Dismal River Golf Club---Mullen, NE
Dismal River is the greatest luxury golf escape that I have ever seen. It is in the middle of nowhere Nebraska and
will take most people a very long time to actually get there by plane, train, or automobile. But once you are there,
there is absolutely no reason to ever leave. The accommodations are beyond first class, the amenities are off the
charts, and the staff is friendly, welcoming, and inviting. It is Golf Heaven, if there is such a thing, with heavenly
views in every direction.
Beyond the amazing vibe of the club, the Nicklaus course at Dismal River is a truly unique golf course in an ideal
setting. It provides for some of the most unique and interesting golf holes anyone will ever see and this sets the
table for some of the most dramatic golf shots anyone will ever play.
There are blind shots on the first two holes…
Stunning par 3’s at holes #3 …
#5 with its saddle green…
#15 is set in the dunes…
And #10 has the epic bunker in the middle of the green…
6 is a unique par 4 with a very manageable forced carry off the tee into a punchbowl green set in the dunes.
7 and 12 are classically great holes, with the first being a par 4 and the latter being a par 5.
8 is a drivable par 4 with an alternate route to the hole playing out to the left.
But nothing stands out more to me than the 13th hole. But let me rewind before I dive into the 13th hole.
After my first visit, I said I loved Dismal River but I noted it had two main flaws. #1—it was unwalkable and #2--it was
unplayable by an 18 handicap or higher. At the time of those statements, I had no idea that the management team
at Dismal River was already dedicated to constantly improving the golf course. And improve it, they have.
As to my first point…the course being unwalkable…I stand corrected. It is quite walkable. One of my friends, just walked 100 holes at Dismal River in one day to raise money for charity. Another one of my good friends walks Dismal every time he plays it. This type of golfing activity has been made possible by the walking paths cut into the native grass and the tweaking of tee boxes.
Regarding the tweaking of tee boxes, this has also helped on the 2nd point I listed above. But before I get to that,
let me rewind again. You see, when I first played Dismal they had six sets of tee boxes and now they have 3.
Having fewer tee boxes has improved the flow of the course and, therefore, the ease of the walk.
This reduction in tee boxes has also made the course much more playable. I am unsure if total distance has been
reduced, but what I am sure of is that very trying/touch and go forced carries have been eliminated…except if you
have the game and the length to play the tips.
These tee box changes have had a very dramatic impact on the 13th hole. I remember playing hole 13 for the very
first time. I had a forced carry of perhaps 200 yards off the tee with a centerline bunker in play. I did make that
carry…but barely. Then I had a 180 yard approach shot into a teeny-tiny peanut shaped green that sloped
severely right to left. I did pop a 4 iron up on the green and two putted for my par, but it was such an amazing feat
that I still recall the precise shots I hit that day.
As the hole is set up now, the 13th hole has a very moderate forced carry and driver, 3 wood, 3 iron, heck, even a
6 iron can be hit off that tee. This makes the centerline bunker more of a hazard to thoughtfully consider…you
might try to carry it, lay up, play up the right side fairway, or take the left fairway. All of these ideas need to be
considered before you hit your tee shot. If you choose driver and carry the bunker, you will have a sand wedge
into that small green. In fact, this hole has gone from being border line unplayable to one of my favorite holes in
the entire world. And this transformation has a lot to do with the reduction in tee boxes.
Furthermore, this increase in the course’s playability has a lot to do with the changes in the maintenance of the
course. My first trip out there in 2010 the long native grass second cut of rough was lush, green and thick. Any
ball hit into the rough had an 80% chance of being a lost ball. Now, the maintenance of that rough has made the
thick, lush, green grass thin, whispy, and brown and any ball hit into it has an 80% of being found with a chance to
get a lot of club on the ball for a recovery shot.
Make no mistake about it, the course is still a great challenge. But it is more of a fun and entertaining challenge
rather than a ball-busting/ass-kicking challenge. When I first played the course in 2010, I wrote the following…
“Jack Nicklaus' Dismal River is a very nice test of golfing skill. The thing I liked most about it was just that; it is a
serious test of shot-making, mental composure, and knowing your game. In fact, I felt a lot like I was playing a Mike
Strantz course a few times. That is it seemed to be like he was trying to mentally intimidate the golfer prior to the
golfer even swinging a club.
For example, take the 18th hole. For giggles, the first time I played that hole I decided to play the hole from the
back tee marker…all 600 yards of it!! After the tee shot, the hole plays straight uphill. So, mentally the golfer
might be saying, “this is B.S.…600 yards uphill par 5…this is too much…this is unplayable…this is a garbage
hole!!!” But here is the kicker, the green is a punch bowl green. Just get the ball on the green anywhere, heck just
trickle the ball over the fringe, and the ball will funnel to the hole. So you see, even a 10 handicap who can only
drive the ball 250ish can play the tips on this hole and still have a shot at par if they just keep scrapping.
Anyway, this type of stuff happens again and again. An impossible looking hole, really isn’t…perhaps due to an
easy green. And easy looking holes, have butt kicking greens. But having said that, the course isn’t easy. It is a
shot makers course and you have to go into it with the idea that you are going to get tested.
Furthermore, I believe this course is Jack Nicklaus' homage to minimalism. It is said that he moved almost no dirt to
build the course. But the feel there is distinctly Dismal River. Compared to its more famous neighbor, Dismal is
more sculpted out of the natural setting rather than blended in like Sand Hills.
In a nutshell, the golf course at Dismal River is a challenge. It has mind-bending scenic views, crazy demanding
shots…but many are quite frankly easier than they look, kind of like that Mike Strantz head games thing I was
talking about earlier. With a size and scale feeling that is unmatched.”
Even though the 18th green has been tweaked since I initially made this statement, the Strantz mental intimidation
tactics remain throughout the course. And with the other tweaks mentioned above, the course remains a challenge
but its fun factor has risen to a level that is off the charts.
For fun, here is some more scoop on Dismal River.
-For starters, here is some information on the new course being built at Dismal with some jaw-droppingly amazing
photos thanks to Aidan Bradley.
-Additionally, here is the Speaker of the House talking about his time at Dismal River and, yep, I was there when he
was and it was pretty neat to interact with him and witness his all-time best round.
-And here is a video of some friends of mine taking the ride into the club via the secret entrance road.
-And I stumbled across this video as well.