Amana Colonies Golf Club – Vision for Success
By E. Nolan
There’s a certain excitement to playing a golf course you loved long ago but haven’t been back to since. Such an anticipatory surge had taken over the drive to Amana Colonies. My son and I were chatting up what we remembered of the property – an abundance of natural beauty, deer and the dramatic elevation changes key among the highlights. We were excited… it was Spring… it was going to be beautiful.
Turns out the General Manager of Amana Colonies can relate to our excitement… though on another level entirely. Stephen Kahler grew up playing Amana Colonies (just west of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in east Central Iowa). He loved the course so much as a kid that when he grew up and gained years of experience at the preeminent name in golf management, Troon Golf, he came back and took over operations of Amana Colonies Golf Club
Stephen likely didn’t pick the course over feeding his family, but he did (and is) living out many a golfer’s dream. He took over the golf course to build it out exactly as he wanted. He could set the prices, the menus and (if he wanted) even the pins. I asked him what he had in mind when he took it over, curious how ambitious they initially planned to be.
“There were so many things I loved about Amana Colonies as a kid,” he said. “All the natural beauty, the crazy elevation changes… and so many deer.” I told you, we’re quite alike. This was a nostalgic purchase for him, no doubt, but it was also a motivated one. He watched Amana Colonies tumble from its prior rank as “Best Course in Iowa” and he knew it still had all it needed to get back there. It just needed the TLC (time, love and tenderness) and Stephen assured me it was getting it.
Year after year they’ve diligently chipped away at their project list. Today the course very nearly exists as they recalled it – as they loved it. “We’re five years into our 10-year plan,” Stephen relays with a confident smile. “But we’ve easily put a decade of work into those five years.”
He’s not kidding. We found Amana Colonies to be far better than we remembered it, with a collection of par 3s as good as any in the state. I went hole-by-hole with Stephen, covering all the changes, improvements and highlights and couldn’t have been more impressed at the redundant but welcome consistencies: the emphasis on highlighting beauty, the revealing of covered up landscape features, the priority on improving playability and the clearing out of trees and brush to provide some pretty surreal near and distant vistas. The course is still hard – it is among Iowa’s most challenging rounds – but, it has also returned to being among Iowa’s best. Plus, where the challenging aspects used to be frustrating, now they are quite acceptable: few good shots are punished, few blind transitions result in confusion and every hole gave us a shot we enjoyed.
“I loved the difficulty level of the golf experience,” Stephen admits. “Playing here regularly (as a kid) made me play better everywhere else. But the more playable we make the course the more people tell us we love it so… we keep making it more playable.” Active listeners – love it!
One thing I haven’t mentioned – something all golfers care about – is the incredible conditioning we found. Stephen directs all credit for that to his superintendent, Reid Pickering, and his team. “They take a ton of pride in their work… year-round.”
It shows. The course feels like a state park with all the trees, ponds, creeks and wildlife. It is beautiful in the Spring, but only gets better as Summer turns into Fall. There are some courses where a good drone pilot could blow minds. This is one of those places.
The new clubhouse has everything you want – merchandise, food and great views, especially from the patio overlooking the pond and 18th green. Amana Colonies is a popular host for weddings, with a former barn converted into a phenomenal banquet facility. And those heading over to play should look into their lodging and Stay and Play Golf packages giving the golfers (and golf groups) some pretty luxurious options at the old converted Woolen Mill that is now Hotel Millwright.