Otter Creek Golf Course: Otter Creek

Ankeny, IA Public


From Golf Digest Architecture Editor emeritus Ron Whitten:

For 25 years, the north Des Moines suburb of Ankeny, Iowa operated a short, scruffy municipal course called Otter Creek Golf Course, a Donald Rippel design whose sole distinguishing feature was the steady drone of traffic on I-35 along its closing holes. In 2007, a private developer, DRA Properties, bought 192 acres just north of the course and teamed with the city to transform its municipal layout into a country-club-for-a-day that would wind around nearly a hundred residential lots. Minnesota golf architect Paul Miller (a former partner of Garrett Gill) reconfigured the old 18 into 10 new holes and added another eight on the additional land.

The new and improved Otter Creek reopened in mid-2009, along with a massive new clubhouse, a 400-yard-long double-ended practice range and parking for 300 cars. Total price tag was about $12 million. When it reopened, it was rather stark and windswept, not the most attractive backdrop for prospective homeowners in what was not the best time in which to unveil a new housing development. So progress took time.

But a dozen years later, homesites are almost fully built out and maturely landscaped, spaciously separated from golf holes by ridgelines of native prairie grass rough and a bunch of evergreens. As a municipal course, Otter Creek is no pushover. It has 44 bunkers, all fairly shallow, but it also has 17 ponds, most of them retention basins set off to the side. (The only forced carries over water occur on the par 3s, and on three of those, the water is directly in front of the tee.)

There’s no argument that Miller vastly improved the course. It has far more variety in the yardage (6,895 yards par 71 from the tips, up from 6,473 yards), the greens are larger with more interesting contours and 10 sharp doglegs were eliminated.

The 154-yard par-3 13th is my favorite, playing down into a bowl over namesake Otter Creek, which wraps around both sides and the front of the green. The 431-yard 14th isn’t bad either, vaguely following the path of the old finishing hole, the tee shot skirting a creek on the left and the uphill second shot over a dry creek bed to a perched green.

If there's a downside to the new routing, it's that the seventh, eighth and ninth all play straight south into the prevailing wind. Everywhere else, each hole seems to change direction from the previous one.

Directly south of Otter Creek is the ultra-private Talons of Tuscany Golf Club owned by Ankeny’s Dennis Albaugh, who made a billion-dollar fortune producing the weed-killer Roundup. He also owns DRA Properties, which financed the redo of Otter Creek and developed the attractive residential component.

I think Otter Creek is a stellar example of a public-private partnership where both parties benefited. Other municipalities ought to study this one.


Holes 18
Length 6895
Slope 126
Price $58
Facility Type Public
Designer Donald Ripple/(R) Paul Miller

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