Dismal River is an interesting name for a golf course. Interesting because dismal is how we imagine every golfer would feel if they knew what they were missing. It’s not just the name of the club but also the river that runs through it, but these 3,000 acres in western Nebraska, and the two courses they contain, are anything but dismal. We’ll get it out of the way from the start, in our opinion, this facility is the best 36-hole club in the world with some of the best land for golf we ever did trot.
Dismal River was the second stop on our Nebraska trek. Just a 2.5 hour drive from our first (Prairie Club) and the question that kept coming up on our way was, “are we going the right way?” Most of the drive down NE97 was easy, and upon reaching Mullen, our second guessing was quelled.
That’s when the fun really began.
Just south of Mullen you turn west onto a single lane road with a speed limit of 50 MPH. From here you continue driving 20 miles or so before seeing the first sign directing you to your final destination. As you proceed the sand hills in the area become larger and larger until you finally catch a glimpse of the green fairways of the Red Course weaving their way below the impressively positioned clubhouse atop one of the highest points on the property. The 25 minute drive from NE97 builds anticipation like few entrance’s to any golf course in the world.
A bit of video from our drive below, again, bugs and all (yuck).
Dismal River is a member club and serves as a second club for most. Like any top-tier member club though, Dismal River offers the best of everything. A rustic, ranch like motif runs deep here, but so do the modern amenities we’ve all come to expect nowadays. It also has accommodations that are second-to-none and food which is quite literally to die for.
Here’s a video of the drive from the clubhouse to our cabin.
But golf is what we were there to see.
There are two courses at Dismal River: Red and White. Our day started on the Red. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2013, the course is mature beyond its years. Being the first course we played, we weren’t sure what to expect in terms of comparison with the White, but by the end of our stay, we would come to realize how different yet seamlessly these two layouts blend into their natural surroundings.
Neither the Red or White course begins or finishes at the clubhouse (see next video for parts of the 1.5 mile cart ride to the White Course ending at Jack’s Shack). It’s at least a mile to the first tee and back to the clubhouse in the cart assigned to you for your entire stay (once you arrive you park the car and use your cart to get around). Though White sits further away, the clubhouse has an incredible vista across the Red Course which plays up above and down to the Dismal River itself — an attribute that really sets the course apart from any other in the Sand Hills.
It’s not as expansive as the White Course, but Red is broad on the front nine and quaint overall. Unlike most golf courses, it’s fairway everywhere here and, instead of tee boxes, there are poles indicating yardages with the option to play from wherever you like. Quite literally, in many places, you can tee it up right off the edge of the previous green.
Regarding the greens, Tom Doak has said this is one of the most natural courses he’s ever designed. Half of the greens on the Red Course were simply smoothed and planted, no shaping required. That gives you an idea of how great the land is.
The greens are about as smart a collection as we’ve seen. You need to think about the days pin location as well as where and how you’ll approach them if you want to have a chance at a decent shot. They are large and contours are wisely employed to be taken advantage of by golfers smart enough to study them.
The Red Course is impressive to say the least and the gentler of the two courses. It’s the type of course we’ve come to expect from Tom Doak and his team and that’s a good thing.
RED COURSE GALLERY
That said, it’s also what made the White Course stand out even more.
WHITE COURSE GALLERY
The White is the original course on property designed by the best golfer of all time Jack Nicklaus. We’ve played our share of Nicklaus courses, and in our humble opinions, this is the course that should be used as the centerpiece of his portfolio. If you covered our eyes and dropped us on to the golf course without ever knowing it’s a Nicklaus course we would never guess that it is.
The property here is more severe in a good way. The ups and downs are larger, the expanse of land bigger, the visuals more dramatic and the greens more contoured and vexing. We would argue that the risks taken by Nicklaus on White were some of his boldest decisions ever and we loved every minute of the roller coaster ride we were on.
When we envisioned golf in the Sand Hills we pictured exactly the type of golf the White Course provides. Greens that are tucked into and fairways that sweep around or along large dramatic dunes (like 15, 16 and 17), holes placed precariously on top of dunes (like 2, 3 and 5) and some climbing directly up the dunes (like 1 and 18). We can go on, but there isn’t a hole on the White Course we don’t remember vividly. Each brought with it an excitement to see what’s next, and if that’s not what golf is meant to be we don’t want to know.
It’s rare for a golfer to find two courses located just a cart ride away from each other with such unique identities taking advantage of exquisite topography. It’s a testament to the visions of both Nicklaus and Doak and we think each course will ultimately be recognized as one of their very best.
We love that golf gives us opportunities to visit special places in the world. Not just special golf courses, which both courses at Dismal River are, but special places with unique character that we wouldn’t otherwise visit or see. Dismal River was all that and more and we’ll be painfully counting down the days until my return — it can’t come too soon.
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