Sand Hills GC to Have Neighbors

The much-heralded Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen, Neb., will soon have two neighboring golf courses that will seek to take advantage of the rolling topography that golf architects love about this part of America. Construction is about to begin on one of the layouts, while the other is in preliminary planning.

Ever since it opened in 1995, Sand Hills, designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, has been a hot item. The exclusive club only has 140 members, many of whom fly in from distant corners of the U.S. to satisfy their golfing “jones.” The so-called “minimalist,” links-ish layout has drawn raves from just about anyone who’s been lucky enough to play it. These include well-known golf architecture savants such as Ron Whitten of Golf Digest and Brad Klein of Golfweek, who perennially rank the layout America’s No. 1 best golf course built since 1960.

Seeking to mimic that success, a group of investors are now ready to break ground on Dismal River Club, an exclusive venue located just a few miles from Sand Hills. Nicklaus Design has finished its design for the first of perhaps two 18-hole courses at the private resort. Occupying 2,900 acres, the project involves a main lodge and facilities for hunting, fishing and target shooting. Last December, the project backers also received a conditional use permit to build 30 cabins, a maintenance facility, cart storage building, and a pro shop between 4,000 and 8,000 square feet in size. A fishing lodge along the Dismal River could have up to three overnight units. For additional details, visit

Another equivalent project has also popped up in recent weeks. Located in Valentine, northeast of Mullen, is a golf proposal for property along the Snake River Canyon. The developer is Cleve Trimble, a retired surgeon from Valentine. Dr. Trimble may build two golf courses, one designed by Gil Hanse and the other by Geoff Shackelford. Trimble is undecided whether the minimalist courses will be public or private.

So what’s the allure of this remote part of Middle America for golf’s cognoscenti? In an article in the Omaha World-Herald, Hanse told reporter Stu Pospisil, “If you had told me three years ago that the most beautiful land I’d ever see in my lifetime was in north-central Nebraska I never would have believed you. But it’s here. It’s true.”

Whitten, Senior Architecture Editor for Golf Digest, adds, “The Great Plains are the last great frontier to America golf. . . If you designed these [courses] for public play, you’d go broke. These courses are relatively inexpensive to build . . . but you can’t rely on drop-in business. You have to have members. If one of these were 10 minutes outside Lincoln, you easily could make it a drop-in course and draw lots of traffic.”

From a wealthy golfer’s perspective, the amount of travel necessary to get to this part of Nebraska is well worth the effort. Bob Howe, a Sand Hills member and New York business executive, told Pospisil, “The remoteness makes it more pure, adds to the whole aura. Sand Hills is as good as anything in Ireland or Scotland, and it’s a long way there, too. I’m addicted to playing great golf courses. Sand Hills is a fantastic golf course and a fantastic part of the country (that) frankly I knew nothing about.”

The Sand Hills name certainly has cachet among hard-core golfers. Howe said that wherever he plays, people notice his Sand Hills bag tag and ask whether he’s played there. Either they’ve also played it and think it’s great, he told Pospisil, or they “are dying to play it.”

Sand Hills currently has 70 names on its membership waiting list. Such popularity is spurring others to venture to this part of the Cornhusker State to stake their own claims in the nation’s next golf Mecca.