Amana Colonies – Iowa’s Best Kept Secret Golf Course
By E. Nolan
Everyone is setting records. “2020 was the best (golf) year ever,” they say. “And 2021 was even better.” I believe it every time I hear it because “GOLF” as a game is hot – hotter than the game of Hawkeyes star baller Caitlin Clark. Golf is in a mega-sized boom after a lengthy bust. But… doesn’t that mean another bust is impending?
“Not necessarily,” Stephen Kahler of Kahler Golf Management tells me, noting the game itself was responsible for THIS boom (not just one individual – Tiger). “If you’re doing things right, not getting greedy (with green fees), and genuinely producing a better experience (not just course) for every golfer, I believe you can sustain long term profitability within the right community.” And Amana Colonies has the right community!
Kahler anticipates he’ll get to test his theory out someday. Today though, he’s General Manager of the course he grew up playing, the place that kindled his fiery love for the game. Amana Colonies might not jump off the golf map, given its semi-remote location in eastern Iowa, but that doesn’t mean it’s hidden. “Everyone knows we’re here,” Kahler concedes, rolling up the “Iowa’s Best Kept Secret” poster. “We’re close to Cedar Rapids (20 miles) and Iowa City (25 miles), and an easy enough drive from Ames and Des Moines. Plus, golfers who come from even further away tend to stay a little longer and play a LOT more.”
Wasn’t too long ago Amana Colonies WAS the Iowa Golf Map – top in the state, it’s toughest test and most beautiful reward. They’ve regained and maintained the beauty (Superintendent Reed Pickering has actually augmented it) but they’ve eliminated a lot of the toughness. Why? “Most people would rather have FUN golfing,” Kahler says. “Wouldn’t you?”
If I’m not playing on the ocean then, yes, “fun” is my primary point of emphasis in golf. But I remember playing Amana Colonies 12 years ago, and the experience I had then compared to what I found there a year ago was night-and-day different. Stephen and his team have put in the work and, yes, the course is a whole lot more fun.
Stephen bought the course, primarily to restore it to former glory, but has transitioned that ownership to the Amana Society because they REALLY wanted it, and he wanted to be able to do more restoring beyond the means of his personal budget. Every year they have a list of things they can improve here and there, and every year they tackle that list. Especially THIS year… because they can. Everyone is getting what they want.
“We added aboutGolf Simulators this year, with Wednesday and Thursday leagues all winter. We built a new maintenance building and equipment, have a new irrigation system going in next year and do $50K in cart path repairs every single season.” Stephen has a great perch from which to oversee everything – the new clubhouse overlooking the lake and closing golf hole. Stephen laughs when I ask him about that view. “Actually… awesome as this new clubhouse is, we’re getting ready to replace it with an even bigger and better one.” Demand for weddings, outings and parties WAY exceeded what they anticipated, and the more people visit the greater that demand gets. “We’re fortunate to be able to afford to make all these massive improvements and have a commitment from the local community that most courses would envy.” There may not be an ocean (or surfing) in Iowa, but Amana Colonies is riding a massive wave!
They’re coming off a year where they set every sales and play record by at least 20%… only a year after setting every sales and play record by 20%. Visitors are returning to the area for all the wineries and breweries, new businesses are popping up all over, and all of those businesses perceive Amana Colonies as “their” amenity. “We have a wonderful Stay & Play partnership with the brand new Hotel Millwright in town,” Stephen says. Owned and operated by IDM, a company famous for their historic renovations, Hotel Millwright opened in late 2020 as a 65-room boutique hotel with a restaurant (two chefs), cigar and whiskey bars, retail spaces and a 7,000 square foot banquet and event center. (If you’re on Instagram, their @hotelmillwright account is loaded with fabulously enticing photos!) “That’s what I’m talking about when I say people who come from further away (like the Twin Cities) want to stay,” Kahler adds. “That hotel, the wineries, breweries and our golf course… we’re a destination now that’s worth the drive, no matter how far you come.”