You’ve got a car, a full tank of gas and a yearning for golf outside your neighborhood. (Where the “Mobile Golfer” moniker originated in 2008.) We’ll assume you’re willing to drive a half day (6 hours or 350 miles, a tank of gas each way) for these three-day, two-night trips to places you might not have heard of or visited (but definitely should).
Take, for example, Ohiya Resort & Tatanka Golf Club in Nebraska, within driving range of major metro areas like Minneapolis/St Paul, Fargo, Des Moines, Omaha, Lincoln and Sioux Falls.
Ohiya Resort & Casino and Tatanka Golf Club are located on the Santee Sioux Reservation (established in 1863), a roughly 75,000-acre plot of land in eastern Nebraska with a population of approximately 1,000 people. The Paul Albanese creation flows freely (like the buffalo herd next door) across turbulently scenic land just 7 miles from Niobrara (population 400) on the Missouri and Niobrara rivers. Families on a cross-country trek that somehow bring them through this region are known to crash in the rooms above the Sportsmen’s Bar at the Two Rivers Hotel there, where steaks, seafood and Friday night fish fries provide fabulous fill-ups. But those who don’t mind a little casino floor smoke (or those looking for a swimming pool and hot tub) might bring the family to Ohiya Resort, where the rooms are spacious, clean and smoke/alcohol free, but the marquee attraction is without a doubt OUTDOORS on the golf course. The golf course is something to behold!
I asked where most of their guests come from, how do they pack their tee sheets. They get golf groups mostly from Sioux Falls (110 miles), Sioux City (85 miles) and Yankton (35 miles). And then they get the golf travelers –wanderers like my son and I — on their way to The Prairie Club, or to the prestigious private clubs a little further west, like Sand Hills and Dismal River. Nebraska has always had plenty of epic golf. It’s just most of the people who recognize that fact haven’t yet been to Tatanka Golf Club…or possibly even heard of it.
That’s understandable, given this is only Tatanka’s third season. It takes a bit for courses to grow in and for word to spread outward, but I made the drive down from Minneapolis (350 miles) to check it out and stood out on the patio looking at the entire golf course BELOW my feet. Wow.
Tatanka is Sioux for buffalo, and this is (essentially) “Dances With Wolves” country. You could see the Kevin Costner movie being filmed here; the property is that visually spectacular. The yardage guide shows how spread out the course is, how long of a loop you’ll experience, and you can see the trees, the fescue, the platform greens and valley fairways. You get a sense of the adventure in store, looking out the windows of the hotel rooms (where we stayed). Ohiya Resort has a little bit of everything, with lots of slot machines (I won $35 on my first pull), a restaurant with a rotating “grill and buffet” menu and automatic doors that can’t open fast enough to get you on that course.
We tested the natural drainage system on our visit, after 6 inches of solid rain, and found that 90 percent of the course drains 100 percent well. With most of the greens elevated, they remained quite firm and fast, tricky but true. Quite impressive. There’s an extensive rough halo keeping slightly errant shots from the tall grass — another fact I appreciated — and the entire round was both fair and challenging. NOTE: We played it with very little wind.
Fifty-four holes later I can tell you that the golf course is loaded with fun and uninterrupted (by houses) beauty. My favorite hole on the front nine would be the pretty but also pretty difficult par-5 second hole, that plays over a cemetery and up a virtual mountain to one of my favorite greens anywhere. My favorite hole on the back is hard to say, but No. 14 definitely has my favorite approach. The tee shot is difficult, but that wraparound reveal to the lakeside green is so awesome!
ONE THING I WOULD CHANGE: I would have found a way for Paul Albanese to make a par 3 out of the westward facing land between holes 14 and 15, to maximize the in-play “wow factor” of those incredible prairie sunsets. Standing on that 15th tee box and looking west you can see a hill where a green would have been awesome! (See my photo below.)
POST SCRIPT: It would be a significant shame for any visitor not to meet and appreciate the efforts of GM Justin Kitto at Tatanka Golf Club and the lady who basically runs the clubhouse — the fabulous, kind and generous Mary Zuhlke. Locals come from all over for her personable, always-with-a-smile service and for the diverse and tasty arrangements fresh off the clubhouse menu. I ate every one of my meals there!