Another beauty in the Nebraska Sandhills, but this one is open to the public—and very affordable
It’s unlikely any public golfer hoping to get the most bang from their buck will ever find a better option than Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg, Neb. Okay, the fact it’s in Gothenburg—not the easiest place to reach, in southcentral Nebraska—might work against it. Otherwise, it ticks every conceivable box a visitor might have for picking a quality place to play.
Opened in 1999, it was designed by Dave Axland and Dan Proctor—shapers and construction experts on numerous Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw projects down the years—who formed their own design firm in the late 1980s. Starting with Delaware Springs in Burnet, Texas, in 1989, they created a handful of outstanding courses. Their company no longer officially exists, and Axland is one-third of a new design team, WAC Golf, with Canadians Rod Whitman and Keith Cutten, yet he still hopes he and Proctor get the opportunity to build more. (They’ve routed a Par-3 course at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan., which Axland says will get built “one year soon.”)
An advantageous set of circumstances greeted the designers at Wild Horse. Thanks to a successful financing venture—500 shares sold at $1,000 apiece—and the sale of 50 or so residential lots, purchasing 300 acres and constructing the course were never at issue. The Ogallala Aquifer provides a continuous supply of fresh water, while the average 24 inches of rain a year and 225 days of sunshine present few problems. The soil on the southeastern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills is partly clay but mostly sand, creating extremely firm surfaces, and there was nothing too sharp or steep in the natural contours to make building the course, or playing it, difficult.
Actually, the most appealing element of all might have been that the owners’ demands were few: All they really wanted was something better than the town’s existing rudimentary 9-holer. A course that was fun, sustainable, and affordable. (A weekend round will set you back $75.)
Axland and Proctor got the job on the back of their work with Coore & Crenshaw at Sand Hills, whose owner and developer, Dick Youngscap, recommended them to the Gothenburg golfers. Axland, a Kansas native and the consulting architect at Prairie Dunes, is very familiar with the sort of unpretentious, unadorned layout the site gave up and, together with Proctor, designed a course that compares very favorably with those whose green fee might be four or five times higher.
The front nine might be the easier of the two halves largely because, says Proctor, it was built second. “By the time we got to the front, we were worn out,” he laughs. “So we built fewer bunkers, which means the course builds in drama as you go round.”
If that’s not enough, you might be tempted by the welcoming and relaxed atmosphere that Axland says gives Wild Horse the feel of a nonprofit. One that proves a beautiful, stimulating adventure that challenges the reasoning powers in your head as much as the technological powers in your bag, Wild Horse is a very special place, one that cost just $1.35 million to build—including the clubhouse!
How was that possible? “Easy,” says Proctor. “Get a great site and work cheap.”
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