Farmers, Ranches and Rails By Ben Vigil

Corn, Cattle...and Golf. Nebraska's diverse landscape and fertile soil is fostering the growth of another main industry.

If you read Nebraska Golfer last year, you've heard about a couple new golf courses in Nebraska, including Landmand Golf Club in Homer and CapRock Ranch in Valentine. We checked in with these projects to see how they are progressing, and take a look at another new course planned for Omaha, Lost Rail Golf Club.

The view from the highest point at Landmand Golf Club in Homer, near the 11th green and 12th tee.

Landmand Golf Club

Landmand Golf Club is the passion project of the Andersens, a long-time farming family from northeast Nebraska. The golf course site is just north of Homer, about 90 minutes north of Omaha, in the Missouri River bluffs. Landmand, pronounced "Lan-man," is Danish for "farmer." A nod to the profession that has been passed down through generations of Will Andersen's family.

After several years of molding the dream, the Andersens broke ground last year on an 18-hole golf course on their farmland. King-Collins Golf Course Design is handling the project, the firm's first major project since the incredible success of Sweetens Cove Golf Club in Tennessee. Rob Collins and Tad King have added some major projects to their portfolio in the past couple years, but Landmand is full steam ahead and something they are as passionate about as Andersen.

There's still a lot to be done at Landmand. A massive amount of dirt is currently being moved on a daily basis. The holes are taking shape, but the goal is to also make the land more playable and easier to walk. The land features several elevation changes, but King and Collins want to make sure it is not too extreme, whether you're hitting a shot to an elevated green or hoofing it up a hill to your next shot.

No grass has been planted yet, but it's not hard to see the spacious fairways laid out all over the contours of this expansive piece of property. The opening and closing holes have mostly taken their shape. The parallel par-5s that share a fairway are just dirt right now, but standing on top of the bluff that will eventually hold the clubhouse, you can picture just how you would play these holes.

The first, 585 yards from the back tees, is likely a three-shot hole for most players. The opening tee shot will have to contend with a deep depression in the fairway, though many golfers will be able to carry it with a drive. There's also plenty of room in the 100+ yard wide fairway to play out to the left. From there, the fairway splits off to right, away from the 18th, and a well-placed layup will provide a wedge or short-iron into a slightly elevated, and well-bunkered green.

That first green offers an idea of the amount of dirt moved already. That location was 30 feet higher before the bulldozers carved out the green and pushed the dirt down the fairway to level it out.

"These hills have completely changed," Andersen said.

The 18th hole offers a much different strategic challenge at just 510 yards. Yes, the fairway is as wide as a football field, but if you are brave enough to challenge the right side, the second shot becomes much shorter with an ideal angle. Left will be a popular miss though, as the right edge of the fairway will fall off into native grass, and a hill that drops more than 100 feet. Two large bunkers will present aiming points for you, with the aggressive line over the right bunker.

If you navigate to the fairway, it's decision time. The green should be reachable, but a gnarly bunker, dubbed the "Milk Carton" bunker, will gobble up any ball short and left. However, a well-placed shot to the right-side of the green will yield a good look at eagle.

The moved dirt continues to push out into the expanse, with two more holes that are sure to be a wild ride. The par-4 second hole will be one where your ball is at the mercy of the contours of the land. Andersen thinks if the conditions are right and the wind is helping, it could be possible to drive the green on this 360-yarder, with a little assist from the land, of course. The eye will be drawn to a couple small bunkers on what appears to be the right side of the fairway.

Left of those bunkers, the fairway will rise to the top of a hill and then abruptly plummet to the right toward the green. This will be the ideal route to the green, leaving a wedge from the top of the hill, or as Andersen predicts, an assist from the wind and the slope could tumble the ball down to the surface.

The view from the left fairway to the green on No. 2 at Landmand GC.

If you miss right of those bunkers, don't worry, there's another 100 yards of fairway still waiting for you. Although, your approach shot will be much different from this part of the fairway, which is some 60 feet below the left side. From here, you'll have an uphill shot over another terrifying bunker. Behind the green, the land drops off down another hill to No. 3 tee, and behind that, a sea of native grass.

Working backwards, the 17th hole will be one that makes jaws drop from the tee. Golfers might not even know what they're looking at. That enormous patch of short grass across the way, yes that is the penultimate green. It will assuredly be the largest putting green you've ever seen. Many golfers will find a way to reach the green in one stroke on the 310-yard par-4, but that's just the beginning of the adventure. The green has been flagged out, marking the edges, and standing in the middle of it, it's incredible to imagine some of the putts golfers might face. Picture sinking an eagle putt from some 200 feet. Yes, that is possible on the green that will stretch across nearly an acre. That's some 40,000 square feet of putting surface.

"It's going to be based on a famous, old Alister MacKenzie green that's no longer in existence at a golf course called Sitwell Park in England, and it's kind of a white whale in golf course architecture circles," Collins said last fall. "It's something that people have always wondered if anybody would ever try to do a green like that. Well, we're going to do that out here, and you can do it out here, because the land is bold enough, and it will allow you to attempt something like that."

The bold moves continue as we work back down the closing nine. The 16th hole will feature a new wrinkle from King-Collins as well. Originally designed as a long par-4 with an infinity green at the top of the hill near the 17th tee, the 16th will now have an alternate green target. Drawing inspiration from the famed Pine Valley Golf Club, King and Collins decided to add the second green, a punch bowl, just below the 17th tee. Pine Valley's eighth and ninth holes both feature two greens each, with the ninth hole including a similar infinity green on the left.

The alternate green could be used on a day when a north wind makes the infinity green on the 495-yard hole a difficult target to hit. Instead, the hole would be cut on the punch bowl, which cuts about 35 yards off the hole and provides a much more forgiving target.

In early April, the work was focused on the back nine, with holes 13-15 taking shape as well as the finishing holes. The dirt will continue to move throughout the spring, as Andersen said the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't really slowed them down yet. They've had to take some precautions, but with just a handful of workers in individual bulldozers, it hasn't been much of an issue.

Irrigation will follow the dozers, which Andersen and his farm crew will install themselves over the next few months. Once that work is wrapped up, seeding will begin in late summer/early fall. Then growing and developing the turf will be the main task until 2021, when the course is set to open.

CapRock Ranch

CapRock Ranch No. 18 (Photo Courtesy of John Schuele)

The newest destination in Nebraska's sandhills region has officially been dubbed CapRock Ranch. The full story on the new private club just south of Valentine can be found in the October 2019 Issue of Nebraska Golfer. CapRock Ranch sits on the rim of the Snake River Canyon, just a few miles north of The Prairie Club.

Managing Partner John Schuele, President and CEO of the Waitt Company, is adding another exclusive club to Nebraska's golf haven. Schuele and his founding partners are in good shape to meet their targeted opening date in early summer 2021.

The course, designed by one of the most revered modern architects, Gil Hanse, was seeded last year on 11 holes. Schuele said they were able to mow those holes a handful of times before winter, and the turf is in good shape with the mild winter and early spring.

The remaining holes are set to be shaped in the coming months, with Hanse scheduled to be on site in June. Three of the seven holes left are par 3s, so Schuele believes the process should go fairly quick.

Construction has also begun on the clubhouse, which is set on the canyon rim and will offer a breathtaking view of the Snake River. Heading and concrete work are in progress, and the clubhouse should be completed by the end of May 2021.

Schuele said the project has not been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that they are following the same procedures as other businesses, as far as cleaning and social distancing to keep a safe work environment.

The membership recruitment has been "overwhelming" locally, according to Schuele. He said the Nebraska golf community is supporting CapRock in a big way.

The CapRock staff is also coming together, as Mike McCauley has been hired as the club's head superintendent. McCauley previously has worked at Sand Hills Golf Club in Mullen and Ballyneal Golf Club in Holyoke, Colorado. Mark Stencel has also joined the staff as Operations Manager. Stencel was involved in the opening of Dismal River Club, another private club in the sandhills near Mullen.

Find out more about CapRock Ranch at the club's website below.

Lost Rail Golf Club

Photos of Lost Rail courtesy of Dirk Chatelain

Lost Rail Golf Club is the newest golf course project to surface in Nebraska. However, this project is unlike anything in recent times. The proposed golf club would be the first new private club in the Omaha-Metro in 20 years.

Landscapes Unlimited, one of the largest golf course developers in the country, with headquarters located in Lincoln, is spearheading the project. The site is 155 acres of land, located in west Omaha, just north of Gretna, featuring "grand oaks and towering cottonwoods, a cattle corral and windmill, dramatic ravines and flowing creeks, even waterfalls."

The new golf course is a passion project of Omaha native Scott Hoffman. Hoffman has been in the golf design business for quite some time, including 13 years working for Tom Fazio and his Fazio Design company. He was involved in some major Fazio projects, including Gozzer Ranch in Idaho, No. 32 in Golf Digest's Top 100 U.S. Courses. He later joined Jackson Kahn Design, the team behind the renovations at Shadow Ridge Country Club in Omaha. Again, he played a significant part in the redesigns of Monterey Peninsula Country Club (Dunes), No. 79 in the U.S., and Scottsdale National.

Before all of that, Hoffman worked for Landscapes Unlimited and Owner/CEO Bill Kubly. Now, the two are partners in bringing an experience unlike any other in the Omaha area.

Hoffman grew up in Omaha and was an excellent junior golfer, graduating from Westside High School. He has had the dream of building a golf course in Omaha for a long time. He would talk about the dream with his cousin, Dirk Chatelain, a sports reporter for the Omaha World-Herald. Then recently, Douglas and Sarpy County began releasing contour maps, an architect's best friend.

"I started looking around at different properties and started doing some routing and sending it to Dirk, and he'd go out and take a look at it," Hoffman said. "It was more just for fun, but then we just kept talking about it and talking about it and we realized that Omaha could actually really use a great golf course. (Omaha has) a lot of really good golf courses, good country clubs, but what it doesn't have, in our opinion, is a great golf course, a Top 100 caliber golf course."

The two found a piece of land near Gretna, not far from the current site, of about 122 acres. After spending some time on the land, the dream took another step toward reality. Hoffman called Kubly to get his thoughts, and they quickly had their partnership formed. An offer was made to acquire the land, but the negotiations hit a stand-still. With the offer still on the table, a new property emerged through some exploration by Chatelain. Once Hoffman took his look at it, he knew this is where they would build their dream.

"I was blown away, our old site was pretty dang good, this site was unreal, for what you can find in Omaha," Hoffman said. "The people we've taken out there, go 'wow, this doesn't feel like Omaha.'"

Landscapes Unlimited began arranging the deal to purchase the land, and Hoffman mapped out the course he has always wanted to design. The next step was to find investors in a hungry golf market. The partners put together a brochure with their plans for Lost Rail Golf Club and floated it out a few months ago. The response that followed was exactly what they hoped.

"We really knew what the pulse was, so we really set out to find some investors," Kubly said. "We've had a lot of very major interest from some people who can afford to be a partner, but also people who are passionate about doing it. We look at this as a fun project, a passion project."

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Although, the responses they were receiving were still positive, they decided it would be best to lay low and wait to see how the situation shook out before going full steam ahead. Now, more than a month later, Lost Rail is starting to chug along once again. The partners are working on getting the word out about Lost Rail, including a presence on Twitter. They are telling their story, and that of the land, which was owned by Marlene (check out her story here).

The club pulls its name from an abandoned and forgotten Burlington Northern rail line. Construction on the line began in 1914, crossing northern Sarpy County and connecting Omaha and Burlington's main line to Sioux City. According to the brochure, the line was abandoned in 1926, but what was left behind will give the new course some unique landmarks. A 10-foot high embankment and a creek that has formed a canyon of sorts, reaching 50-feet deep at certain points. It is this variety of the land that has Hoffman excited to build his golf course.

"Having that variety of environments, makes it a lot easier for an architect to create something great," Hoffman said.

The plan is to develop the land into a championship golf course and a club that is focused purely on golf. No swimming pool or tennis courts at this club, just a pure golf experience. That includes a limited membership, to give Lost Rail's members plenty of access to the course and an unencumbered experience.

Dream to reality is moving quickly. Kubly said they hope to break ground late this year or in the spring of 2021. If they can break ground before the end of the year, Kubly said he thinks they can by open by the spring of 2022.

"We think we can pull this together very quickly," Kubly said. "We're not moving an excessive amount of dirt, so that won't take that long. It is a little bit of minimalism, as far as, like the irrigation would be double, triple rows, so we think it can come together very quickly. As long as we can kick-start it here in the next 30 days, which is what we're really looking to do."

Something that will ensure the project moves quickly is that Hoffman will live in Omaha and essentially be on-site daily to supervise the construction process. It is easy to see just how important Lost Rail is to him.

"I don't need to do this, I want to do this," Hoffman said. "This is something I've always dreamed of. I'm not doing it for the money, I'm doing it to do something I love, in a place that I love."

Natural and variety are the themes of the course. Lost Rail will be built with the idea of making it look like it has been there for a century. Hoffman said the other key is differentiating the course from others in the area and making every hole unique. That variety will include fairways that range from 40-60 yards in width, putting an emphasis on placement off the tee, while also keeping the average golfer in play. Green complexes, bunkers and other features will vary from hole-to-hole to make 18 distinct experiences.

"You want every hole to be memorable, and memorable from the other ones," Hoffman said. "So that if you get done, and you can go through in your head and go 'I remember every single hole,' because they have certain features to them that are unlike any other hole on the course."
The par-3 16th hole with current look (top) and rendered final product (bottom).

Something else that will make Lost Rail special is the experience. Kubly said they plan to have a limited membership of around 200 local members, with the possibility of a national membership that can grow as the course gains recognition. The club will be easily accessible from Lincoln as well, Kubly noted. He expects tee times will not be needed on most days, and members will be able to play lots of golf, as if they were the only ones on the course.

Lost Rail is ambitious and will bring something vastly different to the bustling Nebraska golf scene. Follow Lost Rail on Twitter (@LostRailGolf) and stay tuned for more on Omaha's new golf club.

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