Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln, NE
Tee Time: July 5 2014, 1:00, 91F, calm
Designer: Jim White (2001)
Playing Partners: Greg Ryan
Tees: Brown, Par 71 (72.6 rating/132 slope/6,518 yards)
Course Handicap: 9 (7.9 index)
Stats: 86 (44-42); 37 putts; 6/14 fairways; 7/18 greens; 1 penalty stroke
It’s nice to make some headway in the Midwest as I spent my Independence Day weekend in the lovely city of Omaha, Nebraska. Yes, it is a real place, not just some word Peyton Manning made up during the football season to bark out plays and drive everyone watching on TV crazy. An hour or so south is Lincoln, the capital and home of the Cornhuskers. When the football team plays a home game, Memorial Stadium actually becomes the 3rd most populated city in the entire state. My friend found that hard to believe. I found it hard to believe that Nebraska is so hilly. Actually, there is very little I did know about Nebraska other than I have an ex-girlfriend from there. It’s one of the few states that I hadn’t even set foot in. They sometimes get tornados, feed America and apparently feature some good golf. I was skeptical about spending my hard-earned 3-day weekend in a cornfield, but the Cornhusker State came highly recommended by Rick Grimes… (note: this Walking Dead clip contains some violence, like all Walking Dead clips, so skip ahead if you’re reading this during story-time with the kids)
The premiere course that gets all the love in Nebraska is the Prairie Club in Valentine, but that’s about four hours from Omaha. Given that I was only in town for 48 hours it wasn’t workable. Luckily, Wilderness Ridge in Lincoln is a nice spot to play, too. It hosted, and maybe still does, I’m not sure, Nebraska’s golf teams. And it has one heck of a lodge, built big and tall with logs and ten-foot-high entry doors engraved with wildlife scenery.
The course opens with a friendly trio of holes to get your round off right. The 385-yard 1st is simple enough, as is the the short, 154-yard 2nd with a shallow bunker guarding the green. An even easier par 4 sets up at #3, though I made it harder by hooking a ball right out of bounds onto the train tracks. If I’d waited ten minutes I could’ve at least put a dent into a Union Pacific car. The downhill par-3 4th is a long carry over a lake to a two-level green. This is the first of a few holes with a large drink of water protecting the green. Most of that is on the back nine, because the front side really doesn’t play too tough. The 5th is a straightaway 403-yard par 4 with nothing troubling. The first par-5 is a reachable hole at #6 if the wind is blowing the right way. Another short par 4 with nothing doing at no. 7. The slightly uphill 8th is a fun dogleg-right par 4 with a gentle creek running along the left side of the green. At 552 yards, the par-5 9th is a beast, but as long as you stay away from the trees cutting down the angle on the left it’s nothing to sweat.
Starting the back nine on another 350-yard par 4, this one has a tricky green. Behind that is a pretty large house with a rare 3-level balcony. Well, I haven’t seen many. And they were listening to Jack Johnson’s “Taylor”. The last time I heard that song I was mowing lawns in the central coast town of Cayucos in college, not playing golf in a state as far from the beach as physically possible. The 11th, also a 350-yard par 4, kicks off a run in which water is featured on 6 of the last 8 holes, a stark contrast to the front nine where there is some agua but not much in play. I wonder how much distance my drives lost while cutting through all the floating cattail fluff. A carbon copy of the 2nd, the par-3 12th is just as bland. And another 350-yard par 4 is the 13th, but this one features a big creek about 80 yards from the green and well within driving distance, so that qualifies as a change-up. Things also change a little for the final par 3. The longest, at 167 yards, it’s really not all that different from the other 3’s, it doesn’t even have sand traps. But there is a tranquil creek running from behind the green all the way to the tee box and it is a pretty little hole. The toughest green at Wilderness Ridge might be at the par-4 17th. It slopes back-to-front and slides off the left as well, plus it is large. The monster 444-yard closing par 4 is a great way to close out. It plays as the longest par 4 by almost 50 yards, but almost requires more accuracy than any of the shorter ones. The water on the right is in play for long, sailing drives and a quartet of fairway bunkers cutting across from the left. If you can survive that you get a long approach shot but once you’re on the green the course lets up a little.
Right from the start Wilderness Ridge feels like almost every planned-community golf course that sprouted up in the Tiger Woods boom of the early 2000s. Not surprisingly, many of these are now public or at least semi-private today as they try to hold on. They all seem to feature lavish clubhouses and restaurants, lush green grass (and thick rough) and a bunch of confusing side streets on the way in that guarantees at least half the tee sheet on any given day will have gotten lost at least once trying to find it. And all the homes are between $400,000 and $1 million, over 4,000 square feet and feature either a pool, built-in BBQ or trampoline.
That’s not to say any of this is bad. In fact, Wilderness Ridge is a great golf course. It’s fun, fair and the greens are some of the best I’ve putted on, especially in the dead of summer. But it’s not memorable. I’ll remember the friendly staff, the gigantic entry doors and the time Greg hit a bunker shot dead sideways. There isn’t really a signature hole, they come in maybe 5 different flavors. What does differentiate this course from all the others like it is their commitment to keeping the game fun. Pace of play is brisk, kids seemed to have fun here and they even feature a foot golf course (click if you want to know what it is). That’s the kind of thinking that brings people to a golf course. But in the end, I’ll remember having fun here, I’ll just have a hard time with the specifics.
#14, Par 5, 576 yards, 2-handicap, My Score: 5
Layout: C-; the 14th and 18th are great holes, but the rest are pretty generic.
Amenities: A; take a few minutes to explore the massive lodge, which feels a lot like walking off the slopes at a high-end resort for some après ski cocktails.
Staff: A; very friendly and accommodating, would you expect any less from the famously hospital Midwest?
Difficulty: B; the slick greens and dense rough can cause you to bleed strokes in a hurry if you’re not careful.
Scenery: C+; all the water (man-made as it looks) is pleasant, and there’s a even big sprawling Wal-Mart if you keep your eye out.
Value: A; at $69 for a noon round on a holiday weekend, it’s a great deal and why I would recommend taking advantage of this value.
Overall GPA: 3.17 (B+); in eastern Nebraska there really isn’t much golf to choose from, but here in the capital city of Nebraska, Wilderness Ridge is probably one of the better options if you’re ever in town for some Cornhusker football or the College World Series in Omaha (maybe if Cal Poly makes it next year…)