Sand Hills Golf Club was more a myth than a real place for me. Located in Nebraska, Coore & Crenshaw’s modern masterpiece sparked a golf architecture renaissance that has fueled my passion for the subject, and the game itself. I had heard stories that one could write a polite letter to Sand Hills’s owner, Mr. Youngscap, that might result in a once-per-life invite to visit. Not sure whether or not that was true, I hadn’t mustered up the courage to give it a shot.
While sharing holes from my Coore & Crenshaw’s Great 18 post on Twitter, people kept bringing up Sand Hills. My repeated response was, “I can’t include that hole because I haven’t played it yet.”
And then I got the message.
Superintendent Kyle Hegland reached out and invited me to come to Mullen to make the myth a reality. I remember sitting in front of my laptop for a minute, both dumbfounded and elated. At the end of the following summer, my day came. As much as I built the course up, it more than exceeded expectations. My September to Remember post is a fuller expression of my thoughts with photos. Here, I will simply say, Sand Hills is perfect.
Several things caused me to reach out to Kyle recently (on Twitter at @KyleHegland3) with a message of my own. First, I listened to his terrific interview with Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg Podcast. Second, a trickle of Sand Hills photos has been coming out from Jon Cavalier since his 2017 visit, and I was looking for an excuse to see a whole batch of them together. And finally, Kyle is a stellar dude who does great work, and I was hoping that he would let me put him in the spotlight. He graciously agreed to answer my questions, as well as provide hole-by-hole commentary. As always, generous to a fault.
Enjoy Kyle’s thoughts and Jon’s photos. If you have not already been, I hope that some day, the Sand Hills myth becomes reality for you too.
How did you get introduced to the game of golf?
I loved baseball when I was younger and I needed a job that would allow me to make it to my afternoon Babe Ruth baseball games. Plus, I had a couple buddies who thought working on a golf course would be cool. I took a job on the grounds crew at Edelweiss Country Club in New Glarus, Wisconsin. I had never played golf until I started working there. It did not take long before I was playing pretty regularly.
When did you know that the game had a hold on you?
I knew the game had firm grasp on me when I started planning all my leisure time around seeing more golf courses. Not always playing but if it was old and interesting then I wanted to see it.
How did you get into the business?
I started working on a golf course in high school. I grew up in rural south western Wisconsin, and the only thing I really knew was that I did not want to be a dairy farmer. My Granddad was a dairy farmer and he would have gotten a kick out of the fact that I am basically a glorified farmer. After a couple summers at Edelweiss CC my boss asked me if I ever thought about being a Superintendent. At the time I did not even know what a Superintendent was. After some time, research, and soul searching I decided I was “all in”, headed to Michigan State to study Turfgrass Management, and here I am.
Who have been your biggest influences, in and out of golf?
Inside the game of golf, I have been really fortunate to have Dick Youngscap and Doug Petersan as my biggest influences. These two men have shaped me so much both personally and professionally, and I am forever indebted to them both. I believe I worked hard to get to where I am today. With that said I have been incredibly lucky to have such great mentors who challenged me, pushed me, but ultimately wanted me to succeed.
My mother is an amazing lady, who always encouraged me to be myself. Without her love, support and encouragement I never would have had the confidence and strength to move halfway across the country to pursue my dreams.
Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?
For reasons I cannot fully explain I have always been really enamored with Seth Raynor, maybe because it is just too cliché to say Dr Mackenzie. I love how Raynor’s style seems to still fit into the landscape in an entirely different way than Dr. Mackenzie’s. I think you can love Chicago Golf Club and how that fits your eye, and turn the page and marvel at Cypress Point. Truth is I need so see more of the Simpson’s, Langford’s, and Macan’s that the world has to offer.
Where were you before Sand Hills, and what were some of your key takeaways from those experiences?
I was lucky enough to go work for Doug Petersan at Austin Golf Club (AGC). I started as a lowly intern and left as Doug’s Assistant. Prior to my arrival at AGC I had never worked with warm season grasses. Couple that with bentgrass greens in the deep south and it proved to be a wonderful learning experience. Doug always pushed me to ask questions and solve problems, I was pretty lucky to have such a great learning environment.
What particular challenges does your course create from a maintenance perspective?
Let me state this very clearly, the climate at Sand Hills during the golf season is pretty ideal for a Superintendent, and believe me, that is not lost on me. With that said the biggest challenge is the wind and large temperature swings. The large fluctuations in temperature can be detrimental to turfgrass especially in the winter, as our biggest challenge each year is getting through the winter and into the growing season. The wind is just relentless. There are few places as consistently windy as we are, and it can be particularly damaging in the winter. Our bunkers are natural blowouts for the most part and in the winter the wind can really do some damage.
Why do you think it’s important for a Superintendent to be a student of golf course architecture?
I think it is! I am not saying you have to be a full-blown golf architecture dork but if you have a general understanding of golf architecture it will only help you be a better Superintendent. I encourage anyone in the golf industry to pick up a few books on architecture – it’s simple, it’s inexpensive and I guarantee that it will help everyone understand the game a little better, which I think makes you a better Superintendent. A Superintendent can also do themselves a favor and just play more golf. It really helps with understanding golf and golf architecture.
What do you wish players understood more about the work you do?
I think for the most part Superintendents are a little too hard on golfers. What I think is tough to understand is how much work goes into keeping the playing surfaces consistent. The weather is constantly changing. If it has been hot and dry, it is pretty easy to keep the surfaces firm and fast. It is much more difficult to do that after a rain event. Playability is the engine that drives our philosophy here at Sand Hills. We work really hard to make sure Ben and Bill’s vision is on display as much as possible, but if mother nature wants to mess that up…. well… she is still undefeated last I checked.
What do you love most about practicing your craft?
Watching the sun come up, knowing you have the golf course dialed in – that is pretty special. What I really love is how unpredictable each day can be, as a Superintendent you are forced to make all kinds of decisions and rarely have all the variables. We think that we are pretty good problem solvers here and that gets challenged every day. I love that challenge.
Which course(s) do you most want to see next?
There are few things I like more than seeing a golf course for the first time – it’s enchanting. I have never been to the north east and Myopia and Old Sandwich are right at the top for golf courses I want to see. At Austin Golf Club, there are three pictures of Australian sand belt courses in the maintenance facility. I have dreamed about seeing those places too many times to count, so heading to Australia (and surrounding Islands) is probably at the very top of the list.
Other than Sand Hills, if you could only play one course for the rest of your life, what would it be, and why?
If we’re talking just about the golf course, then it is pretty easy for me to say National Golf Links. That place just fits my personality, my game and I am pretty confident it would keep me interested for the rest of my life.
Any exciting projects on the horizon for you?
We are just about done with our major bunker work that we started about six years ago. We have done it all in house and are really proud of that. Other then that we have some really exciting news on the horizon but I am not at liberty to share just yet, so you will have to stay tuned.
When you aren’t working or playing golf, how do you spend your time?
I have a lovely wife (Ashely) and two kids (Riley who’s 9 and Carson who is 5) that keep me pretty busy as a husband and father. We love being outdoors and playing pretty much any and all sports. If the weather is good we get to the lake as much as possible. Living in a small community we are also dedicated Mullen Bronco fans and enjoy watching our boys and girls compete during the school year.
SAND HILLS GOLF CLUB
There are many reasons why Sand Hills is a 108 in 48er for me. Chief among them is the strength of the holes throughout, as well as the walkability of the routing. Sand Hills flows, from the first tee to the eighteenth green.
Beyond Mr. Youngscap, Bill Coore, and Ben Crenshaw, nobody knows Sand Hills better than Kyle. His hole-by-hole commentary follows.
HOLE #1 – Par 5 – 521 yards
A ridiculously underrated golf hole, you can get away with a couple loose or misplaced shots until you get ready for your third shot. Mishit that shot and you will pay dearly for it. A severely tilted back to front green – above the pin can be diabolical.
HOLE #2 – Par 4 – 368 yards
Swallow your pride and get a tee shot into the fairway so you can place your approach shot onto the proper tier of this two-tiered green. The wildest of the green complexes on property, if you miss the proper tier, a two putt is a great escape. Not golf related, take time to head to the northwest corner of the green surround. This is one of my favorite places to collect my thoughts. If you don’t think you can spare the minute for reflection, then you need more than a minute.
HOLE #3 – Par 3 – 216 yards
Always plays a little longer than the yardage and often is into a breeze. When the wind is at your back play it safe and leave it on the left side, but don’t be long.
HOLE #4 – Par 4 – 409 yards
Smash your drive and then execute a precise approach. A difficult green to hit, especially downwind. Miss to the right and not the left on your approach as a massive blowout guards this green.
HOLE #5 – Par 4 – 387 yards
Do me a favor and play this from the “super” back tee at least once on a visit. This might be the most strategic tee shot on the golf course. You have places to miss but you are rewarded for a drive that hugs the right side, while avoiding the bunkers. Your reward is a clear look at the green – a green that I marvel at daily. Keep your shot on the same side of the spine as the flag and make a birdie.
HOLE #6 – Par 3 – 198 yards
A massive green dominates the view. A ball on the proper quadrant is ideal, short and left is way better off than short-right. If you are long, make sure the pin is in the back or you’re going to stare at a big number.
HOLE #7 – Par 4 – 283 yards
Left is dead, especially if the pin is in the front, so put your driver away and hit something in the fairway and let your wedge game get you a birdie. The massive blowout bunker dominates your sight and psyche – stay away and you’ll be fine. If you’re feeling like a stud hit driver, just don’t miss and do not go long.
HOLE #8 – Par 4 – 293 yards
From the member tee’s I think it is actually pretty easy. Hit a driver and see what happens. Guarded almost completely by bunkers, use the kick boards short to make the approach easier. If you’re playing from the back tee, it’s pretty straightforward. Get a tee shot in the fairway and depending on where the pin is, you now have literally a million options depending on where the pin is and how creative you can be.
HOLE #9 – Par 4 – 371 yards
A devil of a hole, and the only blind tee shot we have. Take a little off your tee shot and get one in the fairway. The 9th green is diabolical, no one has hit more putts on this green than me and it still confuses me frequently. Side note is if there are people on the porch I can all but assure you they are betting on whether or not you’re going to make that putt.
HOLE #10 – Par 4 – 426 yards
The tenth is a brute….club up on your second shot and hit it up the left side and let the natural contours funnel the ball to the green.
HOLE #11 – Par 4 – 348 yards
A very strategic hole where hitting the fairway is essential to hitting the green with your approach. This green is very exposed and when the wind is up can be a real challenge to putt while also playing the wind. A green that is often missed, it’s better to be short and safe than long and dead.
HOLE #12 – Par 4 – 354 yards
A “hog’s back” fairway that is easily hit, a premium is placed on keeping your shot on the top of the hog’s back, being rewarded with a clear view of the green. A large green guarded by a fierce blowout on the right side.
HOLE #13 – Par 3 – 185 yards
What I think is the most difficult hole on the golf course, a large green with not a lot of safe play options. Getting the ball up the hill to have a clear view of the putting surface is ideal.
HOLE #14 – Par 5 – 475 yards
My favorite hole. A short par 5 that really can be an easy 5 and an even easier 6 or 7. A long tee shot is greatly rewarded, but do me a favor and just lay it safely short and left of the green side bunker, to ensure a great opportunity at birdie. Be aggressive and miss and you will pay dearly for a poorly struck shot to a tiny green.
HOLE #15- Par 4 – 453 yards
The back tee offers another of my favorite views of the golf course. Lots of room to hit your tee ball but a massive reward if you can hug the right side that is guarded by bunkers. A large green that is easy to miss, if you’re just short of the green use a putter.
HOLE #16 – Par 5 – 563 yards
Another of my favorite spots to sit awaits on the back tee box. A great tee shot must clear the blowout on the left side on this long down hill par 5 that plays long. I love the tiny mound that guards the front of the unbunkered green – it’s maddeningly fun to try to navigate. On your green approach use the slope and kickboard on the left to help you funnel your shot to the green.
HOLE #17 – Par 3 – 150 yards
A pretty little par 3! Club up and make sure you get it to the green – any mishit will offer a great opportunity at bogey on this little devil.
HOLE #18 – Par 4 – 432 yards
A brute of a closer, with the massive blowouts on the left which are as visually appealing as they are strategic. If you leave a shot in either it’s worth a shot at best. Play it up the right side and a little longer than you think and let the natural contours bring the ball down to the green.
Additional Geeked On Golf Interviews:
- Ian Andrew – Golf Course Architect
- Mike Benkusky – Golf Course Architect
- Justin Carlton – Golf Course Shaper
- Michael Clayton – Golf Course Architect
- Rob Collins – Golf Course Architect
- Mike DeVries – Golf Course Architect
- Brett Hochstein – Golf Course Architect
- Peter Imber – Quogue Field Club Member
- David McLay Kidd – Golf Course Architect
- Jeff Mingay – Golf Course Architect
- Jim Nagle – Golf Course Architect
- Brian Palmer – Golf Course Superintendent
- Keith Rhebb – Golf Course Shaper
- Drew Rogers – Golf Course Architect
- Evan Schiller – Golf Course Photographer
- Shawn Smith – Golf Course Architect
- Andy Staples – Golf Course Architect
- Dave Zinkand – Golf Course Architect
Copyright 2019 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf