Dismal River Golf Club (Red)Golf Course Review by: Billy Satterfield
Designer: Tom Doak in 2013
Cost: Private with some limited public access; $180.00 - $230.00 for the day ($40 for a cart)
Phone Number: (308) 546-2900
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Dismal River's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 83040 Dismal River Trail, Mullen, NE 69152
Accolades: Ranked 23rd on Golfweek's 2014 Top 100 Modern Courses in America. Ranked 2nd in Nebraska on Golf Digest's 2015-16 Best in State list.
Signature Hole: 17th - 454 Yard Par 4 - Tom Doak is probably as gentle as any architect when it comes to making players hit shots that are forced aerial carries, so when Tom presents a carry as demanding as the back tee requires on the 17th at Dismal River you know you are in for a ride. Standing on the tee box you have virtually no idea what lies ahead since very little fairway is visible and the mounted bull skull post delivers the only inkling of an idea of where to aim. Doak is known for his ultra-wide fairways but even I was surprised to discover my ball in the right side of the fairway after slicing my tee shot hard; in fact, the fairway has to be 100 yards wide. From the right side players are faced with another forced carry over a small ravine before reaching the green while players coming from the steeply sloping left side of the short grass can utilize the hill to bound their approach shot down to green. Add to the equation the right meandering to the right of the hole and you are presented with one of Doak’s most memorable holes around.
What to Expect: Golf nerds, like myself, await with great anticipation when a new Coore & Crenshaw, Gil Hanse, or Tom Doak course opens up. Their brilliance in design combined with a hands on approach leads to fewer total designs compared to Jack Nicklaus or Tom Fazio with the end result generally being something pretty special. Something special is exactly what you'll find at Dismal River's Red course that Doak crafted out of Nebraska's sandhills. Tom will acknowledge he is much better at discovering holes in the natural terrain rather than creating them with a bulldozer which is why the wind blown sand dunes of Dismal River is a perfect canvas for Doak to paint on. Doak's Red course features wider fairways and bigger greens than the White course however the putting contours are a bit more subtle than I expected; perhaps intentionally in order to contrast what Nicklaus had already done next door. There are no set tee boxes as greens spill over to teeing ground with nothing more than yardage posts to indicate the general area to hit from with the player holding honors dictating the teeing spot (except for tournaments). The first eight holes play along relatively tame sand dune terrain and feature a handful of half par holes; something found at all Doak courses. The remaining ten holes transfer from the dunes to the valley before finishing along the river for some of the most dramatic holes in Nebraska. The terrain is actually more different than Ballyneal than I expected which is nice for Tom's portfolio. While Doak's course is the easier of the two courses at Dismal, it is surprisingly more difficult than one might expect, however you may have a hard time convincing Gary Woodland of that who went out and shot a 59 during a round he played in preparation of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Walking is encouraged while playing on the Red's tender fescue fairways and bentgrass greens, however carts are available.
By the Numbers:
Individual Hole Analysis
Best Par 3: 11th - 174 Yards - The 11th is a cute par three with the green resting between a pair of dunes and fronted by a trio of bunkers. The challenge here comes in the green contours where players are asked to hit the right portion of the green or be faced with a very tricky two-putt.
Best Par 4: 18th - 447 Yards - The finisher at Dismal River’s Red course is also its most beautiful. The fairway slopes from the high ground on the left down towards the river on the right with a few natural grass areas dotting the fairway and small trees framing the hole. The clubhouse sits on a hill deep in the distance beyond the 18th green and delivers a sad reminder your round in about to come to an end. The approach shot is one of the most demanding on the course as the green sits down towards the river with native surroundings across the front and right sides. From the left, players must navigate the swell that hugs the green between the putting surface and a native hillock. Several challenging pin placements exist on this green which add to this stout challenge.
Best Par 5: 10th - 546 Yards - After successfully transitioning from the higher ground towards the lower portion of the property, players are offered a chance to score well on the back nine by beginning with this par five. This ‘S’ shaped fairway asks players to hit their drives towards the large bunkers on the right which will then feed the ball back to the left towards a native grass covered nub. A solid drive will open the door for players to reach the green in two if they are able to carry the additional large bunker on the right side of the fairway about 50 yards short of the green. Right of the green is open grass while the left side features a pair of challenging bunkers.
Birdie Time: 15th - 315 Yard Par 4 - A downhill driveable par four that begs players to take their chances ripping a drive down the fairway and living with the bumps and kicks the undulated terrain gives them. A series of bunkers in the fairway can create issues for players while balls successfully missing them should be left with a short approach into the green and a great chance at birdie. This hole is a lot of fun to play and your last strong scoring opportunity before the challenging finish.
Bogey Beware: 13th - 496 Yard Par 4 - At a staggering 496 yards, the 13th hole is a beast of a par four that demands players be on top of their game from start to finish. A hole you have to break down visually in reverse, a view of the green is afforded off to the right but then native grass and a hillock block a majority of the fairway from being in view. Players should take their tee shot left of the fairway on the right side of the hole to avoid bogey or worse right off the bat. Players long enough to carry the fairway bunker will gain a significant advantage on their approach shot but are taking a major risk to do it. A pair of bunkers protects the hole well short and right of the green while additional bunkers protect both sides of the putting surface halfway back in depth. With the wind often whipping through the golf course, bogey here likely won’t lose a stroke to the field.
Final Cut: Dismal River's Red course will be a staple on top 100 lists across the country in short order. At a time where minimalist designs with natural looking bunkers is en vogue, Dismal River fits the mold perfectly and brings more deserved attention to Nebraska's sandhills which boast the country's best terrain for golf beyond the coasts. The routing is smoother than the White course with 18 holes that seem to work together as one in contrast to simply designing impressive individual holes. On a daily basis I would prefer to play the Red course over the White, however as a jaw dropping visual and challenging experience it is tough to beat the White. Good thing you can play them both when you go because you'll want to! Grade A