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.
he 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.
n 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.
he 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.
he 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.
fter 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.
he 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.
he 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.
Date: August 24, 2020