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.
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.