American Dream Courses: Midwest (West)

In a land made up predominantly of plains, pastures, prairies, and relatively few golf courses (1,435 over an area of roughly 520,000 square miles), you might assume rattling off a dozen that fit into our American Dream Courses criteria—good, inexpensive, welcoming, under-the-radar, special in some way—would be pretty straightforward. It actually threw up a number of thorny problems that needed the input of a few Midwest-based friends to solve.

After far more deliberation than was expected, here are 12 courses in the western part of our Midwest region (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) we think you should visit.

Dream Courses Midwest
Swope Memorial (photo courtesy Swope Memorial Golf Course)

Read the other features in our “American Dream Courses” series here:

Minot CC – Minot, N.D.

This first one is something of a departure for “Dream Golf” as Minot is actually a private club. Non-members are welcome to play here, however, as part of a stay/play package in which six city hotels participate. Stay at The Grand, for instance, and two of you can play Jim Engh’s typically thrilling 2015 design a few miles south of town (the club moved here after severe flooding destroyed its original, 82-year-old Tom Vardon-designed course in 2011), share a cart, and receive a voucher for the clubhouse restaurant for just $169.

Bully Pulpit – Medora, N.D.

This 2004 Michael Hurdzan design is, in the strictest sense, too well-known for “Dream Golf.” It’s won numerous awards and did in fact appear on Golf Digest’s Top 100 Public list at one time. But how famous can you be when you’re located in a county with a population below 1,000 that’s 285 miles from the nearest city with a population over 100,000 (Billings, Mont.)? Bully Pulpit is full of intriguing holes, the most memorable stretch coming on the back nine when you journey into the rugged North Dakota Badlands. The temperature (regularly in the 90s during summer) will be more manageable in September when the green fee drops to $85.

(Photo courtesy Bully Pulpit Golf Course)

Red Rock – Rapid City, S.D.

Even though you’ve likely never heard of it, the Golf Club at Red Rock is so good you assume it must have been created by an architect of some celebrated repute. Ron Farris—a former superintendent who now specializes in project management, shaping, and construction—has actually been around for 30 years or more, yet is a name even people in the industry seldom come across. But as this splendid course shows beyond doubt, he has serious design chops. $89 to play

Dream Courses Midwest
(Photo courtesy the Golf Club at Red Rock)

Bayside – Brule, Neb.

The decision over which Dave Axland/Dan Proctor course in Nebraska to choose was a major stumbling block. The master shapers and construction experts who have been heavily involved in many of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s projects established their own design firm—Bunker Hill—in 1989 and 10 years later created both Wild Horse in Gothenburg and Bayside in Brule. Both are lay-of-the-land masterpieces in the mold of Coore & Crenshaw’s Sand Hills (without quite the same grandeur). Wild Horse gets a little too much exposure for this series, however, and Bayside might actually have a couple more memorable holes. $55 to walk midweek.

Quarry Oaks – Ashland, Neb.

For all the coverage it gets in golf publications, you’d think the Sandhills region took up most, if not all, of Nebraska. In fact, it covers an area of roughly 20,000 square miles in the north-central part of the state—about a quarter of its total. Eastern Nebraska’s “dissected till plains” feature rolling hills, a fairly humid climate spanning four seasons, and significantly more vegetation and greenery than the arid west. Quarry Oaks, located roughly midway between Lincoln and Omaha, is a delightful, tree-lined, John LaFoy design that opened in 1997. You can play it for $69 midweek.


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Firekeeper – Mayetta, Kan.

Owned by the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and an amenity of the Prairie Band Casino, Firekeeper opened in 2011 and was designed by Jeff Brauer with input from four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay. The opening seven holes are fairly flat and exposed while the remainder of the course moves into more undulating land with plenty of trees. Just 25 miles north of Topeka, the immaculate bentgrass playing surfaces are bordered by fescue rough and the absence of any neighboring real estate ensures a peaceful round. $70 to play midweek.


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Swope Memorial – Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas City’s 1,805-acre Swope Park was donated to the city by real estate magnate Thomas H. Swope in 1896. Among its numerous attractions are the Starlight Theatre, the City Zoo, and the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Swope Memorial Golf Course which opened in 1934. The routing takes you through the park’s finest woodland and features plenty of elevation changes and smallish, tiered, push-up greens. Just $44 to play this Tillinghast original.

Shoal Creek – Kansas City, Mo.

Twenty miles to the north of Swope is another Kansas City muni worthy of your attention. Shoal Creek Golf Club opened in 2001 and was designed by former Jack Nicklaus associate Steve Wolfard who opened his own design firm—W Golf Design—in March of last year. The Northland gem’s Zoysia tees/fairways and Penn G-2 bent greens are invariably in good order, and the midweek rate is $60.

(Photo courtesy Shoal Creek Golf Club)

Stoneridge – Stillwater, Minn.

The beauty with nominating courses in the Midwest is that even the very best public courses fall beneath the green fees ceiling and, by virtue of being out of the national spotlight, naturally fly under the radar. So, we have no problem recommending this superb, 2000 Bobby Weed design which, were it found in Florida, New York, or California, would no doubt charge twice or three times as much as it does. $79 for a midweek round.


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Keller – Maplewood, Minn.

With precious little municipal money available, former St. Paul Mayor and later Ramsey County Commissioner Herbert P. Keller turned to county engineer Paul Coates to build his dream course. Coates threw himself into the project, visiting a number of top courses around the country, and then devising 15 routings before making his final decision. His debut course opened in May 1929 and was an instant success. It hosted the PGA Tour’s St. Paul Open from 1930 to 1968, the 1931 U.S. Public Links Championship, the PGA Championship in 1932 and ’54, the 1949 Western Open, and eight Patty Berg LPGA Golf Classics. In July 2014, Richard Mandell completed a two-year, nationally acclaimed renovation that modernized every aspect of the course. Only $47 for a round.


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Spirit Hollow – Burlington, Iowa

Like Stoneridge above, Spirit Hollow is one of those courses whose fame would have spread far and wide had more raters and media ventured out this far. Located five miles south of the city of Burlington and just a couple west of the Mississippi River, the course was designed by Rick Jacobson and opened in 2000. The owner, Randy Winegard, chose Jacobson from three candidates because he was the only one honest enough to tell him his own plan wouldn’t work. Jacobson made the most of wooded valleys, numerous changes in elevation, mature oaks, rock outcroppings, and natural streams to create a truly beautiful course. Public rate midweek is $89.

(Photo courtesy Spirit Hollow Golf Course)

Veenker Memorial – Ames, Iowa

There’s something very appealing about a course created by a design great that you can play for just $30. It’s also pretty cool to tee it up where a 19-year-old Arnold Palmer won the 1949 NCAA title. Veenker is named for former Iowa State University athletic director and football coach George Veenker, and was designed by Perry Maxwell, much of whose work is still evident—about 70 percent according to Maxwell expert Colton Craig. It opened in May 1938 and remains the home course of the Cyclones.


Which Midwest (West) region courses would you recommend? Let us know in the comment section.



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