Located in the northwest corner of Iowa, The Falls at Grand Falls Casino course is a Rees Jones layout which takes its design inspiration from the casino resort courses around Las Vegas, hence the 30-foot waterfall that flows into a 12-acre lake at the 18th hole.
Owned and operated by the Kehl family, who also developed the Blue Top Ridge course at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort along with Rees Jones, this 18-hole Grand Falls layout is draped across a 150-acre property, with nearly all of the fairways orientated in a north-south direction.
Standout holes include par fives at the 7th and 17th (both played to greens benched into the mounding that forms the waterfall feature at the closing hole); the short par four 14th (which crosses a creek in front of the green); and the par three 18th, where severe fall offs around the water-protected home green afford a do-or-die finish to the round.
The Falls at Grand Falls Casino, located just east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a resort style course that was designed by Rees Jones. The course excels in many ways, notably in the way in which it is conditioned and the memorable views you’ll encounter despite being surrounded by Iowa corn. The greens rolled true and the fairways mowed in stripes when I played, a testament to the perpetually solid state of the course. I knock Grand Falls down a few notches simply because there is not a ton of variety within the layout. Only about half a dozen or so holes stand out, my favorites being the ninth, 14th, and the 18th. The closer is one you’ll talk about in the casino afterwards: it is a short par three with a waterfall leading into a lake that provides one of the best views in Iowa golf. The aforementioned ninth is a fun, classic “cut off as much as you can” par four where any ball left is swallowed by the large pond that is in play on a total of four holes on the course. The Falls ranks among Iowa’s best public tracks; if you’re in the Sioux Falls area, crossing the state lines to play a Rees Jones signature course for less than 100 dollars is a no brainer. Given the fun, appealing couple of holes I mentioned and the casino next door, The Falls makes for a perfect buddies weekend away.
Things did not go well at the start of my round at The Falls. The opening hole ignores the old saw about not starting into the rising sun. My drive at 7:50 am headed directly into a bright sun and has not been seen since. The second fairway was being aerated and the green complex was a carbon copy of the first.
Things did get better from there and the 18th did practice one concept of public golf architecture: Make the last hole easy enough that players will do well and want to come back. Though there’s water to contend with, a wedge will get most players to the large green on the par 3 hole.
In general the subtle contouring of the greens was interesting and Rees Jones, as in a number of his more recent designs, has allowed players the option of a running or aerial approach on over half the holes. On the other hand there are only a few tee shots which provide a risk/reward opportunity.
On an irrelevant (at least to course rating) note, my round here marked the 50th state in which I’ve played golf.