The Takeaway: CapRock enters the crowded discussion of top shelf courses in Nebraska. While Gil Hanse's entry has received plenty of love and attention nationally, Sand Hills still reigns supreme in the Cornhusker State while the Dunes course at The Prairie Club makes an argument as still being the best in the neighborhood. Grade A-
Designer: Gil Hanse 2021
Phone Number: 402-470-8088
Course Website: Official Website - Visit CapRock Ranch's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 38248 Caprock Ln, Valentine, Nebraska 69201 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: The long anticipated Gil Hanse designed CapRock Ranch course south of Valentine, NE has won the hearts of patrons. Located about a mile north of the 36 hole Prairie Club, the course is routed across sandy prairieland with some trees and rocky terrain coming into play on the holes that traverse near the Snake River Canyon. On a side note, the tree that is found in the club's logo is obscure to find with most patrons needing it pointed out to them rather than it standing as a prominent feature on the course. But its location on the edge of the rock canyon wall is impressive once you spot it. The sandhills the course covers aren't as dramatic as you'd find at Ballyneal, Dormie Club, or Sand Hills which lends itself to being a comfortable walk, but carts are provided to players since it is also used as their primary transportation around the property. The collection of par threes stand as the clear highlight of the course since they are found on the most dramatic locations on the property with the Snake River Canyon coming into play multiple times; although all of them except the 18th play relatively similar in length. Interestingly, CapRock marks the first course I've played that ends each nine with a par three. The 18th is the more climatic of the two and an incredibly dramatic way to finish the round with one of the most impressive one-shotters west of the Mississippi. On the flip side, the par fives aren't as strong as I was hoping; the last of which comes at the 12th. But the best hole at CapRock is the drivable par four 17th which is a stellar match play offering that tumbles downhill along the Snake River Canyon. While I found the routing to be a bit odd at times with almost too much effort being made to hide the cart paths and ending on a par 3-4-3 stretch, a feature that stands as a highlight are the greens with surfaces that are more sloping than undulated which are an excellent test for the flatstick. In the end, CapRock is fantastic. That being said, I don't find it quite as good as Sand Hills, the Red course at Dismal River, or even the neighboring Dunes course at The Prairie Club.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 18th Hole – 213 Yard Par 3 – You don't make the final hole at a golf course a par three unless it is really, really good. Fortunately for CapRock, that is exactly what they have. Unlike Cypress Point that famously has perhaps the best three hole stretch in all of golf (15-17) before notoriously finishing on an anti-climatic 18th hole, CapRock goes full send by finishing on the most dramatic hole at the property. A do or die one-shotter, the 18th plays uphill over a chasm found in the canyon wall with the green fully fronted by a deep bunker. Thankfully there is forgiveness long and right if players want to work it off the backstop found there, but the ultimate goal should just be to see your ball clear the junk. It instantly has become one of the most memorable holes in the Midwest.
Best Par 3: 16th Hole – 145 Yards – Playing along the canyon wall with death left as well as long, sand in front, and forgiveness to the right, the short 16th is an opportunity to go flag hunting despite its dramatic location. That being said, players that get too aggressive can find the back half of the green that slopes away and to the left. The 16th marks the start of a par 3-4-3 finish at CapRock; something that is rare indeed.
Best Par 4: 15th Hole – 470 Yards – The beginning of the epic four hole stretch along the Snake River canyon wall, the 15th is a quality two-shotter that will take some skill to walk away with a four on. With the canyon on the left side and the fairway kicking balls toward it, tee shots need to be kept up the right side to ensure safety but will need to take into consideration the trees that encroach the angle into the green if bailing too far out. The infinity edge green creates an inspiring, and somewhat intimidating, visual for the approach shot that is protected by a pair of bunkers on the left and a single bunker on the right. But it is the flatstick that may be your biggest test as the undulations in the green require a deft touch.
Best Par 5: 2nd Hole – 578 Yards – The first par five at CapRock is a soft double dogleg in the shape of a 'S' where the biggest decision will be whether to take on the large fairway bunker on the left side. Carrying it will reward players with a shorter and straighter second shot while bailing too far right to avoid it can result in hunting for your ball in the thick native grass. The most striking feature of the hole is the green that is twice as wide as it is deep while boasting a severe front to back sloping hill on the left side. Getting close to a pin on the left half of the putting surface will require hitting a shot over the bunker and on top of the hill that just barely trickles over the edge and begins feeding onto the green. The right side is much more accessible, but is a bit shallower and still feeds to the bunker behind the green.
Birdie Time: 17th Hole – 358 Yard Par 4 – CapRock's penultimate hole offers players a great opportunity to take a stroke back from Old Man Par before facing one of the course's most difficult challenges. The tee shot plays well downhill and left is the only place you don't want to miss since the canyon frames that side of the hole and a large fairway bunker encroaches in an effort to snag balls that don't have the juice to carry it. Tee shots that stay just right of where the fairway bunker jets out to will be rewarded with catching the speed slot that is anxious to reward players with an eagle putt when the fairways are playing firm. Those that lay up need to be conscious that the green runs more from right to left than it does front to back, so approach shots should just carry onto the front edge of the green to yield the best chance at success.
Bogey Beware: 7th Hole – 470 Yard Par 4 – Fortunately a new tee box is being constructed for this brute of a hole that boasts a completely blind tee shot from the current tips. Regardless of the tee box you are playing, the strategy is the same; hit as far as you'd like on the line towards the fairway bunker on the right. From the point, the fairway doglegs left to a green that slopes left to right but features a deep bunker on the left side so you have to be careful with how much you plan to use the slope in case you tug one into the sand. Finishing short and right of the green will yield the greatest opportunity to get up and down, so if you aren't feeling confident attacking the green with your second shot; that is the place to bail to.