It was 2003, and Heather and myself had won the right to represent our club at The Clubcorp team challenge at Pinehurst Resort in the USA.
We were also shareholders of the newly formed Links Golf Tasmania- a company building Barnbougle Dunes (I was also Chairman)
When it was confirmed that we were heading to Pinehurst we mixed business with pleasure and organised to play a couple of the Coore Crenshaw classics as well- Friars Head and Sand Hills.
While Barnbougle Dunes was a year off opening we knew we had a wonderful product and Greg Ramsay had always planned on two courses, and who better to build the second course than Coore Crenshaw?
So we arranged to specifically visit those two courses and report back to the Board.
Our eldest son Tim was an aspiring tour professional, so we invited him to join us playing some of the top line courses in the U.S.A.
Our first stop was New York where we played Friar's Head.
It was before the clubhouse was built and the course was new.
We were very impressed!
After some time in New York we headed down to North Carolina where we had planned a game at Tobacco Road before rocking up for the tournament at Pinehurst.
I had read about architect Mike Stranz and his course at Tobacco Road had captured my imagination, so we made a point of stopping in to check it out.
It was quite wonderful and different to anything we had seen.
And Tim liked it shooting 65 off the stick from the championship tees!
Then it was on to Pinehurst where teams from all over the world gathered to represent their clubs.
We played practice rounds at Pinehurst no 8 and No 7 before the final at Pinehurst no 2.
It was a an amazing experience- Pinehurst no 2 is a championship course which has hosted The U.S. Open- and each year since 1901 has hosted one of the most significant amateur tournaments in the world- the North & South Amateur Championships.
It just so happened that the final of the clubcorp team challenge was on no. 2 on the morning of the final round of the North & South championship.
Needless to say the course was in magnificent condition although the domed greens were just too firm and slick for us real amateurs to handle- but what an experience!!
Meanwhile Tim continued his hot form playing Pinehurst no 8- he had a putt to go 11 under on the 11th hole when play was abondoned due to lightning...
After Pinehurst we flew from Raleigh-Durham to Columbus and then to Denver, but alas our plans to get to Sand Hills were frustrated when our connecting flight from Columbus was delayed and then replaced because of technical problems.
We eventually flew into Denver many hours late and missed our connection to Nth Platte- so we had a day exploring Denver, when we had planned on playing Sand Hills.
However we did catch the late flight and landed in Nth Platte after dark, hired our car and took off up the highway (NE 97) looking for Sand Hills.
The directions were quite specific- turn west at the 55 mile sign- no problem!
But it was dark, and the gate to Sand Hills was not obvious- we spent so long driving up and down that country road in the sand hills looking for a clue...
Just when we were ready to give up, the headlights caught a reflection which turned out to be a car in the car park.
We had found it!
In the end we had just one day at Sand Hills and encountered some strong winds along the way- but it was an unforgettable experience!
A Short History of Sand Hills Golf Club
The Sand Hills of Nebraska cover over 19000 square miles of sandy plains. In an era long gone it was a sea bed
Now it is a vast sandy wilderness- not particularly suited to farming, but perfect for golf.
Dick Youngscap knew this.
His decision to buy acreage to develop Sand Hills Golf Club was a game changer in the modern era, for two reasons:
1. Sand Hills GC was remote from any sizeable population, with no surrounding infrastructure, and limited opening times each year (the extremes of winter close the course for up to 8 months each year)
2. Youngscap asked Coore & Crenshaw to design a low cost, traditional course sympathetic to the land it occupied. This they did and Sand Hills GC opened in 1995.
Along with Tom Doak, Coore & Crenshaw have been instrumental in producing minimalist designs in the most natural of settings.
Although both parties learnt the mechanics of building golf courses while working with Pete Dye, their designs are more influenced by MacKenzie, Ross & Tillinghast, and the courses built in the Golden Age of Architecture (1910-1937).
So both the concept of building a golf course in a remote setting, and the natural and traditional style of the course itself made a significant impact on golf development going forward.
The development of Sand Hills would certainly could be regarded as a marker in what will be considered the coming of a second Golden Age.
It is well known that Coore & Crenshaw identified over 130 possible golf holes on the property and took their time whittling this down to a cohesive 18 hole layout.
Sand Hills is a big property.
The clubhouse and accommodation is tucked down near a gorge so that it is protected when in shutdown through the winter months.
The golf course is a mile distant from the first tee, but the driving range and then the putting green are stopping points along the way.
The course itself has a nine out, nine in configuration with the only infrastructure being a modest foodstop called Ben's Porch which overlooks the 18th green.
My initial impressions of Sand Hills were of a natural rolling carpet of fairways framed by impressive blowout bunkers and the purest of green surfaces.
The greens were as slick and true as any I had played- and with ample movement and the ever present wind they were both a challenge and a joy to play.
In fact I was just happy to keep putting on the putting green- it was so damn good!
Obviously wind is a factor in The Sand Hills- there is nowhere to hide, no trees or mountains to block the breeze, so controlling your flight is a must, particularly on the approach shot.
Coore & Crenshaw have provided generous landing areas off the tee to accommodate winds from different directions, and the green entrances are open to allow for a running approach...
Notable holes include:
- hole 1, an impressive start, the par 5 first hole is framed by natural blow out bunkers and a gorgeous raised green
- hole 7, the short potentially driveable par 4 with well protected raised green
- hole 8, another short par 4 with a unique boomerang shaped green wrapping around a central bunker
- hole 13, a long par 3 from one dune to another
- hole 17, one of the world's best short par 3's! It has a small heavily bunkered green in a sandy wasteland
- hole 18, a classic long par 4 finishing hole requiring two well struck shots to climb the ribbon of fairway past huge blowout bunkers to an imperiously placed green overlooking the action below (see pic top of page)
Sand Hills is one of the best golf courses in the world consistently being regarded as one of the top 15 courses in the world.
And it is great fun to play.
It's development has played an important part in golf history, encouraging others to follow their dreams and develop spectacular courses in remote areas of the world.
And there is no doubt in my mind that these early courses by Tom Doak and Coore & Crenshaw have lead to an ongoing Second Golden Age of Architecture which has has continued now for 25 years..
Sand Hills is a private members course and visitor play is restricted
We regard Sand Hills GC as a 'Travelling Golfer must play!'
The Travelling Golfer can tailor a golf trip to the USA to suit your group.