Golfing The Old Oregon Trail
I remember playing a course in Lethbridge, Alberta that had received a dusting of snow the night before. The rough, rather than long grass, was snow banks. We painted the balls black and played in parkas – fun in the off-season. I was reminded of that as we traveled through North Platte, Nebraska last night. It’s the mid-winter in central Nebraska, the corn stubble is everywhere, and the temperature dipped to 7 – no golf today. And yet, I was surprised to find golf alive and well in this place as I was in western Wyoming.
It was only a little more than 150 years ago that Captain Bonneville led the first non-native contingent up the Platte river through the Oregon Trail, and onto the Columbia River, where Bonneville dam bears his name. Of course, to find a golf course in North Platte is not so surprising in the year of 2012, but to learn that the course built for the North Platte Country Club has been around since 1916 perked my interest. The course features 6,392 yards from the long tees and is a par 70, not hefty, but still surprising for its location and age. One can expect a terrain that is Flat Flat Flat, but other dangers lurk. Try corn stubble rough.
If I were to reside in a smaller Midwestern city, Lincoln would certainly be a top contender. It’s always been one of my favorites, maintaining five courses – the Ager, the Highlands, , Holmes, Mahoney and Pioneers. The country club measures 6,502, and is a par 72. Again, the date of establishment impressed me, 1923. The location of the trees seemed interesting to me through the various photos. Some holes have them, some don’t, but when they do, you could almost swear that someone hit two thousand drives, then planted a tree in the spot where most of them landed.
Lincoln, Nebraska is home to a thriving and sizable university, aptly lauded for many of its departments and schools. Short as the warm season may be, and with a winter that takes up a fair chunk of the school year, the men’s and women’s golf teams are both thriving, playing a healthy competitive schedule at good distances. And where do they practice? At Firethorn Golf Club, an exceptional Pete Dye course that so beautifully interacts with the terrain that you’d think the pioneers found it that way. Both teams have and are sending players through Qualifying School who have a real shot at the profession.
On first glance, I noticed the use of the land’s natural gifts, which include rather imposing river beds and trenches, dangerous as any other type of hazard. The NCAA central regionals have been played here. This is a course that can handle prestigious visitors and no-nonsense events.
My travels did not take me through Omaha, a city with its own buffet of good courses and players, but I am almost sure to pass this way again. Actually, I write this from State College, Pennsylvania, where I arrived after winding my way through Ohio, into eastern Pa, up and around Latrobe. A survey of golf in those heavyweight states requires a separate study. Perhaps Nebraska can’t hang with this region in historical terms, but quality golf is played there, and good places to play it exist.
Still, Ohio and Pa golf in 600 words? Tough task – and Latrobe? Don’t even get me started on Latrobe. Let’s just say, from Lincoln City, Oregon to Pocatello, Idaho – Kemmerer, Wyoming to Philly, happy holidays to all, and see you in a few.