Anticipation for the new golf course in Larchwood, Iowa is building. Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort will be officially opening their Rees Jones design “The Falls” in the spring of 2015! Jones is famous for many designs worldwide, including venues which have hosted the biggest events in golf. Are the Sioux Empire golfers ready?
Thanks to “The Falls” team, we were invited for a sneak peak of the golf course. Due to torrential rains this summer, holes 1-9 were not yet available for play. Grand Falls is allowing it time to mature during the winter months to provide the best product come spring 2015.
However, the back nine was open and ready for some shiny ProV1s, so here are some of our initial thoughts as well as a hole-by-hole preview!
This golf course is no walk in the park. With sharp undulations to the green complexes and fescue which gathers astray tee shots, golfers need to be precise on multiple levels to tear this golf course up. This is a championship golf course.
As one of the first 300 golfers to play the new course, the rough was a hazard in and of itself. It has seen so little traffic, the grain stood straight up. Thick, green and healthy, the club head and hosel did not agree with the grass! Anything more than a short-iron was difficult to control, if we were able to advance it at all.
The healthy rough helps with wayward tee shots, as they didn’t chase into the hazards or fescue. More traffic will help make the rough a little more playable, but it is lush indeed. Although the course is tight, the small plot of land used to design the course means that sometimes, extremely crooked shots will sometimes find a safe home–in another fairway.
The greens were rolling great! Firm and fast, the wrong leave on these greens proved a difficult two putt. As they see a full summer of heat and moisture, these greens will continue to become more lush and consistent. The golf staff plans to see the greens running quick, ideally a 10 on the Stimpmeter. They do not want speeds exceeding 11.
Despite being located in the corn fields of Iowa, the course was not wide open for errant shots. Golfers will need to keep the ball in play here, however, the crisply mown fairways are spacious. These wide fairways will help golfers hit a high number of shots from the short grass. Miss the fairway and there isn’t much real estate available before long grass or hazards gobble golf balls.
Time for some hole-by-hole.
Back Nine Hole-by-Hole
Hole 10, Par-4
Fantastic tee shot over a hazard, hitting away from the casino. It is a dog-leg left and with a solid tee shot, will offer an inviting short iron for the approach. The fairway is wide, providing a “bail-out” to the right for conservative plays. Drives down the left will reward golfers with a shorter approach.
This is a great par-4 to start the back nine.
Hole 11, Par-3
We played it from the back tees, where it played long. The green is protected with bunkers on the short right and left. The only logical miss here is short and directly in front of the green. Long, left and right will find some dangerous spots.
Behind the right-hand section of the green is a conveniently placed telephone pole which provides a nice sightline to aim toward in the event of a pin located on the right side of the green.
Hole 12, Par-4
This is a long par-4, which for us played back into a strong wind. Even a healthy tee shot here will leave golfers with a longer approach. The 12th may feature the largest green on the course, although we would have to check the front nine out to verify. Eat your spinach before pegging it up here!
This is a long, challenging hole where par is a welcome commodity.
Hole 13, Par-5
This downhill par-5 is a risk/reward par-5 with no water hazards. The hole borders the highway on the right hand side.
The tee shot will reward a straight shot, as fairway balls will run out for additional yardage. The green is guarded with bunkers and hills. A lay-up here is easy, as the lay-up area is large and gives players a simple wedge into the green. A second shot trying to reach the green requires a precise long-iron or wood into a small, protected green.
The 13th is absolutely a scoring opportunity and one of the more fun holes on the back nine.
Hole 14, Par-4
Almost undoubtedly the most interesting hole on the property (at least of what we saw on the back nine), the 14th is a par-4 which provides golfers with options.
Downwind, golfers can try to carry a water hazard which splits the fairway and attempt to get their ball close to a green protected by bunkers. The sensible play here is a lay-up between the two fairway bunkers and hitting a wedge onto the green.
Take note of the hole location and the slopes of the green, as a poor leave with the wedge may mean trouble. Even a tee shot which is a ‘lay-up,’ needs to be accurate. Putting it in these fairway bunkers will make a par tough to achieve.
Hole 15, Par-4
Looking at the map of the course, this par-4 appears as though it is a hole with no character.
Don’t fall into that trap.
This par-4 requires a few great shots for a chance at a birdie. The entirety of the right hand side is hazard. Tee shots which miss left find themselves on the side of a slope with a difficult approach. Even from the fairway, a blind landing zone with cabbage up the whole right side is intimidating.
Hole 16, Par-4
The 16th is another par-4 with some teeth.
Running away from the casino, this semi-downhill par-4 demands another accurate tee shot (noticing a trend?). The right hand side utilizes the same hazard the 15th hole uses to border the right side. A bunker on the left side of the fairway will challenge golfers.
The approach shot is fairly straight forward, offering an apparent rest from the previous few holes, but don’t sleep on this shot. A spine runs across the middle of the green and a missed approach shot will not yield a simple up-and-down. Even an inaccurate approach will leave some tough two putts.
Hole 17, Par-5
Into the wind, this is a healthy three shot par-5. Downwind, it is a reachable par-5 and a scoring opportunity.
Creative bunkering creates challenges for both the safe and risk/reward play. The fairway is wide, so bust driver as far as you can. The green is elevated and approach shots will have a blind landing– so trust your yardage and do your math correctly.
This is another great scoring opportunity, but into the wind a five is a good score. The final 160-yards of this hole offers some of the most elevation change of the back nine (aside from 13).
Hole 18, Par-3
As evidenced by the featured image above, the signature 18th hole will be home to many 5s and few 2s. The occasional (and inevitable) hole-in-one will entice a raucous reaction in front of the casino. The longest this hole measures is 170 yards from the back tee boxes.
A miss long here will see a ball carom down the back side of a 30-40 foot slope behind the green. An up-and-down from here is unlikely. Best recommendation for this hole: play a tee box with a comfortable yardage. Missing this green doesn’t leave many great options.
The neatest part of the finale is the waterfall off to the right of the green. This immaculately designed rock structure flows over two levels and back down into the course’s central pond.
An awesome way to finish a day at “The Falls.”
This course will be one of the best tests of golf in the tri-state area. With its number of tee boxes and welcoming fairways, it is designed to cater to the vast spectrum of golfers. It is a championship style golf course which will surprise anyone driving up. From the road, “The Falls” seems like a typical cornfield course, but in fact, the opposite is true. Hidden are hills and elevation changes throughout the course, all of which adds character.
My biggest regret of the day was missing out playing the front nine. I really wanted to see the scenic 9th hole, a par-4 with water surrounding the right hand side of both the tee shot and approach shots (picture 18 at Doral). As far as the routing, I will be interested to see how the reviews come in.
My initial thoughts are to have the nines swap, as the par-4 9th looks like a beautiful finishing hole and the 10th tee neighbors the pro shop, an ideal opening tee shot. But I will trust Rees Jones and his team of designers. If a guest makes a walk-off hole-in-one on the par-3 18th, the designers will look like geniuses as the group makes their way to the blackjack tables!
When the course opens in the spring, get out and play it. And take a picture next to the lion statue on the 18th hole. I did.
Notes after visiting, July 2014:
- Rees Jones kept playability and game preservation at the forefront of his design philosophy
- The greens are easily accessible from the front, yet protected with penalizing misses
- Collection areas are in common miss areas for amateurs
- The green complexes have subtle undulation while still providing multiple challenging (but fair), hole locations
- Trouble appears to be long and left for many shots, a miss few high handicappers make with regularity– this should make it more playable for the average golfer
- Hole #9 may become widely accepted as many visitors’ favorite hole. It is a par-4 which wraps beautifully around the course’s main central pond
- The golf course changes dramatically from each teeing location so golfers of all skill are able to find a suitable test for their game.
- The course is designed to play firm and fast, so the ability to use the ground to one’s advantage will be a valuable asset to golfers.
- If the greens run at a 10 or 11 for the stimpmeter, they will be very fun to putt– subtle slopes with some large swales and tiers.
- The waterfall seen from the casino–and located on the right hand side of the finishing par-3, 18th hole– is beautiful.
Past Content of “The Falls”
In May of 2013, Rees Jones made a visit to Iowa to discuss outlines and plans for the new casino course. We were able to meet with him and shoot video– view it here!
In July of this summer, they made announcements regarding their opening. After a talk with course superintendent Chris Hickman, we were able to gather some information about the course and the vision for this top-notch golf facility. Read all about our initial thoughts here!