For golfers, Iowa is an unsung 'field of dreams'

The following golf courses and more are chronicled in Tom Doak's " Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: Vol. 3 - The Americas (Summer Destinations)," now available.

Volume 3 of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses is the largest of the five-volume set, covering more than 650 golf courses coast-to-coast across the northern U.S. and Canada. Partly, that's because this area includes the New York metropolitan area, where I grew up, and Michigan, where I now live, as well as 19 places where I've designed courses; and partly, it's because this is almost surely the most golf-rich part of the world, including all of the great courses in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and all the way west from the Sand Hills to Banff to Bandon Dunes.

However, there were a couple of sections of the country where my co-authors and I had barely traveled at all, so in the fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016 I filled the gaps with golf trips to Maine, New Hampshire, western New York, and Iowa. I was surprised by the quality of the courses in all of those locales, but especially by the variety of courses in Iowa. They don't market themselves as a golf destination, because several of the best courses are private clubs, but here is a small "golf trail" with a variety of designers' work set on rolling land in windy conditions.

It starts fast out of the gate: when you enter Iowa from the east by crossing the Mississippi River on I-80, you're just two miles from Davenport Country Club , in the Quad Cities. Davenport has never hosted the PGA Tour's Quad Cities Open (now the John Deere Classic hosted just across the river in Illinois at TPC Deere Run ). The course did host a couple of Western Opens back in the day -- Ralph Guldahl won in 1936, just before his two U.S. Open championships, and Sam Snead to Marty Furgol in 1951 when old Sam hit his tee shot into the creek at the par-4 16th. Overlooked in the national rankings, probably because it was only 6,400 yards from the back tees, the C.H. Alison design was restored just a couple of years ago by Ron Forse, adding just enough length to make any golfer take notice. I'm the consultant to two of Alison's most celebrated American designs, the Country Club of Detroit and Milwaukee Country Club , and this is better property for golf than either of them.


TPC Deere Run, located across the Mississippi River from Iowa, hosts the annual John Deere Classic.

TPC Deere Run is just across the state line in Illinois


Another major restoration wrapped up recently in Cedar Rapids, where Ron Prichard has restored and strengthened the Donald Ross design at Cedar Rapids Country Club . Most of its back nine lies in the flood plain along Indian Creek, complemented by some hilly wooded holes on the perimeter. There are only three par 3s, all of them outstanding, but the most striking hole is the 346-yard 14th, with its green set atop a 12-foot high bluff that falls away to all sides.

Golf around Des Moines


In Ames, Veenker Memerial is the home course for Iowa State University. It was designed in 1936 by Perry Maxwell.

Veenker Memorial Golf Course in Ames is a classic Perry Maxwell design open to the public.


The state's capital of Des Moines is a surprisingly vibrant small city, with more than its share of good golf. I didn't get to see Tom Fazio's Glen Oaks Country Club , now the most prestigious course in the capital, but the Wakonda Club is an art-deco gem on hilly terrain by the underappreciated Chicago designer, William Langford, and Des Moines Golf & Country Club is 36 holes of early Pete Dye vintage, and will likely be the hardest course ever to host the Solheim Cup when they host it in 2017.

All of these Des Moines courses are private clubs, and the municipal Waveland Golf Course , opened in 1901, might be too hilly for anyone but the regulars; but there are two fine courses open to the public less than an hour's drive from the Capitol.

Veenker Memorial Golf Course , home to the Iowa State University team in Ames, is a classic Perry Maxwell test which had to be re-routed a bit due to highway construction. The longer holes are on open parkland north of Squaw Creek, while the wilder holes are up on a sixty-foot wooded bluff on the south bank of the creek. The run of par-4's from the 2nd to the 5th is a tricky start, and the 590-yard 7th back over the creek is a beauty.

Northeast of Des Moines lies The Harvester Golf Club , Keith Foster's most celebrated solo design. The course is laid out around a 60-acre lake that looms large on the closing holes for each nine, but it's the holes up on the hills, like the par-5 6th and the lovely downhill 14th, that have me thinking it's the best course in the state, next to Davenport, and rates a solid 7 on the Doak Scale.

Tom Doak is the founder and principal architect of Renaissance Golf Design, architects of over 30 new and restored golf courses around the world. After graduating from Cornell University, he developed a passion for the art of course design during a summer spent working as a caddie in St. Andrews, followed by an extensive trip studying courses throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. Also an accomplished author, Doak has published such books as "The Anatomy of a Golf Course" and "The Life and Works of Dr. Alister MacKenzie." In 2014, Doak published the first volume of a new five-volume edition of "The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses.
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For golfers, Iowa is an unsung 'field of dreams'
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