by Ken Hambleton
“Golf is a day spent in a round of strenuous idleness.’
Standing on the 12th tee at Holmes Golf Course, looking to the west, there is a unique view of the Nebraska State Capitol and the Lincoln skyline.
From the first tee box at Pioneers Golf Course, in southwest Lincoln, the panorama includes the ridgeline of trees and farmland to the south, wide-open prairie to the west and Pioneers Park to the east.
To the northwest of downtown, golfers are proud of Highlands Golf Course, the “Trains, planes and automobiles” public course located near the Lincoln Airport, the BNSF railway lines and highways.
From a lifetime golfer, to a new duffer, there are more than 25 public-access course choices, and plenty of opportunities to play in the Lincoln area.
City-owned courses include Highlands—a links-style course, old-style tree-lined Pioneers, built in 1933, Mahoney, in Northeast Lincoln, hilly Arnold Palmer-inspired Holmes, and the crown jewel of par 3 courses in the country—Ager Memorial—near the center of town.
Ager offers a complete junior program to feed the public courses when the juniors grow up. In the meantime, veteran golfers tune up on the par 3 course that includes two holes longer than 160 yards.
A couple of ponds guard the par 3, No. 12, and the par 4 No. 9 and No. 18 holes at Highlands. Both No. 9 and No. 18 play to two-tiered greens that require some diligence on the approach shots.
Pioneers’ signature hole, No. 4, is a par 3 over a pond. Holmes has plenty of bunkers and borders nearby Holmes Lake. Mahoney has two huge ponds on the challenging par 4 No. 8. The five par 3s at Mahoney are all bordered by bunkers and can make what seems like a simple task very challenging.
City course pricing is competitive with any municipal courses in the country and often more affordable than any similar courses in the Midwest.
The five city courses offer a wide variety of golf training facilities, lessons and programs for beginners and scratch handicappers. The driving ranges at each of the city courses are popular and pros offer lessons at all the courses. City course pro shops have the latest in golf balls, food and drinks, golf equipment and apparel.
A concentrated effort to treat the greens and fairways in a consistent manner has given the city the best conditions ever. As a result, the number of rounds have hit a 20-year high in 2020. City golf fees pay for the entire city golf program, meaning no tax dollars from other sources are used on public golf.
There are proposals to expand the number of forward tees at all four championship-length courses and the city is attacking a list of improvements to cart paths, forward tees, irrigation replacement and other capital causes in a timely manner. Holmes already has advanced tee boxes, Highlands has added a few and Pioneers has junior tees about 200 yards out to make a trip to the course with newcomers a lot of fun.
Highlands is the longest course, undulating greens and the biggest bunkers. Pioneers and Holmes have the most trees, and Mahoney, built in 1975, has matured into a championship course.
The award-winning Ager course gives priorities to junior golfers and has more than enough trees, bunkers and cultured greens to tune up a veteran golfer.
There are a number of privately-owned, public access courses, including: NuMark/HiMark, that now offers 36 holes and some of the best greens in the state, Hidden Valley, Crooked Creek, par 3 Pine Lake, and Woodland Hills.
NuMark has expanded from its original 18 holes over the last 30 years and still has some of the best greens in town. The course, originally built on the site of an apple orchard, has plenty of trees, ponds and hills. Depending on which of the four nine-hole courses you play, the combinations are enjoyable and challenging.
Woodland Hills, 20 minutes east of Lincoln, has bent-grass fairways, five ponds, slick greens and, what many golfers believe, the feel of a course in Colorado, minus the snow. The course was given a five-star (highest) rating by Golf Digest. Water, trees, elevation changes, and well-maintained greens make the trip worthwhile.
Other nearby courses are award-winning Quarry Oaks and Iron Horse, both near Ashland. Quarry Oaks has holes that run along the Platte River and some of the highest tee boxes that play into old quarry holes. Iron Horse has some unique holes that will challenge any level of golf ability. Water comes into play and vistas from the No. 9 tee box, for instance, are breath-taking. The Ashland Country Club is nearby. Rates are competitive and the course has enough bends and fast greens to bring three-putts and double-bogey into play often.
Nebraska has some of the best nine-hole courses in the country. College Heights Country Club in Crete is a tight, old-style course with lush fairways, upside down teacup greens and plenty of trees. Friend Country Club is considered one of the best nine-hole courses in the state and Milford’s Thornridge has two tee shots over steep cliffs to small greens.
Private country clubs in the area, with very limited public access, include Hillcrest, Wilderness Ridge, which just turned private, and includes a par 3 course, world famous Firethrorn, and the Country Club of Lincoln. Beatrice Country Club, about 40 miles south of Lincoln, has an interesting combination of old-style course and links-style golf, as well as the fastest greens in the state.