July 9, 2020 By: Joe Barks — The 18-hole, par-71, 7,015-yard private course in Valentine, Neb. will be next door to The Prairie Club and add to the appeal of golf in the state’s scenic Sand Hills region, with a layout designed by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner along the rim of the Snake River Canyon and through sandy “chop hills.” The project, expected to cost between $17 million and $18 million and funded entirely by a group of 11 founders, will create a club with membership limited to 60 from Nebraska and South Dakota and 120 from out-of-state, and include 48 bedrooms in 10 cottages, plus a “bunkhouse.”
Work has begun on The Ranch Golf Club, an 18-hole private course southwest of Valentine, Neb. that will be next door to the acclaimed Prairie Club along Nebraska Highway 97, the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald reported.
John Schuele, President and CEO of Waitt Co., an Omaha-based investment firm, formed an investors group that bought the land on the rim of the Snake River Canyon last year from rancher Cleve Trimble and has retained Gil Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner to lay out and build the course, the World-Herald reported.
The Ranch will have eight holes on the canyon rim and 10 in the sandy “chop hills,” the World-Herald reported. The canyon will be on the right for holes on the front nine and on the left for holes 15-18.
“Cleve has called this my unrequited love, and we’re out there and doing it, which is great,” Hanse said. “It’s a property I loved from the moment I walked on it. The stars have aligned.”
Schuele said the project, expected to cost between $17 million and $18 million, is debt-free, the World-Herald reported. It was approved on July 6th by the Cherry County Board of Commissioners.
“We have raised all the money with 11 founders, and we wrapped that up last month,” said Schuele, the Managing Partner.
Membership will be limited to 60 from Nebraska and South Dakota and 120 from outside the state, the World-Herald reported. The club will have 48 bedrooms in 10 cottages and a “bunkhouse cottage.” There will be a reception building for when golfers first enter the property and a clubhouse that overlooks the canyon.
First on the site in August 2001, Hanse told the World-Herald that he’s never had another course take as long to get off the ground. “Either it’s finished by now, or it never happened,” he said.
His excitement for this course stems from the uniqueness and fragility of the land, the World-Herald reported. Part of it is because of the high dunes—or “chop hills”—that were once featured in National Geographic magazine in 1978.
There also is a transitional area, through which remain the ruts of the Fort Sidney-to-Fort Pierre wagon trail, along with specimen trees and plenty of yucca, to reach the vistas provided by the canyon rim, the World-Herald reported. The tree-lined canyon drops 200 feet to the river. Cap rock—a layer of hard rock that “caps” other geologic formations—is exposed in many places.
The plans were dormant until about three years ago, the World-Herald reported, but Hanse and Trimble had remained friends, and Hanse called in 2016 after completing the course for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil about trying again.
The conduits to Schuele, a former tennis player at Nebraska who became a club champion at Shadow Ridge Country Club in Omaha, were Omaha businessman Greg Stine and Bill Kubly of Lincoln, Neb.-based Landscapes Unlimited, the World-Herald reported. Trimble knew Stine through the renowned Sand Hills Golf Club, the first course in the Nebraska Sand Hills that whetted the appetite for more minimalist golf destination courses in a sparsely populated area of the state.
Schuele said he and his wife, Mary, had been looking at ranchland and ultimately decided “why not build a golf course and have something fun to do?” He met Trimble on September 27 of 2019, the World-Herald reported.
“A couple people knew Cleve was ready to sell the land, and as soon as I walked it with him, I said, ‘OK, I’m doing this,’” Schuele said. “I’m a pretty conservative guy, but as crazy as that sounds, this was too neat a piece of land and we could combine with the ability for Gil to work on it.
“I’m a big pro-Nebraska development person,” Schuele added. “My dad grew up in Boone County, which isn’t the Sand Hills, but it was back in the ’30s and ’40s as bad as the ground was there, and my uncle had a ranch up by Pine Ridge. So I’m not just a golf guy, I’m a Sand Hills guy with it in my blood who loves golf.”
The course will create many as 30 to 40 jobs for Cherry County, the World-Herald reported. A caddie program is proposed for the club, and the membership intends to fund at least $40,000 annually in scholarships to local high school seniors.
Hanse said he first met Schuele when Schuele and Stine flew to Tulsa, Okla., for dinner with him and Wagner while they were completing renovation work at Southern Hills Country Club’s championship course, the World-Herald reported.
“They assured us they were excited to do the best job possible,” Hanse said.
Trimble, who described his role as a “respected elderly consultant,” said he’s pleased he’s been included in the decision-making, the World-Herald reported.
“My skill set basically carried us to where we are,” said Trimble, who’s in his late 70s. “But for a facilitator in finance and construction and operations, John [Schuele] is the man. He’s taken it over beautifully.
“I’m getting along in age,” Trimble added. “I wanted somebody who could follow through. I’m delighted with John. He follows through on everything he says. He’s focused, he’s purposed, he’s good.”
The architects’ Caveman Construction firm is building the course in conjunction with Landscapes Unlimited, the World-Herald reported. Hanse said between seven and 11 holes could be seeded this season, but there’s no set timetable for the course to open.
“What we’re adamant about is we’re not going to rush,” he said. “This land is too good and too important not to get it right.”
Par for the course will be 71, with five par-3 holes, four par-5s and the rest par-4s, the World-Herald reported. The back tees will play to 7,015 yards, and the forward tees to 4,700.
The 18th hole will be a long par-3 over the canyon rim to one of the most dramatic green sites Hanse said he’s even been presented with, the World-Herald reported.
“The founding group was fairly strong in their opinion the clubhouse should be looking into the canyon, so we changed some of the routing to accommodate, and they were accepting the 18th hole would be a par-3,” he said. “In our mind, it was the best way to finish the golf course.”
Holes 4 through 10 and part of the 11th are on the land purchased from The Prairie Club next door, the World-Herald reported.
Hanse said he’s as excited about the inland holes in the “chop hills” as those around the canyon rim, the World-Herald reported. The course goes into gentle rolls and then builds up into some of the “heavier” hills. “We touch three very distinct landscapes within the 18 holes, and I can’t think of any other Sand Hills courses that do that,” he said.
The course will also have shorter loops—one is six holes—that can be played without being far from the clubhouse, the World-Herald reported, for golfers who might not want to play a second 18 in a day, but don’t want to go in, either.
The course will have riding carts, but in addition to having caddies, “we’re working hard to make sure it will be easy to walk,” Hanse said.