The Sandhills region of Nebraska is a huge meadow, which extends to some 20,000 square miles but amidst the cowboys and the grazing cattle, lies a magnificent sandy tract of golfing ground, which is otherwise known as Sand Hills Golf Club.
Sand Hills Golf Club is a club to respect and those in the know admire their non-commerciality, which is a welcome break from tradition in these days of the perennial money-go-round. One hundred golf holes might easily have been laid out on this amazingly natural piece of land, but Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw settled on just eighteen. But make no mistake, they discovered the best possible routing and each and every hole at Sand Hills is very special indeed.
The "Golden Age of Architecture" inspired Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to set up together sharing the philosophy that traditional, strategic golf is the most rewarding. And, when Sand Hills opened for play in 1995, they must have been quietly delighted with their achievement.
Sand Hills has only a few lucky members, and surely each and every one of them must belong to another golf club. Why? Because Sand Hills is closed for eight months each year… overplayed it is certainly not.
With wide, generous fairways that wind their way beside huge dunes, Sand Hills is a big course on a big scale and it’s tempting to open your shoulders. But beware of the sand. You will need to be either an extremely good golfer or a very lucky one to avoid the crater-like bunkers at Sand Hills Golf Club.
The centrepiece of our 2 week golfing trip to Colorado and Nebraska. After waiting breathlessly for the invitation to play we were like kids on Christmas eve as we approached the course across the incredible sand hills terrain. On arrival, the staff were all very friendly and treated us like members for the two days on site. As did the members themselves who were so proud of their amazing course. Our shared cabin accommodation was superb without being over the top. And then to the course...What can you say except it was brilliant. Each hole laid across the hills with the big blowouts defining the structure. Greens of multiple angles and undulations, fairways rocking and rolling and nice deep rough where not to lose your ball but still findable in most cases. Elevated tees, few blind shots and not too severe carries made it a totally enjoyable experience. Some fabulous views from the higher levels just to accentuate the remoteness of the place. And yes the dining was top notch with a great cosy atmosphere.
Sand Hills will always have a special place in my heart. I was lucky enough to play several rounds there during an epic trip back several years ago. That special place is not only do to how special the course and routing are but also because the last round of the visit played from the back tees in very windy conditions was the best round of my life for several years carding a 1 under 70 with 3 friends, one of which was giving me 8 shots for our match. Naturally, you never live that down, especially since he struggled on that round and the net difference was on the humorous side.
How difficult must it of been for Bill Coore to route Sand Hills, after all he only had one of the largest sandy sites ever to work with, with unlimited options. It's a true testament to his skill as an architect that he wasn't temped to make it into a cart-ball course and go out there and just find the 18 spectacular holes hundreds of meters apart from each other. Instead he came up with a sublime, walkable masterpiece that starts and finishes on extremely high points and honestly doesn't really let down throughout.
Essentially it's a links course and for me the difficult part of assessing it's greatness is trying to imagine how good it would be if it were located in the UK or Ireland and what place it would have while competing directly for rounds against the likes of Turnberry, The Old Course, Dornoch, RCD or Portrush, let alone the 100's of other natural links. As far as that goes, I'd say Sand Hills has a unique advantage in that it's novelty value given it's located in the US, given it's literally in the middle of nowhere and requires a long drive to reach, given it's isolation in relation to anything else and finally given that it's one of a small handful of courses that really are links or links like in the US benefiting from sandy soil and massive dunes.
Perhaps one of the best parts is that on a one of basis with a little luck you can access it.
Sand Hills is a golf course with no weak holes, which, aside from Pine Valley, Cypress Point, and the National Golf Links, is hard to say about almost any course in the world. The land was destined for golf, and architects Coore & Crenshaw did a masterful job designing the course. In 1993, they visited the site and “discovered” over 130 golf holes, and then proceeded to narrow it down to only eighteen, which is the golf course the world is lucky to have today. Although the area is windy, there is no prevailing wind, so the course is routed to be playable in any wind condition. I’m not sure how you design a course as good as Coore & Crenshaw did, but they pulled it off. My journey there was much more than a trip to play golf; it was a life-changing experience, which is one of the unexpected lessons I learned pursuing my dream and what makes Sand Hills such a sought-after destination.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
John - I played 72 holes at Sand Hills over 2 days and agree wholeheartedly with your comments. I've been fortunate to play the top 30 or so on this ranking (except Augusta), and Sand Hills is the best golf experience I've ever had.
I was fascinated by the divergent reviews on this site about Sand Hills. People seem somewhat divided between thinking this course is definitely top 10 in the world and those that think it is overhyped in its ranking. I was fortunate enough to receive an invite and I was excited to see it for myself.
For me, the course lives MOSTLY up to the hype. The routing is fantastic and the sublime beauty of nature becomes very apparent and is such a relief after playing many a bulldozed course. The greens are quick and treacherous and the course was is very good shape despite a so-far super hot summer trying its best to bake out the course.
Yes there are some holes on the front side that are a little more straightforward, maybe take 3 wood instead of driver but even those holes have challenges especially in the green complexes.
One of the best things of Sand Hills is the silence. So many times crowded tee times, road noise or other modern distractions take you out of the round rather than just relaxing and enjoying the round. Sand Hills is ALL about the golf, the course is wonderful and if you don't feel relaxed after playing here, you might need to invest in a stress ball.
Is SHGC a top course in the world? Heck yes! It doesn't matter where exactly it is ranked only that if you are invited DEFINITELY go, it is well worth the trip!
Sand Hills is all about the golf. “Golf courses are built for many reasons,” Bill Coore said over lunch months later. “The main ones are demographically driven: to support real-estate development or public play and, in some case, purely for golf.” Bandon Dunes and Sand Hills are two leading examples of the pure-golf scenario.
“Dunes land is the foundation of golf,” Coore continued. “This is the land that golf architects like me look for: wind, sand base, random contours on the land. Sand Hills was site-driven not demographically driven. It was built for the sake of golf and no other reason. It’s a place where millionaires can play next to local rancher members. Golf has its deepest roots in this kind of land.”…
The course terrain is rolling, with fescue surrounding the fairways and hardly a tree in sight. It was calm and hot when we started and very windy when we finished. As we ate lunch outside, it was a challenge to keep our food from blowing off the plates. Jeff, Todd, and I all agreed that there are no memorable holes at Sand Hills, but the experience is one that we’ll never forget. Larry Berle.
Larry - in all seriousness, if you think there are no memorable holes at Sandhills you have absolutely zero credibility in terms of writing a golf review.
It is easy to be too effusive when writing reviews but in the case of Sand Hills it really is difficult not to be! The golf course was tremendous, the par 3s and 5s in particular, although my favourite hole was 8: a great short par 4. The greens were fantastic; pure, sensual and quick; rather like I imagine putting on a Cuban cigar rollers thigh might be! The $195 green fee was great value for money and although I only played once it’s actually a daily fee. Although most only play 36 you could play more if you had the appetite! Initial I walked off the course somewhat nonplussed. I hadn’t scored as well as I felt I should have and I was cold and soaked to the skin. However, after a great burger at Ben’s Bar (the half way house), a warm shower and several hours reflection as I drove north to Badlands National Park I came to realise what a great track it is. Great variety, relatively straight forward off the tee and, as with any half decent links course, extremely well defended greens. A short game is required if you’re going to score well at Sand Hills. Is it a top 10 course? I’m not sure. But it is a great trip, probably a once in a life time experience and one that I would whole-heartedly endorse to anybody who gets half a chance.