In the remote Sandhills of northwest Nebraska, on the rim of the Snake River canyon and about a half hour from the South Dakota border, the Prairie Club is a golf destination like no other.
Not only might it be the only golf resort with two 18-hole championship courses that each play to a par of 73, but it also has a 10-hole short course, designed by Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford, with no set tee boxes.
There’s another distinction that truly sets the Prairie Club apart, however. The property has both a public and private component, with its 18-hole layouts—the Dunes and the Pines—alternating each day between public/guest play and member play. In other words, guests staying multiple days at the resort, which has a lodge, bunkhouse, guesthouse, and four-bedroom cabins, can play every course.
The unusual mix between public and private access was the vision of founder Paul Schock, a venture capitalist and avid outdoorsman who purchased a 1,700-acre ranch and a neighboring parcel with a forest of ponderosa pines that would become home to the Prairie Club. While Schock was a member at exclusive private clubs such as nearby Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Neb., and Sutton Bay in his native South Dakota, he saw the opportunity to marry aspects of two of the game’s premier build-it-and-they-will-come destinations—Sand Hills and Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon—in creating a special place where visitors from around the country would travel to play golf in Nebraska.
Today, the Prairie Club is among a select group of golf destinations that have both a public and private component. But alternating guest and member play between the courses is a true differentiator.
Here are a handful of other golf getaways with a blend of public and private layouts.
The Greenbrier (White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.)
A national historic landmark as well as a world-class resort, The Greenbrier has been welcoming guests—among them 28 U.S. Presidents—to its retreat in the mountains of West Virginia since 1778. In addition to the natural mineral springs that first drew visitors to the area, there are three 18-hole resort golf courses and a 9-hole par-3 layout in addition to a members-only course, The Snead, at the Greenbrier Sporting Club that’s unavailable to guests.
Pronghorn Golf Club (Bend, Ore.)
This scenic and secluded Central Oregon club was strictly private when it opened in the mid-2000s, but the Jack Nicklaus Signature Course that winds through lava rock ridges and outcroppings while offering views of the Cascade Mountains is now open to the public. The Tom Fazio Championship course is the property’s member course and is home to one of the game’s most dramatic and memorable par threes, as the 8th hole features a 45-foot canyon and an exposed lava tube. The golf club is part of Juniper Preserve, a wellness destination with a modern lodge and spa.
The Reserve Vineyards and Golf Club (Aloha, Ore.)
Just outside Portland, The Reserve offers a unique public/private combination on its two 18-hole courses. The North Course, designed by Bob Cupp, is best known for its spectacular triple green complex shared by the first, 8th, and 17th holes, and is reserved exclusively for members (and their guests) from the first through the 15th of each month. The South Course, designed by Portland native and former PGA Tour pro John Fought, used to host a senior tour stop and is limited to member play only from the 16th through the end of the month.
Reynolds Lake Oconee (Lake Oconee, Ga.)
Situated on a 12,000-acre property between Atlanta and Augusta, Reynolds Lake Oconee is a premiere community with a lakefront Ritz-Carlton as well as six golf courses (and counting). Five of the courses are open to public and guest play while the sixth, The Creek Club designed by Jim Engh to be an “outside the box” experience, is a member-only layout. The community is in the process of adding another private course to meet resident demand, with Tom Fazio retooling nine holes from his existing 27-hole course, The National, to create a new 18-hole course set to open in 2024.
Sand Valley (Nekoosa, Wis.)
Situated amid the prehistoric sand dunes of central Wisconsin, this growing resort property features public courses from Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (Sand Valley and The Sandbox par-3 course) and David McLay Kidd (Mammoth Dunes), as well as the forthcoming Sedge Valley from Tom Doak. And just across the street is The Lido, Doak’s faithful recreation of a long-lost Long Island gem once counted among golf’s greatest courses. The Lido is a private, members course but offers limited tee times to resort guests during certain windows.
Las Colinas Resort (Dallas, Texas)
Billed as Texas’s original urban resort, reimagined, Las Colinas is part of a master-planned community just minutes from downtown Dallas and the airport. The resort component is being converted to The Ritz-Carlton Dallas and features two golf courses: the 18-hole TPC Las Colinas and Cottonwood Valley in nearby Irving. The latter, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design, is exclusive to resort members.
Do you know of other golf destinations that mix both public and private courses? Tell us about them in the comment section.