Otter Creek Golf Course – Iowa’s Can’t Miss Course
By E. Nolan
You can’t miss it. Couldn’t miss it if you tried. In fact, sometimes I close my eyes and still see it.
Every summer for a decade I’ve driven back and forth, from the Twin Cities to Des Moines for business, and every year I almost drive off the road when I pass through Ankeny. It’s not that I’m a bad driver, (no accidents or tickets) and there are no sudden curves, obstacles in the road, or oversized combines forcing me to the shoulder. Nope… it’s always a case of distracted driving, courtesy of Otter Creek Golf Course. “Pay attention!” my son chides me. “I am,” I reply.
“To the road, Dad!”
I can’t help it. I see people up on the tee box of one of their two signature par 3’s (Hole 8, just off Interstate 35) and I wish a traffic jam would suddenly appear so I could watch those lucky people fire away at that green. It’s the only time in my life there’s never traffic, of course, so I do the golf-loving commuters behind me a favor and slow things down for them.
Hundreds to thousands of people drive past Otter Creek each and every day. The northbound get a glimpse. The southbound get an eyeful. How hard it smites you depends on how bad the golf bug has you smitten. For years I thought it was private (and probably still would think so) had they not put an offramp directly to the course (essentially) “forcing me” to stop and find out. Nope – not private. Yep – looks even better from the clubhouse, adjacent the “island green” par 3 at 10. Bonus – the pizza (for my son) and burger (for me) were fabulous, and their patio views were perfect for taking in even more of the experience. “When are we playing here, Dad?” my son nudged. “Tomorrow,” I replied. “What about that meeting?” he asked. “It’s getting rescheduled.”
Every year seems to be a record-breaking year at Otter Creek, not just these last two. Head PGA Professional, Curt Ingham, doesn’t have to do anything to draw people to the course other than stand outside the clubhouse and wave at passing cars. But… he’s a passionate guy and advocate of growing the game, so he reaches out to me and says, “Would you mind telling people what YOU like about Otter Creek?”
Nope. Don’t mind at all. I’m a links-lover, an ambassador of Ireland Golf (literally) and love playing courses that have a similar feel (even if they’re not on the ocean). Otter Creek tends to play fast and firm. It has fescue-covered, mound-protected, wide and hilly fairways, creeks, ponds, bridges and a “Scottish” feel (if you will) with magnificent playing conditions. I love finding that in Iowa.
Otter Creek is on the northern outskirts of Des Moines and the southern outskirts of Ames. It’s in the country but hugged by the cities… a suburban arm with rural charm. With crazy affordable rates and a strong membership base, it’s a place where people go to have fun AND to golf – sometimes the other way around. Otter Creek has the Tin Cup Bar & Grille as a 19th hole hangout, populated not just by the golfers but by hundreds of families and friends each week looking for some of the best pizza and grilled food around (try the Otter Burger).
I turn the question on Curt – what do you love about the place you work? “The people,” he says before the question mark gets put on my sentence. “So genuine, so friendly, so welcoming. They covet their tee times, sure, but also want as many people to visit and play it as possible. That’s a rarity.” Indeed it is. They could charge more for the golf and still sell out. They could make it private and thrive. But Otter Creek is everything that is right about public, community-based golf courses, that turning it into anything else would feel like “selling out.” People come from other courses to use their practice facility. They schedule business meetings in the clubhouse and prefer golf events here over courses with more space because of how things are run, the views, and all the ways they have fun.
It’s been over a decade since Paul Miller came in and renovated the course. “Anything else you’d change?” I asked around. “I wish there were more courses like this in the area,” a different guy named Paul replies. “But, no, everything here is exactly how I like it. I play here weekly and would play it more if work allowed.”
(I’ll say it again.) “Forget work.” Go play golf at Otter Creek!