Course: Near Mullen, Nebraska lies the Dismal River Golf Club. Amongst the tranquil rustic setting lies two courses; the White course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, and the Red course, designed by Tom Doak. My review of the Red course, along with a lot of my thoughts on Dismal River in general, can be found here. As I talked about in my review of the Red course, the Sand Hills region of Nebraska is ideal terrain for golf in many respects and is unique to any where in North America. Gorgeous, gigantic sweeping sand dunes define this region, forming peaks, valleys and ridges that provide infinite possibilities for routing a course.
The first course at Dismal River was the White course and Nicklaus had carte blanche in selecting the land he wanted to use. In many ways, the White course was vital in determining whether Dismal River became a golf destination worthy of the time and effort to get there. Nicklaus recognized this and was set on creating a course that was totally different than any other. Without any restrictions on residences, roads or the like, Nicklaus spent considerable time on the land, waiting for it to reveal itself to him to accomplish this ideal, of creating something you wouldn’t see any where else. Ultimately, Nicklaus succeeded, and remarkably, moved less dirt here than he did almost any where else. Indeed, it’s remarkable when you consider the course, with greens sitting high on bluffs, fairways along ridge lines, which then plummet down into the valley or rise up on the other side of a gorge; it’s simply terrific use of the terrain.
The White course is set more on the severity of the hills, featuring more elevated forced carry tee shots, many more blind shots and sudden elevation changes than the Red. At times it is the more dramatic of the two courses, with many very cool shots and holes you indeed won’t see any where else. At other times, it reminded me of a few courses I played in California in hilly regions, such as Glen Annie in the Santa Barbara area and a little of Scholl Canyon in the Los Angeles area. Despite my perceived level of familiarity in some spots, the drama and fun of the course is unique to any where I have played. One of the most fun rounds I had this year was on this course in a six-some, playing a dollar a hole and going for every pin and green possible. There’s just so many tempting pin locations that confronting the risk reward of those shots was thrilling. The rewards were memorable while the bad shots were disastrous, but either way it was a blast playing that way. While generally a less forgiving course than the Red, it can be played a number of different ways, which makes it an endlessly refreshing round.
Easily a 10 minute cart ride from the clubhouse, you know you’ve reached the course when you see the wooden shack, “Jack’s Shack,” situated atop a bluff, which looks directly down at the Eighteenth. Its own putting green juts and cajoles, to prepare you for the bumps, rises and ramps you’ll encounter on the course. And with that, the First tee overlooks what appears to be hundreds of miles of sand hills, all of which feels like you play during the round.
The First is a 275 – 433 yard par 4. As discussed in the review of the Red course, each hole includes a yardage range that is dependent on the prevalent wind conditions for that day. The yardage for the day is printed on the scorecard and a horseshoe on the tee areas denotes where to hit from. The tee areas are a little more specific than on the Red course, but the trick some times is figuring out exactly where the tee is. But at the First, the tee is easy to figure out, since it overlooks the fairway, which turns right, then left and leaking out to a green that is hidden in a nook of the hills. Jagged bunkers line both sides of the hole for the tee shot and with a ridge running along the fairway, a well hit tee shot could get a lot of roll if hit far enough either straight or right center. To be honest, even the best struck tee shot may end up not being able to see the pin, which may be hiding on the right side of the green. The green moves a lot and really, it just depends on where you end up off your approach and where you need to get to. Use the slopes and sideboards to your advantage.
Approach shot territory
The Second is a 343 – 507 yard par 4. One of my favorite holes of the course and maybe at the resort, this par 4 starts out as a forced carry tee shot directly over a ridge to a very generous fairway. If it’s the first time playing the course, you have no idea where to hit next unless you drive up and take a look because the green is below the fairway, off to the right. Once you know that and pick your aiming spot, there are multiple ways to get your ball on the green, including using the slopes on the left and front side, all of which depend on the pin position. The second shot is fun and strategy all at the same time and I loved it every time I played it.
Moving down the fairway. Yep, no idea where the green is.
Here it is, to right and below the fairway, hiding
The Third is a 88 – 188 yard par 3. The green is elevated from the tee and there is a lot more room up there than it looks like. The green undulates a lot and hitting to the wrong area means putting to the hole is difficult. While decent and even mediocre shots will be tolerated, anything less means you’re looking for your ball in the native grass, banging your club on the ground to scare the snakes away.
The Fourth is a 416 – 578 yard par 5. I won’t say signature hole, but memorable for many reasons, most notably for the operating windmill that Jack would not take out and incorporated into the design of the hole. The hole is similar to a Cape, in that it dog legs left, around a massive expanse of a bunker on the left side. The windmill is beyond that bunker, just in front of yet another bunker complex that protects the front of the green. Going for the green on the second shot is not for the faint of heart, or the short of club. The green itself runs from back to front and any shot above the pin is makes the hole instantly infinitely more difficult. It’s a nice par 5, with many options and fraught with challenge.
Moving up the fairway
Approach shot territory
A look at the green from the right side
The Fifth is a 113 – 185 yard par 3. Blind green, absolutely. I credit Jack a lot here, as this green and the next are cradled in the hills, with the green here large and severe, rolling off steeply towards the front. My partner and I heard to hit it left the tee, no matter what. We both followed the direction and ended up in great position on the green, while the other team was not so great. The pin was on the other side of the green, close to the right front side. I watched in horror as my ball ignored the hole and proceeded onward……and onward, until it went straight off the green and 50 yards down the hill, close to the bunker on the right in the photo below. It was enough to send me into a rage of insanity. I just wish I took a photo of that green because looking back, it was a lot of fun, regardless of how rage inducing it can be.
The Sixth is a 233 – 348 yard par 4. The tee shot is a forced carry to a fairway that immediately starts climbing to a punchbowl green that sits in a natural nook in the hills perched way above the fairway. It’s a fun approach shot into the formation for sure. It’s a great hole.
The Seventh is a 308 – 475 yard par 4. The tee shot is a forced carry to a fairway that follows the ridge leading further up into the hills, dog legging left. I hit one of the best 3 woods of my life here, up the hill to the green, cozying up to the 3 feet of the hole. Off the tee, there are bunkers on the left you must avoid at all costs while there is plenty of native grass off to the right you can wander into. The green itself is above the fairway, yet is larger and a little tamer than the previous two greens.
The Eighth is a 218 – 333 yard par 4. A fun and very tempting risk/reward hole, the direct line from the tee to the green is blind, but a well struck tee shot should get you into chipping territory. For the more cautious among us, there is a fairway and everything off to the left, which leaves you with a nice short iron into a green above you. Just don’t go into the bunker canyon or a big score will be imminent. After playing the hole both ways, I think playing for the green off the tee simply depends on how you’re playing and how much faith you have in your driver.
A closer look
Approach shot territory, with the green towards the left on the other side of the bunker
A look at the course, along the hills and ridges beyond
The Ninth is a 458 – 618 yard par 5. A blind tee shot to a downhill fairway, yet is generous in size. The second shot continues downward, to a green that oozes around sunken bunkers. The contrast between rugged landscape and pristine fairway and green is very apparent here, which also makes you aware of how critical it is to stay on the latter and avoid the former. While an easier hole, anything that wanders off the fairway or goes into a bunker makes it exponentially more difficult.
Second shot territory
The front nine is a great set of holes without a weak one in the bunch. It’s certainly my favorite of the nines, mainly because of how much character each hole has and how much fun and strategy can be found in each. I’d rank them 2, 4, 8, 1, 5, 6, 3, 9, 7.
The back nine starts with the 95 – 190 yard par 3 Tenth. Oh, the Tenth, how I enjoyed the concept. As we came across the Tenth, we weren’t sure what to make of it, or even sure if we were in the right place. There are three pins in different sections of the green, so at first we thought it might be a practice green. When we realized it was actually the hole, we tried to figure out which pin to hit to. We thought we had to agree on which pin to play to, so ended up doing that. It turns out everyone selects the pin they would play in once they’re on the green and whatever your score is to that hole, is your score. It was a lot of fun and really, would be a terrific par 3 on its own with a fantastic green that has fairly severe sideboards and bunkers to contend with.
The Eleventh is a 318 – 443 yard par 4. The tee shot is blind to a fairway that climbs and humps downwards towards the green. There’s a bunker in the center just on top of the ridgeline before the fairway drops, but right to right center is the best play to be. The left side drops off completely and the native grass is a lot tighter to the center than it appears, so it’s better to contend with the bunker off the tee to avoid the left side altogether, which would also leave you blind to the green. There’s also a larger bunker on the left towards the green that also needs to be avoided at all costs. So really, the name of this hole should be, “Don’t Go Left, Even a Little.”
Approach shot territory
The Twelfth is a 428 – 572 yard par 5. The fairway sweeps to the right considerably with bunkers between the fairway and green. The fairway widens and constricts in places and getting your ball in correct position should be the focal point, as there are many spots on the fairway that will complicate your next shot a lot. It’s a great looking hole.
Moving down the fairway
The Thirteenth is a 267 – 400 yard par 4. After a forced carry tee shot, the fairway cants from right to left. The cant is significant enough that determining how high or low you’d like to be on the fairway must be a consideration as you’re on the tee. The approach shot is pretty much another forced carry where severe bunkers are in places only for the most offensive mis hits.
Approach shot territory
The Fourteenth is a 298 – 515 yard par 4. A visually intimidating hole that seems like half a mile between the tee and green. The fairway dips down before rising back up and curling right to the green, with a massive bunker essentially canvassing the entire hill below the green. Once you get to the green, it’s wide and exposed to cross winds, with really nothing shielding it. It reminded just a little of the Fourth at Pebble Beach, particularly the approach shot, but there’s not as much room on the plateau here as there is at Pebble.
Approach shot territory
The Fifteenth is a 102 – 186 yard par 3. A Redan in every respect, there’s a lot more room on the left side than appears from the tee. The green falls off and goes left from the front side. It’s a strong par 3.
The Sixteenth is a 330 – 425 yard par 4. A double dog leg that meanders between hills, the further right your line off the tee will make your approach shorter and with a better view of the green. Of course, the bunkers to the right from the tee complicate matters a bit as well. The green is hidden off to the left of the fairway and a bit sunken from it as well. Being able to use the hillsides on both sides of the hole and towards the green add to the enjoyment and creativity of this hole.
Approach shot territory
From the very left side of the fairway
The Seventeenth is a 324 – 457 yard par 4. A dog leg left that favor a right to left ball flight of the tee, the fairway tumbles down to the green and slopes from right to left. A tee shot that runs will benefit most and be rewarded with a shorter tee shot that is relatively benign the closer you get to the hole. A hole that gets tight in spots, but should be relatively scoreable with a nice tee shot.
Approach shot territory
The Eighteenth is a 351 – 515 yard par 5. With Jack’s Shack high above, the fairway makes its way there, turning left before reaching the green, ascending the entire time. The left side of the fairway is essentially a series of crooked and cragged bunkers while the fairway juts and undulates in several different directions as you get closer to the green. It’s a great finishing hole for its scenery and its ability to allow a terrific finish, or a final nail in the coffin for those limping in.
A look at the hole from the tips at a gorgeous vantage point
Approach shot territory
The back nine is a nice series of holes that utilized this unique terrain dramatically, but fell short of the front for me because a few holes simply did not meet the thrill and excitement of the others. The holes were solid, but when the rest of the course raises the bar, you begin to expect that type of character on every hole and when one of them seems more in the realm of familiarity, it’s inevitable for some small slivers of disappointment to creep in. Regardless, the back nine is better than most I’ve played and I’d rank them 18, 16, 14, 10, 11, 15, 12, 17, 13.
In general, I found Dismal White to be one of Nicklaus’ better designs. I’m not sure the mantra of Jack only designing courses he would play well and favoring the high fade really applies any more and it sure doesn’t apply here. Dismal White is full of creativity, fun, strategy and challenge. While set on more dramatic and severe land than the Red, Nicklaus accomplished what he set out to do, which was create something that can’t be found any where else. The incorporation of slopes and side boards, the natural green formations of the Fifth and Sixth, the zany Tenth and the temptation and fun of the Eighth are prime examples of encountering a unique golfing experience here. While some holes on the back nine seem just a notch below what you start to expect on each hole, mainly because there was a degree of familiarity with them that I didn’t get on the others, it really doesn’t detract at all from the round because those holes are still solid plays that bring forth appropriate strategic decisions and enjoyment. There have been a few courses that I come to admire more after I review them and Dismal White is one of them. Taking a step back and realizing the sequence of how the holes are presented, along with the assorted looks and angles presented made me want to return immediately.
Dismal River is a special place. The White course started it all and for good reason. After spending a few days there and playing each course a few times, the journey here is well rewarded for those who love the game.
Gripes: There’s a halfway house of sorts after the Ninth, but it was kind of deserted or not stocked or something. With the heat and remoteness and all, maybe get that place full of stuff to energize for the back run.
My thoughts on the clubhouse, practice area and everything else is included in my review of Dismal Red, which can be found here.