Horses, Pheasants and Dinosaurs…Oh My!

Today was a long day, so I have plenty to share here. Just like yesterday, I played two rounds today. And just like yesterday, I played in two different states on the same day.

I started in Nebraska this morning at Wild Horse Golf Club in Gothenburg. As you all obviously already know, Gothenburg is home to the country’s first Pony Express Station. You drive by it and some nice little neighborhoods on the way out to the course.

Wild Horse is out amongst the farmland. Like Black Mesa I played in New Mexico, Wild Horse features a dirt/gravel road out to the clubhouse and no paved cart paths. It, too, embraces the “rugged” concept.

I knew this was a links style course set amongst the prairies and farms of rural western Nebraska. It is consistently ranked highly in the country-wide public course rankings and was the clear-cut No. 1 choice for my stop on the way through Nebraska. Otherwise, I didn’t know a ton about the course. Their website isn’t spectacular and the photos on the site are not too dramatic. Plus, I figured it was rather early in the season, so I wasn’t sure how it would look.

Wow, was I impressed the moment I saw the course from the road. It was lush, green and beautiful and each hole was framed with golden, tall native grasses for the perfect prairie links look. From the moment I pulled onto the property I was impressed with everything about this course. Such a surprise given it’s “middle of nowhere” location.

I had a 8:00 tee time, which would be first off the tee in the morning. I got there even earlier and they let me go out by myself around 7:30. So like yesterday, it was an ideal situation to play a quick round and get back on the road as early as possible on my way to Colorado.

Of all the courses I’ve played so far, this one was the best conditioned. Fairways were perfect. Greens were exceptional (like carpet)–rolled true and very receptive on approaches whether you came in high or low. Bunkers were nice and great looking with shaggy long grass around the edges for that rugged look. Main cut of rough was deep and thick, so it was tough to hit out of.

A few pheasants shocked me on one of the tee boxes. They came squawking and flying out of the tall grass and it scared the crap out of me. As a kid, I always had a thing for pheasants, but this was my first time seeing them on a golf course. Very cool.

Wild Horse embraces it’s farmland surroundings. Tee markers are horseshoes and 150-yard markers are old cow skulls on either side of the fairway.

Wild Horse exceeded my expectations in every single way, and I can understand why it is so highly regarded. If you are ever in this region, don’t just drive past Gothenburg without a second thought. Stop and play Wild Horse Golf Club. You won’t regret it!

Some pictures from Wild Horse Golf Club (5/10/12):

)The flat landscape out there makes it tough to photograph, so these photos probably don’t do the course justice.)

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And my “artsy” photo of the trip:

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I was so glad I was able to play quickly at Wild Horse, because I really wanted to play again. I was planning to stay tonight in the Denver area. About a week before I left, I started thinking I might try and squeeze in a late afternoon round while in the Denver area. I did some research and came across a course called Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden, CO. The name alone intrigued me, so I took a look at their website.

It really looked like a neat course, built in the remains of an old quarry that also has a rich history of prehistoric dinosaur and plant fossils. It looked like a real interesting, fun and unique course. Also I figured it would provide a definite change of pace from what I played earlier in the day.

After a long and boring drive through western Nebraska and eastern Colorado, I finally saw the Rocky Mountains and the city of Denver. I got to Fossil Trace around 2:20 and it looked pretty busy out there. An unseasonably warm afternoon in Denver today (80+ degrees) brought out a lot of people I guess. Still, I checked in with the pro shop to see if they could get me out. The guy said they had a time at 2:50, so that was perfect. They give you this little pager thing like you’d get at Claim Jumper or something, so that would buzz me when my group was up on the first tee.

I sat around waiting for it to buzz and it didn’t. Finally I went over to the starter and then it was mass confusion between her and the guy in the clubhouse. Basically, I didn’t get properly added to the tee sheet and thus was not buzzed on time. The group I was supposed to play with had already gone off. They were confused, so I had to suggest the only logical solution, and that was for me to drive out and catch up to that group. Then I would just come back around and play any of the holes I missed later. They agreed and off I went.

Luckily, I caught up to the guys on second tee, so I only missed one hole, which I did go back and play after the round.We had a lot of fun out there, even though I did not play well. Fatigue from the trip definitely set in today.

The front nine was actually a bit of a disappointment. I expected spectacular views and great holes. For the most part, the front nine is more of a links layout that runs along a little part of town. There’s a power plant and electrical towers that kind of mar the landscape around a few of the holes, along with a juvenile detention center that you play alongside as well. The course itself was decent, but nothing spectacular. Definitely wasn’t living up to my lofty expectations. The 7th hole was the only one of note with a massive zig-zagging bunker leading up to the green. This was an awesome hole and easily the highlight of the front nine.

However, when I got to the back nine, I found the incredible course that I was expecting. One of the best nines I’ve ever played with some truly unique and awesome hole designs. The 12th hole is their signature here. It is perhaps the coolest par-5 I’ve played anywhere. The tee shot is elevated with a great view of the mountains in the distance. Then, the second shot is where it gets fun. There are these big rock mounds in the fairway and then a huge rock wall along the left side. So you really get a risk/reward decision on the angles and distances you want to play on your second and third shots. It’s kind of a cross between golf and pinball.

Then the green is well-protected by big rock walls on either side and a nasty little greenside bunker. There are a number of bunkers out here (including this one) that have a very distinctive zig-zag pattern as you’ll see in the pictures. Next to the 12th green is another rock wall that has some fossils preserved inside, so it’s kind of a mini museum in between the 12th and 13th holes, which is fun.

The rest of the back nine is almost equally awesome with some great elevation changes, more beautiful views and challenging hole designs. Though this course can be tough, there is one very forgiving aspect on most holes. There are banks generally on either side of the fairway and up around the greens, so the ball tends to funnel to the middle even on missed shots. Our group hit a number of questionable shots today, but many ended up way better than expected.

Fossil Trace was in great shape and other than the hiccup with the starter, the service was solid. A really great course with some rather unique elements that make it truly memorable. I am very glad I was able to work this one into the trip. Definitely worth checking out if you are in the Denver area.

Some pictures from Fossil Trace Golf Club (5/10/12):

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Last but not least, here are a bunch of views from the signature 12th hole:

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Rather than staying in Denver, I decided to push a little further west to cut down on my drive tomorrow morning on the way to Lakota Canyon Ranch in New Castle, CO (west part of the state). I drove for a little while and ended up here in Silverthorne.

Tomorrow will be round two in Colorado, then off to Utah from there. I can’t believe this trip will be over in just a couple of days. Sad, but I am also quite exhausted, so it will be nice to get back home (where I can start planning my next Golf Nomad trip).

DAY EIGHT: 430.5 Miles

TOTAL: 3165.3 Miles

Previous Day: Sycamore Ridge (KS) and Swope Memorial (MO)

Next Days: Lakota Canyon Ranch (CO) and Sand Hollow Resort (UT)

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