by Ken Hambleton
To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.P. G. Wodehouse
Many people are caught by surprise at the golf opportunities in Lincoln.
Four championship-length city-owned courses, a magnificent par 3 junior course and ten public access courses, plus a variety of private clubs makes Lincoln a golf destination worthy of praise.
Since the city adopted a greens philosophy to treat the city’s 81 holes of public golf in a similar fashion, golfers can find quick, smooth and well-maintained greens in all four city quadrants—all with easy access and under 15 minutes from the middle
Add in the always praise-worthy greens at NU Mark/HiMark, a 36-hole facility, beautiful bent-grass (and slick) greens at Woodland Hills, Crooked Creek, Quarry Oaks, Iron Horse, Beatrice Country Club and Ashland Country Club and golfers find they aren’t missing anything on either side of the country.
And while Lincoln enjoys a prairie feel on the links-style Highlands, there are tree-lined fairways that add to the beauty of the game for any level of player.
One of the best aspects of the Lincoln city courses is the variety.
Pioneers Golf Course, built in 1931 with 18 holes of sand greens, was changed to 18 holes with grass greens in 1933. It’s the oldest in the city, and a gem.
Pioneers offers plenty of old trees, new plantings, vistas of Nebraska farmland to the south and Pioneers Park to the east and west. There are no sand bunkers, but the grass bunkers, water on the beautiful par 3, No. 4, will give anybody a challenge.
Holmes is more of a 1960s style course—trees, elevation changes, big, sloping greens, and just enough sand bunkers to give you plenty of things to think about on this par 72 course. Located near Holmes Lake, higher tees and inspiring views of the State Capitol from the clubhouse add to the pleasures of playing Holmes.
The aggressive golfer can play the tips at Highlands and face the challenge of 7,100 yards of links-style golf. Often called “Trains, planes and automobiles,” the course is bounded by BNSF railroad, the Lincoln Airport and two major roads. But the noise is as subtle as the popular meadowlarks that populate the area.
Mahoney, built in the 1970s, was once an easy, hit-em-and-recover course. But the many trees have grown, the five par threes can be a challenge when the pin placements are behind bunkers. Top city golfers used to laugh about the challenges of Mahoney, but course maturity and typical golf challenges from plenty of sand and water, have improved this course over the years.
If you don’t have a lot of time, a quick spin through the award-winning par 3 Ager Memorial Course near the center of the city is enough to quench a thirst for golf. The greens are as good as any in the city and the trees keep you in check, even if you’re only hitting a six-iron. The junior program at Ager is one of the best around, offering classes, clubs and other equipment for children.
Lincoln city courses cost from $18 to $35 and offer driving ranges, lessons, putting greens, practice areas and complete clubhouse services—food, drink, equipment.
Lincoln also has a program, paid for by golfers and no city taxes, that provides improvements and replacements for irrigation, parking lots, clubhouses, course maintenance and other amenities.
Crooked Creek, just east of Lincoln, offers bargain prices and has one of the best practice facilities, with putting greens, a chipping area, and a great driving range to go with a course that has plenty of water trouble.
About 15 minutes east of Lincoln, Woodland Hills offers a dazzling variety of golf holes, from typical Nebraska-looking holes, to an interior of 12 holes that bring up talk of Colorado courses. The course has been awarded nationally as one of the best public-access courses in the state.
Hidden Valley is a vastly-improved track that offers public access and a wide-variety of challenges at bargain prices.
Just a 20 minute drive north and east of Lincoln, Quarry Oaks (built around an old rock quarry) and Iron Horse are premium courses with all the treats—hills, trees, water, great greens and impressive golf facilities. Both are located near Interstate 80, and are considered among the toughest and most pleasant courses in the Midwest.
A few tee boxes—No. 16 and No. 17, for instance, at Quarry Oaks and the holes along the Platte River are a picture-perfect added benefit to the course near Ashland. The view from the No. 9 tee box at Iron Horse is breath-taking—looking down to a lake that surrounds the green.
Not to be ignored, the nine-hole courses at the Fairways in north Lincoln and nearby College Heights Golf Club in Crete, Friend Country Club in Friend, Thornridge in Milford, and the Seward Community Course in Seward can be a nice change from the normal 18-hole courses. Thornridge had two tee shots over cliffs, Crete has some of the most-challenging old-style greens and Friend has the best golf reputation in the state for nine-hole courses. The Fairways has a driving range into a pond, club fitting and some of the tightest fairways. It is located just north of downtown on Interstate 180.
The very-limited public-access country clubs at Country Club of Lincoln, Wilderness Ridge, Firethorn and Hillcrest are premium courses but getting on those courses is problematic.
Tee times at the public-access courses and the city courses are available online and often go quickly, but a little planning will quickly get you on the course and hitting.