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South Dakota's Winter Golf Secret
Mar 21, 2013
Editor's Note: Welcome to Fore South Dakota, the first in a series of columns showcasing South Dakota's special places to play golf.
Nestled in a development just outside of Rapid City on Sheridan Lake Road is South Dakota’s only golf course that is open for play parts of every month of the year. The Golf Club at Red Rock is a public course that will let you enjoy all the golf you can handle for the day during the winter months for $49. Most South Dakotans don’t know about this little golf secret kept by our Western brethren. But this past week, when the snow in our front yard measured over waist deep, my son, Jake, and I checked out the rumor of winter golf in South Dakota. Red Rock did not disappoint.
The five sets of tees play from 5038 yards (manageable for any golfer) to the tips of 7114 (a long ways to go). The slope for the blue tees (4th longest) is 138. Slope is a universal measurement established by the United States Golf Association (USGA) to advise a golfer how hard it is going to be to find their errant golf shots. 113 is an average slope, and you probably need only two golf balls to make a round on a course with that slope. To play a 138 slope you would be advised to have a whole bag of balls along. For Red Rock, once the rough grows up on the hills’ sides in the spring, plan on using every ball in your bag.
Red Rock snakes in and out of — and over — valleys and canyons that are, well, red! Almost every hole plays along the side of a canyon, over a canyon, into a canyon, or from ridge to ridge across a canyon. Other than small, tame creeks, the only water your ball will see is in a pond that guards the front of the 10th hole.
The March days that we played there was an ice storm at home on the Coteau, and Red Rock was a pleasant 70 degrees for our golf sandals and shorts.
Jason Young, a Pierre native, is the PGA Professional at Red Rock. Since Jason answers the phone in the pro shop in the winter when you call to make tee times, he is also the most popular person for any South Dakota golfer to get to speak to between Thanksgiving and Easter. Jason is quick to get to the essence of Red Rock with the advice that, like no other course in South Dakota, the key to this course is to learn to use the slopes that exist on almost every hole. Here are a few of his pointers.
On #8, a par 3, hit to the right side of the green (or off the green) and let the ball roll down to the pin. Aim for the green, and when your ball stops rolling it will be somewhere in the gulley to the left.
On #9, a par 5 with a blind approach shot, either set it up to the right (where you will be able to see your way into a tough green structure) or land it off the green on the top of the hill and let it trickle down to the green and pin. Aim for the green, and if you find your ball, it may be down the hill and across the street.
On #14, a long par 5, you don’t need a driver. The 580 yards are designed to be played crest of hill (200 yards), to crest of hill (200 yards), to the green — which of course slopes in a manner that may send your ball down the hill and back to where you came from. Be warned, the second shot is over the second canyon — there is no fairway on the left side! If you aim to where the middle of the fairway would seem to belong, your ball will be recovered days later somewhere down the canyon sloping to the north.
Every hole at Red Rock has a similar story. Probably more than any other course in South Dakota, local knowledge is serious currency at Red Rock.
GREAT GOLF MOMENTS
This writer is a very mediocre 15 handicap. A 15 handicap means that there are rare times when by some miracle a shot lands where Tiger Woods might hit it. More often, it lands where Mr. Rogers would hit it. But in the twists in turns of the slopes at Red Rock, every golfer has a chance for a Tiger Woods moment.
The 287 yard #7 plays around and tight against a hillside. If the golfer is blessed with a good fade (which on other days might be called a lousy slice), the ball can hit up on the hill to the right, power forward past the trap, and roll down to the green. I speak the truth — and have a photo to prove that on #7, a 15 handicapper can come within two yards of driving the green on a par 4 hole! Setting up the perfect opportunity, of course, for a three putt!
The 555 yard #14 does not require a driver, according to the club pro, Jason, but who goes all the way to Red Rock to lay up on a spring day? If you hit it just right, bounce over the ridge on the right, and catch the down slope, an average 220 yard drive, on the right day and with the right wind, can roll out to 305 yards! For one moment, you’re tour eligible. The next shot will disappear into the canyon (see Local Knowledge above).
ALWAYS A FRIEND
Funny thing about golf — you get paired with strangers on the first tee box, and you always end the round with friends. We were joined on one round by Dick and Gavin Fawbush. Dick has a clothing store in Madison and his son manages a hotel in Rapid City. Gavin golfed for USD, and is a Red Rock regular, i.e. local knowledge. For example, on the par 3 downhill #15, Gavin explained that the hole punishes good shots and rewards bad ones. If you hit the big pine tree in the rough to the right front of the green, your ball will gently drop and roll to a place near the pin for an easy birdie. (Jake lucked into one of those.) If you hit a solid 3 iron into the 190 yard away green, you will find your ball somewhere in the woods, down the hill behind the green. (Jake got one of those too.)
A GREAT WAY TO SPEND A BLIZZARD DAY
When the snow is up to your windowsill in eastern South Dakota, remember that out west, in our state’s banana belt, there are hackers and duffers teeing it up at Red Rock. But no matter what time of the year, Red Rock is a great place to play challenging golf. And while the weather was different, some things in South Dakota never change. Since Madison was playing in the semifinals of the State A in Rapid City that day, like true South Dakotans, the Fawbush father and son picked up after the 12th hole — can’t risk being late for the state tourney tip off.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.