Golfing in Iowa4/15/2015
The snow of winter has finally melted, and the cool rains of April have brought the color back to Des Moines. Flowers are blooming, grass is turning green, and we will soon be reminded of what sunshine and a good tan looks like. It’s time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors, and for many Iowans, that means hitting the golf courses.
Not only do golf courses have more to offer than just the sport itself (like wedding venues and excellent restaurants), but they are also some of the most beautiful places to spend an afternoon. So even if your average is 10 strokes over par, don’t worry. Sit back and enjoy the perfectly-sculpted foliage, water features, sunshine and the nature that envelops 18 holes. Whether you’re enjoying the long, grassy plains of the Copper Creek Golf Club or taking the relaxing drive out to enjoy the serenity of River Valley, golfing can be a great experience and is a lifestyle to many.
When it comes time to choose the best course for your style, here’s a look at some of the best places to start — or continue — your Iowa golf journey.
Veenker Memorial Golf Course
1925 Stange Road
Hidden behind rows of trees, hills and the Iowa State University community lays Veenker Golf Course. Opening for play in May of 1938, Veenker has been around for more 70 years, making it one of the oldest courses in the area.
“There’s a lot of people that don’t even realize that there’s an 18-hole golf course here,” explains Teresa Balsley, the clubhouse manager at Veenker. The course is surrounded by various parts of Iowa State University housing and a city park, so the course lives in its own little pocket of beautiful, secluded serenity.
Veenker is located in Ames, just off Stange Road. It is a full-service course that offers 18 holes of regulation golf, a driving range and practice facility. It has an indoor facility for the winter months, a PGA and assistant golf professional on staff to teach lessons and fittings, and various different leagues of play. Leagues include three different junior leagues (beginner, intermediate and advanced for kids looking to play in high school), tournament leagues and casual outings, as well as leagues for men and for women.
Owned and operated by Iowa State University, Veenker is a public course that also offers season passes, which creates a strong membership presence. It also provides discounts for Iowa State University students, faculty and staff. Aside from tournaments and memberships, the course offers daily play, open from dawn until dark.
“Being a public golf course, we really cater to the masses,” said Balsley. “We strive very hard to welcome all players of all ages and of all abilities to the golf course.”
Veenker welcomes new players who haven’t tried golf before, although its staff has a warning for holes five, 11 and 16 because they are “very iconic holes to the golf course,” explained Balsley. “They’re very challenging holes.”
Otter Creek Golf Course
410 N.E. Otter Creek Drive
After closing for a year back in 2008 and reopening for play again in 2009, Otter Creek is an entirely new — and much improved — course. And by improved, we mean that when the course was redeveloped, the grasses were uprooted and replaced with the newest grass varieties available. Because of the redesign, the new greens haven’t had as much play on them as other courses have, so it makes for a clean and fairly easy play.
Also new to Otter Creek are the Visage GPS systems on all of the golf carts. The new system allows the clubhouse to inform golfers of incoming storms so that they have enough time to return back to shelter. It allows the clubhouse managers to control the pace of play for visitors on the course, and it helps with safety regulations of the carts themselves so players don’t drive them in potentially dangerous areas of the course.
Otter Creek is open from daylight until an hour after dark from about mid-March to mid-November. Because the course is owned by the city of Ankeny, it is open to the public with no membership required.
This course offers full-time teachers who give individual lessons and run a juniors program, and it also has a pro shop that sells everything golfers might need, from clubs to clothing.
Like any advanced course, there are a few holes to watch out for.
“The par four at 12 and 14 are also sandwiched around the 13th, making it a really fun stretch of holes,” explained Kevin Beard, the Gold Administrator at Otter Creek. “Finding the right club and putting the tricky green always makes for a fun hole. I also hit a hole-in-one there once, so that might have some bearing on my decision.”
River Valley Golf Course
22927 Valley View Trail
There’s nothing like playing a family sport on a family course. River Valley Golf Course was farmland until 1995 when a family developed it in the growing community along Raccoon River, turning it into a beautiful golf course.
“It has been owned and operated by our family for the last 12 years,” said Curt Wahlert, the general manager. Wahlert and his family are dedicated to the course and work daily to make sure the course is in proper playing shape for their golfers.
“We also strive to keep improving the course by making design changes and updates often.”
River Valley Golf Course is open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and weekends from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. It boasts exciting opportunities such as lessons from a high school coach who works with the course, a Spring Kickoff Tournament that takes place in April, four-person events on Sundays, spring and fall leagues for men on Tuesdays and Ladies Nights during the summer on Thursdays.
The public is welcome to enjoy all of these events, as River Valley does not require a membership — but they do offer season passes and frequent player programs for returning golfers.
The course is full of beautiful greens and luscious greenery, but there are a few challenges around every turn. The course doesn’t hold anything back with the 18th hole — said to be one of the most challenging of the entire course.
“It is a par four with the green defended by a 75-foot-high hillside,” Wahlert described. “After the ‘blind’ approach shot, the green is one that rewards the players with vision and imagination.”
Aside from the small mountain, the hole features a hilly green with large slopes, so it can either make a person’s end game great, or completely crush it. It may not be the best hole for beginners, but it sure makes for a good challenge.
Tournament Club of Iowa
1000 Tradition Drive
As the only Arnold Palmer Signature Design in the state, the Tournament Club of Iowa may serve as one of Iowa’s most renowned courses. It hosted the 2005 Allianz Championship, which is a senior PGA Tour event. Aside from its credentials as a golf course, it also features a variety of unique scenery and assorted wildlife. It’s not strange to step into the Club and see foxes, deer, eagles or beavers.
But the best part of the Tournament Club? You’ll feel right at home.
“We keep the feel at TCI a friendly, home-y feel,” explained Kyle Brandt, the head golf professional at the Tournament Club. “It is your time to relax and get away from your everyday life, so we make sure you enjoy your four to five hours spent with us.”
Tournament Club of Iowa is a public golf course that offers a variety of memberships, including full, weekday, couples, homeowners, junior and corporate options. The Club is open from 8 a.m. to dusk in March, April, October and November. They offer lessons given by two different PGA golf professionals, and they boast a 600-plus-square-foot golf shop. The shop offers everything equipment, clothes and clubs and is open Sunday through Tuesday from dawn until dusk, and Wednesday through Saturday from dawn until 7:30 p.m.
“The golf course is always in extremely great condition, which makes working here so enjoyable,” said Brandt.
Because every golf course has its difficult holes, with a number of setbacks to challenge even the most advanced golfers, Tournament Club of Iowa has named its hardest hole. Wally the Walnut Tree guards the left side of the fairway on hole six, trying to prevent its opponents from reaching the green.
Take the challenge and head out to the tournament club where you can meet Wally and witness the natural beauty that comes along with the Club.
Glen Oaks Country Club
1401 Glen Oaks Drive
West Des Moines
Golf courses offer relaxation and a satisfying hobby for thousands of people. They can even help turn a burgeoning city into a destination, as Glen Oaks did with its hometown of West Des Moines.
“Sewer was brought west of Interstate 35, and you can now see all of the development that has taken place west of I-35: the mall, Wells Fargo and everything to the north, because we brought sewer out Grand Avenue and out underneath the interstate,” explained Bob Pulver, the president and CEO of Glen Oaks.
So maybe Glen Oaks isn’t the sole reason thousands of people have made West Des Moines their home, but it has certainly helped in the city’s tremendous growth.
Glen Oaks, the only Tom Fazio Signature Course in Iowa, is open in April from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., although hours vary depending on the season. It is a private course that offers lessons and clinics to members, and it plays host to a variety of charity and corporate events on Mondays, as well as creating fun members-only events and tournaments.
For beginners or intermediate-level golfers ready for a challenge, officials recommend taking up the 17th hole.
“The hole is long, with the drive featuring native grasses to the left, a creek and large trees to the right,” explained Steve Watt, the PGA director of golf. “The approach is guarded by pond and plays downhill.”
Willow Creek Golf Course
140 Army Post Road
West Des Moines
For those athletes new to golf, interested in learning the game or just playing a round for fun without all the pressure of avid golfers lining up to get to the next hole, there’s Willow Creek Golf Course.
Although this course does require a membership, it offers a free round of golf to get a feel for the course before making any commitments. Willow Creek is structured in three different nine-hole courses. It is made for novices and golfers working to perfect their game by highlighting a variety of difficulty levels: from long, straight fairways to water hazards and traps.
Willow Creek is also open to people who have never picked up a club outside mini-golf. It offers instructional programs for all ages to help golfers gain a general knowledge of the game. On the other end, leagues and tournaments are available for more advanced athletes.
For the love of the game
Among the hundreds of reasons people play golf is the connections it provides. Connections between grandparents and grandkids, business people and their bosses or clients, and even couples who want to play a sport where they can hold a conversation.
The dedication to golf and the love for the game might not be that of tailgating, with its loud fans, bright team colors, player jerseys or bar outings, but it does hold a special place in many hearts. Professionals describe witnessing weddings on their courses and even seeing the ashes of deceased players spread on their greens. So many people dedicate their lives on these greens, it’s hard not to be a little curious where all that attachment and passion comes from.
“There’s so many different dynamics that are involved in the sport that can reach so many different people in so many different ways, so it’s very unique in that respect,” continued Balsley.
Each of the golf professionals we spoke with agree on the benefits of golf: It teaches some of life’s greatest lessons, it has some of the most beautiful surroundings of any sport and it creates some of the best memories in a person’s life.
“Individualism, fun, frustration, jubilation,” described Brandt of the sport in general.
The best and worst parts of golf might be one in the same. Golf may be fun and relaxing, but it does make you want to pull your hair out from time to time.
“It brings out the best and worst of a person,” continued Brandt. “But the camaraderie with fellow friends or new friends is unlike any other sport.” CV
Other local courses:
Indianola Country Club
1610 Country Club Road
Indianola; (515) 961-3303
Hyperion Field Club
7390 N.W. Beaver Drive
Johnston; (515) 278-4711
Jewell Golf & Country Club
1225 Main St.
Jewell; (515) 827-5631
Honey Creek Resort State Park
12633 Resort Drive
Moravia; (641) 724-9100
Golf at Lake Panorama National Resort
5071 Clover Ridge Road
Panora; (641) 755-2080
Copper Creek Golf Club
4825 Copper Creek Drive
Pleasant Hill; (515) 263-1600
West Grand Golf
6450 Raccoon River Drive
West Des Moines; (515) 225-7076
Beaver Creek Golf Club
11200 N.W. Towner Drive
Grimes; (515) 986-3221
Waveland Golf Course
4908 University Ave.
Des Moines; (515) 248-6302
Echo Valley Country Club
3150 Columbine Drive
Norwalk; (515) 285-0101
A.H. Blank Golf Course
808 County Line Road
Des Moines; (515) 248-6300
3915 Fleur Drive
Des Moines; (515) 285-4962
Woodland Hills Golf Course
620 N.E. 66th Ave.
Des Moines; (515) 289-1326
Urbandale Golf & Country Club
4000 86th St.
Urbandale; (515) 276-5496
The Legacy Golf Club
400 Legacy Parkway
Norwalk; (515) 287-7885
Sugar Creek Golf Course
1505 6th St.
Waukee; (515) 987-5247
Jester Park Golf Course
11949 N.W. 118th Ave.
Granger; (515) 999-2903
Where to take golf lessons:
The First Tee
1620 Pleasant St.
Des Moines; (515) 979-1799
Training takes place at one of three locations: Bright Grandview Golf Course, Waveland Golf Course or A.H. Golf Course. Summer program rates are $75 per person, with reduced and no-cost fees available to those who qualify. Golfers in this program are categorized by age and skill level. Starter clubs are provided (while supplies last). Each lesson teaches skills, rules and etiquette, full swing, short game and putting.
Sarah Bidney, PGA Golf Lessons
3915 Fleur Drive
Des Moines; (515) 491-0940
Adults (45 minutes)
Single lessons: $70
Series of three: $195
Series of six: $375
Partner golf: single lessons for $45 per golfer, series of three for $125 per golfer, and series of six for $230 per golfer
Trio golf: single lessons for $35 per golfer, series of three for $95 per golfer, and series of six for $170 per golfer
Juniors (30-45 minutes)
Single lessons: $45
Series of three: $125
Junior friend lessons: single for $35 per junior, series of three for $95 per junior, series of six for $180 per junior
Junior trio lessons: single lessons at $27.50 per junior, series of three for $75 per junior, series of six for $140 per junior
12951 University Ave.
Clive; (515) 440-4653
GolfTEC employs a variety of PGA golf professionals to teach you how to play the game best. Per-lesson rates vary between $43 and $95 a person, and swing evaluations are $95. After an evaluation, a golf professional will work with you in building a specific training program based on your needs. They fit you with clubs and are surrounded by four different local courses. Their game plans have a 95 percent success rate, and they have taught more than 5 million lessons.