Perhaps the most welcome direction in course design during the past few decades is the selection of sites based primarily on their suitability for traditional, links-style layouts. Forget about ground that is close to major population centers, or places that possess great potential for real estate development. This movement is all about finding locales with sandy soil that drains well and land so full of character that an architect’s biggest concern is determining what are the best holes to fashion on terrain that presents dozens of options.
It is what has given us Bandon Dunes and Sand Hills. Cabot Links, Ballyneal and Sand Valley, too. And along the way, it has enriched the golfing lives of those who prefer playing the game in its most enjoyable and interesting forms.
But as I discovered on a recent trip to Maxwell, Nebraska, to check out the much-anticipated GrayBull course that David McLay Kidd is crafting on property replete with grassy sand dunes and natural blow-out bunkers, this trend has its drawbacks. Although remote is often good as far as golf design is concerned, that sort of seclusion also can be tough on those of us traveling to and from those spots.
In fact, it sometimes presents challenges as daunting as any we find on one of those out-of-the-way courses.
... the hospitality of the man giving me a ride was a reminder of what makes small towns and the people who inhabit them so good.
To get to GrayBull, which is scheduled to be open for preview play next summer, I chose to fly from Denver into North Platte, Nebraska, a sleepy burg of some 25,000 residents off Interstate 80 that is about a 30-minute drive to the course site. The flight was only a half hour, and we landed at sunset. But by that time, the two rental-car counters were closed. The lone baggage handler then informed me that there was a single cab company in this community, adding that it was a mom-and-pop operation with but one cab and only two drivers – in this case, mom and pop. I twice tried calling the phone number for that outfit, but it went to voicemail each time.
Apparently, mom and pop do not work nights.
“What about Uber?” I asked.
“There’s only one guy who does Uber here,” the worker replied. “But no one is sure when he works.”
It also turns out that North Platte is a one-Uber town.
I started to give serious consideration to hitchhiking for the first time in nearly five decades when one of my fellow passengers offered me a lift to my hotel.
Sitting in his Suburban as we motored down a two-lane blacktop, I thought of the pitfalls of traveling to a place as isolated as this one. But the hospitality of the man giving me a ride was a reminder of what makes small towns and the people who inhabit them so good.
That, and the fact that some of them also happen to have really good golf.