Otter Creek Golf Course – Too Good to Pass Up

By E. Nolan










The opportunity is too good to pass up, and yet hundreds to thousands of people literally do it each day. It has to just gnaw at them – the golf-loving commuters anything like me. They have to drive past with proverbial blinders on, all the while squirming like dogs kept from their pleasures by a work-and-duties cone of… well… shame. Admittedly, it has to be so much harder for those daily passersby (mostly Iowans) than it is for me. I only drive by there three or four times a year. Some of those people do it Every. Single. Day. (I’m not sure how they do it.)

I’m talking about driving down (or up) Interstate 35, passing Otter Creek Golf Course in Ankeny, Iowa. Of course, in driving past the golf course you’d have to see two of the most entertaining golf holes. Of course, the pull on your eyes, heart and steering-wheel-clenching hands could scarcely be more compelling. (And I haven’t even mentioned the pull of their kitchen and pizzas yet!) Of course you’re going to stop there one of these days. And, once you do, you’re bound to keep stopping.

It feels wrong to just keep driving. It does. Which is why so many people do stop. It’s why membership numbers continue to grow… why so many golf groups schedule Otter Creek into their itineraries and event calendars. The links-style golf course with wide, open fairways lined by hills and fescue (and scattered ponds), rewards the visiting player with as much diverse playability as it does scoring opportunities. Head PGA Professional, Curt Ingham, admits he’s glad he doesn’t have to drive past Otter Creek every day. “I get the best of all worlds, you could say.” And say it often he does. “I get to see the course, take the exit, drive up to the clubhouse and enjoy it as my office. I can play (the course) in my free time, AND I get to eat here (at the Tin Cup Bar & Grille).”

For those who don’t know, Ankeny is on the northern outskirts of Des Moines and the southern outskirts of Ames. It is a popular draw to both metros not just for it’s food, playability and ease-of-access, but because it’s also so affordable. “We can compete with the top area courses in terms of design-quality and course conditioning,” Curt says. “But we really crush it in terms of value.” At a time when many of the most popular courses are jacking their rates up because they can (demand being so crazy high), it’s important to the City of Ankeny that their municipal course remain affordable and open to all. “Could we sell our rounds for $15 more?” Curt asks rhetorically. “Sure. But we’d like to encourage our guests to take some of what they save on golf and use it on food… to try our pizzas! (Or the Otter Burger)”

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a decade-plus since Paul Miller was brought in for a massive renovation project. It’s evidenced by the level of enthusiasm and lack of suggested tweaks that he did a great job in the overhaul. “You get a little bit of everything in a round,” local golfer Cade Thompson says. “Some holes feel like Ireland, some like Minnesota, and there’s all that genuine Iowa kindness.” In other words, the course is as fun and accommodating as it appears from I35.

The holes you see from the interstate are the drop-down 3-par 13th, that you just know you could ace if given enough opportunities, and the turbulent 4-par 14th, launching towards the clubhouse on the hill, a hole with more tricks than you can see in a blurry blow-by. That duo is followed by the all-carry-over-pond 3-par 15th, adjacent the clubhouse. “Thirteen to fifteen is our Amen Corner,” Curt grins. “You pray you keep the same ball through those three and say “Amen” if you succeed. And with two of those holes par 3’s, you may even get a little extra divine intervention!”

Owned and operated by the City of Ankeny Parks and Recreation, they generously spare no dime on the maintenance budget, keeping the fairways and greens firm and smooth – tournament ready every day. Regulars love that they get to use every club in the bag, and especially that they can (if they want) use driver all day. As an added bonus (to a bag full of perks) the carts are equipped with Visage GPS units, keeping pace-of-play slick – as all courses aspire for.

Curt summed up their general approach for me. “We know what it takes to be the Iowa Golf Association Course of the Year, and we pursue that goal and achievement every year. There’s no let up.”

Not even for pizza?

“Okay… very little let up.”

Tin Cup Bar & Grille Photo Courtesy of Brent Isenburger Photography

Otter Creek #15