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Not-So-Little Course on the Prairie

The better the player, the more fun Sand Hills can be. With reachable par fives and, in favorable winds, two drivable par fours, it's a course whose risks are dramatic but worthwhile--for a player with imaginative recovery skills.

Because of the wind, the unevenness of the ground and the fast roll of the ball, this is not dial-a-shot golf. Sand Hills asks the expert to be intelligent, intuitive and improvisational. Because of the wind and the slopes, the course engenders extremes--four-hundred-yard drives downwind and perfectly hit bullets that travel only one- eighty into the wind--and extreme invention, like four-iron run-ups from seventy yards, full wedges played to spin back fifty feet, eight-foot putts aimed nearly 180 degrees away from the target. There are traces of Augusta, of St. Andrews, Shinnecock and Pinehurst, but Sand Hills has its own identity. It is golf that rewards talent and artistry more than middle-of-the-green consistency. Tiger Woods, David Duval and Phil Mickelson would love it, and we would love to watch them play it. It is golf with soul.

But while it's a thrill ride, Sand Hills is not a wild ride. For all the possibilities the course holds, it is a paragon of harmony and flow. No opening hole introduces a golf course more gracefully and completely than Sand Hills's 549-yard par-five first, a ruggedly winding climb between the blowouts that in every way exemplifies the course's virtues. Conversely, there is no better finish than the combination of the short seventeenth, a jewel of a par three that sits as perfectly on its plot of land as the Postage Stamp does at Troon, and the 467-yard par-four eighteenth, which ends the journey as memorably as the first begins it.

In between, there is one right-feeling hole after another, from the back-to-back short par fours at the seventh and eighth to Crenshaw's favorite, the uphill 216-yard thirteenth, which gives the impression that a shot hit too far right will fall off the edge of the world. Sand Hills has that impossible thing to legislate--good taste. The setting, the design and the playability all blend to produce a whole that Pat Ruddy, the founder of Ireland's idyllic European Club, calls "the beautiful golf." When everything else is stripped away, it's the kind of golf that golfers love most--the kind that not only makes you want to hit a good shot, but will draw you into the harmony that makes you think you will. That's the feeling I got over that fairy-dusted two-iron. And after my shot held its line through the wind and ended on the green, I knew it had everything to do with Sand Hills.

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