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How this golf course architect nailed it on his first solo design

January 22, 2024
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Courtesy of Lost Rail Golf Club

Lost Rail, a private, stand-alone golf club near Omaha, earned second-place honors in Golf Digest’s 2023 Best New Private Course awards. It’s a remarkable property of uplands and ravines, prairies and clusters of hardwoods. A namesake abandoned railroad line cuts through a deep gully in one corner of the land, forming a dramatic hazard that holes play over and abut. The strategies laid out entice players to take chances—carry a phalanx of bunkers; squeeze a shot up against a ravine—before landing them at intricately shaped putting surfaces. One fascinating stretch (Nos. 8 through 10) presents three holes of similar length between 231 and 313 yards that hopscotch between and across the wooded depressions, each designed in entirely distinct ways. It’s a fascinating arrangement of heart-pounding golf layered into a tight, 150-acre property.

Of equal intrigue is Lost Rail’s architect Scott Hoffman. In an age when prize new golf properties rotate between the same handful of household name designers—Coore and Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, David McLay Kidd—Hoffman’s name is refreshing. Despite Lost Rail being his first solo project, he brought to the project an abundance of experience and originality that belies the newness of his name.

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Courtesy of Lost Rail Golf Club

Hoffman began working as an associate for Tom Fazio in 2001. He was an influential voice in the construction of Fazio’s network of western U.S. projects that exploded in the first decade of the new century spanning the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies to the deserts of Arizona. He developed a particular skill creating the routing plans for the courses he worked on, notably at Gozzer Ranch (ranked 37th on Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Courses) and Pronghorn in Oregon, as well as numerous others.

After the downturn in golf construction around 2009, he joined forces with two other Fazio castoffs, Tim Jackson and David Kahn. Though Hoffman’s name wasn’t on the Jackson-Kahn masthead, he was an integral voice in the creation and shaping of some of their most ambitious designs, including the total remodel of Monterey Peninsula’s Dunes Course and The Other Course at Scottsdale National, a vivid, playful Gesamtkunstwerk that receives exemplary scores but has yet to reach eligibility for the 100 Greatest and Second 100 Greatest ranking.

Lost Rail Golf Club
Lost Rail Golf Club
Gretna, NE
Building Lost Rail, just southwest of Omaha, was something of a homecoming for Scottsdale-based architect Scott Hoffman, who grew up in the city and went to school at Creighton. The key to the design, named after an abandoned trainline that ran through the northeast corner of the property, was decoding the routing for this relatively small parcel of land, around 150 acres, or just large enough for 18 holes, a practice facility, clubhouse, parking and maintenance. The matter was complicated by the deep, wooded ravines that cut through the site and further limited the areas where holes could be placed. It was an exercise perfectly suited to Hoffman’s skills, who specialized in laying out the holes on numerous Tom Fazio projects across the western U.S. throughout the early 2000s. The ravines serve as both strategic and penal hazards, flanking and bisecting holes and creating dramatic, intimidating scenery.
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Hoffman’s success at Lost Rail has already led to another new project on another varied section of rolling prairie full of cresting highs cut with streams and low sections of oak and cottonwoods. It’s called Mapleton Golf Club near Sioux Falls, S.D., and the routing swirls through the landscape with energy similar to Lost Rail’s, working rhythmically in and out of the property’s corners.

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Hoffman recently joined Golf Digest architecture editor Derek Duncan on the Feed the Ball podcast to discuss his work at Lost Rail and Mapleton, where construction is already underway and is expected to be complete sometime in mid-2024 with a 2025 opening. He also talks about his connection to Omaha, his years working for Fazio and Jackson and Kahn, his love and aptitude for solving the puzzle of a course routing, how he’s chosen to avoid seeking publicity for his work, and thoughts on the influence of Golden Age architecture in his own designs.

Click below to listen to the discussion, or download at Apple podcasts or Spotify.

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