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Second Nine Holes Coming this Summer to Devils Tower
Those venturing to Hulett, a small town in northeast Wyoming, will soon have some first-class "Close Encounters of the Golfing Kind" thanks to Phelps Golf Design.
The picturesque community of roughly 400 people is located nine miles north of Devils Tower, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as the first national monument in the country. The nearly vertical monolith rises 1,267 feet above the meandering Belle Fourche River and was featured in the movie, "Close Encounters of The Third Kind." It is also the most prominent landmark visible from The Golf Club at Devils Tower, a nine-hole layout that will open a second nine Phelps-designed holes in July 2006.
"Our focus is on helping this small community grow," said course developer Jim Neiman, whose family operates Devils Tower Forest Products, the area's largest employer. "Those who have played a number of top-flight courses believe this one will be right up there with the best."
The first nine holes opened six years ago. But it is the second nine, laid out over a more dramatic piece of ground incorporating large red rock canyons and cliffs, along with views of Devils Tower and the surrounding Black Hills, that will draw visitors and second-home buyers to this hunting, fishing and golfing paradise.
The new nine boasts golf holes playing over red rock canyons imbued ponderosa pines and rolling terrain. "Building that nine was more fun than I ever had on any golf project," said lead architect Kevin Atkinson, who used Neiman's equipment and the services of The Golf Course Company, headed by international course builder Darren Flanagan.
Others from The Golf Course Company who played important roles in the success of The Golf Club at Devils Tower development include Maurice Perry with the master planning and clubhouse/lodge design as well as David McMann with membership-planning and financial-modeling services.
"It was good people who had a good time building a great project," Atkinson continued. "We had little time to do construction documents. The only drawing we did was a basic routing plan. We used scrapers, big bulldozers, small bulldozers, talented golf construction specialists and basically designed and built it in the field. It turned out great. There was something about just starting a golf hole without a piece of paper and figuring out what you wanted and needed to do on the fly.
"I want to do more projects like this because of the quality that resulted from field design," said Atkinson. "Sometimes we moved a little bit of dirt, decided after a couple of hours the hole wasn't right, and then made a change in a different direction. Having that flexibility with the contractor, and the owner understanding that the architectural changes made on the fly did not result in additional costs, was a hoot and made for a real team effort."
Atkinson also did some renovation work to the existing nine: rebuilding bunkers; adding a few tees; upgrading the irrigation system; widening fairways; incorporating native grasses; transplanting and removing trees that yielded a more open, high-prairie feel to the existing front nine. The new back nine is much more of a traditional, mountain-style layout.
"Everyone who has seen it has loved it," said General Manager Mike Saye.
Neiman said the family's plan is to tie the golf course in with the new neighboring airport that has a 5,500-foot airstrip, allowing it to accommodate small- and medium-sized jets. The runway could eventually be expanded to 7,300 feet, allowing it to handle even larger aircraft. Those flying into Hulett can land, be picked up in a golf cart and be standing on the first tee within five minutes.
"I am a former pilot," Neiman explained. "When I started looking at the best group of visitors to attract to our community, pilots, golfers and hunters seemed an ideal mix."
Once the second nine opens, a conversion from a totally public to a private course with limited outside play will begin. Plans are to eventually build another Phelps-designed nine holes, with 18 being totally private and nine daily-fee. The start of construction on the third nine is dependent on future market conditions and sales of private memberships, which will begin with initiation fees around $25,000.
"Since Dick Phelps first helped redesign some of the original nine holes a few years ago, his firm has been just fantastic to work with," Neiman said. "We have the best of both worlds with him and Kevin. Dick has a tremendous amount of experience designing courses, particularly here in the Rocky Mountains. Kevin is young with fresh energy and great experience. Everything has been on time and on budget."
Added Saye: "There is not a weak hole on the new nine. Three are built right around the rim rocks with spectacular views. Some tee shots are very challenging, playing over deep ravines. Kevin added 25 bunkers to the front nine and reshaped others to give the bunkers the same feel on the front and back. He likes to let the native grasses grow around the bunkers so they look random and natural, like a true native hazard. The 12th hole is one of the best. It is a par-3 that plays over a deep ravine around the rim rock and overlooks Devils Tower."
Development plans are to phase in a main clubhouse, lodge, sports and recreation areas in the near future, Saye said. The club has four cabins in the rental pool and will continue to build additional cabins over the next few years. Several lodge-type rooms will also be available in the clubhouse. A limited number of cabins and homes are available on select sites throughout the community, ranging in price from $450,000 to $2.5 million.
To help market the development, Neiman plans to take advantage of Hulett's Western flavor, excellent elk and deer hunting, walleye and pike fishing at nearby Keyhole State Park, trout fishing at Cook Lake, winter snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Devils Tower draws 500,000 visitors annually to this northern tip of the Black Hills. An annual motorcycle rally in nearby Sturgis, S.D., has attracted as many as a million enthusiasts. Hulett is also close to Mount Rushmore and the historic gaming and tourist area of Deadwood, S.D. As for population centers, Rapid City, S.D., has 60,000 people and is about 90 minutes away. Gillette, Wyo., is a one-hour drive with 30,000 residents and significant amounts of oil and gas money. Rapid City and Gillette have frequent flights from major cities throughout the country.
"We expect to have about 400 memberships with the first 100 to 150 coming from the Wyoming/South Dakota area," Saye predicted. "The next 100 to 150 will come from cities where you can fly in by private plane in 60 to 90 minutes. We expect many corporations will look at us as a fly-in golf and hunting destination."
Headquartered in Evergreen, Colo., with additional offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., Phelps Golf Design is one of the leading course architecture firms in the country. The firmís designs have received numerous honors, including multiple Golf Digest "Best New" award winners, many courses that appear on "places to play" lists and at least one "top 10" course in each of the following states: California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska and Texas. For more information, contact Mike Saye at the Golf Club at Devils Tower at 307/467-5464 or Phelps Golf Design, P.O. Box 3295, Evergreen, CO 80437-3295, telephone 303/670-0478, facsimile 303-670-3518 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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