originally, we had the 9th & 11th playing as crossing holes. Will was originally on board with that but came to realize he was concerned about liability & so he suggested a change to locate 8 green in its current location, rather than right off the back of 7 & we flipped the location of 9/10. In the end, it was a great move, and I think the course is better for it.
    • Punchbowl 10th green

      • (GT) Other than the greens, are the tee boxes or fairways irrigated? Will the fairways be allowed to go brown during droughts? What type of bentgrass was used in the greens?

        (RC) All playing surfaces have irrigation.

        We selected a drought tolerant blue/rye on the fairways & they’ll definitely brown out & get crispy!

        The greens are a 007/777 mix of Bent

      • (GT) Can you provide quantities of earth that was moved, number or square yards of sod rolls, etc.? Was seed used anywhere?

        (RC) We estimate that we moved 2 million cubic yards of dirt. (Note: The clubhouse site was built up 35’ from the original grade)

        We have 6.3 acres of greens & 77 acres of fairway, all of which was sodded.

        A native seed blend was planted in the native/rough areas & will continue to grow in over the next year (usually takes 2-3 years for it to mature in that climate)

      • (GT) Jim Hartsell noted your love of MacKenzie’s Spirit of St. Andrews, The Old Course & Pinehurst #2 (some of my favs as well). I could see/feel the influence & love the links nature of Landmand. How do you design & build holes (especially “template” holes like 10, 14, 16 & 17) to feel new or original?

        (RC) I think it’s a willingness to not be inflexible with the “template” – we use them as suggestions and apply them to the site. On an epic & grand site like Landmand, we needed to build a redan and a punchbowl that were simply on another level in terms of scale & size. On 16, that hole set up perfectly for a reverse cape & the centerline bunker helps push people toward taking the risky but rewarding line near the drop-off. For the Sitwell, it both had to fit the scale of the site & it needed to be gigantic in order to maintain its playability. At 34,000 square feet, we were able to both make the transitions appropriately dramatic but leave ourselves tremendous amounts of green surface at less than 2% (ie. very pinnable slope)
      • Green on the reverse Cape 16th

        • (GT) It’s rare to find a course with 18 really good or great holes, I can count them on one hand in my experience. I think you’ve accomplished that at Landmand. Having said that, do you have favorites? (I usually have just a few but this time there’s a lot more😊)

          (RC) Thank you! And I agree…I’m so proud of our team for wrangling 18 distinctive & thrilling holes out of that landscape. That’s a Sophie’s Choice type of question for me…just really hard to answer. During construction, I frequently laughed with our lead shaper, Marc Burger, about each hole as it came out of the ground…with each one, we had a new favorite! I always had a huge soft spot for 7 (and I still do!), but I really can’t say one more than another.
        • 7th green at Landmand

          • (GT) Many great musicians have songs that didn’t make the final album. Did you have any hole designs that you couldn’t fit at Landmand? If so, where will we see them in your next design?

            (RC) I thought Landmand would be an ideal site to build a Dell par 3, but it just didn’t happen. 5/8/12/14 were all so good & were so adept at functioning in a connecting sense that we couldn’t change it…
          • 14th hole from the green

            • (GT) Will there be a 2nd course at Landmand?

              (RC) I told Will on this visit that even if he wanted to hire us to build a second course that I didn’t think it would be a good idea. I said the same thing to my client, Reece Thomas, in 2012 about Sweetens Cove at a time when I was dead broke and most certainly needed the work. I could feel it in my bones that we had something exceptional on our hands at Sweetens & that to add more would risk a delicate balance that we had somehow struck in the universe at that place. Tinkering with or adding more to something that is already great will not necessarily make it better. As I’ve said before, the feeling I had in my gut about the potential of Sweetens before it opened is magnified 1000x with Landmand. So, that’s a long way of saying I don’t think so, but ultimately it will be up to The Andersen’s. I do think, however, that a short course or monster putting green would be appropriate and very well received. And, finally, Sweetens proved that the adage that one course is a curiosity & two is a destination has its exceptions too. At Landmand, they’ll be completely booked on the course & cabins each year… you can just feel it.

              • (GT) What’s next for King-Collins?

                (RC) We’re very, very excited about what’s going on in Lubbock at Red Feather. I’m every bit as proud of our team & their work totally transforming a dead flat site as I am of what they did in the Loess Hills.

                We’ve got a few very exciting smaller projects we’re working on, including a new reversible 9 hole course at Palmetto Bluff in SC that will start next year. After that, we have two new 18 hole projects from scratch that I’m not at liberty to discuss now, but I will say we’re very excited about them as well!
              • Landmand is a must visit for any golfer seeking adventure, stimulating strategic golf holes, views for miles and possibly the wildest land & greens you’ve ever seen. Will Andersen & his staff including Pat Fisher (Superintendent), Adam Fletcher (GM), Sam Kincaid (Club Mgr.) & the folks at the Farmers Table food truck are so welcoming & helpful as well. Highly recommend staying for at least 2 rounds to fully take it all in. Cheers!

                Photos and content by Gregg Thompson

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