Set out on hilly, wooded terrain four miles to the west of downtown Des Moines, Waveland Golf Course was established in 1901, with local amateur champion Warren Dickinson routing eighteen holes around municipal property known as Waveland Park. Soon after, the layout was expanded to twenty-seven holes.
In the early 1930s, Des Moines Parks Department acquired New Deal and Public Works Administration funding which allowed a new clubhouse to be built and civil engineer Paul Coates – who had just finished the design of Keller in St. Paul – was engaged to refurbish the golf course over a period of two years.
The new I-235 road in the mid-1960s led to the loss of holes 7, 13 and 14. Larry Packard redesigned the layout, fitting new holes into the reduced acreage. Holes 2-4 are the result of his work, along with two new par threes at #10 and #13 (replacing the old 1st) and changing the current #14 from a par three to a par four hole.
The lightly-bunkered course isn’t that long at just over 6,500 yards but the tree-lined playing corridors demand accuracy off the tee and with the approach shot. Because of the sloping terrain, only around 30% of the 40,000 annual rounds on the course are played by walking golfers.
Interestingly, a solar observatory nestles in amongst the holes. Built in 1920 and still operated by Drake University, it’s home to the Des Moines Astronomical Society and is dedicated to Dr. Daniel Walter Morehouse. The observatory houses an 8½ inch refracting telescope and is open to the public on Friday nights during the spring.
The signature hole at Waveland arrives early at the 585-yard 3rd, rated stroke index 1. Nicknamed “The Tunnel,” this tough par five is tight all the way from tee to green. The drive demands precision to find the fairway then the second shot requires even greater care as the landing area narrows between two water hazards. For many, it’s a relief to finally reach the green on this hole.
What a fun piece of land for a golf course! It is quite hilly which makes it a tough but rewarding walk. The observatory in the middle of the course is a nice touch with a number of well laid out holes leading to it. A bit short overall and the trees have encroached on the course a bit it some areas. My favorite holes were 9, 10, 17 and 18. There is plenty of quirk and on a few holes it can be too much. Well worth a round if you are in the area.
The original nine at Waveland dates back to 1901. It is self proclaimed as the oldest muni west of the Mississippi. Being that old, one should not be surprised that the trees are quite large and treelined and bunker in the sky come into play on most holes. Also, despite most people’s perspective of Iowa being flat and a lot of it, I would describe the terrain as rolling hills.
The first hole is a short par four dogleg right. Thus, a high cut is the favored ball flight. You can cut the corner, but you must get your drive up quickly. If not, you probably do not want to hit driver as it will be through the fairway. As I cannot do the first two, I did the latter. The 2nd is a forgettable par 3. The number one handicap hole is the par 5 third. The two guys I were with could not come to agreement as to what it was called. One called it “The Chute” and the other insisted it was “The Tunnel”. Downhill off the tee and then uphill approach. I think “The Chute” is more applicable, while it is tight off the tee, it gets tighter on the second shot as the fairway is between two water hazards. The 4th is a big dogleg left. This one you can cut the corner. The par 4 5th and 6th are pretty straight forward and good birdie oppties. Waveland does not have a lot of bunkers, both of these have greenside bunkers. The 8th is a tough par 3. Too put it in context it is the number 5 handicap hole! While I don’t think it should be rated that difficult, it does make one think. The 9th is the longest par 4 on the front. It is very straight, but in a common theme at Waveland, the closer to the green you get the tighter it gets.
The back starts with a McGilla par 3, 243 yards. You have permission to hit your driver. The 11th is pretty straight and seems wide open compared to some of the other holes, thus a birdie oppty. The 12th is a slight reverse S par five. Based upon the yardage, big hitters conceivably can get home, but I don’t see it. Play it as a 3 shotter, favor the left of the tee so you can hit your second shot to the right side of the fairway for the short wedge to the green. The 13th is a gimme par 3. The 14th is a short par 4 and a good birdie oppty, especially if you can get your tee shot up and down the right side. Not sure what to say about 15, it is a short par five that is definitely reachable. Just not by me. A high draw off the tee should serve you well, but the landing area is smaller than a lot of greens. A decent drive straight is through the fairway. The 16th is a bear, it is only 15 yards shorter than the par 5 15th. My advice hit a great drive and a good second shot and you have a chance. I redeemed myself on 17 where I finally hit the high draw. This set up a flip wedge on this short dogleg left. The closing hole is pretty darn straight but really narrows as you get closer to the green that actually has two greenside bunkers.
Waveland also has a solar observatory immersed between holes. I was told it was built in the 1920s and was still being utilized by Drake University. It is open to the public on Friday nights in the spring.
I was pleasantly surprised by this course. Short but tight and a fantastic value. Go play it!