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Cragun's 2016

Travel Club
July 22, 2017

Otter Creek - Otter Limits
Otter Creek #9 Photo Courtesy of Brent Isenburger Photography
+ click to enlarge
Otter Creek #9 Photo Courtesy of Brent Isenburger Photography
Otter Creek #1 Photo Courtesy of Brent Isenburger Photography
+ click to enlarge
Otter Creek #1 Photo Courtesy of Brent Isenburger Photography
By E. Nolan

Iowa is south of Minnesota. So far south, in fact, that they often get an extra month of golf more than we do. But hang on a minute... before you go packing up and moving just anywhere down there, give me a page to point you in the right direction.

This isn't a story of "the road less traveled." In fact... it's exactly the opposite. I35 is "that busy road" - taking you directly from the Twin Cities to Des Moines in a matter of hours - potentially leading you to your new home... and rewarding you with an extra month of golf each year in the process. But you don't even have to go as far south as Des Moines to reap the sportive shoulder-season benefits. In fact, my car (okay, minivan) usually makes its first (and last) round-of-the-year stop in Ankeny at an awesome little track called Otter Creek.

I was asked last year, as a member of the Golf Writer's Association of America, to submit my ratings for the best courses I've played in each state. I've played every Iowa course listed in every national publication and I signed my name beneath a statement swearing that Otter Creek is in Iowa's Top 8 (all the further they go). Hands Down!

That's a bold statement, I know. I can almost hear Mr. Grumpfish (from my daughter's favorite TV show Bubble Guppiesa) asking me right now, "What's so great about it?"

Well, Mr. Grumpfish, let's start with the accessibility. At just fifty yards west of I35, between Ames and Des Moines, you could park your car on the freeway, hop the fence and start swinging. (Actually don't do that. You'd be on the 13th green and might get hit by a ball.) Take Exit 94 onto 36th Street and you're right there. Park and go into the clubhouse. There General Manager Kevin Beard and his staff will welcome you with a steal of a rate for a golf round (18 holes for under $40; typically better rates on their website), and they'll usher you into Tin Cup, the adjacent sports bar where their homemade pizza pies are so darn delicious you'll want one before and after your round.

Then step out onto the patio and take in the golf panorama. This is, after all, what you came here for. Paul Millar's fabulous two year redesign (completed in 2009) just screams "play me" - I assure you, you'll hear it best from your car (or minivan) on I35. It has fast, luscious, private playing conditions - Macy's qualities at a dollar store price.

A little more about the course. Despite the fact that hazards are plenty visible and plentiful, you're not going to lose many balls unless you part ways with Sean Foley or lose your mental fortitude on the stunning par-3 (all-carry) fifteenth. There are over 40 new bunkers, 17 ponds, fields of fescue, large rolling greens and many an elevated tee shot. It has a links look and a links feel but with far more beauty and innovation than the typical links course. There's even a par 4.5 on the front, the challenging 7th hole, that you can freely take an extra half-swing at, and everyone loves nine as it boomerangs you down and back to the clubhouse. This course is a crescendo in amusement, as most courses should be, and the fun really kicks off on the back. Thirteen is the aforementioned "roadside" hole, a short downhill par 3 where an eagle is as good as an ace... then fourteen and fifteen cap an amazing three-hole stretch you'll be telling everyone about when you're done.

And when you're done you won't want to be. You'll want to go right back out with their twilight rates or stay the night and squeeze in another 36 the next day. (Or just live here.) This is a course with plenty of external beauty - looking at it from the road - but there's arguably far more to love... from inside the fence.

I lived in Iowa for too many years, too many only because it wasn't near places like Otter Creek. There's plenty of great golf down here - trust me - and Kevin and his team would like the chance to prove that to you. When you do visit, send this message to your friends back home. "You Wish You Were Here."

They'll believe you if you take some pictures, post them on Instagram and Facebook, tell them about the conditions and show them the scenery. Heck, to seal the deal mail them a pizza - do it all - and tell them to get their frozen posteriors down here pronto.

This goes for everyone: next time you drive all the way across town for gas a few cents cheaper take your clubs with you and go a little further. Explore the "otter limits" and check out Otter Creek.

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