My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
#1, "Carey Lane," Par 4, 435 Yards
The first hole at Prairie Dunes is no gentle handshake. The drive plays like a classic cape hole that doglegs to the left. The more rough and native area that you carry, the shorter and better second shot you'll face. However, if you don't carry it far enough, you risk being lost in the tall unkept area known locally as "The gunch." In both tries, I hit decent drives and was left with fairway woods into the green. The well protected green allows for run-up shots but has contours throughout. Get off this hole with a par and you're well ahead of the game.
#6, "Cedar," Par 4, 370 Yards
The sixth hole plays alongside the southern border of the property. The drive is played from the top of the hill down to a landing area that tightens as you get closer to the green. The idea angle is from the right side of the fairway, with the fairway bunker on the right being a good aiming point. That bunker lays about 280 yards from the Blue Tees, and about 300 yards from the Gold Tees. Either hit a driver right at it, or a fairway wood for the longer hitters.
#3, "Wild Plum," Par 4, 315 Yards
The third hole is a fabulous short par four that again plays over acres of gunch. The green is straight ahead, just to the left of the bunkers in the distance and in front of the lightning shelter. A safer line is at the tree that stands alone well to the right of the green. From there, it's just a short pitch to the green. Perry Maxwell was well known for the contours of his greens--you'll rarely face a straight putt. Just because you get to the putting surface in regulation, doesn't guarantee anything!.
After finishing off our round, we'd head into the locker room / grill area for a beer and some dinner--both great! There is nothing that makes your dinner taste better than knowing that you get a chance you head right back out and play golf again tomorrow on a phenomenal golf course. Prairie Dunes is fun golf. The natural humps, and ripples, and rolls throughout the course make for a very enjoyable experience, and add it some prairie winds and it can become quite a challenge. I loved my two days at Prairie Dunes and would be thrilled to go back anytime. Thanks to RH for the invite--you've got a spacial place!
#15, "The Chute," Par 3, 200 Yards
While it didn't seem to play as tight as it looks, the view from the tee box is awfully intimidating on this long par three. It's a long iron or fairway wood out of a chute of cottonwood trees. However, once you get through the trees, the hole opens up substantially. As long as your ball starts off on a decent line, you shouldn't be impacted too much by the chute.
#9, "Meadow Lark," Par 4, 426 Yards
After playing the tough eighth, there isn't a whole lot of let-up in the ninth. The fairway is full of humps and bumps, so it's likely that you'll need to play a long iron from a crooked lie to get into the green in two.
If I asked the average American what comes to mind when he/she thinks of Kansas, I'm guessing the normal response would be something like sunflowers, Jayhawk basketball, or The Wizard of Oz. I'm guessing few people would mention one of the best golf courses in the world when thinking about Kansas. However, it's that golf course that happily brought ME to the Sunflower State in 2018. You might think that a great country club would be located near a large population of affluent people--therefore, you'd expect it would be in Kansas City or Wichita. However, Prairie Dunes Country Club lays in Hutchinson, Kansas, a city with less than 50,000 people. During the summer, the Kansas State Fair comes to Hutchinson, but other than that, I expect that Prairie Dunes is among the largest draw of outsiders to this largest town in Reno County.
The club itself was founded by a man named Emerson Carey, who made his fortune in the Salt industry. From the club's website:
Emerson Carey, founder of Carey Salt Company, was an avid golfer and had traveled the world with his family, playing top ranked courses in the early 1900s including Scotland in the 1920s. Carey and his four sons became a staple in the Hutchinson golf community, contributing to the development of several courses in the area. In 1935 the Carey family commissioned architectural genius Perry Maxwell (Southern Hills, Colonial Country Club, redesign of Pine Valley and Augusta National) to design a masterpiece. Thus, the idea of Prairie Dunes was born.
Maxwell’s response to the 480 acre canvas for his masterpiece, “There are 118 holes here, and all I have to do is eliminate 100”.
Thus, construction began on Prairie Dunes. The course was molded from the Kansas land using 18 horses and mules, Fresno scrapers and wheelbarrows. The only mechanized equipment used were Model T and Model A Fords used to bring the workers to the site. Greens and fairways came to life by teams dragging plows and scoops, while roots of native grass and weeds were removed by hand-one wheelbarrowful at a time. In true Kansas fashion, a tornado swept across the site, forcing men into a bunker for protection. Despite the elements, Prairie Dunes opened the first 9 holes on September 13, 1937. Twenty years later in 1957, The Dunes opened the second 9 holes, designed by Perry Maxwell’s son, Press.
To me, it was amazing to learn that the club was built nine holes at a time, with the latter nine coming twenty years after the original nine. The holes are brilliantly routed to create a seamless transition between the Perry Maxwell holes and Press Maxwell holes. An amateur might have built nine holes on a separate part of the property--you'd play nine holes of one designer and nine holes of the other. Instead, Press Maxwell added his nine holes in a way that 18-hole round goes back and forth from Perry to Press, where only the most skilled architectural observer would even know the difference.
My trip to Kansas would begin with an early morning flight to Kansas City. Wichita is closer to Prairie Dunes, but I couldn't get a direct flight there, so I thought travel time would be about the same by the time I made a connection somewhere. From Kansas City, it's about a 3.5 hour drive to Prairie Dunes. As I college basketball fan, I had to make a quick stop in Lawrence to see Allen Fieldhouse, home of Kansas Jayhawk basketball. After that, it was full steam ahead to Hutchinson. Upon arrival, I did some quick shopping in the pro shop before my host arrived and then loosened up a little on the range.
We'd be playing Prairie Dunes twice; in the afternoon and then the following morning. The club is very laid back, with a reasonably even split between local members and national members who come in from all over the country. There are no caddies--while I enjoy caddies, it was a nice change from the usual top 100 course. Even the locker room was classic and cool. Nothing over-the-top like some of the classic courses. Metal lockers and a vibe throughout and is low-key and understated.
#5, "Quail Ridge," Par 5, 430 Yards
I missed getting a picture on a tee box of this one, but the hole plays straight away to a fairway that slopes from left to right. The entire hole is on the side of a hill. This hole, and the 11th hole play as par 4's for the scratch player from the back tees. For the club player, it's a very possible birdie hole.
The Golf Bucket List
On the first day, we both carried our own bags, and then decided to take a cart the second day--partly because I'd be heading over to Flint Hills in the afternoon, so it was going to be a long day. Prairie Dunes isn't a long course by modern standards. In fact, the Gold Tees only stretch to 6,947 yards. However, it is generally a very windy site, so playing from all the way back didn't sound like much fun. We played the Blue Tees both rounds, which measure 6,563 yards, and play to a par of 72 and a rating and slope of 74.1 and 144. I'll quote those tees below.
An apology in advance...apparently I was so immersed in the golf that the pictures I took were pretty poor. I got a few good ones, but a number that came out blurry and miserable. Oh well.
#17, "Pheasant Hollow," Par 5, 500 Yards
The penultimate hole at Prairie Dunes is a great risk/reward par five, though it only has one hazard! Off the tee, it's quite wide, but the closer you get to the green, the narrower it gets, and slopes around this tremendous green make for very tough ups-and-downs. Go for the green in two at your own risk. It can be a very easy birdie if you hit a good second shot, but can be an easy bogey or worse if you hit it out into the gunch.
#8, "Dunes," Par 4, 440 Yards
The hardest hole on the front nine requires a straight-away shot to a rumpled fairway, following by a long iron or fairway wood over the dunes to the green. The hole is a hard dogleg right. A drive down the right side will leave a shorter approach, but will also likely be blind over the dune.
#18, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2017-2018)
#30, Top 100 Courses in the World (2017-2018)
#27, America's Greatest Golf Courses (2019-2020)
#1, Best in the State of Kansas (2017-2018)
#7, "South Wind," Par 5, 512 Yards
The landing area on this hole is quite wide. However, the fairway tightens up a good amount in the layup area for the second shot. Choosing to go for it in two requires an even more precise shot to a well-guarded green.
#16, "Blue Stem," Par 4, 408 Yards
16 is an uphill par four that's on the longer side and bends softly to the right on the second shot. The drive needs to avoid fairway bunkers that straddle the fairway, though it's not critical to drive it all the way to them. If you end up just short of those bunkers, you'll have around 150 yards into the green. The green is quite deep (39 yards), but also quite narrow. It's protected in the front by two bunkers.
#11, "Honey Locust," Par 5, 535 Yards
As I mentioned before, the 11th is one of the two long holes at Prairie Dunes that play as par fours for the scratch/tournament players. This would be one NASTY par four. There are two sets of tee boxes on this hole that play from the right side or left side. The left side plays shorter, but at a more awkward angle that requires you to either shape a draw into the fairway or carry the bunker on the left side. From the right tee boxes, it's really just a shot down the middle. From there, it's still a fairway wood toward the green, or to get there in two. Three bunkers surround the putting surface, ready to catch a shot that's missed by a little.
#13, "Sumac," Par 4, 395 Yards
If I had to critique Prairie Dunes for one thing, there are a lot of dogleg left holes with gunch on the left side. 13 and 14 are both examples of this style of hole. In this case, the green is uphill from the fairway, while 14 plays back down that hill from the tee box.
#18, "Evening Shadows," Par 4, 390 Yards
After some tricky holes coming home, the 18th at Prairie Dunes actually gives you a chance to finish strong. There are no fairway bunkers, so a confident swing into the fairway will get you off to a good start. From there, there are four bunkers around the green, which has a hump in the middle that runs off in all directions.
#10, "Yucca," Par 3, 185 Yards
The tenth tee is one of the places where you can see what a great family club Prairie Dunes is for locals. The pool is right behind the tee box, and it was packed with families, even on a Thursday afternoon. Beyond the pool, Prairie Dunes also has a great tennis complex, which includes a huge indoor tennis building, to compliment its four outdoor courts. The indoor facility has a workout area as well. Wow! When in comes to the tenth hole, this is another great uphill par three with bunkers surrounding the green. The tee lays immediately outside of the dining room, so I could see this being an intimidating shot during busy meal times.
#12, "Briar Patch," Par 4, 395 Yards
The 12th hole is a great par four that utilizes two of the large cottonwood groves that the course has to offer. On this hole, the flank the hole at around 80 yards from the green and provide a very tight corridor, through which to approach the putting surface. Working backwards, you really need to select a club from the tee that will hit the middle of the fairway, lest you get blocked by these huge specimen trees. That might mean you'll leave yourself with a longer yardage into the green, but being straight is the key on this one.
#2, "Willow," Par 3, 164 Yards
Built into the side of a dune, this multi-tiered green is well protected by bunkers all around. Getting it on the correct level of the putting surface will allow for a makeable birdie putt. However, miss the green and worse scores are very possible.
#4, "Hill Top," Par 3, 168 Yards
The second par three on the front side is uphill, much like the first one. Four bunkers surround the green, which plays best with a left-to-right shot.
#14, "Cottonwood," Par 4, 377 Yards
Even though I had seen a few versions of a cape hole with trouble on the left, I loved this hole. The short nature of the hole and bunker placement really lures you to try to cut off more of the dogleg than you should. You can safely hit the ball way to the right of the bunkers and still have a wedge into the green.