Spirit Hollow – Pure Golf And Warm Hospitality

By E. Nolan

75 miles southeast of Iowa City and 75 miles southwest of Davenport, basically on the border of Iowa and Illinois, and framed by the stunning beauty of the Mississippi River Valley, Spirit Hollow is a dance of enchantment for golfers – the chance to play what many contend is Iowa’s best public golf course… and to routinely feel like you have that course all to yourself.

I’ve visited the fun fairway hollows of Burlington, Iowa on several treks to St. Louis, finding it well worth the detour from Chicago for a night and a couple of rounds. With a Lodge and (since I was there last) New Cabins, this golf getaway is now a full-blown destination worth traveling to for anyone within five hours or so (that includes Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Des Moines and Chicago) – a highlight round on a guys or group golf trip by itself, or paired with other courses in the area.

Both GolfWeek and Golf Digest consider Spirit Hollow one of the best public golf courses in Iowa (currently), a ranking sure to increase as The Harvester goes private. (Essentially) “You can play Iowa’s best golf course with cart, lunch and range balls for less than $100 in peak season,” General Manager Jim Wyffels asserts. “And, you can often golf here from March through December.” For those of us whose courses are closed October-April, that’s quite an appealing premise.

Spirit Hollow is a lot more than golf. It’s LAMBO’S, a chef-operated restaurant with a big screen-backed bar, a cool high-topped-table covered patio, an outdoor fire pit and innovative food options like the brisket, cheese and sourdough Rue-B-Q, and Chef Scott’s #1 Menu Item – the LAMBO Burger with it’s special sauce. The full menu digs a lot deeper into comfort foods, all helping you feel more and more at home.

It’s the fireside dining room – The Claret Jug – providing a scenic and inviting setting with more of Chef Scott’s meticulous touches. Overnight guests at The Lodge are served breakfast here and everyone else can settle in for the a-la-carte options and nightly Specials.

Spirit Hollow is the aforementioned Lodge, featuring 8 luxurious guestrooms with spectacular golf course views, artistic homages to golf’s greatest players and exclusive meals served in The Claret Jug. There’s a Great Room in The Lodge that’s a popular hangout for “Buddy Trips” with a poker table, game boards and comfortable leather chairs to kick back and relax in. Perfecting the visit for single and couple “Lodgers” are Unlimited Golf Stay & Play Packages at remarkably reasonable rates, or the expansive Champions and Medalists Cabins (for 4-or-8-somes) that can give you even more golf and lodging for less. Those “Cabins” have Great Rooms too, with couches, a fireplace, large flat screen TV, a dining room table and kitchen area, super plush beds and a “Competition Courtyard” between the cabins with a fire pit, shuffleboard, Bocce ball courts and a horseshoe pit. That’s an awful lot of entertainment options OFF the course!

ON the golf course there’s even MORE entertainment. Perhaps my favorite features of Spirit Hollow Golf Course are the topographical diversity and ratio of reward to risk. “Legend” has it that designer Rick Jacobson got the job to implement owner Randy Winegard’s vision because he was willing to be honest about Mr. Winegard’s ideas and flexible as an architect. “This 400-acre (former cattle ranch) was an incredible piece of land before,” Mr. Winegard told me, on my last visit. “I always knew what it could become. Thank God Rick knew how to make it all happen.”

That he did. Hole after stunning (and daunting) hole, across a course that stretches from 5,053 to 7,550 yards, Rick Jacobson created Spirit Hollow to “allow golfers the opportunity to use every club in the bag.” With over 15,000 trees lining the fairways and water in play on eleven holes, the hazards are plentiful… plentiful and beautiful. I’m a big Jacobson fan (especially of his work at Potomac Shores in the Washington DC area) so Spirit Hollow was particularly easy for me to appreciate. Jacobson loves to mix it up, to push your game and let you score in sweet succession. He’s a master at working with the land to yield Signature Holes by the bushel. From the opening trio with the incredibly pretty but equally dangerous Par 5, 2nd to the stunning stretch in the middle from 9 to 11, the ever popular Par 3, 15th over water, and the epic Par 5 closer. It’s a collection of ups, downs and awesome from beginning to end.

Spirit Hollow has a full-service practice area with a full-acre driving range, chipping and putting areas. There are no memberships so every great tee time is available to every player. Pure golf and warm hospitality. Pure perfect.