Nebraska’s Lost Rail set for August debut; Clayton, DeVries & Pont to renovate Scotland’s ancient Monifieth; Greg Norman opens latest Vietnam creation
The latest news and notes in golf course architecture.
> Gamble Sands, a top-100 resort in Brewster, Washington, has picked David McLay Kidd to design its newest championship course. The yet-to-be-named new course, which will begin construction in the fall, will be located north of the existing clubhouse and adds to an already impressive collection of golf and hospitality amenities.
The property’s 18-hole Sands course opened in 2014 and is ranked in the top 50 public courses in the U.S. by several authorities. In 2021, Gamble Sands opened its 14-hole QuickSands short course to widespread acclaim. Both courses were designed by Kidd.
"The site for the next course at Gamble Sands was high on the list the first time around but some challenges with power lines made us choose the first course site," said Kidd. "Those challenges have been overcome and golfers have shown their appreciation of the amazing fescue surfaces that allow them to play every shot a thousand different ways. They want more and we are only too thrilled to oblige. The Gebbers family (owners of Gamble Sands) have entrusted us to create another full 18 that are similar in terms of playing style, but different enough to again grab the interest of every passionate golfer. The site we will build this new course upon is different, more intimate, more dramatic, even. I can’t wait to get going this fall."
An expansion of the lodging component — to double its previous size — plus a new restaurant are also on tap. The course's opening and other amenities is scheduled for summer 2025.
> Nebraska is overflowing with new golf course headlines.
Lost Rail Golf Club will be the first to open, in early August. Located a half-hour west of downtown Omaha, Lost Rail is the brainchild of architect Scott Hoffman, who formerly toiled for Tom Fazio and for Fazio’s offshoot, the firm of Jackson-Kahn. Lost Rail is truly special for Hoffman, an Omaha native. Believing Omaha was ready to embrace its first private golf club experience in 25 years, he enlisted the collaboration of Bill Kubly, another Omaha native, and owner and CEO of Lincoln, Nebraska-based Landscapes Unlimited.
"Nebraska is one of America’s best states, per capita, for golf, but its famous courses are far from population centers," Hoffman said. "Sand Hills, Dismal River and Prairie Club are all 300 miles from Omaha. Granted, the remote feel of places like Sand Hills and South Dakota’s Sutton Bay is a huge part of their charm, however, we think we can blend seclusion and convenience. As one first-time visitor put it last summer, ‘You feel like you drove for five hours for this view, and you only drove 20 minutes.’ Indeed, we’re 5 to 10 minutes from Omaha’s western edge and 30 minutes from downtown."
Hoffman had his eye on a different piece of property late in 2019, but negotiations crumbled. Somehow, on a scouting mission soon thereafter, he found his site. “One mile further west, overlooking the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers, we found 155 contiguous acres, rare for a property so close to the city," Hoffman said. "The property is special with variety. From the ridge where the clubhouse sits, you can see 20 miles to the west. Almost half the site is rolling pasture dotted with mature trees. One-fourth is open farmland with long views. The final quarter is dense trees and deep ravines with a unique feature — an abandoned, century-old railbed.”
Indeed, the remnants of the Burlington Northern Railroad line that once connected Omaha to Sioux City, Iowa, are part of the golf environment, and give the course its name. Largely disassembled in 1926 after 12 years of use, the line yielded one remarkable vestige, a 10-foot high railbed that crosses about 500 yards of the Lost Rail property. "At one point, the bed collapsed over the ravine and formed a 40-foot canyon," said Hoffman. “There’s nothing in golf quite like it. You’d swear the earth swallowed a boxcar."
Kubly lauds the combination of playability attributes that will distinguish Lost Rail.
"In some ways, Lost Rail shares characteristics with the Sandhills courses," he said. "The fairways are 50 to 70 yards wide, there’s wispy native grass, firm and fast conditions, dramatic views, and from the putting green you’ll see 12 holes. But in other ways, it resembles the classic clubs of Long Island or Chicago. The first tee and driving range are right outside the clubhouse. And our (green-to tee) connections will be some of the tightest in American golf. Scott is a stickler for walkability. The routing has tremendous flexibility, with several little loops around the clubhouse. Most notable is the arrangement of 15 to 18. It’s hard to find a course anywhere with three of the final four greens within 100 yards of the clubhouse. It’ll be an incredible perk for the members and should make Lost Rail an intriguing tournament venue."
Included will be a Hoffman-designed, six-hole short course with tiny greens, averaging 1,700 square feet, compared to 6,500 square feet on its big brother.
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> Ancient Monifieth Golf Links, in Angus, Scotland has retained Clayton, DeVries & Pont to consult on renovation work for its Medal and Ashludie courses. The London-based firm of Australian Mike Clayton, Michigan’s Mike DeVries and Dutchman Frank Pont has clients in 13 countries on five continents, but Monifieth is different simply due to its age.
The first nine holes of its Medal course appeared in 1845, a design collaboration between Allan Robertson and Alexander Pirie on land leased from the Earl of Panmure. Another nine was added in 1880. Ashludie’s first nine holes date to 1912, and second nine to 1930, both designed by James Braid. Frank Pont will helm the Monifieth work, assisted by Clayton and associate Sam Cooper.
“The start to the round on the Medal course is especially good and we think a few changes just before and around the turn can make it even better, putting it high up on the list of east coast courses to play,” said Clayton. “More importantly, it should be an even better course for the members. Nor should the Ashludie course be underappreciated. It’s short, fun and too much of today’s golf is too long for many. When I visited recently, I saw several groups of shorter hitters having great fun on what is a course ideally suited to their games.”
The well-traveled Cooper is enthusiastic about the prospects for Monifieth, which is situated on the coast just south of Carnoustie and about a 40-minute drive north of St. Andrews. “Over the last couple of years, I have had the good fortune to play almost all of Scotland’s links courses,” he said. “From the grand dunes of Cruden Bay to the subtle rolling ground of Southerness, they come in many forms. Monifieth fits right into the classic style — firm and choppy land where your ball skips along, making you think and not simply reach for your driver. The club’s links committee has a clear ambition to bring back some of the strategy that has been lost on both courses. Frank, Mike and I are very excited to begin work and help both courses to reach their full potential.”
> Greg Norman Golf Course Design is one of the busiest architectural shops in Vietnam — and it has another course open for play in that country. The PGA Garden course, the second of two layouts at PGA NovaWorld Phan Thiet opened earlier in 2022, following the April 2021 debut of its Norman-designed sibling, the PGA Ocean course. Located on the southeastern coast of Vietnam, the golf complex is the centerpiece of an ambitious development that includes residential components, restaurants and retail.
A winding stream that crosses multiple holes on the front nine is a strategic and visual highlight. The Garden course is intended to host PGA students in Vietnam for play and practice.
“Greg and I both commented on how much the property reminded us of Australia the first time we walked the site, so we knew right away that the Sandbelt courses would be the inspiration for our design,” said Chris Campbell, senior vice president of Greg Norman Golf Course Design. “We put a lot of emphasis on creating a continuous flow of contours, not just on individual golf holes, but throughout the entire property, and making a similar transition from maintained turf to natural areas. All this factors into the playability as you get closer to the greens.”