The Harvester Golf Club opened in 2000 and it’s perhaps architect Keith Foster’s finest original creation. Located 25 miles northeast of Des Moines in Iowa, Foster has achieved the objective and delivered squarely to his design philosophy of “producing timeless and enduring work”.
“Compared to some of the most famous courses in the world, we recognize that The Harvester is young,” says Dickson Jensen, owner. “But the course design, the surroundings, the commitment to tradition and the game of golf... it all lends to a maturity and a degree of excellence beyond our years.”
We couldn’t agree more, the Harvester is one the best and toughest – 7,340 yards from the tips – new layouts to grace the Midwest. And, it’s a daily-fee golf course where golfers are welcomed. What sheer delight.
Laid out within a residential development, surrounded by three sets of homestead properties, you might expect the Harvester to be somewhat restricted but, in actual fact, the fairways are set in a rolling prairie landscape with little sign of any adjacent settlements.
Designed by Keith Foster – better known in recent times for his restoration and renovation work at the likes of Southern Hills in Oklahoma, Colonial in Texas and Baltimore in Maryland – the Harvester course was built on time and within budget thanks to a close working relationship between the architect and owner Dickson Jenson.
Lake Harvester has been brought into the routing very cleverly and it plays a prominent part at the end of each nine. The par four 9th is called “Wish and a Prayer” with good reason as water flanks the left side of the fairway before cutting across the hole 150 yards before the green. The penultimate and final holes embrace the lake. The par three 17th (“The Thresher”) is a knee trembler from the tee as it plays to a peninsula green out in the water whilst the putting surface on the par five 18th (“Promised Land”) is reached via an island fairway that receives the second shot and launches the approach to the green.A decade after opening, Keith Foster returned to the Harvester to renovate bunkers, alter tees and add stone walls to the edge of the lake. Unable to keep away, Keith Foster came back to Harvester in 2018 to perform another renovation. The course reopened in 2019 when the club became private and no longer a daily fee facility.
Great Keith Foster design, too bad it went private. Plays very fair. Much better than courses along the I-80 corridor.
I played The Harvester on May 2, 2019 as part of a 3500 mile nine day driving tour that included a stop at The Dunes Club, The Harvester, Chicago GC, Des Moines (South), Canyata, French Lick Pete Dye and French Lick Donald Ross with a half marathon race thrown in. There was a lot of the heavy rain in the Midwest from March through April with flooding of rivers so I was unable to play Cedar Rapids.
At the Harvester I played with one of the owner’s son, Mason Jensen, as well as the new head pro. Both of these young men hit their tee shots about 60-80 yards farther than me. We played the 6811 tees rather than the 7352 tees. It was wonderful to play with them and to learn about the history of the course as well as the changes made by Keith Foster to the original design. Due to the rain, the fairway on holes 15-17 were not quite completely grassed although the greens were fine. As there was no one else playing that day, we were able to take our time to discuss in detail the modifications made by Mr. Foster. Due to the rain, the fairway on holes 15-17 were not quite completely grassed although the greens were fine.
I really admire the owner’s commitment to golf, particularly through the connection with the Iowa State college golf teams. At the time the clubhouse was only 75% completed, but Dickson Jensen, the owner, greeted us on the 18th green and gave me a tour of the clubhouse as well as sharing his vision of the club. I gave him some of my input and feedback. Rather than create anything new, here is the review I sent to Mason with a few edits that I will keep private.
"The Harvester is often rated the number one course in Iowa. For twenty years it was a public course but it closed at the end of 2017 to do an update by Keith Foster, the original architect, as the owner decided to convert it to a private, destination club. It is located about 30 minutes outside Des Moines as well as close to Ames.
I played with the owner's youngest son and the soon to be head pro, a family friend who played college baseball and is soon to be certified as a pga professional. The son played college golf at Creighton. Both of them could hit the tee shot just over 300 yards so I was at a decided disadvantage. As we played I asked a lot of questions about The Harvester and the more recent changes. I was informed that the owner made approximately twenty purchases of land to put together The Harvester. He allows the Iowa State University to use the golf course as its home course. The owner also had the architect, Keith Foster, design and build the practice facilities at Iowa State for which the owner made the donation.
Keith Foster is a very good architect. I have both played and enjoyed his work at several courses, including Moraine CC near Dayton, Ohio, Eastward Ho, Baltimore Five Farms, Wilmington CC, Colonial, CC of Little Rock, and most impressively Philadelphia Cricket Club, located near my home.
When I think of Iowa I think of farm land and a flattish landscape. Surprisingly, the land at The Harvester is hilly and the course sits around three lakes. The elevation changes are key to the challenge at The Harvester because the routing takes full advantage of the terrain. There is a very good mixture of uphill and downhill holes, and a good mixture of long and short holes, whether they are par 3's, 4's, or 5's. The water does come into play on several holes, particularly the downhill third hole, a par 3 over water to a very difficult green with a ridge running through the middle, the short par 3 17th hole over water where the miss is to the left, the half horseshoe 18th where the water to one's right beckons on all three shots for the normal length player, and the best hole on the golf course, the wonderful 9th. The ninth is simply one of the best par 4's I have played in the USA. On the ninth the water runs down the left side nearly to the green.
Who would have thought a course in Iowa would be on hills and have that much water?
The back nine is superior to the front nine. The front nine starts out with an easy par 4 followed by a short, uphill par 4 with church pew bunkers that should be only for eye candy. Miss the green with a shot too short and one’s ball can end up 20-30 yards away. This is followed by the lovely and difficult downhill par 3 over water where I made a 60 feet putt to save par, conquering a significant spine in the green. Then the holes become more straightforward beginning with the fourth, a longer par 5 with a wonderful situated and contoured green, until one arrives at the daunting but splendid 9th hole.
The back nine has a very nice mixture of short and long holes, with the very long 15th uphill par 5 of 520 yards the most strategic given the collection of bunkers that comes into play for most players with their second shot. There is a good mixture of elevated and tiered greens. On the back nine, one never feels as though you are playing the same hole. There are raised greens, long tee shot carries, undulating greens and a real variety in the hole from 14-18 which would make it exciting for match play. Indeed, the sixteenth is a downhill par 4 of 521/461. The greens are slightly trickier on the back nine both in terms of where you want your ball to land as well as the putt that is before you. These hilly greens can be read, but one must have a deft touch to execute the proper speed and line. I liked every hole on the back nine.
For the entire course, the green complexes are very good with a good mixture of undulations and greenside bunkers.
The course has just the right mixture of defenses split between the water, the variety of the greens and the placement of bunkers. Adding to the defense is the rolling, hilly nature of the golf course.
The owner joined us at the end of the round to show me the clubhouse, which has yet to be finished on the interior. I gave him my opinion on the golf course as well as the clubhouse and explained a good destination club must achieve one criteria: "it must be a great hang-people need to make memories of fun and laughter.”
I do not know if the owner will achieve his vision with the club. Iowa has a short golf season and while Des Moines is a wonderful small city and Ames has a lot to like about it, including a beautiful Iowa State campus, there might be better options for people who desire a second/destination club. There is no doubt he has a very good golf course. The questions to be answered include whether he can find a really good chef for only six months each year.
On my personal rating scale I rated The Harvester as the 223rd best course I have played. It achieved 85 points and my personal belief is that anything I rate over 80 points and is in my top 400 is worth the effort to play, particularly if you are within a day’s drive. If the owner can get the right chef and do enough things to make this a great place to play and hang out with friends, then it will be a good destination club because clearly the golf course is more than good enough. If I wanted a get-away from Minneapolis or Chicago, despite the length of the drive I would consider joining here for the challenge of the course as well as its visual appeal due to the lakes."
In my summary note above I did not mention specific holes, but I liked very much the uphill #2 (4-373/345), downhill #3 (3-202/178), #4 (5-573/547), uphill #5 (4-362) , #11 (very different hole from the back elevated tee (4 -441/386), fun green on #12 (4-393), over the water #17 (3-188/170), the wrapping around the lake #18 (5-550/530) with #9 (4-437/417) the star. Eighteen is a very nice risk:reward for the longer hitters to try to carry the lake with the second shot while other players have to navigate around the corner of the lake.
Just northeast of Des Moines, this Keith Foster layout is now a truly private club following several years after opening as a public golf course. Keith was brought back in to update the Harvester course as it progressed towards a private club, and it just opened up about a month ago having been closed for over a year.
There are now around 50 members and the volume of play is relatively low. The clubhouse is beautiful, and the service is as good as it gets. When I was greeted in the arrival area, I was told I’d be 1 of 11 people there that day on the entire property, so it is truly a golfing nirvana. The low amount of play directly correlates to why the playing conditions are flawless. While we’re in the height of the golfing season in this part of the world and courses are generally looking their best, the fairways and greens at The Harvester Club are 10 steps above anything else. I was often uncomfortable on the greens as they were rolling at 12 on the stimp-metre with plenty of contours, rendering certain pin placements simply inaccessible, even when putting. The difficulty on and around the blistering greens could ruin your scorecard!
Right from the first tee, the views across the course are dramatic and the course oozes with challenge. The second hole plays steeply uphill for the approach shot, and if your ball doesn’t make it, it will come back almost 80 yards from the green which is brutal. The third hole is the first of the par 3s that sets an interesting precedent for all of the short holes. Specially, upon reflection, all of them play downhill and are surrounded by a body of water – which for me, became a little repetitive. On top of this, three of the four par 3s all play the same club, which further reduces the variety. The 15th is also a downhill par 3 with water nearby but plays 20 yards shorter than the other three. To be clear, the par 3s are spectacular, but I felt compelled to share a humble observation.
The topography at The Harvester Club is a sight to see, and Foster deserves a lot of credit for the end product as the routing makes the most of the natural land. I am so happy for the people of this area to boost golf in Iowa. The holes get stronger and stronger as you progress, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a top University or Professional golf event being hosted here in the very near future. The rolling hills allow for spectacular views, mesmerizing downhill holes towards the water, and sensational shorter par 4s playing uphill through a gauntlet of bunkers. The combination of arguably the best conditioned course you could ask for with mouth-watering vistas firmly puts the theatre of The Harvester Club back on the golfing map with a bang!
The Harvester Golf Club is a magnificent course. Laid out in a picturesque country layout with endless fields of crops and goats as spectators on the 9th tee. Conditioning is a 10/10 and layout is very fun and demanding. Holes 8, 9, 17 and 18 stand out as great finishing holes on both nines. Could potentially be a great tournament course. Currently, the course is going private and making extensive improvements for the 2020 season.
Location can matter a good deal when courses are assessed. Few people may see Iowa as a golf destination of note but there are a few courses worthy of one's time and attention.
Harvester is clearly one of them.
Kudos to architect Keith Foster because the holes you encounter provide a rich brew -- where skillful execution and a capacity for top tier shotmaking is a constant matter for any golfer to overcome.
The flow of the course is especially well done. The routing varies quite well from one hole to the next. Working the ball off the tee is also tested so that proper approach angles into the varied putting greens can happen.
Lake Harvester plays a main role in a number of the holes. Many people may not know of architect Keith Foster but his portfolio of courses is quite good and his work in restoring old time classic courses -- most notably Southern Hills, Baltimore CC / Five Farms, Colonial and without question his superlative involvement with Eastward Ho! on Cape Cod -- shows clearly a man who understands how to bring out the best in the various properties in which he has worked.
Harvester can be toughened considerably if need be but the daily preparation of the course is well done and serves its audience of daily fee players admirably. For those who come to Des Moines -- a slight detour to Harvester is clearly well worth scheduling.
by M. James Ward