My personal experience with Nebraska has been minimal. The longest was a two-week stint in Omaha covering the University of Georgia in the 2008 College Baseball World Series. So when the chance to travel to the San Hills and try out some of the state’s top golf courses, it was a no-brainer.
The only difficult part was getting here.
Our group flew to Denver, rented a van and hit the road. Hard. It was a 3.5-hour drive from Denver to McCook, Neb., the first stop for our little golf caravan. McCook is the largest town in the southwest portion of the state. It’s a small dot on the map, but its dot is a little bit larger than surrounding towns.
McCook is a regional hub, with a large percentage of the population employed by the government, the WalMart or in agriculture. The town has a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Sen. George Norris State Historical Site and Museum of the High Plains and Carnegie Library.
Our destination, the first course on the journey, was the Heritage Hills Golf Club.
The course was designed by the Richard Phelps-Bradford Benz group and opened for play in 1981. It was one of the first links-style courses built in Nebraska. As equipment began to evolve, members began to clamor for a longer course. So in 2013, the course was lengthened to 7,100 yards – all but two of the original holes were changed.
The course has five sets of tees, which gives every level of player a comfortable place from which to play. First-time visitors should probably err on the safe side and play the shorter tees, as there is plenty of trouble to be found.
The 11th hole is judged as one of the best in the state. The par-4 dogleg left has been named to the Nebraska Fairway Hall of Fame. It requires a drive over a canyon of prairie grass and possibly over three traps to a narrow neck of fairway. A safer play is to the right of the bunkers, but that lengthens the approach shot.
The most difficult hole is the 14th, a par 4 that plays 401 yards from the tips. After hitting from an elevated tee to a landing around, the final 200 or so yards goes straight up the hill, with bunkers on the right that take away a bailout area for approaches.
There a couple of unfair holes – or holes that penalize a rookie who doesn’t know better – and a few blind shots. But visitors will be asked to handle a lot of variables at Heritage Hills, from numerous uneven lies in the fairway, to miles of rough area and prairie grass to greens that can be tricky.
Heritage Hills is a good golf course, one that offers something different every time out. Visitors will enjoy it immensely.
The people in the pro shop are nice and accommodating. The course is well-groomed. It was a good place to begin our journey.
Where we ate: Our group had a wonderful meal at The Coppermill, which offered some killer steaks. Our lunch the next day was at The Loop Brewing Company, an old ice house that has been repurposed as a restaurant and craft brewery. The homemade pizzas are some of the best you’ll taste.