Des Moines Golf and Country Club was founded in 1897, with Warren Dickinson, one of the original founding members, setting out the club’s original 9-hole course. Just six years later, the club relocated next to the Waveland Municipal Golf Course, with Tom Bendelow designing the layout.
In 1923, the club was on the move again, this time to the 147-acre Ashworth Estate, to the west of Des Moines. In the early 1960s, the club got wind of plans to build an interstate highway through the course so land was purchased in Dallas County to allow the construction of two new 18-hole layouts.
Both courses were designed by Pete Dye, with the North opening in 1968 and the South following a year later. The club has since hosted the US Senior Open in 1999 and the Solheim Cup in 2017, with a composite course (nine holes from each course) used for the more recent event, which Pete Dye and Tim Liddy renovated in 2014 in readiness for the 2017 Solheim Cup.
In The American Private Golf Club Guide, author Daniel Wexler says “the South course pretty well matches its sister for both challenge and style, and boasts two notable holes going out, the 487-yard 2nd (which tempts one to drive across its water-guarded dogleg) and the 460-yard 4th, a long two-shotter angled between lakes.”
I played Des Moines South on May 5, 2019. Des Moines South is usually rated in the top four courses in Iowa. The South and the second course, surprisingly named the North course, were designed by Pete Dye. They most definitely do not look or feel like a course typically designed by Pete Dye simply because they look very natural. It is hard to see where any earth might have been moved to create a hole. There are some similarities to The Golf Club in Ohio, in terms of a few design features of bunker type and railroad ties, but I felt as if Pete Dye had somehow been told he had to build a playable golf course, instead of a difficult/more challenging course. It felt more to me like a course designed by William Diddel or perhaps Arthur Hills.
It is a wonderful club with very friendly members and staff. If one lives in Des Moines, one can easily see the attraction to being a member here or wanting to play here as a guest. I played with a member who informed me he was likely moving to the greater Denver area. He is also a fellow member at Ballyneal.
The two courses at Des Moines recently hosted a Solheim Cup in 2017 in which players and officials from both sides highly praised the course as well as the club and the city. The course used was a composite of the front nine holes from both courses likely to stay away from the road noise of I-80 and Jordan Creek Parkway. Des Moines CC is a perfect choice for a US Women’s Open, Champions tour event, or Solheim Cup as the courses are fun and a good shot is rewarded. Unlike the typical course designed by Pete Dye, an errant shot is rarely overly penalized except on a few holes where the trees are either thicker or more in play. Pete Dye is not necessarily known for having trees as the primary defense to a course. He is also not known for providing much opportunity for recovery but at Des Moines it is more likely other than if one finds the water.
I have played many of Pete Dye’s best designs with the exception of Casa de Campo. The only other course I have played designed by Mr. Dye that is similar to the two at Des Moines is Radrick Farms outside of Ann Arbor.
For me the better holes are the second through the fourth, thirteen and fourteen. From the Black tees it is very long at 7347 yards with a course rating of 75.2/134. We played the Green tees at 6754with a course rating of 72.5/129. The course is fairly straightforward with bunkering being the highlight followed by the contouring of several of the greens. There is a good routing offering straight holes as well as doglegs. There are few hidden bunkers. The bunkers are of various shapes, sometimes wide and sometimes thin. Overall, I felt a scratch player should be able to score here depending on the strength of their approach shots and abilities with a putter.
Based on conversations with people at the Harvester, Des Moines, and some people I met at the restaurant and hotel, it is considered the best club and the two best golf courses in Des Moines. It is not as good as The Harvester as it lacks the visual appeal and views of the Harvester as well as in variation in the greens. But it is a fun golf course, one where a player would enjoy a competitive game and have a lot of joy. I rated it #254 at 83.75 points on my rating scale as it has strong par 5's, good green complexes, good variation in terrain, and is very playable due to the routing. It is certainly worth playing if in the area although obviously not a golf course one will get on a plane simply to play this course (or drive from Philadelphia like I did; but I combined it with many different courses and other things).
The first hole is a par 4 of 426/379 playing as a dogleg left with a creek coming into play down the left side which ends before the green. The green sits below you fronted by two bunkers and a small water feature on the right. In addition to the creek there are bunkers down the left and a few scattered trees which are definitely in play despite a wide fairway. It is a lovely view as you contemplate your approach shot to a nicely sloped back to front/left to right green. It is a good starting hole that brought to mind the first at Merion East. It does not look difficult and actually should be a birdie opportunity but one can run up a high score.
The second is a long par 4 of 605/557 that is a sharp dogleg left with a long pond coming into play on the left and bunkers down the right which narrow the landing area. Nearer the green sitting at an angle to the right are mounds and three bunkers. This reminds of the Golf Club.
The third is a par 4 of 451/413 with that pond again on the left. The green utilizes a pretty steep false front as it sits above you on a shelf with a sharp back to front tilt. Going long over the green is more problematic than being short.
The fourth is a long par 4 of 475/440 dogleg right with an elevated fairway, avoiding a different pond now on the right. The bigger hitters can find their way down the slope and gain another forty yards. The green is elevated with another false front and it is excellent. Trees come in from the right for the errant shot (like mine). There is excellent greenside bunkering on the front left and back right. I considered it to be the best hole on the golf course.
The fifth is the first par 3 of mid-length at 183/155 with another false front, a long bunker front left and a severe right to left slope.
The sixth is a par five of 556/528 that is straight but tree-lined on either side. The green is placed on the side of a hill with a tree and three bunkers on the front right. It is a nice hole but represents a good chance for birdie for the better player.
Seven is a par 4 of 407/378 but despite its shorter length is a difficult hole. The green is one of the more sloped on the course and is surrounded by three bunkers. For the average hitter, one must avoid the fairway bunker on the left while the longer player needs to stay out of the bunker farther up the right side. This hole has a lovely green site.
Eight is rated the second highest index as it is likely because everyone struggles with it. It is an uphill par 3 of 213/172 playing one to two clubs longer. There are five thin treacherous bunkers surrounding the green on both sides. Given the uphill one cannot run their ball up onto the green from the front.
Nine is a par 4 of 442/402 with another pond hard to the left side of the green. Four bunkers guard the left side of the fairway for those trying to shorten this dogleg left. Three bunkers sit on the right side of a green that seems flattish but runs quickly towards the pond. It is another nice golf hole and a good finish to a fun front nine that saw a fair amount of change in elevation and use of water.
The back nine kicks off with a mid-length par 4 of 407/395 that is a dogleg left with flanking fairway bunkers and a single bunker left of the green. The green is very contoured. It is another lovely golf hole.
Eleven is a shorter par 4 of 393/365 but plays much longer as it is uphill. This dogleg right has a left to right slope to the green that is perhaps the third quickest on the course.
Twelve is another shorter par 4 of 386/358 with water down the right side but should be easily cleared. Two bunkers are on the left side of the fairway for those trying to play away from the water. This dogleg right is a birdie chance for the better player.
Thirteen is a par 5 of 520/504. My host was having a very good round until we arrived at these #6 rated index. Six interestingly shaped bunkers are on the left side of this green and they have to be avoided. There is a deep swale/grass bunker on the front right of the green. The shape of the fairway near the green entices you to play away from those bunkers on the left but a better play is to play short of the bunkers.
Fourteen is a longer par 4 of 446/425 that is rated the most difficult on the back side. This dogleg left has four bunkers down the left side and one on the right. The green falls away on the back left which a player can’t see. It is deserving of its index. This is likely the second best golf hole on the South course. You are playing along I-80 for the next four holes so you will hear road traffic.
Fifteen is a lovely par 3 of 233/178 that has a saucer-shaped crowned green and is surrounded by bunkers including a grass bunker.
Sixteen is a par 5 dogleg right ending at a wonderful elevated green with a tall false front, the highest on the course. There are bunkers rear of the green to be avoided. Heavy trees must either be flown on the right with the tee shot or if in them, the best play is to play out of them rather than try to advance one’s ball. This hole has the heaviest number of trees on either side.
Seventeen is the final par 3 at 198/176 with three bunkers on the left side. It is a steeply sloped right to left green but I do not think it is very problematic.
The finishing hole is a par 4 of 452/403 and is another dogleg right with five bunkers on the corner and six at the green; two on the right and four on the left. The green is straightforward. After having several very challenging holes mixed with very playable holes, it is nice to end on a hole that is fairly gentle.
If one is in the area, one should play Des Moines CC as it will be well worth it. Explore the city as well, particularly go see the lovely state capitol located on a hill. While this is not a typical Pete Dye course that would come to mind, one can see how he developed a very good routing to take advantage of natural rolling features. Tim Liddy did an excellent job of making sure it was ready to host the Solheim Cup.