"Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated," golfing legend Arnold Palmer once quipped. Perhaps that is part of the sport's allure for so many. After the seemingly endless winter it simply may be that many of us are longing to get outside and commune with nature in lush, green settings, the epitome of which may be the golf course.
April is the month in which the golf season begins in earnest as The Masters kicks off the professional season in Augusta, Ga. The Masters runs April 5 through the 11. Local golfers will have the opportunity to tee up a few shots of their own beginning in early April.
Kevin Ault, general manager at Lakeside Golf Course (located adjacent to Kennedy Park north of Fort Dodge) usually tries to have the course open and ready by the first of April. "After the winter we've had, I think we will be opening just a little later," said Ault. "Hopefully by the end of the first week of April."
Actual opening dates at local courses will depend greatly upon the weather the area sees over the final two weeks of March and in early April. Course managers and greens keepers are hoping for very little rain and a steady breeze to aid course drainage systems.
Gabe Kellner, General Manager at Willow Ridge (formerly the American Legion course) concurred. "We've got a great drainage system to handle all the melt-off from the winter snow." The system, however, drains into the Des Moines river and can only do so when the river is not running high. Kellner estimated a start date of mid to late April for the public course. "We like to have the course open as soon as it becomes playable," said Kellner. "It will remain open as late into the season as it remains playable."
So what can local golfers expect when they are able to get out there and hit a few balls? Fort Dodge Today was able to speak with two of the local courses who gave us a sneak preview of what's in store for the 2010 golf season.
Lakeside Municipal Golf Course
Established in 1977, Lakeside is an 18-hole, public course located adjacent to Kennedy Park a few miles north of Fort Dodge. Run by Fort Dodge's Parks and Recreation Department, Kevin Ault is the general manager. Chad Graaf serves as superintendent. According to the city's website, the course itself "includes a long and straight front nine and a short and narrow back nine."
Ault said the course is a popular place for many local and area golfers. "We have enough play on the course that we cut cups every other day," said Ault. For those unfamiliar with the game, this means that the location of the cup hole on the green is changed to offer players a variety of ways to play each hole, keeping the game fresh and players on their toes.
Because Lakeside is an 18-hole course, Ault said that there are always nine holes open to the public for play, even during league times. "During leagues, they play on either the front or back nine, depending. That leaves the other nine open for others." During tournaments, however, the course is closed to accommodate tournament play.
Lakeside will be hosting several tournaments during the 2010 golf season. These tournaments will be: 4 Person Best Shot with 8" cups on May 8; Lakeside Amateur Tournament on June 13; the City Tournament on July 10 and 11; Lakeside Juniors Tournament on July 12; a 2 Gal Best Shot on July 21; the Lakeside Seniors Tournament on July 25; the Course Improvement - 4 Person Best Shot Tourney on August 22 and a One-Man Scramble Tournament to be held Sept. 26. To sign up for any of these tournaments simply call the Lakeside Pro Shop at (515) 576-6741.
Because the Sunkissed Meadows 9-hole course is likely to close, Ault said that junior programming will take place at Lakeside this year. There will be two separate two-week clinics for kids. The first will be held in June and the second session will follow in August. A five-week Junior League will also take place at Lakeside this summer.
Lakeside is home to the only public driving range in Fort Dodge. (The Fort Dodge Country Club has an extensive practice range area, however the facility is private and open to members and their guests only.) The fee is $4 for a bag of balls.
The new clubhouse and pro shop opened in 2005. It offers food, beverages and a patio deck with a perfect view of the course. Five new tee boxes were added last fall which have not been played yet. Ault said the former tee boxes had irrigation issues and were often quite hard. The new boxes will offer golfers a much different experience when they tee off. New tiling and irrigation, along with changes to some of the greens have also helped to enhance the course for the season.
Along the par 72 course, golfers will find the longest hole is number 7. It's a par five hole with a distance of 544 yards.
Leagues at Lakeside run Monday through Friday and are open to everyone. Monday at 5:30 p.m. is Women's. Tuesday mornings at 9:30 a.m. is the Senior's League. Tuesday through Thursday evenings are Men's Leagues beginning at 5:30 p.m. and Friday night is for Couples.
Some of Lakeside's specials for 2010 include: 2 For 1 Green Fees before 9 a.m. (excludes holidays) and a child golfs free with a paid adult every Sunday after 5 p.m. Greens fees are: Weekday 9-holes for $15, 18-holes for $20; Weekend/Holiday 9-holes for $17, 18-holes for $25. Cart rentals are available as well for $8 per person for nine holes or $12 per person for 18 holes.
Willow Ridge Golf Course
Willow Ridge is a public, nine-hole golf course located adjacent to the Des Moines river north of Fort Dodge Animal Health at 1788 Madison Avenue. (Formerly known as the American Legion course.) Gabe Kellner is the general manager and Jeff Laughlin is the superintendent.
One of the unique characteristics of Willow Ridge is the connection the site has with programs at Iowa Central Community College. "Our superintendent works with the turfgrass management program at the community college," said Kellner. "The course gives the students a place to get some hands-on experience in a real world setting." It can be gratifying to know that golfing at Willow Ridge helps to support the educational experiences of local college students.
(The same is true for the dining and banquet facilities at Willow Ridge's clubhouse. There students in the Culinary Arts and Hospitality programs gain real-life, hands-on experience in the kitchen and as wait staff. This means that Willow Ridge is proud to offer local and area golfers not only traditional sandwiches and snacks, but more gourmet menu options as well.)
Wednesday through Friday evenings bring league nights to Willow Ridge, during which the course is not available for public play. Wednesday night is Women's League. Currently there are 14 teams signed up with room for more. (Just put together your team and call(515) 576-5711 to sign up.) There are 18 teams of men who play on Thursday evening. Friday night is "Nine, Wine and Dine" night for the couples.
Kellner said two of the big tournaments Willow Ridge hosts each year are the Alzheimers Awareness tournament and Rally For A Cure tournament held each August in support of breast cancer. "Willow Ridge is the perfect place to have a tournament, charity event or golf outing for your company or group," said Kellner. If you are interested in putting something together for your church, family reunion, club or business Kellner advised booking early. "Weekdays work best," he said. "We can also set them up with discounted meals and a place to hand out awards following their golf game."
Willow Ridge opens at 7 a.m. during the golf season and is open until dark, except on league nights when the course closes to the public at 5:30 p.m. Kellner described the par 37 course as average difficulty.
"This year golfers will find two new sand traps already in place, with plans for four or five more to be added," said Kellner. All the tee boxes have been re-seeded and laser leveled.
"A couple of things make Willow Ridge's course unique," Kellner added. "The first hole is our signature hole." Golfers tee off next to the club house and watch as their balls soar out over the edge of the hill from which they shot. "With the tee at the top of the hill, it can be very deceiving on how far you hitespecially if there's a north wind."
Also unique to the game at Willow Ridge is the fact that the course offers three par-5 holes in a row at numbers five, six and seven. The longest hole is #6 at 530 yards. On the ninth hole golfers must cross a pond which requires constant vigilance by players who may already be thinking about refreshments in the clubhouse.
On the weekends and during league play Willow Ridge offers a beverage cart. There is also a convenience she on the course between holes #4 and #5 which offers cold drinks and snacks.
This year's green fees at Willow Ridge are likely to be the same as (or very close to) 2009's which were: Weekdays 9-holes for $13, 18-holes for $20 and Weekend/Holidays 9-holes for $15 and 18-holes for $22. Cart rentals are available for $14 for 9 holes, $22 for 18 holes and a $5 Trail Fee. A pull cart may be rented for $3. Golf clubs are also available to rent for $10 for 9 holes and $15 for 18 holes.
Willow Ridge is a member of the Iowa Golf Association and uses the GHIN, a computerized handicap tracking system for players. Many smaller courses are not always able to offer this service to their clients.
For a unique look at the course and a chance for a 360-degree view of every hole, visit Willow Ridge's website at www.willowridgegolf.com. It's a great way to get a virtual tour and perhaps a leg up on potential golf partners.
No matter which course beckons, Fort Dodge and the surrounding area offers golfers some excellent places to play. If Arnold Palmer's words at the beginning of this piece were a bit more philosophical than you'd like, Palmer also once offered up this bit of advice: "I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone's golf game. It's called an eraser."