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.
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