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Cragun's 2016

Travel Club
July 22, 2017

The Preserve at Honey Creek Resort - Power Ballin'
The Preserve on Rathbun Lake #4 Photo Courtesy of Peter Wong Photography
+ click to enlarge
The Preserve on Rathbun Lake #4 Photo Courtesy of Peter Wong Photography
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
By E. Nolan

Thanks to my golf architecture studies at the University of Wisconsin - an invaluable apprenticeship with local designing legend Garrett Gill - I tend to look at courses a little different than the average writer... different than the average golfer. Sure, I see all the topdressings - the blowing fescue, the galleries of trees and chiseled rock walls, etc. - the artistic icing on the designer's cake. But I also look under the hood. I listen to what the designer is trying to pull from each specific course engine.

The true testament of a designer's skill is his or her ability to draw the most horsepower from every horse - or the most hole-power from every hole - to make so much of what's there that no one notices what isn't. The course architects I admire most don't have names like Nicklaus, Palmer, Jones, or Dye. (Though some of their designs are among my most favorite.) Those guys are given a blank check and told to spend it all. They should pull off what they do! I'm far more impressed by some of the guys who think well beyond the box - who do a ton with much less and typically don't get to handpick their properties - guys like Mike Stranz (Tobacco Road), Earl Stone (Rock Creek), Jeffrey Brauer (Wilderness at Fortune Bay) and Kevin Norby (this course).

Eight years ago I was 30 and had never heard of any of those three. It didn't matter to me who designed the courses I played or even what they did with each hole. I didn't see the bigger picture - had no idea how much effort the designer put into getting the course exactly that way... to where it looked so natural. It was a course like the Preserve at Honey Creek Resort that changed my mentality. My personal game-changer was another Preserve... but in Vancleave, Mississippi. (Designed by Jerry Pate) And the story all comes together.

Playing golf in a nature preserve or state park is a sublime experience - totally unlike anything you'll find in a city. There are no houses around - few buildings at all - and the wildlife is abundant. The course feels like it's your own - all yours - with minimal distractions, minimal interference and minimal stress. In fact, playing at a course like the Preserve, (either one) it's almost no exaggeration to say that the loudest noise of all is the silence. You can certainly hear it down here in southern Iowa at Lake Rathbun.

Honey Creek Resort is a special property on its own - aside from the golf course. Eco and Audubon certified - as environmentally friendly as any resort has ever been north of Streamsong (FL) - this place has a towering vibe... an out-of-this-world aura. There's the main lodge with its spacious suites, a tropical paradise thanks to the fact that it's connected to Buccaneer Bay - one of Iowa's top three waterparks. There are the luxurious cottages beyond the lodge confines that would more appropriately be called "budget friendly home away from homes." There's the Rathbun Lakeshore Grille with a "farmer's market" menu (a fabulous Sunday Brunch) and a hilltop patio from which one can sled in the winter or soak in the setting summer sun - with Iowa's most epic panoramic lake views. (Imagine this setting for weddings and rehearsal dinners! Wow!)

Honey Creek Resort is an easy escape from Des Moines and a worthwhile year-round drive down I35 for the rest of us. I've been there four times - in each season of the year - and every time I leave looking forward to the next. There's endless fun for my kids in the lodge and lake activities, plenty of pampering comfort and book reading nooks for my wife, and there's one of the five best golf courses in the state for me.

Let's bring it back to that, the golf course. This Kevin Norby layout is unquestionably his greatest design. Appropriately he did his best work on the best property he's been given. He'll be the first to tell you he was lucky but the visiting golfer gets the last word in that conversation - he's not as lucky as we are. This is the IOWA EQUIVALENT of The Wilderness at Fortune Bay (MN), of Bandon Dunes (OR), the Prairie Club (NE) and the aforementioned Streamsong Resort in Florida. Those places are among the most natural of Stay & Play golf experiences in America and this Preserve belongs in that same company of champions.

Note this "Minnesota Golf Show Special" and please put it to use. (Take the entire family!) - $99 +tax gets you Two Free Rounds of Golf and a Standard Lodge Room Sunday-Thursday valid throughout the golf season. (A 2-night stay is perfect!)

Discovering Honey Creek Resort and the Preserve for yourself is like being the guy who founded Google or Yahoo - without the billions, of course. The point is... you'll still feel like a genius.

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