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Cragun's 2016

Travel Club
July 22, 2017

The Preserve At Honey Creek Resort - Southern Comfort
The Preserve on Rathbun Lake #14 Photo Courtesy of Peter Wong Photography
+ click to enlarge
The Preserve on Rathbun Lake #14 Photo Courtesy of Peter Wong Photography
Honey Creek Resort
+ click to enlarge
Honey Creek Resort
By Eric N. Hart

I'm a big fan of Kevin Norby's. When my editor told me the Chaska based golf course architect (think Greystone, the Refuge and Grand National) would be writing a column for us this year I was hopeful I'd get to meet him. I took several golf course architecture classes from another great local architect, Garrett Gill, but Norby does some equally cool things with the courses he gets, and I'd have loved to get a lesson or two from him. Someday, maybe. For now though, I'll take my Norby architecture lessons playing his courses, and the Preserve at Honey Creek (south of Des Moines in Iowa) is a stunner. Okay, I know, blondes are stunners (and at least one brunette - my wife is my proofreader)... paintings are stunners... cell phone bills are stunners... but golf courses in Iowa? Hey, it's really no surprise. But, I realize I'll have to do a little more convincing nonetheless.

Admit it though. Right now you're asking, "Why should I care about a course in southern Iowa, when there are so many options up here?" I'll tell you. In a couple months when our courses are closed for the winter, The Preserve is typically still open and up to 20 degrees warmer. (Two years ago they didn't even close.) The associated resort, Honey Creek, has a phenomenal lodge overlooking the idyllic Lake Rathbun (Iowa's largest man-made lake), with great walking trails, an abundance of wildlife, and (inside) an incredible (warm) waterpark. You can get all of those things up here, individually or even collectively. I understand that. But all those things and great golf... in December, January and/or February? Yeah, probably not. And that's why I went down there, and will be going down there again (this year) at that time. I know what incredible values (in golf, dining and lodging) I get down there, and only 70 miles south of Des Moines, it's pretty much a straight shot down from the Cities. If you can make a 3-day weekend out of it and stay there two nights... it's well worth the trip.

Sure, there are plenty of other southern Iowa golf courses you could check out in the winter, but how many of them (none) are recent "Top 10 Best New Public Golf Course" winners? Its story is certainly an interesting one. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources, in the late 90's, was looking to establish some more park and rec areas to draw tourists to Iowa's most scenic areas, Lake Rathbun being one of those significantly beautiful sites. Someone at the DNR had a moment of absolute genius and thought "this place would be perfect for a golf course." Enter Kevin Norby's company, Herfort Norby.

The course was built adjacent the lake, on incredible nature preserve land, and opened for play in April of 2009. Nearsighted critics didn't like the idea of using state funds for golf. But after listening to all the acclaim, as magazine after magazine praised the design, creativity, and the incredible allure of the entire local lake area, and watching all the visitors coming (and spending) in droves... let's just say their bark was relatively muzzled. Iowa is one of those states that Jason Aldean refers to as a "flyover state." That doesn't mean it lacks in what it can offer, but that most people don't know what all it has. Alabama used to be that way before the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail brought thousands of new jobs, and visitors to the state. The minds behind the Preserve (and Honey Creek Resort) project deserve more praise for their perseverance than they get. Iowa needs places like this, and it is places like this that Minnesotans and Illinoisians, Wisconsonites, etc. need to come over and check out.

The Preserve is as it sounds, an oasis, a serene 240+ acre natural paradise, free from housing, traffic and other external distractions. Extreme care was/is taken in the construction, and caretaking, of this course. Completely Audubon compliant, the views (for miles) are as pure as they come in Iowa. At nearly 7,000 yards the layout stretches and sprawls across the acreage, utilizing every terrain, scattering the gorgeous lake and hillside views. The golfer will be faced with every imaginable shot... elevated, escalated, forced carries (easy smiles), well drawn, unlikely to fade... I can play with the words all I want and it won't beat the views and course you'll find when you actually trust me and come down here. "We're about the total package here at the (Honey Creek) resort," says PGA Director of Golf, Darin Fisher. "We know we've got incredible golf, and some of the very best, most comfortable, lodging accommodations in the entire state... but combined we believe it's the closest thing to a sure thing in Iowa Stay & Play experiences. That's what makes it worth coming here from wherever you are." Even Minneapolis? "Even Minneapolis."

The course can't speak for itself so I'll give it a voice. Selecting a few highlights from the round, I was impressed instantly by the variety. For the most part it's a links-style layout, and the first two holes run long (both Par 5's) and straight, the second ending with a cool "Biarritz" green. (Huge swale in the middle.) The third hole, a Par 3, is one of the definite favorites, with an elevated tee shot carrying a rippling creek to the largest green on the property. The next several holes rise and fall through the same valley, presenting great panoramic views, and the intensity of challenge and views builds in a picturesque crescendo throughout the rest of the round. The back nine gives you the best lake views, and alternates periodically between wide-open and tree-lined play. The blowing fescue, bright green (well-manicured) fairways and beckoning ponds provide plenty of visual treats along the way. All in all, without question, it is one of Iowa's 5 best rounds (in my opinion) and paired with my family's favorite overnight accommodations, they easily reach the summit of the expectations Darin and the rest of the phenomenal staff at Honey Creek Resort have set for themselves.

Lest you think I'm kidding (at all) about the year round options for fun available here, the resort has a detailed month-by-month activity schedule that they keep, and they stay busy on all fronts throughout four legitimate seasons (unlike the three we get in MN - Road Construction, Football - typically only 6 to 7 weeks long for Vikings fans - and Winter). The resort lodge has 105 luxury rooms and suites, 28 more expansive cottages, and an RV park available. The full-service restaurant (Rathbun Lakeshore Grille) has one of the (if not THE) best dining views in Iowa, over Rathbun Lake, and a creative menu including the awesome Honey Creek Smoker sandwich and Sunflower Walleye.

Additional amenities include a fishing pier, watercraft and bike rentals, and a multi-facet playground with slides, climbing walls, tubes, etc... and of course, saving the best for last, (for my kids anyway) the Pirate themed indoor waterpark, Buccaneer Bay.

The resort prides itself on service, as it should. Most of their visitors come from Des Moines, the Quad Cities and Missouri, but it doesn't matter how far they come from to the concierges. The warm welcome sets the perfect tone for your entire stay. They're quite glad you came, from wherever you did, and you will be too. Even from Minneapolis.

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