Dave’s Dream Course

OPEN FAIRWAY. A scenic view greets golfers at hole No. 4 at the Tournament Club of Iowa in Polk City.

Des Moines’ first golf course was built in 1897 on 40 acres that Jefferson S. Polk owned at the end of his Ingersoll Avenue streetcar line at 45th Street. A short 18-hole course was laid out by a Scotsman named Ellsworth, and the first clubhouse of the newly formed Golf and Country Club was on the northwest corner of Polk Boulevard and Ingersoll Avenue.

In 1903, 100 acres to the west were added and the course was lengthened. Three years later, a luxurious clubhouse was built near the southwest corner of 49th Street and Harwood Drive.

All three of the Des Moines area’s oldest golf clubs—Hyperion Field Club (built in 1910), Wakonda Club (1922) and Des Moines Golf and Country Club (1924)—can trace their existence back to the Golf and Country Club, as can Central Iowa’s long and strong tradition of public golf.

City-owned Waveland Golf Course was built in 1901 on property immediately north of the Golf and Country Club course. In addition to being Iowa’s first municipal course, Waveland is the nation’s third-oldest city course. But rarely will you read or hear much about that part of Des Moines’ rich golf tradition. There’s a good reason, explains local historian John Zeller. It’s because fires destroyed all four of the area’s earliest golf clubhouses and consumed the clubs’ earliest records. Most of what we know today about those early years of golf in Des Moines comes from old newspaper and magazine stories, Zeller says.

During the century or so that followed the creation of Des Moines’ first golf course, more than 40 courses have been built in the metro area, including 20 in Polk County.

I took up golf in 1993 and have played all but a handful of those courses, making me something of an expert in local course knowledge, although not in scoring.

I recently put together the following list of my favorite Central Iowa holes. I call it Old Dave’s Course, and it includes some of the area’s most difficult, as well as aesthetically pleasing, holes. At one time or another, I have parred nine of these 18 holes. I hope someday to par a few more. Some I will never par, but I’ll keep trying, because I’m sure that’s what the old Scotsman Ellsworth would want.

ELEVATED TEE. A creek runs alongside the green at hole No. 5 at the Tournament Club of Iowa.

Old Dave’s Course, Front 9

1. No. 1, Wakonda Club, Des Moines (Par 4): This dogleg left has been described as the most difficult starting hole in Iowa. The fairway descends, then climbs from the dogleg to the hole. Trees discourage corner cutting.
Yardages: Back, 431; Middle, 410; Front, 401. Handicap: 3.

2. No. 3, Waveland Golf Course, Des Moines (Par 5): The third hole at Des Moines’ oldest course provides a spectacular view. The elevated tee overlooks a fairway banked by mature trees that create a tunnel effect from tee to green.
Yardages: Back, 585; Middle, 558; Front, 407. Handicap: 1.

3. No. 3, south course, Beaver Creek Golf Course, Grimes (Par 4): The only island green on my course, this sharp dogleg right requires a blind tee shot where cutting the corner can set up a chip across water to the spacious green.
Yardages: Back, 378; Middle, 364; Front, 307. Handicap: 3.

4. No. 3, Bos Landen Golf Club, Pella (Par 3): The view from this elevated tee is dramatic. A creek crosses in front of the green but is not a factor; sand traps behind it are an incentive not to overshoot.
Yardages: Back, 141; Middle, 125; Front, 104. Handicap: 18.

5. No. 4, Tournament Club of Iowa, Polk City (Par 5): Another spectacular elevated view. Unlike No. 3 at Waveland, this fairway is wide open, but to post a good score, you’ll need to stay out of the spacious fairway sand traps.
Yardages: Back, 578; Middle, 548; Front; 478. Handicap: 8.

6. No. 11, Honey Creek Golf Club, Boone (Par 3): The view from this tee is also breathtaking, as it overlooks the river valley that creates five of Honey Creek’s back-nine holes.
Yardages: Back, 205; Middle, 153; Front, 128. Handicap: 14.

7. No. 8, Hyperion Field Club, Johnston (Par 4): This relatively short but challenging dogleg left requires a precise tee shot over water. The fairway climbs quickly at the corner to an elevated green.
Yardages: Back, 347; Middle, 321; Front, 279. Handicap: 5.

8. No. 13, Glen Oaks Country Club, West Des Moines (Par 4): A wide fairway descends to a reachable lake. The challenge begins with the second shot to a green that is fronted by water and sand and backed by trees.
Yardages: Back, 407; Middle, 357; Front, 269. Handicap: 11.

9. No. 10, north course, Des Moines Golf and Country Club, West Des Moines (Par 4): Long hitters can drop a tee shot in front of the green on this dogleg right by going over the trees. But watch out for the sand.
Yardages: Back, 358; Middle, 332; Front, 269. Handicap: 14.

Front 9 yardages: Front tees, 3,430; Middle, 3,168; Back, 2,642.

Old Dave’s Course, Back 9

10. No. 9 on the Red course, Willow Creek Golf Course, West Des Moines (Par 4): This dogleg right allows an average hitter to cut the corner and create an easy approach shot. Be careful, though. The penalty for failure is out of bounds.
Yardages: Back, 359; Middle, 348; Front, 300. Handicap: 13.

11. No. 14, Glen Oaks Country Club, West Des Moines (Par 3): This is my longest water carry. The tee shot is intimidating, as is the undulating green, which is the largest at Glen Oaks.
Yardages: Back, 229; Middle, 161; Front, 141. Handicap: 15.

12. No. 2, Jester Park Golf Course, Granger (Par 5): This has the longest par-5 at a public course in the metro area. Long hitters can cut the corner of the lake; all others stay left. After the lake, woods line both sides of the fairway.
Yardages: Back, 625; Middle, 611; Front, 553. Handicap: 1.

13. No. 12, The Legacy Golf Club, Norwalk (Par 4): The challenge on this dogleg right is the second shot. It must clear three large sand traps that guard the elevated green.
Yardages: Back, 442; Middle, 379; Front, 278. Handicap: 7.

14. No. 5, Tournament Club of Iowa, Polk City (Par 3): This elevated tee appears to look nearly straight down on the creek that runs alongside the green. Be careful, though. Objects are more distant than they appear.
Yardages: Back, 185; Middle, 157; Front, 102. Handicap: 13.

15. No. 2, Ridge course at Echo Valley Country Club, Norwalk (Par 4): What makes this special is a beautiful dogleg right with plenty of landing room below a watershed that guards the green.
Yardages: Back, 417, Middle, 356; Front, 304. Handicap: 11.

16. No. 5, Wakonda Club, Des Moines
(Par 5): A strong tee shot will cross the water and climb the hill that creates the spine of this 90-year-old course. Then, it’s down the hill, across a second creek and up to the green.
Yardages: Back, 549; Middle, 505; Front, 450. Handicap: 1.

17. No. 11, Veenker Memorial Golf Course, Ames (Par 3): This is the rare par-3 where all the elevation is up. To reach the elevated green, you must cross the creek while avoiding trees and sand traps that guard the hole.
Yardages: Back, 155; Middle, 134; Front, 98. Handicap: 14.

18. No. 18, north course, Des Moines Golf and Country Club, West Des Moines, (Par 5): This tree-lined dogleg left is the metro area’s longest hole. The final approach is downhill and across a creek to a tiered green.
Yardages: Back, 637; Middle, 525; Front, 470. Handicap: 6.

Back 9 yardages: Back tees, 3,598; Middle, 3,176; Front, 2,696.
Total yardages for Old Dave’s Course: Back tees, 7,098; Middle, 6,344; Front, 5,338.

Top Spots

Best men’s locker room: 
Glen Oaks Country Club in West Des Moines. Locker rooms at other clubs may feature wood paneling and tiled bathrooms, but Glen Oaks is the only one where you can walk from the shower to a full bar.

Best municipal course clubhouse:
The newly opened million-dollar clubhouse at Bright-Grandview Golf Course that was paid for in large part by the foundation created by Lois Bright and her late husband, Dale.

Toughest place to get a weekend tee time:
Des Moines Golf and Country Club. Tee times are assigned by seniority, and Des Moines Golf has the largest group of tenured members of any local club.

Most difficult private course:
Wakonda Club. The rating, slope and yardage are all higher at Des Moines Golf and Country Club’s two courses and at Glen Oaks, but those courses don’t have Wakonda’s mature oak trees and rolling fairways, which ensure few level lies.

Most difficult course:
The Harvester Golf Club in Rhodes, where the course plays 7,365 yards from the back tees with a slope/rating of 76.0/140, all of which are higher than any of the private courses.

Busiest golf intersection:
Northeast Delaware Avenue and Northeast 36th Street (110th Avenue) in Ankeny, where three golf courses converge: Otter Creek Golf Course, Briarwood Club of Ankeny and Talons of Tuscany.

Only 19th hole:
Talons of Tuscany, Dennis Albaugh’s private course, is among a handful of courses in the country that have a true 19th hole. It was created to decide tournament playoffs, but it quickly became a favorite of anyone lucky enough to play Iowa’s most exclusive course. The long carry across water is to an elongated, tiered green, protected fore and aft by huge bunkers. Yardages: Back, 188; Middle, 168; Front, 133. n

David Elbert, a retired business writer, is now able to combine two of his favorite pastimes after his friend created a hitch that allows him to tow his hand-push golf cart behind his bicycle. Wave to him when you see him on Kingman or Polk boulevards on his way to Waveland Golf Course. 

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