Occupying a 400-acre property in the Mississippi River Valley that was previously used as a cattle ranch, Spirit Hollow Golf Course lies a mere 10-minute drive southwest of downtown Burlington, close to the Southeast Iowa regional airport.
Owner Randy Winegard had a vision for the golf facility when he acquired it back in 1991 but it took the experience of architect Rick Jacobsen to transform the dream into reality, laying the course out in two circuits, with the front nine routed around a residential development and the back nine through a rugged landscape of rocky outcrops, mature oak trees and flowing streams.
Grassed with bent grass tees, fairways and greens, the layout stretches across varied terrain, with continuous elevation changes experienced from start to finish and natural creeks coming into play at more than half the holes on the scorecard.
The fairways are configured as two returning nines, with demanding par fours identified as the toughest hole on each circuit: the green for the 445-yard 6th (stroke index 1) is pond-protected to the front of the putting surface and the 480-yard 13th (stroke index 2) doglegs right to a green that slopes way towards the clubhouse.
Spirit Hollow is a Rick Jacobson Design along a piece of land that showcases the great rolling topography of Eastern Iowa. After a strong start, holes 3 through 8 are somewhat forgettable but serve as good scoring opportunities with plenty of width.
The course really gets rolling at hole nine, a downhill par 4 requiring precision on the second shot to the green. Hole 10 kicks off a back nine of really scenic golf holes down, around, up, and through a large ravine. The routing incorporates several downhill tee shots to fairways skirted by a natural creek. Particular highlights are 11 and 15, which reside in their own amphitheaters, and 18, a downhill par 5 with a decision off the tee over how much of the diagonal hazard (creek) to carry. The right drive sets up a real chance at eagle or two put birdie to finish your round.
Ever since The Harvester went private, the state has lacked a clear top public golf course and has instead several equals with differing strengths and weaknesses. Spirit Hollow loses points for the front nine lull through the residential development and poor walkability. The green complexes are solid, but reflect a time period when design firms were perhaps a bit nervous to try anything too unique or difficult in bunkering or green contour. That being said, the back nine's high quality ends up defining your experience in a positive way.
Overall, this is a great course that ends on a high note; it's definitely worth the drive out to Burlington for those in the extended area.