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Waterloo, Iowa Boasts Three Top Municipal Courses

Distinctive Destinations - Hawkeye Haven

By Glen Turk

Waterloo, IA may be the fourth largest city in the Hawkeye state with a population of just under 70,000, but it wants to be first in golf. To begin with, for the past 77 years the city has hosted the Waterloo Open, Iowa's largest annual professional golf tournament. Secondly, the city first settled in 1845 is home to three distinctive municipal golf courses that have been able to keep their prices at near 19th century rates. Sure rounds will never be 20 cents like they were way back when, but $20 for 18 holes with a cart seems like a blast from the past to me.

"The biggest thing I think that sets Waterloo Golf apart from any other community in the Midwest is the commitment from the City and Golf Professionals to provide a wide variety of first-rate high quality golfing experiences at very reasonable rates," explained JB Bolger, Golf Manager of Waterloo Leisure Services. We are able to do this by maintaining efficient maintenance operations at all times. Being part of a larger city structure also has it's advantages: if we need the skills of a plumber, electrician or other skilled labor we already have professionals on the payroll that can handle these items 'in house' without having to utilize outside labor," stated Bolger.

Monte Meyer, Waterloo's longest tenured golf professional, summarizes Waterloo's passion for golf this way. "Having been at South Hills for 20+ years I can tell you that Waterloo golfers love their golf and really love their courses. The golfers also are proud of how well maintained the three public courses are and the fact that golf is so affordable in this area. I think for the most part players have a favorite course of the three that they call their home course - but they try to play all three before the season ends," concluded Meyer, Head Golf Professional at South Hills GC.

We begin our look into the Waterloo golf scene with where it all started - the 1908 establishment known as Irv Warren Memorial Golf Course at Brynes Park. Strategically placed trees and small rolling greens highlight the 6194 yard course that is comprised of five par-3's, eight par-4's, and five par-5's. Twelfth year head golf professional Andy Devine has been around long enough to know why the Waterloo golfing public gravitated to this elder statesman. "Due to the uniqueness of the course's strategic layout, length, and amount of par-3's and par-5's it allows for the possibility of a completely different experience every time. Golfers also love coming back because they sometimes can even shoot a lower score because of shorter yardage. Irv Warren is also about customer loyalty. We understand that there are other golfing options around and strive to create an enjoyable experience for every individual every time," said Devine.

It doesn't take long for Irv Warren Memorial GC to tap into the risk vs. reward part of your brain. The first hole is the first of many that will ask you the question "to go or not to go?" Andy Devine picks up the opening hole description from there. "One of my favorite holes on the golf course is the first. The 339 yard par-4 definitely offers two ways to play it. Option one is to hit a driver as far as you can down the middle, but the farther you hit it, the more trees come into play that forms a bottleneck approach to the green. The second way to play is with a long iron or fairway wood to position you for a 100 yard second shot into a green protected by a bunker. In each scenario, one must avoid the trees on the right because the only recovery is a chip shot back to the fairway," stated Devine.

Seven holes later at the corner of Martin Street and W. 4th resides Devine's second favorite hole, the 205 yard par-3 8th. "What I love about this par-3 is it demands length as well as accuracy," explained Devine. "The challenge of the hole is that is lies uphill and has a very large green, so just hitting the green doesn't ensure par. Also it is important to be able to hit your shot in the correct position because the shape of the green allows for no straight putts," said Devine.

Don't be surprised on a glorious summer morning in Waterloo if you are in the presence of a lot of junior players on any of their three city courses. That's because Waterloo is known for their Junior Pass, which the locals tell me is second to none in the country. Sure they may be biased, but that second to none rating seems to be grounded in fact. Andy Devine give the particulars to this amazing city-run program. "The junior pass is $10.00 for all juniors until they start college. The pass begins the day kids start summer break to the day they start school in the fall. The only stipulations are they must tee off by noon on a weekday, and the junior must complete a golf course etiquette class," concluded Devine. For clarification purposes, juniors are not paying $10 per round during the summer, they are paying $10 total! With a deal like that I wonder how hard could it be for me to pass as a 6'4" 16 year-old?

Next it's on to Gates Park Golf Course which was opened to the public twenty years after Irv Warren. Immediately when the year 1928 is mentioned as a golf course origin date thoughts of a traditional, mature, tree lined property immediately come to mind. You'd be correct on all three accounts but there's one other design aspect of Gate Parks that's unique to the time. "The advantage Gates has is that there are only two holes that are bordered by streets and the rest of the golf course is set back so it provides a true escape. The comments we hear the most from outside golfers is that it is in great shape and Gates Park is the best layout in town," explained Head Golf Professional Nate Lubs.

Playing Gates Park from the tips is a stern test indeed, with all par-4's measuring over 367 yards on the 6839 yard tract. Combine that with the shortest par-3 being 182 yards, and you better have your long iron game intact in order to score at Gates. The back nine starts with the best stretch on the property according to Nate Lubs. "My two favorite holes on the golf course are #10 and #14. #10 is a short par-5 (493 from the blue tees) that is tree lined on the right and left sides. If you hit a good tee shot the longer hitters will be thinking about making eagle and getting their back 9 started off under par. If you don't hit it straight you will be punching out of the trees, but you will still have a chance to make birdie. #14 is a long par 4 (440 yards from the blue tees) that doglegs to the left and again requires a well placed tee shot. The right side of the fairway is ideal because anything that hits there will work its way back to the middle of the fairway and leave an open look at the green. Anything to the right will make for an extra long second shot and anything to the left will most likely be blocked by the trees," concluded Lubs.

In between holes 10 and 14 are two holes directly impacted by a uniquely shaped pond. "The pond does come into play on #12, #13, and sometimes #6. It is our largest pond with the only other water hazard on #2. I've asked the Superintendent about the shape, but there doesn't seem to be any reason or story behind it," explained Lubs. How great is that - a course over 80 years old still has some mystery to it.

Established in 1974 South Hills Golf Course was once rolling farmland. The 6653 yard tract from the tips is characterized by hills, plentiful space, and unpredictable winds. Views of the surrounding countryside add to the charm and challenge of this course. Head Golf Professional Monte Meyer explains what sets South Hills apart from the competition in Waterloo. "South Hills is rolling but it isn't wide open in many places. I think one advantage South Hills has is that we have enough trees and hills that you at times feel as if your group is the only group on the course. The players that have just completed their first round at South Hills always talk about how fast and smooth the greens are. Many players aren't use to the speed South Hills greens are and end up having a few more putts then they are use to. I think it is this fact that brings many players back to South Hills. They also like the fact that South Hills is out away from the city so it makes a peaceful golf experience," stated Monte Meyer, Iowa native and PGA Professional at South Hills for 21 years.

It doesn't take long to enjoy a phenomenal golf hole at South Hills according to Meyer. "My favorite hole at South Hills is number 4 - a 132 to 172 yard par-3. There is a pond that runs down the right hand side that is just close enough to the target that it can influence your thinking on the tee. Miss your shot a little left and you are behind trees pitching to a green that runs away from you. This is a great hole because most players are hitting a short to mid iron to a large green that will hold a shot. My suggestion for this hole is to play for the middle of the green regardless of where the pin is. If you miss the green, try to miss it on the right hand side because this will leave you a slightly uphill approach," concluded Meyer.

When teeing it up at South Hills make sure to pay special attention to Meyer's second favorite hole, the par-5, 539 yard 13th. "The 13th plays slightly up hill on the drive and then straight down hill for your second shot. This is a great risk reward hole because the medium to long hitter can try to fly their drive over the hill gaining up to 50 or more yards of run. If you do decide to rip one of the tee, make sure you miss left. This play may
leave you in the rough but you'll still have a chance at the green in two," said Meyer.

Finally, Monte went out of his way to praise the maintenance staff at South Hills for maintaining such a high level of excellence. "I really believe our greens are the best greens in the Cedar Valley. They are very quick and true all year long. I also must say the grounds crew works extremely hard to keep the course in great shape. The past three years has been a very challenging time for the crew. It has been very wet and very warm causing flooding and turf damage. However, the crew has viewed this as a time to make changes to areas to prevent the flooding and turf loss if this wet/hot weather continues. They have added tiling to many areas, built a huge dike on #15 to hold back the flood waters and will be adding a huge drainage pond to the left hand side of number 1 in 2011. By doing these things it shows our commitment to keeping the course in great shape going forward," finished Meyer.

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Article Tags: Waterloo Golf

Revised: 03/10/2011 - Article Viewed 25,105 Times

About: Glen Turk

Glen Turk Glen Turk is a Wisconsin native and is the Senior Writer/Editor of Midwest Golfing Magazine. Midwest Golfing Magazine was formerly known as Pub-Links Golfer's Magazine and is a free publication distributed four times per year throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio.

His duties at MGM include writing course features, facilitating product testing, and overseeing the overall content and look of the magazine. But clearly his most important task is playing as much golf as his wife allows. Fortunately for him, she plays also and loves out-driving him even with a 60 yard head start.

Glen plays to a 6 handicap but once set a record by having his ball retriever regripped 15 times in one calendar year. It was a December trip to Guam that ultimately did him in. Finally, if you haven't caught on by now, the two most worthy weapons in Glen's writing arsenal are self-deprecating humor and pithy one-liners.

My signature line, "Be A Force on The Course" and now more recently, "Hit 'Em Where They Mow!" can be reused at no charge.

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