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Cragun's 2016

Travel Club
July 22, 2017

Otter Creek - 2016 IGA Course Of The Year
Tin Cup Bar & Grille Photo Courtesy Brent Isenburger Photography
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Tin Cup Bar & Grille Photo Courtesy Brent Isenburger Photography
Otter Creek #14
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Otter Creek #14
By E. Nolan

There are golf courses that get in our heads. They "tease" us, in revealing only a single attractive hole (or two) as we drive by, and we get intrigued - hooked. We have to explore them further. Did we see the best holes as we drove past? Or...are there more? How much are we missing in these passerby glimpses? How great is that place?

This has happened to me too many times to count, in my drives all over the United States. We have a few of those mind-manipulators in Minnesota (think Cannon Falls Golf Club) and another one sits just off Interstate 35 in Ankeny, Iowa (just 200 miles south of the Twin Cities). That snapshot captivator is Otter Creek Golf Course.

It's important that you know immediately, Otter Creek was voted the Iowa Golf Association 18-Hole Course of the Year in 2016. If anything says, "Okay, now you have to stop and check it out!" it's facts like that. Awards like that represent a broad love and respect for what a property is, and what golfers can get out of an experience there. Awards like that one are a reflection of the staff efforts, of the course conditions, and of the quality of pizza in the restaurant. (You might consider that last acknowledgement insignificant unless you've already had the Tin Cup Grille's pizza.)

I drove by Otter Creek at least ten dozen times before I ever played it. I always thought it was private. In truth, it does sit next to a beautiful, private golf course, so there are some grounds for confusion. But, the course with the truly intriguing golf holes that you can see... that's the public one. That one... everyone can play.

Perfectly situated on the outer limits of two large metropolitan areas - Ames and Des Moines - Otter Creek has no trouble drawing a crowd. When the quality of what you see in passing is replicated (if not surpassed) hole-after-hole in playing the course, you understand why "The OC" is such a popular host for tournaments and big group events. The experienced player will back up the accolades... there's no smoke and mirrors... and (Having covered nearly 100 courses in Iowa) I absolutely consider Otter Creek to be one of Iowa's 12 "Must Plays."

Paul Miller carried out his master plan on this land to perfection. He wanted Links-style conditions - fast and firm - and he got them. He loaded the course with a diverse blend of hazards; with native grasses, and exposed bodies of water, with properly placed bunkering and abundant mounding to separate the holes. Each of the elements individually, when combined with various degrees of wind, presents their own challenges. All put together... the experience makes for an entertaining zigzag round across a beautiful parcel of wide-open prairie land.

Director of Golf Kevin Beard and Head Golf Professional Curt Ingham have been tireless promoters of Iowa golf for years, always happy to spread the love to other deserving courses in the area. I like to joke that, for all the Ankeny tourism they've generated, the state decided to reciprocate the good will by building an interstate off-ramp leading directly to their course (Exit 94 off I-35). "It sure hasn't hurt business," Curt laughs. But then, they never really needed any help.

Lay's Potato Chips had a slogan that said, "Bet you can't eat just one." Otter Creek could easily modify that tagline to their experience, because one round here is never really enough. There are too many shots you want to take again.

Technically, there is water in play on six holes on each side - front and back. (Realistically, you shouldn't hit more than three ponds in a round.) The Par 3, 4th is more fun the more left they place the pin, forcing you to take on more of the pond for a closer putt. The other front favorite tends to be the finisher, #9, as it drops and rolls right, back to the clubhouse.

The most enticing hole (as seen from Interstate 35) is the Par 3, 13th, a steep drop shot that is taken directly towards the cars passing by. I love that shot, but I love the next two holes even more. 14's tee shot is to one of the trickiest landing areas on the course, and ends with an approach over a creek that needs to be played just right; and, then, there's the all-water-carry allure of #15 (next to the clubhouse), that is just way too much fun to only do once.

Otter Creek weaves in and around a master planned community, but the homes don't remotely interfere with the joy of play. Beginning to end (and afterwards in the Tin Cup Grille) a day at Otter Creek is a day very well spent!

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