The Wakonda Club
Iowa's Home of Championship Golf
By Mike May
Any golf course that hosts championship events is a destination that all golfers will put on their 'bucket list.' The city of Des Moines, Iowa has one of those destinations -- the Wakonda Club (www.wakondaclub.com; 3915 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, IA; 515-285-4962). Opened for play in 1922, the Wakonda Club has hosted a number of top-tier events and attracted many top-notch players over the years. Those top-tier events include the Big Ten Championships in 1922, the Trans-Mississippi Amateur on four occasions, the 1939 NCAA Championships, the Women's Western Open in 1946 and 1956, the Western Amateur in 1947, and the Champions Tour's Principal Charity Classic in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The premier event which the club hosted was the U.S. Amateur in 1963, which was won by future PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman. As for top-notch players, Arnold Palmer visited the course in 1975 and Jack Nicklaus came a year later. Both were involved in exhibitions at the club. Let's hope 2015 British Open champion and Iowa golfing legend Zach Johnson visits soon.
In a nutshell, the Wakonda Club has a track record of attracting the game's best players - always has and always will. Greatness attracts greatness, as they say!
Originally designed by golf course architect William Boice Langford and then renovated by Roger Rulewich in 2002, the Wakonda Club (a private club with views of the Des Moines skyline in the distance) is well-maintained and is always in great shape. When you walk in the pro shop, you can sense that their attitude is one where they are always ready for the game's great players.....and the rest of us who love this great game.
It's worth noting that the name of the club is connected to the local Indians that inhabited the area for centuries. As legend has it, the local Indians worshiped a god named Manito. His power was Wakonda.
Before you arrive at the first tee, remember that the Wakonda Club is a top-notch golf course that simultaneously tests your mental toughness, shotmaking skills, and your overall physical fitness. From the outset, it doesn't take long to realize that the Wakonda Club will test your physical fitness as it is surprisingly hilly, starting with the approach to the 1st green. If you walk this course, use a pull cart or find a strong caddy. As for the greens, they are in perfect condition - true, consistent, firm, quick, smooth, fair, and fast. Don't leave yourself with a downhill, sidehill putt at the Wakonda Club.
Very few golf courses offer as many tees as this course - six in all, ranging from the gold tees (5,275 yards) to the black tees (6,910 yards). The white tees, which measure 6,313 yards, will give you a good run for your money!
"Wakonda Club is a special place to play golf for several reasons," says Aaron Krueger, PGA head golf professional at the Wakonda Club. "The course is wonderfully preserved from its original Langford layout and requires a tremendous amount of shotmaking to be successful. In the 'Golden Age' of golf course architecture, the designers made the course fit the land and that is what makes Wakonda so special. Also, knowing the history of the club and the championships that have been held here make it a special place. Most of all, the membership and people of Wakonda make this truly a wonderful club!"
There are many holes at the Wakonda Club which, on paper, are not very long, but the elevation changes will lengthen them. That is the case on the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 11th, and the 18th. There are some holes that are challenging, where the degree of difficulty has increased because of the hilly terrain. That is the case on the 1st, 10th, 12th, and the 16th. As for water, it comes into play on five holes - the 5th (on two occasions), 10th, 14th, 16th, and the 17th. In other words, the Wakonda Club is a complete test for the competitive golfer. That's why the Champions Tour visits this course and those players hit from the black tees.
Each par five is a classic design which will usually require three shots to reach the putting surface. On the front nine, most drives at the par five 5th do not reach the crown of the hill which crosses the fairway, which means your second shot is 'blind.' It's best to layup in front of the stream which crosses the fairway - about 140 yards shy of the green. What the par five 8th lacks in distance is compensated by its right-to-left configuration, which lengthens the hole. The 8th green is fairly large and flat so it's possible to get 'up & down' if your approach shot to the green falls short of its target. The par five 13th is a serpentine-like hole that is filled with peaks and valleys as it meanders from left to right toward a raised, two-tiered green. Since the 13th green is rather large, take note of where the pin is located. Securing a two-putt par from the front of the green when the pin is at the back is a Herculean effort, to say the least. The par five 15th is straight-away and slightly uphill. With two solid shots, you will be left with a wedge to the green. It might take an extra club to reach a back pin placement and beware of the sand bunker that guards the front of the green. Getting 'up & down' from that trap is a PGA Tour-quality sandy! Playing those four long holes in par is a worthy achievement, which would make Manito proud. And getting home in two on any par five would take the power of Wakonda!
When playing the Wakonda Club, you are never far from a snack or a thirst-quenching drink. The 14th Stand is accessible on two occasions - after walking off the 5th green and on your way to the 14th tee. It also has restroom facilities. And, of course, the Clubhouse is located at the turn which you can visit for a snack, drink, or a bathroom break.
If you are not as interested in golf as your significant other, then the Wakonda Club does offer other forms of recreation - a great outdoor pool and a first-class tennis complex. And, when you are hungry, the dining options are among the finest in the area.
Finally, while cold or wet weather may limit play at certain times of the year at the Wakonda Club, golf is alive and well every day of the year because the club has the city's only indoor winter driving range. It gives the members a chance to keep their game in tip-top shape for the next top-tier event to visit the Wakonda Club.
Revised: 12/02/2015 - Article Viewed 20,103 Times - View Golf Course Profile
Written By: Mike May
Mike May is a Wellington, Florida-based freelance golf and sportswriter, who is also a 25+ year public relations and communications executive in the sporting goods industry. He is also a veteran high school soccer official, an experienced high school basketball coach, an avid athlete, a part-time personal trainer, and a passionate golfer who is forever in pursuit of Old Man Par. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.
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