2006: Please rake ball marks
By Scott Halleran
Just east of Easy Street in Dannebrog, Neb., not far from the National Liars Hall of Fame at 106 S. Mill St., you’ll find Dannebrog Country Club, a pre-World War II nine-holer that ranks as one of America’s most unusual golfing experiences. The townspeople who pay $20 per family for annual playing privileges share the land with 22 cows, 22 calves and one lazy bull.
But what truly distinguishes the course is its greens, eight of which are surrounded by barbed wire. The green on No. 7 is guarded by a 3-foot-high bullpen, demanding a delicate, lofted approach. The fencing serves to protect Dannebrog’s sand greens from the docile farm animals who wander the course’s 40 acres.
Dannebrog, about 150 miles west of Omaha, is one of a dwindling collection of Nebraska courses that still use low-maintenance sand greens laced with mineral oil to prevent the greens literally from blowing away. More than 40 years ago, most Nebraska courses used sand greens, owing in part to the difficulty of maintaining grass on the Great Plains. Today, there are fewer than 20 sand-green courses scattered around the state’s rural outposts – towns with three-digit populations, barely big enough to field eight-man high school football teams.
About 180 miles from Dannebrog, not far from the South Dakota border, visitors to Springview Golf Club will find a note on their scorecards that, rather than urging them to repair their ball marks, says: “Rake greens after play.”
The clubhouse, once a cafe that was moved from the town to the course in 1964, serves as a gathering place for many of Springview’s 228 residents. A loyal group assembles on Wednesdays during the summer to play nine holes and enjoy a post-round steak fry featuring local beef and burgers. Volunteers, along with one truckload of fine sand, help hold annual family membership fees to $25.
Most of Nebraska’s sand-green courses might best be described as multi-use facilities.
In Callaway, which, with 630 residents, ranks as a relative metropolis among sand-green locales, the relatively well-conditioned fairways sometimes double as the local high school’s cross country course. In remote Arthur, a town of 130 about 80 miles from the Colorado border, Kim Channer’s Cactus Flats Golf Course wraps around a seldom-used landing strip, with his front yard serving as a makeshift practice range. In Pawnee City in southwest Nebraska, Fairview Golf Club winds around the county fairgrounds, with golfers incurring one-stroke penalties if they hit into the horse park on the seventh and eighth holes.
And in Valparaiso, Gordon Ohnoutka crafted three golf holes by trimming his beans and other crops, then decided that he enjoyed playing so much that he added two holes. The town’s residents drop by during the week and cobble together a nine-hole scramble from a composite of the five holes, and each year the winner of the Valparaiso Open is awarded a worn tan jacket obtained for $1 from a thrift shop.
These idiosyncratic sand-green courses might seem like a Midwest oddity to golfers more accustomed to the pampering of posh coastal resorts such as Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and Sea Island. But they are a source of pride to Nebraskans like Rod Giereau, a rancher and one of two founding members of Springview GC, which has some of the state’s finest sand greens. Since 1960, Giereau has played in every Springview Open.
In Lawrence, population 312, more than 100 golfers show up on the second Sunday in June to play in the Cow Chip Open. And one August in Dannebrog, a town of 324 residents, 176 players turned out for the annual Bullpen Open.
That makes the tournament one of Dannebrog’s biggest attractions – along with the Liars Hall of Fame, of course.