4812 E 30th Ave,
Kansas (KS) 67502,
- +1 620 662 0581
5 miles N of Hutchinson
Members and their guests only
Prairie Dunes Country Club is an inland links jewel, which is set in the heart of America. The inland Kansas location is about as far away from the sea as you could possibly be but the course has many characteristics of a classic seaside links.
The course, or at least 9 holes, opened for play in 1937 and Perry Maxwell laid them out. Maxwell believed absolutely that “the golf course should be there, not brought there,” and he surveyed the 480-acre site day after day for weeks before making any decision on the routing. Perry’s son, James Press Maxwell extended the course to 18 holes in 1956.
Naturally, the end result is a course that is natural, and although there’s no salty taste of the sea on your lips, there’s everything else that is essential to make a perfect day’s golf. First of all there is sand and sand to spare, secondly there is the ever present Kansas wind – the energy from which is being harnessed liberally across the state – thirdly the land pitches and rolls in a delightful seaside style and fourthly the holes are designed in a thoughtful, cunning and strategic fashion. The sum of this is pure golfing heaven.
Writing in Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, the author commented as follows: "What makes Prairie Dunes special is the severity of the greens and the wonderful choice of green sites. Interestingly there are a lot of uphill approach shots, which a lot of people don't love and some don't like about my own work, but those green sites are what makes the course challenging. It's also a special place in terms of atmosphere... it takes some effort to get there, but they are always so hospitable to people who have made the trip to see them, and they are really humble about what a good course it is because they aren't there to impress anybody, they are there to enjoy it themselves."
Prairie Dunes is a private club and casual green fees are not accepted. If you want to experience this stunning inland links course (renovated by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in 2004) and you are willing to make the long journey to Hutchinson Kansas, we suggest you ask your home club to prepare a letter of introduction. Who knows you might find yourself teeing it up at the 1st “Carey Lane”.
Short review: I played it. I immediately joined the club. That's how good it is. Prairie Dunes is special. A golden age course tucked away in the middle of Kansas, it's unlike anywhere else. You won't find pretentiousness here. You won't be judged as an outsider if you are a guest. You won't have to walk around on eggshells. It's a top 20 course that doesn't act like one.
Upon arriving, you drive down a small road and see the course on your left. Chance are your jaw will drop, seeing the green fairways lined by tall golden grass for the first time is a great experience. You arrive at the clubhouse and find a pleasant, albeit dated clubhouse. It's undergoing massive renovations so it will be amazing in years to come. Everyone will treat you kindly and like you belong.
The range itself isn't huge, but the overall facility is top notch. The grass is always in good shape and there are two teaching bays with launch monitors that members are allowed to use. There are two large putting greens as well as a chipping/sand practice area.
And now, the course. Just a warning. It is HARD, especially when windy.
Conditions: 6 Always great, firm and fast as it's meant to be. It can suffer occasionally in the summer, but luckily it never affects the play since firm and fast courses don't always need to be green.
Routing: 6 The routing is wonderful, even though it's a blend of the 2 nines designed by different people. (Perry and Press Maxwell.) The course flows, naturally meets back at the clubhouse at 9 and 18, and makes use of the wind from all directions.
Greens: 6 Possibly the best set of greens in the USA, they test you and beat you and can break you. However, they are unbelievably fun and allow for great creativity.
Tee Shots: 6 Great elevated tee boxes and awesome framing make for a constant flow of exciting tee shots. Especially memorable are 2, 5, 8, 12, 14, and 15. Only weakness imo are the similarities between holes 2 and 4.
Approach: 6 The course simply asks a hard question on every approach shot. Due to the green severity, you have to choose wisely which pins you will deal with. Throw in some of the best fairways around (Maxwell Rolls are abundant) and it makes for exciting, thoughtful second shots.
Aesthetics: 6 This one will bring debate. It's green grass and Gunsch. For me, it's as beautiful as the ocean, but some with disagree.
Amentities: 5 The clubhouse is nice, but in it's current state isn't up to the reputation of the course. That is changing soon!!! The food and service is always outstanding. Also there is tennis and a gym for those so inclined.
Every golf nut should play Prairie Dunes at least twice. Once to get your teeth kicked in, once to shoot a decent score with some course knowledge. And if you get to play it in a 30mph wind, just hold on. Dan Jenkin's called the 8th the "best 8th hole" in America. Bill Coore said it may have the best greens in the USA. Ben Crenshaw said everyone should study Prairie Dunes. I wouldn't argue with any of them.
Prairie Dunes Country Club is one of a kind. You will never find another course quite like it. The creativity in these Perry Maxwell greens are what defines the course; yet the routing is superb forcing you to hit quality shots all day long. I’m sure you can think of countless courses where you can just relax and hit shots off the tee and into the greens where a miss is not that penal. Well, you simply cannot just knock your ball around the course at Prairie Dunes and expect to get away with it. I can only imagine what the average golfer’s true medal score would be if they holed out every shot at Prairie Dunes. Many may think these greens are a torture test or brutally unfair, but for the true golf course architecture enthusiast, they are pure genius. Having only spent one day Prairie Dunes, my intuition tells me it’s similar to the Old Course at St Andrews in that the more you play it, the more you can appreciate all the nuances. But it’s doesn’t take a genius to realize these green complexes are in rarified company. Getting around the course without a 3-putt or double bogey is likely reserved for only those who are totally focused and capable of controlling their golf balls and emotions for 18 straight holes. One thing is for certain, the firmness and speed of the greens at Prairie Dunes can determine how playable they are versus them becoming nearly unplayable. When I studied and played the course the greens were rolling about 10.5 on the stimpmeter and the greens were firm but receptive to good shots. Winding up above nearly every pin should be avoided at all costs!
In terms of hole highlights, there are a whole bunch that deserve recognition including the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 12th, 14th, 15th and 17th. This isn’t to say the other holes not mentioned aren’t very high quality, I just enjoyed these 11 holes the best.
The 1st hole is quite the dramatic opener. It’s one of the widest landing areas on the course but still easy to find the rough thanks to a brisk wind that is usually blowing. The entire course has fescue surrounding each and every hole and this is not the type of fescue you would find on a modern course where you have a chance of playing out of it, your best bet is to avoid it at all costs. From the 2nd set of tees, you are still looking at a 445 yard opener that plays it’s full distance to one of the three hardest greens on the course. With 7 small sections to this green, you could easily be looking at a 3-putt and sadly would not be surprised to see some 4-putt’s here. The green cannot really be described unless you see it in person but it’s a great design as there is plenty of room to run your shot onto the green and hopefully you have been able to keep your ball below the hole to have a chance at two-putting for a par. Some courses start your round off with a gentle opener and some hit you with a brute right out of the box; such as Prairie Dunes. I absolutely loved this hole and put it in great company with Chicago Golf Club, Sand Hills, and Winged Foot West as one of the best openers I have ever seen.
The 2nd is the true definition of controversy. It’s one of the most beautiful looking holes on the course and at just 170 yards playing slightly uphill seems like an easy enough par-3. Yet, once you experience this hole, you could easily be kicking yourself wondering how you let at least one if not two shots get away. This is arguably the most severe green on the course and depending on where the pin is placed, you will find yourself facing a nearly impossible recovery shot if you don’t squeeze your shot into a very small landing area. Unfortunately, the back left pin placement is unfair. You would need the greens to be on the softer side to stop a shot from 170 yards on this tiny sliver of a section. I played this hole twice with 4 low handicap golfers and not one of us was able to hold the green in regulation. One perfectly struck shot wound up left of the green after rolling off and pin high requiring a really good pitch shot and tricky putt to save the only par of the 8 times we played this hole between us. Hitting the ball pin high or long is deadly and if you were to miss short and left you have a slim chance to get up and down. I wish I could get another crack at this hole seeing some of the 6 other pin placements on this green, but I studied the green from every angle and it doesn’t look like there is any easy pin placement here. This hole has tremendous character yet I feel a restoration to this green is in order to enlarge each section of the green to make it more playable. My guess is that when Perry Maxwell designed this green and all the greens at Prairie Dunes in 1937 he was designing it for speeds rolling at a 7 or 8 on the stimpmeter. When you take these slopes and run the greens at over a 10 on the stimpmeter it’s a real game changer as the difficulty of the greens is magnified.
In contract the 4th hole is a par-3 that plays similar length to the 2nd but has a much more receptive green. The hole plays uphill with a gorgeous backdrop and four perfectly placed bunkers surrounding the green. Once you arrive at the green, you find two distinct tiers and the back small section feels like another area all together which offers a great pin placement. This is a world-class par-3.
The 5th is one of the two most challenging par-4 on the course. When I saw this hole it was dead into the wind, and at 430 yards from the 2nd set of tees, this was plenty challenging for me and my fellow competitors. The fairway is plenty spacious and there is a lot of room right of the fairway; missing left should have a huge red X spray painted into the fescue as you all but ensure a double bogey or higher hitting a ball in that direction. Once you navigate the intimidating yet slightly downhill tee shot, you have a wonderful challenge ahead to hit the elevated green. The only miss that makes sense approaching this green is again to the right; but if the pin is on the right side, you’ll be hard pressed to get your 3rd shot within 20 feet. With all that said, the green is more than ample to handle the lengthy approach shot, you just have to pull it off and not crumble based on all the things that can go wrong. An incredible par-4 by any standards.
The vista from the 6th tee is memorable. After you likely got your butt kicked on the 5th hole you have a nice chance to hit a green in regulation on the 6th. All the room you could ever want exists on the right side of this shorter par-4. If you are a long-hitter there is a bunker left that you can fly and cut some distance off to have a really short approach shot into the green but if you bit off more than you can chew by pulling your shot, you will find up in fescue and kick yourself for being greedy. This green has a lot of movement on the front third as there is a true false front, so once you know how to play the hole, you will subconsciously know to hit your shot past the pin here to not come up short. A fun hole.
The 7th is the most enjoyable par-5 on the course. By today’s standards, it’s a shorter one at only 521 yards from the back tees which stretches all the way to the entrance road of the club. Today’s tour players would play this is a par-4 and probably play it around 500 yards. But for the typical amateur, it’s a lot more fun to enjoy the risk/reward of a shorter par-5 that for me played downwind. A very spacious driving area demands you keep your drive on the left side of the fairway to have the best view on the approach shot if you plan to have a go to reach this green in 2 shots. The narrow opening is shaped beautifully by a series of bunkers and fescue all around the green. Missing the green anywhere leaves a super hard up and down yet it’s still fair, just challenging and why shouldn’t it be based on the fact that it’s a shorter par-5. If you do go for this green in two, you had better pull off the shot. Bottom line, at only 521 yards and as one of the easiest holes on the front 9, you still have to work hard to earn a birdie here, this hole is no pushover. When you stand in the fairway deciding whether or not to go for this green in two shot, you will immediately think, wow, this is a special golf hole. It’s right there in front of you, inviting you to have a go, but ready to punish you if you don’t execute the shot you are attempting to hit.
The 8th hole is my favorite on the course. When you stand on the 8th tee box, whether is from the 471 or 440 tees, you can just see right in front of you that you are about to play one of the world’s best par-4s. This hole is a long dogleg to the right and your tee shot plays uphill to a fairway that has lots of undulation to it. If you smoke a drive you may get some roll shortening your approach shot but most of us will have a length uphill approach shot to a challenging green. The use of land here is awesome, the view is awesome and the design of this hole is awesome. I just loved every minute I was on this hole.
After playing the 9th, 10th and 11th, all of which were solid but less memorable holes, you arrive at the 12th. What I loved about the 12th is at first glance it looks a bit out of place. On no other hole at Prairie Dunes do you have towering trees that directly affect your approach shot to the green. Yet, these trees are strategically all over the course, they are just normally out of your direct line of play. The 12th is only 395 yards but accuracy is FAR more important than distance here. You want to hit your drive down the left side of the fairway for the best chance to hit this green in two shot. If you hit your drive even the slightest bit right of center, a towering tree that overhangs the right side of the fairway will affect your shot. From my perspective this is what defines character in a golf hole. Even after you hit your drive in the perfect spot, you have to really be precise on your approach shot to get anywhere near the pin, or if the pin is in the back of the green, you have to land your approach in the right place to not go over the green. With that said, going over the green is not that bad as there is a nice collection area mowed like fairway where you have a good chance at recovery. This is phenomenal mid-length par-4 that requires all your attention.
The 14th hole is a very cool dogleg left par-4. At 409 yards from the tips, the tee shot is not as demanding as it looks. Again, you just cannot miss left. While it looks like there is hardly any room to the right off the tee, once you know the hole, you quickly realize that hitting it to the right center of the fairway gives you a great chance to finally make a birdie. The hole doesn’t play that long and if you hit it long enough to have a short iron or wedge in, the green is receptive to leave you with a great birdie chance.
The par-3 15th hole plays between 180-204 yards slightly uphill and all carry. When you stand on this tee, you will likely think about the trees I just talked about on the 12th hole that affect your approach shot as there are two towering trees just in front of the tee box that must be 100 feet tall and create a chute like effect off the tee. Not to worry, these trees don’t come into play but they add so much character to this hole. If you can get your ball onto this green, it’s a modest green that won’t crush you too badly if you have good speed control.
As you arrive on the 17th tee, you may look at the scorecard and think you are about to play a pushover par-5 ranging in distance from 500-531 yards. You start off the hole with a more than ample fairway that you have a great chance to hit from an elevated too, but once your ball lands, the hole starts to go uphill. Upon arriving at your tee shot, if you hit a great drive you must decide whether or not you want to take on this par-5 in two shots. There is an opening in front to bounce up your approach shot but I am not sure from 220-250 yards it makes much sense from a risk / reward perfective. This green is one of the three toughest on the course and there is a huge fall off on the right side of this green that leaves you with a very difficult recovery. It super risk / reward par-5 that can easily lead to a big number but if you play smart and hit the shots, you definitely have a chance to make birdie here.
The 18th at Prairie Dunes is a solid finisher that isn’t about distance but all about accuracy, both off the tee and coming into the green. The fairway looks more intimating off the tee than it is, as there is plenty of room to drive it in play. The green is really interesting and the entire left side springs your ball off the green to the left and leaves a challenging recovery. You must hit your approach shot spot on both directionally and distance wise to be happy with your result. Nobody ever said you have to have a monster long finishing hole for it to hold its own and this hole is a solid one that has plenty of defense in it.
From a conditioning standpoint, the greens rolled beautifully and I can’t recall a single putt hitting a bump all day long, which is always a treat. The fairways were nice and firm. I hope at some point in the not too distance future Prairie Dunes has the budget to do a restoration of the bunkers throughout the course. Having just played Southern Hills fresh off of a Gil Hanse restoration of all the bunkers throughout the course, I can see the great potential of a bunker restoration of Maxwell’s work. Just a couple of years ago, I played Old Town Club which was recently off of a Coore Crenshaw restoration of all the bunkers and it’s just marvelous how those bunkers came out. Whatever architect Prairie Dunes were to choose, would really restore the edges of these great bunkers and hopefully reshape them a bit towards their original design, which would enhance the beautiful natural look with even more definition throughout each hole and around each green. Even so, you are able to clearly see all the design features as is, so this is just a wish I have for Prairie Dunes to improve the course even more.
Prairie Dunes is an exceptional course with some of the most challenging greens I have ever seen. Great routing, lots of memorable holes and a demanding test of golf. If you have the right frame of mind, the course is great fun.
I made my fist trip to Flint Hills National and Prairie Dunes in late-May, 2016. Bad weather was forecasted as I drove towards Witchita, Kansas from Ballyneal. The route is on I-70 with basically nothing to see for about five hours before you turn south off of I-70 onto Kansas highway 14. I had the radio on as the skies had gotten very dark. Had I not turned south and continued on I-70 for twenty minutes I would have been on I-70 at the exact time a tornado passed over the interstate near Abilene.
Did golf save my life or put me at risk that day?
I made it to Witchita and played Flint Hills National the next day in nice weather although the course was saturated. I had the first tee time as a single and was finished by 10:30. I then drove towards Lawerence, Kansas to tour the campus and see their athletic Hall of Fame in their famous basketball arena. As it turned out, another nasty, high wind storm came through while I was inside the arena and I had to stay an extra 45 minutes. I finally risked returning to my car as the skies got brighter and made a run to my car to go see the rest of the University of Kansas campus. 30 minutes later the skies quickly darkened again and I had to put my suv in an underground parking garage to avoid the high winds that was rocking it. 20 minutes later, I exited the parking garage. It took me awhile to find a path back to the interstate due to the downed trees, a few overturned cars, and missing pieces of houses all of which were blocking various roads. Yes, another tornado had come through. I drove back the two hours to Hutchinson through another endless rain.
When I checked into the hotel the clerk informed me a tornado had just passed near Hutchinson. It was one of the darkest nights I can ever recall. Then it preceded to rain so hard that I could not do any exploring of the small city. That was a pity as I wanted to find the location to Strataca – an underground salt mine located 650 feet below the surface which was once heavily used to store film and costumes from major motion pictures. It poured rain through the night.
The next day I went to the Prairie Dunes as I had the first tee time. It was easy to see the flooding on the course as you drove down the entrance road. I went inside the friendly pro shop and was told they would make a decision at noon as to whether to open. At 11:30 they told me the back nine would be open for the day so I played it twice with a caddie.
After playing it twice as a single in two hours, I got permission to take a putter to walk the front nine with the caddie. We could not walk between the second tee and the second green as it had become a pond. There were other areas of standing water on the front nine fronting the many false fronts and raised greens. But the biggest detour we had to take was on the par 4 sixth hole where the flooding was such that essentially from about 50 yards in front of the tee nearly to the green it had become a lake. Our choice was to go back the way we came or to walk straight from the tee through the tall, wet grass to the road which is what we decided to do. We were able to walk down seven, eight and nine before I left for the hotel as I had a 10K race the next morning.
There are two reasons I rely this story. The first is to demonstrate how bad the weather can be in Kansas as well as how quickly it can turn. Be prepared for it. The second point in telling this story is that whatever it takes to play Prairie Dunes, one should do it. It is a superb golf course. I made a point of going back the following year and ensuring I stayed longer (after stopping at Flint Hills National again).
The original nine holes was designed by Perry Maxwell in 1937. Some twenty years later the course was extended to 18 holes with the next nine holes completed by his son, Press. in 1956. The holes that Perry did are the current #1, #2, #6 through #10, #17 and #18. They are the slightly better holes simply because they have the better land and certainly the better locations for the greens. Yet the completed course is so good that the holes designed by Press Maxwell fit seamlessly with the original nine. One could make the honest mistake of believing the holes were done by either Perry or Press and could be either the outward or inner nine rather than a mixture.
When I think of Prairie Dunes I think of three characteristics.
First, the greens are small and expertly contoured with a rise or fall-off at the back of most of them. Many are uphill requiring one to expertly judge the approach shot. While they are small, there are numerous pin positions on the greens.
Second, it is a course that reminds one of links courses along the sea due to the wind, dunes, sand, contoured greens, and rolling fairways. Yet the land does not get quite as firm and fast as it can in Scotland and the presence of cottonwood trees reminds one that they are in the Kansas. The penalty for missing is often a lost ball or a wedge back to the fairway such is the height and thickness of the “gunch” as it is called.
Third, the par 3’s are some of the best in the world. When I think of the best golf courses in the world, it is rare that they do not have four or more outstanding par 3 holes. Four excellent par 3’s can be found at Augusta National, Shinnecock Hills, Royal Melbourne (both courses), Pine Valley, Swinley Forest, Merion East, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Ballyneal, Sand Hills, Muirfield, Royal Dornoch, Carmargo and about fifteen others. I love the par 3’s at Prairie Dunes.
The Gold tees are 6947 yards while the Blue tees are 6563. The par is 70 with the Gold tees rated at 75.5/148 and the Blue tees rated at 74.1/144. There is a combo set at 6741 yards as well as three sets of tees less than the Blue. It total, there are six tees. In addition to the many small, raised, and very well contoured greens many of the bunkers have taller grass at the front of the bunker. This is a course that definitely tests one’s game. I have played both the combo and the Blue tees.
A few people I know have stated the par 3’s are too similar, all playing uphill and approximately the same length. My argument against that notion is that the green sites and green complexes are vastly different. To the eye they neither look the same nor require a similar type of shot depending on pin location, even if one is using the same club off the tee. To follow is my response I sent awhile ago to a friend of what makes me think so highly of the par 3’s at Prairie Dunes.
“The second is 164 yards and does play uphill but you hit from shady trees to a thinner green with a steep fall-off in front if you avoid the fronting bunkers. The left side of the green is very small and the right side is not overly large either. Going long over the green means you are either in tall grass or in a back bunker facing one of the speediest downhill greens one will play. Five bunkers surround the green which is set hard into the hill. The second smallest green at Prairie Dunes is severely tilted with only a handful of pin positions which means missing in the bunkers short of the green is preferable to missing long over the green.
The fourth is 171 yards uphill but the tee shot is out in the open, although nearly over the corner of the third green. The green is angled away from you and not set nearly as tight against the hill. A ball hit long has a better chance at recovery than on the second. The second back bunker leaves a much better chance at recovery than it would appear. The two fronting bunkers must be cleared but the obvious bailout area short and long has another bunker. You can land short of the green and the ball has the possibility of staying but likely will roll down the hill possibly forty yards leaving a blind recovery shot if the pin is in the back. There are numerous pin positions on this hole.
You cross through the parking lot to arrive at the tenth which is 190 yards playing right in front of the rear of the clubhouse where a lot of people can watch you. This is substantially uphill and often a blind tee shot. You can only see the front right bunker as the left bunker is mainly hidden as is the second bunker on the right a bit farther from the green. The green is framed beautifully by tall grass with several humps in it. It does have another false front but not nearly as tricky as two and four. This is an excellently shaped green which has swales in it before ultimately falling away at the rear. The green sits on a high point offering a good view of the golf course and a splendid view of the clubhouse.
Fifteen is 200 yards and I do not consider it to be truly uphill although the green is raised. You hit inside a small tunnel of cottonwood trees to another exposed green. There are two bunkers right that the green slopes towards and one at the rear for the person who over-clubs or takes an extra club because they lack confidence or conviction in their play. The green is a circle with shaved edges front and left and actually sits a bit right of the tee. The correct shot is to the left or left center as the green falls away to the right and particularly to the back right. It is a tremendous par 3.
In summary, because the inclusion of the trees on two of the holes, proximity to the clubhouse for the tenth, the shape of the greens, the angle of the green versus the tee, the contours of the greens, and the locations of the bunkers, the par 3’s at Prairie Dunes visually look different and play differently.
I don’t think they are in the top 5 set of par 3’s in the world on one course, but I think they are somewhere in the top 10.”
As for the other holes, this is one of those rare courses where I like every one of the holes. Not all of them are great, but none of them are merely average to me.
I think the most under-rated hole on the golf course is the first, a par 4 of 452/435. I really like this hole which starts one on a dogleg left where longer hitters will cut the corner. There are three bunkers on the right side of the corner which share a defense with the third hole. The fairway has some smaller ripples to it after the turn. The approach is to a heart-shaped green with a bunker right and one behind. The green has a good slope of a couple feet to it with a lower back right. It is located in a collection of trees with an area of shorter grass surrounding the green to allow a chance for recovery if one misses the green.
The third offers the option of climbing a hill for a magnificent tee shot on this short par 4 of 355/315. The option is to stay slightly lower for the tee shot. From the top of the hill which is the highest point on the golf course, one has to carry very tall thicket and grass. You cannot get too greedy here and miss it to the left in the gunch. From the lower tee you still have to carry some of the gunch and it steers one to the right. This dogleg left has a fairway that runs away from you. The green has three bunkers fronting it and is tiny, yet I thought it to be one of the easiest greens to hit.
Five is an excellent par 4 of 477/430 playing from an elevated tee with gunch on either side as well as a single fairway bunker on the left. The land slopes to the right. The green is raised above you and is one of the better greens on the course with two bunkers fronting it and a hidden one behind on the left corner. Bigger hitters have a big advantage on this hole as they can chase their ball pretty far down the fairway. To the left of the green is higher ground and tall thistle and grass. The green is long but not very wide and has two spines in it creating two depressions.
Six is a straightforward par 4 of 387/370 playing from another elevated tee. You hit over a valley trying to avoid the fairway bunker on the left on a raised dune. A bunker is on either side short of the green and then there is a bunker on the right and one on the back left to this green. Those “short” bunkers often cause one to hit a shot shorter than they intended leaving their ball in a swale fronting the green. The green is placed off to the left creating a dogleg effect but really is not. This hole is a lot of fun.
Seven is a short par 5 with the tee nearly at the entrance to the golf course. This 512 yard hole plays as a gentle dogleg right. This hole has a gorgeous green complex surrounded on all sides by bunkers and a small green that has terrific shaping with a large spine in the middle creating two tiers. There are raised dunes to either side. It might be the best visual of a green that there is on the course save for #12.
Eight is perhaps the best hole on the course although ten, twelve and seventeen are in the discussion. It is an uphill dogleg right of 468/440 and feels to me like it could be found on Seminole, Gullane #1 or Tralee. There is a bunker on the high side of the green (the left side) and four bunkers sitting below the green on the right. There is a lot of gunge to either side of this rippling, undulating fairway rising in waves so there is no need for fairway bunkers. The green rises four feet from front to back with a spine nearer the back. This is a near perfect golf hole.
Nine plays back down the hill from an elevated tee. It is a straight hole with a large bunker on the left to consider on another undulating fairway with four bunkers at the green. This is the fairway that has the most ripples in it with numerous little rises from two to four feet. The green has a large shaved area fronting the green providing an opportunity for recovery. This par 4 of 452/426 would likely be considered more highly if not for the splendor of the eighth hole.
Eleven is a par 5 of 535/453 where the Gold tee is just to the right of the tenth green and for shorter hitters brings the pond on the left into play. This double dogleg right to left has a bunker on the left corner that is deeper than many others. The gunge is high on this hole. The green is elevated atop a false front and has three bunkers surrounding it. For me, this is a hole that I felt could use a set of cross bunkers about 90 yards out for a better visual. From the Blue tees it is perhaps too easy.
On my goodness the twelfth is breathtaking. The climb the high for the elevated tee of 395 offers the reward of an outstanding view that one would miss from the white tee. There are two bunkers left and a small one on the right and a series of trees on the left. After the gorgeous view from the tee, a beautiful view that will rival any inland golf course comes next as your approach shot goes through “goal-posts” of trees on either side of the fairway nearly closing the fairway. These are located about 75 yards short of the green. Behind these trees are two bunkers left and one on the right. The most dangerous bunker for me is the hidden one about fifteen behind the raised green. This green, like many others, is expertly contoured with its tallest point in the middle. A ball struck too hard or too low will definitely run off the back and perhaps into that bunker. I think this is another outstanding hole.
Thirteen is a par 4 of 445/395 dogleg left which is a semi-blind shot for longer hitters who want to cut the corner. There is gunge on the left and two large bunkers while there are three bunkers staggered on the right corner of the turn. The bunker on the left is deep and has yucca plants in it. The green is raised again with a bunker fronting either side. I find this green to be much quicker than it appears with fall-offs and various spines and depressions. I like this hole a lot.
Fourteen is a second consecutive dogleg left par 4 of 405/377. The tee provides a clear view to the green, enticing those trying to cut the corner or to stay as left as possible to shorten the hole. Yet this desirable line to the green has heavy gunge and two bunkers. The better play is to play away from them even if it results in a longer club to the green and a semi-blind shot if one does not clear the ridge 130 yards from the green. But it is possible to have a wedge or less in one’s hands. Two large bunkers are at the front of either side of the slightly elevated green that is subtle in its slope.
Sixteen is perhaps the other hole that some might think is a lesser hole but I do not share that opinion. This par 4 of 426/408 dogleg right is a more “standard” hole with a bunker on either side of the landing area and then a bunker fronting either side of the elevated green. This false front green is another gem as is the shape of the green running from front left to back right. Downwind it is nearly impossible to stop a shot on the green.
Seventeen is the second par 5 on the golf course at 523/500 with a couple of lower areas in the fairway (I know this from the small ponds that formed the first year I played it), There are no bunkers on the hole until you arrive at the green nestled up high in the dune where a single large one awaits on the right. It is a tiny green and you have to hit it. If you are short you will come back about 30 yards from the front of the green. The green has a dune ridge on both sides but a lesser one at the rear which can allow a ball to escape down a slope. The interior of this pinnacle green is expertly sloped.
Eighteen is a dogleg right par 4 from an elevated green with a fairway sloped slightly right to left of 390 yards. This is another rolling fairway hitting to a green surrounded beautifully by four bunkers. The tee shot has to carry some amount of gunge with the bolder line down the right requiring one to carry even more of it. A tee shot missed to the right will pay a heavy price. One could question the second bunker directly behind the first bunker on the left as to why it is there, but I have seen players in it. A double bunker at a green is rarely used but should be used more often. These greenside bunkers are some of the larger ones on the golf course to a green with swales and a slant right to front left. Mr. Maxwell offers a chance at recovery with a chipping area to the left front short of the two bunkers.
Putting aside the “modern” courses built by Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, David Mclay Kidd, Gil Hanse and a few others that built on the “classic” courses in the UK & Ireland, the Sandbelt of Australia, and a scattering of other courses around the world, if one wants to truly study golf architecture they should come to Prairie Dunes. Prairie Dunes belongs in a handful of courses in the USA that include National Golf Links of America, Pine Valley, Merion East, Shinnecock Hills, Chicago Golf Club, The Golf Course at Yale, Myopia Hunt, Pinehurst #2, Seminole and maybe five-ten others, where on can truly learn how to properly route a course, take advantage of natural terrain to locate teeing areas and green sites, expertly placed bunkers, and build small but crafty greens.
Prairie Dunes is a golf course one could play over and over again and never tire of it. It has four outstanding holes in eight, ten, twelve and seventeen. It has six very good holes in two, five, six, nine, thirteen, fifteen and eighteen. The others are merely “good.” I advise one to make the trip. From the tee shot to the last putt, it is an amazing golf course. But do keep an eye on the weather....
There's little I can add about Prairie Dunes, but over the different times I have played the course - spanning 30 years - I have always been enamored at how the course is simply striking for being able to incorporate the original nine holes by Perry and then years later updated by his son Press with different holes included on both the outward and inward nines. That's no small feat of accomplishment and likely the reason for that is the total familiarity that son had for the father's work.
Credit must also go to the club in being resolute in not permitting any inane updating to take place. If I had a dollar for the amount of time key clubs have gone down this rabbit hole I'd be extremely rich.
Prairie Dunes is rated highly for obvious reasons and I firmly believe if the course had some sort of meaningful body of water adjoining the course it would rise to an even higher level -- just below the exalted Cypress Point but beyond the likes of Fisher's Island and on par with Pacific Dunes. Think of it this way -- if the other courses I just mentioned did not have the influence of a major body of water immediately adjoining their layouts -- would the overall assessment of those courses be impacted?
The most important ingredient that clearly aids the splendid design is the ever challenging Kansas wind. I've seen days when one needs to hit shots no higher than a few feet off the ground. Being able to control trajectories is critical when the conditions become rigorous. The same can be said on how the course mandates the wherewithal to work the ball as situations unfold during the round. What many never truly mention is that the overall size of the greens at Prairie Dunes is on the small size -- akin to what one finds at Pebble Beach.
Whereas typical greens average around 6,500 square feet -- at PD the available space shrinks to 4,279. The smallest greens -- #2 and #17 respectively -- are approximately 3,419 square feet. The largest at #15 is 4,899. In addition, a number of them are elevated and angled accordingly. Even though total yardage is just under 6,600 yards -- the cumulative impacts of the various items I have mentioned plays a huge role. The other aspect deals with modern green speeds today. Maxwell likely never envisioned such putting surfaces going beyond ten on the Stimpmeter. Having the greens at quick a pace would likely eliminate pin locations and create an overemphasis on putting to the point where luck -- not skill -- becomes the norm.
If there are any weaknesses -- I'd have to focus on two.
There is a high number of holes that move to the left in the drive zone. Minus the world renown 8th -- you see this for several holes -- especially on the inward side with holes 11-14. Fortunately, the holes vary in length and in what is required on the approach shot. Ditto the greens for each is also quite varied.
The firmness of the turf can also vary. PD, in the times I have played, is not in the same league with the firmness found on vintage links courses. There's still rollout but if the course were ever lighting fast the greatness of the course would only rise considerably. It's also crucial to mention how a number of fairways features various movements. Great courses always bring to the forefront various adjustments that players must carry out throughout the round and PD mandates sound preparation when executing from different stances throughout the round.
One of the other attributes for PD is that the course has been tested via competition. Too many times, courses short on the yardage side can be quickly exposed by highly skilled golfers. The key is can the architecture that is sound for the 4-15 handicap still resonate for the players at the highest level of skillsets. PD has hosted a range of events and how glorious that the name of the first winner of a major event held at the club is none other than Jack Nicklaus when claiming the 1958 Trans-Mississippi title.
When the wind is not howling -- there are moments when the course is relatively docile and low scores can be had. But, never think for a moment that what the course gives cannot be swiftly taken away.
The lasting genius of Maxwell -- both father and son -- is showcasing architecture that salutes shotmakers. PD is a quintessential chessboard golf course. Each move / shot has clear consequences and the course -- like a superior chess rival -- is equally adept in counterpunching and presenting vexing challenges forcing you to either raise your game or quickly exposed for your shortcomings.
A golfer's education is not complete till a visit to PD happens. Just remember what Dorothy said in Wizard of Oz. Head to Kansas and see firsthand.
M. James Ward
The Maxwells really put a wonderful out here in the middle of nowhere and in order to fully appreciate the isolation I decided to take a road trip with a good friend from Denver via Ballyneal all the way to Hutchinson, Kansas. As far as long drives go, that's right up there but it's a great way to do it and the only time I've ever been in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska in the same day, a feat which will never happen again (most likely).
I'll admit that I really expected something different than what I found in Kansas. I always had the impression of running into something a bit more links like with very fast and firm conditions and greens that could be approached on the ground.
That was definitely not the case. The course I played several rounds on was very lush and green and very much a target golf course.
The routing was really interesting and makes great use of the property. The gunch as it's often described was very long though I manage to find the two balls I hit into it and get one of them up and down for par. So perhaps I can't complain too much about that aspect of the course.
The green complexes are excellent and few are raised quite high or on the side of the hills or perhaps dunes. It's interesting that the Maxwells use the gunch in a risk reward fashion. Playing closer to one side or another allows the best line of attack into some of the greens. Take the 5th hole for example. Playing down the left side allows a much better angle. In fact, the first hole even starts in this way with the left side around the dogleg not only being much shorter but affording the much better line.
This was a cool aspect of the design.
My favorite hole is the par 5, 17th which played straight into the wind. It required 3 solid shots and has a crazy raised green which had very unique shaping requiring very exacting approaches.
The other thing they did extremely well was bring in interesting angles off the tee causing you to really think about how much you could cut off.
Ideally, Prairie Dunes would be perfect to combine with a study trip to Southern Hills and a few others courses in the area.
Wow - What a treat to get to play this course a few times. Probably the toughest course I have played, but in no means is it unfair. Laid out beautifully across the Kansas Sandhills one gets a sense of place as soon as they pull into the property. The course starts out with a 400+ yard dog leg left that has a second shot that play in to the prevailing wind. It gives the golfer an idea of what is in store. I really enjoyed the par 5s, seven and seventeen, as they are similar lengths but one plays into the prevailing wind and the other plays with it. A great contrast! 10 is a downwind par 3 that I still haven't figured out how to play! The 12th always brings debate and I am one for the tree that obscures the green. It makes for an interesting approach and make position of the tee paramount. I haven't even mentioned the greens, top 5 I have ever played! The only ding I have on the course is that "The Gunch" pretty much eats any ball that is hit into it. I hit 9ish balls into said gunch and never recovered a single one.
In summary Prairie Dunes CC is a must play club. The course is extremely tough but fair. There is not a single hole to ease up on and all are top class. Finally the fun has only begun once one reaches the green...
Me and my long time golfing buddy had the chance to play Prairie Dunes yesterday. We lucked out on weather. It was hot but not all that windy. So we teed it up thinking the course was "gettable". WRONG. This place demands accuracy off the tee and precision around the greens. Frankly, for the 16th best course in America, the front nine did not overwhelm me in anyway. I would consider #8 (classic dogleg left, with rolling terrain) and #9 straightaway par 4 from an elevated tee to be the best holes on the front nine.
Then you make the turn. The back nine starts off with a par 3 with the teebox right by the clubhouse. Great little hole. Number #11 is a difficult par 4 visually from the tee and then you get to #12 which is aesthetically the prettiest hole on the golf course. It is a gorgeous par 4 with an elevated tee and big cottonwood trees that frame the green.
Two other memorable holes on the back were #15 a par three through the chute (big trees framing the tee box) and #17 a great par 5 that offers a generous fairway that narrows to a green that sits on a plateau. The back nine was beyond good and made the day into a memorable experience.
The conditioning of the course was probably a bit subpar for a course of this caliber but I'm sure the heat has something to do with that. And I only mention that because the course is so highly ranked and I can't find a whole lot of other negative things to say about it. It is a very HARD golf course. Play it if you get the chance but go ahead and forget about posting a score unless every part of your game is firing on all cylinders. It will jump up and bite you at some point. It did me by hole #3.
The scorecard at Prairie Dunes says the course is a Perry Maxwell Masterpiece and I would have to fully agree. Ben Crenshaw, the designer of Sand Hills has said of Prairie Dunes, "this is golf on the first order." Jack Nicklaus called it the Pine Valley of the West. I was lucky to play Prairie Dunes on a nice day and with a two-club wind, which is enough for you to get a good feel for how the course should play, without being overbearing. The greens almost all have at least two tiers so placement of your ball on the correct spot on the green is of paramount importance.
I can see the similarities in the two Perry Maxwell designs - lots of sharp doglegs and intelligent use of the terrain, particularly the uphill shots required into the greens. In almost no instance on the course is your shot to the green a level approach. Maxwell also took a minimalist approach to fairway bunkers which works out very well since the rough is quite penal and you don't need additional hazards.
Two holes in particular are truly world class - the 8th hole, which is the #1 handicap hole is a 430-yard dogleg right that plays uphill all the way. The feature that makes it unique are the massive ripples in the fairway that look like waves coming in from the ocean.
The 12th hole is a 390-yard par four where you hit your tee shot from an elevated tee to a fairway below. The strategy of the hole comes from two large cottonwood trees that are on either side of the fairway about 75 yards from the hole. These force you to either lay well back off the tee and then hit a high shot over them to the green or more typically to have to hit a low trajectory shot to a well-protected and difficult green.
Although it is a difficult to get to course, it is easily worth the journey and rewarding to visit.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
I bogeyed Number 1 and made a 60-foot putt for par on Number 2. Number 8 was picked by Sports Illustrated for its “Best 18 Holes in America.” I got a double bogey. On Number 9, Jack Nicklaus once scored an 8, and I actually beat Jack Nicklaus on that hole. Wait till I tell him. Number 11 is a 442-yard downwind par 4. I am not a big hitter, but I was a 9-iron away. According to the yardage book, “The approach shot must negotiate a knob in front of the green that is specifically designed to prevent roll-up shots.” I hit my 9-iron high and short in front of that knob. The wind was so strong that my ball went up and over that knob onto and off the back of the green. Now that’s windy. Larry Berle.