You’ll need to head for the prairies of Nebraska to play one of the best value courses in the US. The course at Wild Horse Golf Club was designed by Dave Axland & Dan Proctor – who have a track record of designing quality golf courses that are great value to play – and it opened for play in 1999. Axland & Proctor worked for Ben Crenshaw’s design company for more than ten years and their first solo project at Delaware Springs is one of Texas’s best kept secrets.
The inclusion of Wild Horse in our 2006 US Top 100 rankings raised a few eyebrows, but we felt its entry was valid as we're are always thrilled to shine a light on unhearalded courses.
In Tom Doak’s Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, the author commented as follows: “Look at Wild Horse… a very good golf course but one which nobody really goes gaga over, because it doesn’t have loads of bunkers and because it’s inexpensive to play. Everybody likes it, but hardly anyone really supports it as one of the great courses in America; it’s often dismissed as a “poor man’s Sand Hills,” precisely because it doesn’t have a lot of superfluous bunkers.”
Excellent pay-and-play golf courses are few and far between, but Wild Horse fits squarely into this bracket. With a scattering of wonderfully natural “blow-out” bunkers and tall native grasses waving in the prairie winds, Wild Horse is one of the most challenging and affordable municipal courses you could desire.
I played Wild Horse on October 3, 2020 with two raters from Golf Digest and a member who located the land upon which the course resides and is still a member of the board. He was extremely helpful in explaining the history of the course as well as the layout and design features.
Earlier this year I was supposed to play Rustic Canyon, but Covid interrupted that day and so I switched to Bel-Air. Wild Horse and Rustic Canyon are known for being two of the very best values in “public golf” in the USA for the quality of the course. After playing Wild Horse, I would certainly agree that it is outstanding value for the money. It is a links-like experience, not nearly as good as Sand Hills or Ballyneal, but certainly worthy of being discussed as an equal to the Dunes course at The Prairie Club (when I post my review of that course I will explain why). The layout at Wild Dunes is outstanding resulting in no two holes that are similar. It offers very good conditioning, an appropriate use of bunkers in placement, size and style, and fits naturally into the land. The green complexes are wonderful, particularly the shape of the greens.
Of the six reviews posted on this website regarding Wild Horse, I very much understand the ratings of five of them. I am glad I played with people who have played many of the finest golf courses in the USA as well as in the UK and Ireland. As of this date, there are not many of the finest links courses around the world I have not played, with the exception of northeast Ireland and a few near Liverpool. Wild Horse does not compete with the finest links or links-like in the world such as Sand Hills, Ballyneal, Tara Iti, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Muirfield, Pacific Dunes, Royal Dornoch, Royal St. George’s, Royal Birkdale, etc., but it competes very favorably with the next tier of these types of courses. I would compare it favorably to courses such as Gullane, Castle Stuart (not the views), Crail Balcomie, and several of the courses at St. Andrews such as Jubilee.
The course’s layout and shaping was done by Bunker Hill Golf, Inc, led by Dan Proctor and Dave Axland, who have spent years working with Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw in building many of their finest courses.
The course has a slow start in the first two holes, yet the greens on these two holes are interesting. The greens are interesting on every hole. I was told that Dan and Dave took a bag of potato chips and dumped it on a table, then selected various chips to serve as a guide to the slopes of the greens they wanted to create depending on the terrain of the green sites. The greens are very good with most utilizing slopes, tiers, mounds, swales, yet due to their size still being able to allow a large number of pin positions. The one caveat given to Mr. Proctor and Axland was to have no crowned greens and there is only one that somewhat resembles a crowned green.
The ground is not as dramatic as Sand Hills, Ballyneal, nor the Dunes course at The Prairie Club, but it certainly has a lot of movement, often rolling and sometimes with dramatic rises. The routing takes advantage of the change in terrain with the holes moving in all directions with the lengths of the holes often determined by the where the terrain offered either a high or low point, but more importantly, relatively level ground.
The design of the course features wide fairways but that is often the case on inland links-like course. On these courses there is a penalty for missing a fairway where one ends up in deep rough, an uneven bit of dirt, or a deep bunker offering a blind recovery shot. The emphasis at Wild Horse is on the approach shot and trying to find the right surface to have a manageable putt on the tricky greens. It is always a lot of fun. Holes that I thought would be more difficult for me turned out to be fairly straightforward and holes that I thought would be a birdie ended up being a struggle to make bogey.
The Gold tees play to 7030 yards, par 72, rated 73.7/135. The Black tees are 6366 yards, rated 71.1/126. These are two sets of lesser tees. We played mainly the Black tees as we were with the member. There are some substantial differences in yardage on six holes. I do not think any of our scores would have changed by much had we played further back. There is also a yardage set at 6848 and we had a few tees that were closer to that yardage. I will note where I recall playing closer to the Gold tees.
1. Par 4 – 405/363/328. This downhill dogleg left is a gentle opener with a bunker at the beginning of the fairway that is not in play followed by an inner corner bunker. The obvious play is down the right middle of the fairway although longer hitters will have a go at the green. The green has a fronting bunker right and a small one on the left middle. We had a back right pin position which is on its on plateau. Balls landing just off the green to the right will come back onto the green, but if they have too much speed they will not hold the plateau and a difficult uphill putt will follow.
2. Par 4 – 478/431/414. Because the tee is set off to the right, this hole becomes a slight dogleg right, playing as a forced carry over tall grass with a fronting bunker at the beginning of the fairway on the right. This is followed by another bunker on the right that is in play for most players. The green has not bunkers but has a wonderful false front and fall-off to the left side. The hole shares the fairway with the third hole.
3. Par 5 – 537/494. Playing as another dogleg right, this hole features a sizeable collection of three bunkers basically in the middle of the fairway. The best angle to the hole is to go over them rather than trying to cut the dogleg as there is too much risk to going right into the taller grass. Up ahead are sprinkled three bunkers, two of which are placed in the middle of the fairway and definitely catch approach shots. There is one final central bunker about 10 yards short of the green. This hole falls off for the second shot before rising back to the green which is sharply sloped back to front.
4. Par 3 – 171/160. This hole features a bunker halfway to the green acting more as a guide than for defense. It is followed by two bunkers on the right, one about ten yards short and the other one on the right side of the green. It is a lovely shorter par 3 with a nicely contoured green.
5. Par 4 – 367/339. This hole turns to the left with an inner corner bunker and two on the right front. This hole has another wonderfully shaped green.
6. Par 5 – 548/527. This par 5 is almost a tri-dogleg as the tee shot plays out to the left followed by a turn to the right and a final turn to the left. The green sits off to the right with a large short grass area before the green and to the left. There are no bunkers on this twisting hole. The green is steeply sloped back to front with a hint of a bowl on the front left.
7. Par 4 – 364/345. This hole bends left with a forced carry. At the widest part of the fairway is a center-line bunker. The other bunker on the hole is at the front left of a green angled to the left. I think this downhill hole would have been better playing closer to the road off an elevated tee as the hole would have benefited from an additional 30-40 yards. However, as is it is a fun hole to play and one of the more interesting holes on the course.
8. Par 4 – 451/433. The best hole on the front nine is the eighth which plays uphill. One of the two natural bunkers on the course is here on the left side of the hole. It is both deep and long at probably 30 yards buried against the side of a hill. The ground has a rise here before it falls again into a valley fronting the green on higher ground. The green has a single bunker on the right middle and is another tricky green with a lot of interior movement.
9. Par 3 – 185/155/143. I like this par 3. All of the par 3’s are good on the golf course. The green is angled left to right with two bunkers on the left side. It looks like a smaller green from the tee but once on it, one realizes it is as large as most of the other greens. There are almost three tiers in this green which features a fall-off to the right side.
10. Par 4 – 408/382/362. This hole goes left, then right as it climbs uphill to a green that is very slick. There is an inner corner bunker very much in play as the fairway narrows. Bigger hitters will carry this bunker. There are no other bunkers on the hole and it does not need it given the difficulty of the green.
11. Par 3 – 126/113. A really fun short par 3 that offers an optical illusion from the tee. Our pin location seemed to be in the middle but once on the green it was on the far right side. There is good mounding surrounding the hole as well as a raised bunker in the front middle that confuses one on the tee. The green has three bunkers, one front middle, front left and middle right. The green is angled to the left which makes the front right part of the green very shallow. I made a comment on the tee that the best pros struggle often on the short par 3’s. Perhaps that doomed our foursome as none of us made par.
12. Par 4 – 442/393. From an elevated tee this offers a lovely view across much of the golf course. The hole has a left center bunker as it falls away. The fairway has ripples as it turns right with an inner and outer corner bunker followed by another bunker left. The placement of the bunkers seems to shrink the size of the fairway for the second shot. The approach shot will be met with a smaller green surrounded by three bunkers, including a front bunker that catches a lot of balls. This is one of the better holes on the course.
13. Par 3 – 208/191. This is a difficult par 3 due to a very sloped green evidenced by two three putts in our group. I made a 25 feet putt for a bogey due to finding a bunker and a sand shot that flew the green on the other side. The green has two bunkers on the left that are set below the surface of the green, which is the largest on the golf course. There is also an early bunker left that could be removed to save a bit on maintenance.
14. Par 5 – 559/524/490. Playing from a high point near the road, this is the widest fairway on the golf course and nearly impossible to miss unless the wind is blowing above 30 mph. There is a fairway bunker set well off to the right on a hole that bends ever so slightly to the left. Another center-line bunker awaits about 90 yards short of the green and is perfectly placed on a downhill slope to catch a lot of balls. Another bunker is at the front left corner with a bunker at the rear middle. The green has a few small spines and swales in it and is raised. This is a nice par 5 although perhaps the fairway is a bit too wide.
15. Par 4 – 370/342/307. This hole was my undoing to break 80 and after I hit a perfect drive to a hole that ultimately is a straight hole. However, the fairway works right, then left. Three bunkers are spaced down the left side and perhaps a fourth could have been added closer to the green. Flanking the farthest left bunker is a bunker on the right. The ground dips a bit after these bunkers so a longer hitter will have their tee shots come very close to the green. The green appears narrow from the fairway as it is elevated. It is angled left to right with a front and a rear bunker. I hit a poor shot from 110 yards and found the front bunker, then found the rear bunker, which I left in and left with a double. This is very much a feast or famine hole, reminding me a bit of the thirteenth at Old Memorial, a seemingly innocent short par 4 but due to the angle of the green it requires a much more precise shot than first appears. I really like this hole.
16. Par 4 – 445/418. The design of this hole also seems to go in a couple of directions but basically it is a dogleg right with another center-line bunker that should be easily cleared. Two bunkers are on the right side of a tilted green. For me this concluded the best stretch of holes beginning at twelve continuing through this hole.
17. Par 5 – 548/505/474. The final par 5 has a small fairway bunker on the right followed by a more dangerous bunker set in the right middle of the fairway. The next shot is tricky as the fairway winds away to the left with a bunker on the corner and then flanking bunkers about 90 yards from the hole. I decided to lay up before those bunkers rather than try to thread my way through them and was rewarded with a birdie putt. Others took them on and entered them. The green has flanking bunkers on the each side. It is a nice par 5 that one has to think about the best way to attack/survive it.
18. Par 4 – 418/384. The second natural bunker on the course is on the final hole set off to the right side preceded by a smaller bunker. There is a final center-line bunker that one has to choose to go left or right. The right side will lead to a better view of the green and a possible favorable kick forward, yet this brings that big bunker into play. The left side of the central bunker will likely lead to a slightly blind shot to a green that is above you built into the side of the land. There are five remaining bunkers to navigate, of which the first is on the right and should be easily avoided. More troublesome are two final central bunkers near the green and then bunkers right and left. The green tilts a lot to the left side where lower ground is as well as back to front. It is a fine finishing hole.
In writing this review I had forgotten how many center-line bunkers there are on the course, both off the tee, in play for the second shot on par 5’s, as well as near the green. I do not recall another course where there have been so many. They are nearly perfectly placed to have the terrain brings mis-hit balls towards them. I think I counted 65 bunkers in total (I might have missed one or double counted a long one), which is the appropriate amount for the course of this type. They serve expertly as guide lines or defenses and are well placed to fit the contours of the land.
But better than the bunkers are the greens which are consistently varied. Some greens are rasied, some are level, some sit above you, but all of them have interesting inner contours. The one similarity is that they are all large, with the possible exception of the fifteenth.
I really like Wild Horse. It offers a good mix of challenge and opportunity. The one consistency is that each hole looks different and plays differently. It is routed to fit the land with only a few mild critiques on my part regarding a hole that could use a bit more length and a few unnecessary bunkers simply to lower the cost of maintenance.
From a design standpoint this course is a failure. It fails to do what a links course ought to do, make you think and play golf differently than you normally would, this course doesn't do much of that. The course can be played brain dead, there are no critical decisions to make You can play the course brain dead and wind up with a simple shot into almost every green and attack most pins.
I have played this course many many times and it's possibly one of the most boring golf course designs I've ever played in my life. The holes are so boring and repetitive, after playing the course well over 10 times I still don't remember many of the holes. Although it has a neat look to it from the road, there aren't any memorable holes, and it lacks the beauty of other courses in Nebraska.
Off the tee there is an obvious landing area on every hole, where the fairway is incredibly wide (usually 50 yards wide at a minimum). If you hit the ball to that area you are then left with a shot of approximately 125-140 yards on most holes. The tips aren't difficult at all as the ball rolls quite well on this course, and you'll simply find yourself hitting a 3 wood or hybrid on many holes instead of your 4 iron off the standard men's tees. Playing the tips doesn't make the course any more difficult as hitting a 3 wood or a hybrid into a 60 yard wide fairway is about as easy as it can get. In addition, the par 5's where you hit a driver, are somehow even wider than the par 4's.
Your approach shot to most holes is quite simple, few of the green-side bunkers actually come into play.
The greens lack much character and lack anything that will make a player actually think.
Many people enjoy the course simply because they haven't played a better links style golf course.
The course conditions are excellent, and it features fast firm greens, but that's about the only thing you'll remember about this course.
If you're going to that part of Nebraska and want to play some memorable golf, Bayside Golf Club, Heritage Hills, and Cross Creek Golf Links will all give you better views and more interesting holes to play. Unfortunately, many people opt for Wild Horse as a more convenient option but don't understand they are missing out on courses that offer more memorable holes and views.
Why have you played Wild Horse “many many times” if it’s “boring and repetitive”?
My brother and I played Wild Horse last week and were both blown away. What a great golf course. So many fantastic holes that are simply designed without a bunch of unnecessary bunkering. The bunkering that is on the course is perfectly placed. The condition of the course far exceeded expectations for the cost. Simply put, it is the best value I've ever had for my money in golf. The fairways were green and lush fescue. And the greens rolled perfectly. The view of the plains/sand hills of NE adds to the experience. Even though several houses have gone up on this course it still feels pretty isolated and probably will even with more houses. They are on big lots and don't take away from the view. Wild Horse is a perfect example of simple golf being better. Its a must.
Along with Rustic Canyon, Wild Horse has a strong reputation for great golf at very affordable prices to the public golfer. But was I prepared for the greens at the public course in Gothenburg, NE to be the best-conditioned greens I’d played all year? Certainly not! With low budget isolated golf courses, one generally expects mediocre conditioning, but Wild Horse (July 2018) was in splendid shape with beautiful receptive putting surfaces.
On the outskirts of the Sand Hills region, the golf course has limited change in undulation, but does have more interesting land movements in the corners of the property.
In 2006, the Top 100 website graciously ranked Wild Horse among the US Top 100, while we’re all a lot more educated since then, the golf course has many delightful holes including the strong par 4 8th with a large blow-out bunker and the tricky short par 3 11th hole with a devilishly small green surrounded by bunkers. I can certainly see the appeal to play here and commend the green-keeping staff for a fun presentation at exceptional value.
Since its opening, Wild Horse has been consistently ranked in the Top 100 courses you can play and is ranked here as one of the top courses of Nebraska. After playing it, I have to agree with all the rankers.
The routing is mostly fantastic and there are a tremendous amount of blind shots. The fairways and greens were in great shape despite playing it in the middle of a hot summer and I bet during the Fall its even better.
It definitely helps to have played the course as the line off the tee is not obvious and there is an unfortunate overlap of the second and third fairways but for the most part this course is a great time and one you shouldn't miss.
Double bonus, Wild Horse has built several cabins which are right on the property that are well maintained and you should definitely stay there if they have availability.