Gunch: The epitome of everything dirty and nasty.
Gunch is the word that the staff and members use for the native areas that line the holes at Prairie Dunes. The definition above is fitting. The gunch is the sole aspect of Prairie Dunes that is not perfectly pleasurable. The staff is welcoming, the land is beautiful, and the course is a work of Maxwell genius.
My weekend visit to Prairie Dunes was not just a golf trip. It was an immersion experience in everything that is great about the game. A full photo tour is below with my commentary about the course and its architecture. A few thoughts about the experience:
The first thing that made this trip great was the company. I have mentioned this in previous posts about my trips to SE Michigan and Boston this year, but it’s worth saying again – golf adventures are infinitely better in the right company. I was fortunate to spend my weekend at Prairie Dunes with my buddies Chuck, Derek, and Michael. Not only are they genuinely good guys and fun to be around, but from my perspective, they get it. They are well traveled, and they have had direct exposure to golf course architects and developers. They have refined tastes and understand that there are reasons why a course like Prairie Dunes is great, beyond its inclusion on Top 100 lists.
The second thing that made this trip and all-timer was how we played. From Saturday at 7:30am until Sunday at 2:30pm we played 90 holes (Michael tacked on an extra 18 after sunset on Saturday). We had fun matches for small stakes, we played from almost every tee on the course, we took turns calling shots, we smiled, we laughed and we talked a lot of golf. It doesn’t get geekier or more joyous.
And last but not least, the course made this trip one that I will never forget (and one that we are already planning to repeat). Prairie Dunes is the total package of beauty, variety, strategy, art, and fun. On to the tour…
PRAIRIE DUNES COURSE TOUR
(click on photos to enlarge)
Prairie Dunes is the joint work of the father and son, Perry and Press Maxwell. For more on the course history, I suggest the relevant chapter in Anthony Pioppi’s book To The Nines, and Ran Morrissett’s course profile on GolfClubAtlas.com. Although they never worked on the course together, the holes they created work beautifully together. There are noticeable style differences, but no weaknesses in either. The consensus in our group, after much discussion, was that the course is stronger for the variety.
From the tee, the course is as strategic as any I have played. Not so much because of the placement of hazards, although there are plenty of killer bunkers and gunch. It is strategic because of the angular play. On almost every hole, the player is confronted with a decision to make about how best to get in position to approach the green given the wind and pin position.
The greens at Prairie Dunes are in the conversation for the best set on the planet, and for good reason. Michael referred to them as potato chips, which was perfect. They are glorious, artful potato chips that provide endless fun in the approaches, the short game, and putting.
To bring it all together, the course is perfectly maintained to accentuate its attributes. It is a role model for tree management. Fairways are kept wide, firm and fast, and the first cut of rough is playable. Green speeds are quick, but reasonable. It is mint.
One can easily see how Prairie Dunes has influenced Bill Coore and other top modern architects, and players are lucky for that influence.
#1 – Par 4 – 435 yards – Perry Maxwell
The opener is a solid dogleg left par-4 that gives a first taste of what’s to come throughout the course. A variety of lines can be taken off the tee, and it is always best to know and account for the pin position when approaching the undulating green.
#2 – Par 3 – 161 yards – Perry Maxwell
The second is the first of the world class set of one-shotters. It plays uphill to a tiered green benched into a hill.
#3 – Par 4 – 315 yards – Press Maxwell
The third is one of many great short 4-pars at Prairie Dunes. It plays at an angle left off the tee, tempting the player to bite of more than they perhaps ought to – especially given the challenge in holding the green from awkward distances.
#4 – Par 4 – 168 yards – Press Maxwell
The fourth is another wonderful short par-3. It almost feels like the son’s homage to the father’s second hole. Unlike the second though, the 4th will accept running shots on the left side that feed into the center of the green. Judging distance in the wind is an especially fun test.
#5 – Par 4 – 418 yards – Press Maxwell
The par-4 fifth plays uphill and into a prevailing wind to an elevated green. It is much more stout than the yardage on the card.
#6 – Par 4 – 370 yards – Perry Maxwell
The course returns to Perry’s holes with the sixth. A devilish little downhill par-4 with a fantastic green.
#7 – Par 5 – 512 yards – Perry Maxwell
The 7th features a semi-blind tee shot and plays back to a green set near the clubhouse. The green is surrounded by some of the most beautiful bunkering on the entire course.
#8 – Par 4 – 440 yards – Perry Maxwell
Prairie Dunes’s signature hole is a roller coast ride of a par-4 that plays up to the top of a hill, and then over a valley to an elevated green that you really don’t want to miss.
#9 – Par 4 – 426 yards – Perry Maxwell
This straightaway two-shotter requires a carry over the gunch followed by an exacting approach to a green divided into sections by internal contours. Being in the wrong section makes a two-putt a challenge.
#10 – Par 3 – 185 yards – Perry Maxwell
Described by Maxwell as his finest par-3, the green is set among the dunes. It is a sublime little hole that is perfectly capable of exacting punishment.
#11 – Par 4 – 453 yards – Press Maxwell
The eleventh is a big, long par-4, but success or failure on the hole is determined by something little – a mound front and center of the green that can send a misplaced approach any which way.
#12 – Par 4 – 390 yards – Press Maxwell
I have never enjoyed a hole where trees dictated strategy more than the 12th at Prairie Dunes. Lay back and leave room to play over them, or take them on and leave a short approach? There is no right decision, but whatever choice is made, the player better execute.
#13 – Par 4 – 395 yards – Press Maxwell
Yet another angled fairway that forces the player to pick a distance and a line and make a confident swing. Weak approaches are sent back by the false front on this elevated green.
#14 – Par 4 – 377 yards – Press Maxwell
An elevated tee reveals the green, but not the landing area for the drive, which is obscured by a large hump. To further confound the player, the green is tiered, with the lower tier hidden in back.
#15 – Par 3 – 200 yards – Press Maxwell
The gap between the trees is bigger than it appears on this uphill par-3, but try telling that to your mind as you stand on the tee with a long iron in your hand and the wind blowing.
#16 – Par 4 – 408 yards – Press Maxwell
The sixteenth plays uphill to a green guarded by bunkers front left and right, and a steep-sloped runoff back right. The final Press hole begins the tough closing stretch.
#17 – Par 5 – 500 – Perry Maxwell
This par-5 plays uphill over a rolling fairway to a green perched on a high point on the property. It is simple, with just one bunker, but is plenty demanding with a green that propels weak approaches down a steep bank right. My favorite hole on the course.
#18 – Par 4 – 382 yards – Perry Maxwell
The home hole is the perfect culmination of the Prairie Dunes experience – an angled tee shot, playing downhill to a heaving fairway and then back up to one final genius green fronted my a mound left and surrounded by rugged bunkers. The player is left wanting for nothing, except for a return trip right back over to the first tee.