Golf Courses & Travel

Photo Essay: Sand-Green Courses

The golf courses are short, the people playing them friendly, the vibe about as unstuffy as the game can be. And there isn't a blade of grass on the greens.

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July 2013

Sand-green courses

Sand-green courses, of which there are an estimated 100 or so left in the United States, mostly nine-holers in the Great Plains, offer about as basic a golf experience as a person can have.

Fairways are usually mowed once a week, and the grass is as green as Mother Nature -- not a superintendent or club president -- decides it should be. Situated in small towns and rural locales, sand-green courses are about camaraderie and competition not finely manicured turf or fancy clubhouses. (There may be an important lesson in that attitude.)

As for putting on dirt (sand moistened by biodegradable oil these days), it is different. Once every player in a group has reached the flat green, typically a 30- or 35-foot diamater circle, there is symphony of activity. You don't putt from where your ball ends up but from an equivalent distance along a corrider smoothed by a heavy "drag" or "mop." After completing a hole, the sand is raked for the next group.

Stimpmeter and sand greens don't belong in the same sentence, because the surfaces aren't very fast, but they putt better than you would imagine. It's interesting that two very fine putters, Mark McNulty and Hale Irwin, each started out in golf on sand greens. You have to give the ball a firm rap to get it to the cup.

I'd never been to a sand-greens course until visiting four of the throwback layouts during a recent trip to Nebraska. There are fewer than 20 left in the Cornhusker State. I photographed four: Fairview GC in Pawnee City; Riverside GC in Central City; Lawrence (Neb.) CC; and Dannebrog (Neb.) GC.
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