Prairie Dunes Country Club
KS, USA

Green Keeper: Stan George

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Though Perry Maxwell built the majority of the holes on the front nine and...

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

...his son Press built the majority of the holes on the back nearly twenty years later, the two nines come together seamlessly and offer something with which few links can compete: not a single indifferent or weak hole.

Prairie Dunes enjoys a colossal reputation in the world of golf and yet, curiously, not but so many people make the trek to Hutchinson, Kansas to see the course. They know that the wind, humpy-bumpy fairways, plum thicket and firm playing conditions make it play akin to the great links in the United Kingdom. But, unlike in the U.K., where for instance, Turnberry, Prestwick, Royal Troon, and Western Gailes are in a cluster, Prairie Dunes stands alone. Also, too, they reason that a visitor must be accompanied by a member as is the typical policy at leading private clubs in the United States.

In this last regard, Prairie Dunes is more like a British club whereby a proper Letter of Introduction can help a visitor gain access to the course at certain times through the week. In short, the good people here in the Midwest believe in sharing, which effectively makes Prairie Dunes the very definition of a national treasure. And given the ease of travel and the Wichita airport being readily accessible, there is simply no reason that any student of the game doesn’t beat a path to play this course.

The best way to convince someone of the merit in doing so is simply to showcase each hole because they are individually of such a uniformly high standard that no architectural education is complete without studying them. One reason that the Maxwells achieved so much here is that Perry was instrumental in selecting this location. Initially, another parcel of land was being considered but Perry convinced the founders of the merits of today’s prairie site with its random dunes. Once this exceptional property was secured, Perry knew exactly what to do, as we see below!

Scorecard of the Course

(side note: While Perry Maxwell routed eighteen holes in 1937, the Carey family elected to open only nine holes prior to WWII, and in general, they were the holes closest to the clubhouse. Four years after Perry’s death, his son James Press Maxwell completed the job in 1956. As Perry Maxwell‘s original eighteen hole routing plan may not exist (like Pete Dye, one can imagine him saying ‘Plan? Why do I need plans? I’m always there!’), the question arises as to whether Press Maxwell followed his father routing and/or whether he perhaps found some of the holes himself. Regardless of who routed what, the man who built each hole is noted below).

First hole, 430yards, Carey Lane,(Perry); Though the diagonal angle off the tee makes it a first rate driving hole, the golfer is confronted with one of the primary design tenets that the Golden Age architects followed: Defend par at the green. In this case, the green starts as an extension of the fairway before rising to form a back right bowl. The hole remains a delight to play regardless of wind direction thanks to its open green front coupled with the firm and fast playing conditions through the green. Helping to insure that the course plays just right, the club has formed a long standing relationship with the firm of Coore & Crenshaw. In fact, even before there was a Coore & Crenshaw, Bill Coore did work here in 1984. Thus, for nearly twenty-five years, he has helped oversee that the mowing lines, bunkers, green contours and green sizes remain faithful to the Maxwells’ shared vision.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Just the sight of such a hole makes one want to rush directly from the car and onto the first tee. The ideal tee ball is at the far bunker with a draw.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

The beauty of some of the greens at Prairie Dunes is that they sometimes appear to not offer a single hole location, such is the continual random movement found within them! Here at the first, lower hole locations are easier to access as the two foot rise in the green can be used as a backboard.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Prior to 2005, as is conventional at most inland courses, rough typically ringed the back and sides of the greens. However, the green complexes here are too good to be covered up in such a manner. Thus, Coore & Crenshaw worked closely with the club to devise a plan to dramatically increase the amount of short grass around the greens. Once completed, all golfers, no matter what their skill level, delighted in the additional short game recovery options. The extra six paces of short grass around the first green is evident in this view looking back down the hole.

Second hole, 160 yards, Willow,(Perry Maxwell); The twelfth green at Augusta National is famous for its diagonal angle that makes the player first determine his line and then select his club. Perry was performing consulting work at Augusta National the same year that the first nine holes opened at Prairie Dunes and it seems likely to the author that the strategic merit of the twelfth was fresh in his mind as he built the second here (albeit with the second running from front right to back left). Deep bunker guards the front and yet to go over the green is worse. Unlike the twelfth at Augusta National, the putting surface is full of character and undulations. When the 2002 U.S. Women’s Open and the 2004 U.S. Senior Open were held here, the contestants wisely treated it with the same respect/fearas the twelfth at Augusta.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

The second green is set on a diagonal from the tee.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Believe it or not, missing the green in the front bunkers beats going long.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Green speeds have increased upwards of 30% since the course first opened for play. As such, sometimes the slopes within the greens have required attention. At the second, the dune had started to encroach from the right and Coore needed to ever so slightly lower the green's back right to preserve that original hole location. Regardless, the green still features a fearsome amount of back to front tilt at today's green speeds.

Thirdhole, 355 yards, Wild Plum,(Press Maxwell); Thanks to the long time former Green Keeper Doug Petersan, the back markers were relocated in the 1970s to the highest spot on the course atop the sand dune that dominates the front nine. As such, the golfer is exposed to the full effects of the prairie winds, which can change the hole from a three wood/flip wedge in the morning to a driver/punch five iron in the afternoon. Importantly, Petersan created a strategically appealing diagonal carry over the plum thicket when he moved the back markers up and to the left from the original Press Maxwell teeing area.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Hustling up to play the back markers on the elevated third tee. Note the natural sandy soil into which the wooden steps were set.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

The tee ball from high atop the dune at the third can be unnerving, especially when the wind is up. The question always posed is how much of the plum thicket does the golfer dare carry.

Fourth hole, 170 yards, Hill Top(Press Maxwell); As at the second hole, the green is superbly situated on a shelf with menacing bunkers cut out from the dune. While the second green provides the opportunity for more four (!) putts, the fourth hole lays longer as the green is well above the golfer on the tee. As such, the ball is in the air longer, creating more time for drama to unfold as the wind grabs it and does mean things. If anything, the back bunker just left of the putting surface that was added by Coore & Crenshaw in 2006 is a mercy one as it helps a pull or a draw stay out of the gunch.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

A perfectly conceived green complex - the fourth at Prairie Dunes. Tee balls hit directly at the day's hole location (the red flag is in the early morning shadow) need to be up or the short grass can send the ball well back down the slope. When the hole location is moved right and behind the two deep bunkers, a different set of problems confront the golfer.

Fifth hole, 440 yards, Quail Ridge,(Press Maxwell); The golfer needs to play this hole as it is laid before him, which is to say straightaway. Any approach angle becomes progressively worse other than from the right center of the fairway. Generally, this hole plays into the wind and as such requires a controlled long iron approach held underneath the wind. And yet, downwind the hole may even be harder as the golfer must use the bank in front of the green to brake his approach shot.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

A drive at the right greenside bunker will keep all approach options open to the golfer.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

Best to avoid the left side of the fifth hole altogether.

Prairie Dunes, Perry Maxwell, Press Maxwell

A view from the sixth tee back at the fifth green indicates how much longer the green is than wide, which highlights the need for attacking the green head on. Note the two Press 'puffs' within the green that make this hole location particularly challenging. The short walk from green to tee shows why the course is a walker's delight.

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