Irish inspiration infuses Engh's Awarii Dunes

No. 12 at Awarii Dunes Golf Club

Much of Jim Engh’s formative time as a course architect was spent in Ireland, which probably would come as a surprise to many people familiar with some of his more mind-bending designs. He fell hard for the untamed Irish style, and says he has tried to bring that same no-holds-barred spirit to his own work.

With the opening of Awarii Dunes Golf Club tentatively scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in Axtell, Neb., golfers will get a chance to see Engh’s riff on the great Irish courses.

“Awarii Dunes is my version of what links golf is, although it’s not on the ocean,” he said. “My vision of it is more of the wild, crazy, there-are-no-rules Irish (courses) that’s a little different than Scottish stuff.”

Engh recently showed me pictures of Awarii Dunes and talked about some of its characteristics of his first course in Nebraska's Sand Hills region. He said those include some huge greens – he estimated one double green is 35,000 square feet – and fairways as wide as 90 yards. On tees, fairways and greens, he used T-1 bentgrass, which he expects to play hard and fast. There will be no intermediate rough – just fairways and native rough. Rather than digging bunkers, he merely “scratched the surface.”

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No. 1 at Awarii Dunes

“We let the wind make our bunkers so they really look raw,” Engh said.

Engh doesn’t talk like most golf architects. He doesn’t drone on an on about shot values and strategy. Engh is comfortable with the idea that some people – perhaps many – won’t enjoy his work. He said that he decided early in his career not to fixate on what course owners wanted, but rather to follow his instincts and try to give golfers the same rush he experienced playing the great Irish links.

“As long as someone is inspired, that’s all I’m after,” he said. “I’d rather take four people on one helluva ride and have one guy think I’m nuts than have five people that are mildly uninspired.”

Awarii Dunes owner Kent Freudenberg, a Colorado Springs, Colo., attorney, thinks Engh has created one helluva ride in Kearney. 

“I think it turned out spectacular,” he said. “I think we found a great site. I love what Jim did with it, leaving the natural lay of the land so that it’s not only visually stunning, but there are a lot of ways to play the course.”

The course sits on 180 acres; the total development is 455 acres. Freudenberg said three residential enclaves have been set aside around the border of the course.

Freudenberg has partnered with Younes Hospitality, a local hotelier, on stay-and-play packages that start at $249 for one night and two rounds of golf. There’s also a national membership with a $2,000 initiation fee and a $1,500 “usage credit,” which Freudenberg roughly equates to annual dues. Half of that credit can be used for lodging. Residents within 75 miles can join for a $5,000 iniitiation fee. 

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