GOTHENBURG — I had one thought during that late-May Saturday as we pulled out of Wild Horse Golf Club here to head home, just less than two hours away.
Why don’t I do this more often?
I’ve maybe played WH a dozen times or so since the Dave Axland, Dan Proctor gem opened in 1999. The first time was in June 2001 and I have been hooked ever since. Still haven’t beat 80 (full disclosure, I am an 8.4 handicap).
Yes, this game is maddening. But at Wild Horse, the element of fun and surprise (and, to me, the bargain green fee) should make this an annual trek at minimum. Especially if you have a Nebraska Golf Passport. So I made that pact in my head as we drove back to Grand Island two days before Memorial Day.
I’ll contend there are four defining moments in Nebraska golf that grew the game for our great state. If you want to argue them, hit me up on Twitter. I love a good debate.
Here they are, in order.
- When Dick Youngscap made the ingenious decision to hire Pete Dye to build Firethorn in the early 1980s and bring world-class golf to Lincoln.
- Capitalizing on Dye’s work, brought a boom of excellent public golf to our metro areas in the 1990s. Jeff Brauer’s Woodland Hills and Highlands brought quality golf to the public golfer near Lincoln and Columbus (Quail Run) and Kearney (Meadowlark Hills) built excellent city courses.
- In the early 1990s, Youngscap again changes golf in the state (and quite possibly the whole United States) with the building of Sand Hills. Would we have places like Brandon Dunes and Erin Hills and Whistling Straits without Youngscap’s vision? Would classic course be embarking on aggressive tree removal programs?
- The community of Gothenburg builds Wild Horse in 1999 with Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s shapers, Axland and Proctor.
What have these meant to golf in our state? A few things, I’d contend. If these few things don’t happen, you’d likely not see Quarry Oaks or Arbor Links or Dismal River or Prairie Club or Tatanka. You’d likely not see the web.com Tour ever in our state. And maybe Omaha CC doesn’t have the vision to employ Keith Foster and take on a pair of US Senior Open’s.
Golf is doing great things in Nebraska.
But back to Wild Horse. This gem has been that since day one.
So we toured it again on a grey Saturday in late May where we could have worn a jacket. The north wind was fun and makes the player itch to get back in the early spring or on a fall football Saturday where it’s a bit more likely.
Holes that are normally slogs (fun slogs, though) like 6, 8, 16 and 18 gave a bit of relief downwind. And holes you normally attack like 1, 7, 11 and the back nine par-5s were much more difficult. Isn’t this the kind of routing that makes a golfer always want to comeback? Absolutely.
Fun shots remain at the four par-3s which, geniously, all move a different direction. Six remains my favorite hole ever without a bunker, it was just itching to be built. And, 15, remains of the best short holes anywhere.
It’s just a whole bunch of fun shots. One right after the other.
As it has been for almost 20 years now, Wild Horse remains one of the unique and best golf opportunities for anyone in the state. It remains in the top-100 public courses in the country and it should be there. It has earned its place.
In fact, we’d all do better to appreciate it a little bit more. With the treeless rolling prairie, we could make more golf courses look a little more like this one. When someone asks you to plant a tree back at your home club, think about what your golf course looked like 25 or 50 or 100 years ago before you do it.
Maybe, just maybe, some fescue might work just as well.
Play Wild Horse with the Nebraska Golf Passport!