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Iowa State's Veenker Memorial GC Retains Maxwell Hallmarks

By: Steve Habel


Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series on the golf courses of the Big 12 Conference. In previous features, Cybergolf's Steve Habel has profiled the Traditions Club, home to the golf teams of Texas A&M University; the Jimmy Austin OU Golf Club; The University of Texas Golf Club; Twin Rivers Golf Club, home of Baylor University's golf teams; and Texas Tech's Rawls Course.

The 16th Green at Veenker Memorial GC

The rolling land just north of Iowa State's campus in Ames was relatively remote when Perry Maxwell designed the original Veenker Memorial Golf Course. Maxwell was then in the midst of a run of projects that would be eventually result in courses considered among the best in the Midwest: Veenker Memorial, Southern Hills in Tulsa, and the first nine holes at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan.

Of the three, Veenker Memorial (named after George F. Veenker, a former Iowa State athletic director and football coach who championed the course) is the least well known today. And, after a series of renovations forced by an encroaching campus, the current course and its routing are quite different than the layout Maxwell created in 1937 and watched as it was built by the Works Progress Administration the following year.

But Veenker Memorial still contains Maxwell's thumbprints, especially on the holes surrounding Squaw Creek, which basically splits the property in two and enters play on five holes.

Looking Back from 2nd Green at Veenker Memorial GC.

The site is blessed with tree-lined hills, with holes along the creek's peripheries mostly flat. The holes remaining from Maxwell's handiwork - enhanced by 75 years of controlled tree growth and maturity - offer a handful of blind shots, the need to work the ball left and right, and up-and-down holes that finish at small, round and undulating putting surfaces, some of which are as small as 3,500 square feet. The remainder of the course (renovations were done in 1971 and 1988 that changed four of the holes) meshes well with Maxwell's original work, though the newer greens are a bit bigger.

Veenker Memorial is owned and operated by Iowa State University and serves as the home of the Cyclone men's and women's golf teams. The course has hosted the Iowa Masters, one of the premier amateur tournament events in the Hawkeye State, every year since 1938. Veenker Memorial also hosted the 1949 NCAA Championship when Arnold Palmer, then the top player at Wake Forest, was a medalist at the event.

The Daunting Par-5 7th at Veenker Memorial

Accuracy is Paramount

Par-72 Veenker Memorial stretches just 6,680 yards from its back set of three tees, so length isn't the overriding issue here. In fact, the course has just four par-4s more than 402 yards, with the 435-yard opener the longest. A 2008 re-grassing converted all the fairways and greens to bentgrass.

Accuracy - most notably on the holes where the hills are at their steepest and trees overhang fairways - is an absolute must. This consideration is found after the wide-open first hole, where Maxwell offers a pair of short par-4s.

The 334-yard second plays through a tree chute to a sizable landing area beyond the edges of the trees. Its approach is to a tiny (17-yard-deep), two-tiered green that's all uphill. No. 3 is a yard shorter and heads downhill across a gully to a fairway that kicks everything to the right. Again, the green is elevated, with a large bunker front-right.

The par-4 fifth plays 402 yards from the tips, but driver is not an option because the hole drops severely downhill to a narrow strip of land between two ponds. The approach is also downhill and all carry over the ponds and a deep gorge.

The toughest hole at Veenker Memorial is likely the 590-yard, par-5 seventh, where the creek must be carried at least twice. Success requires critical positioning off the tee: the golfer hit short to an initial landing area with a drive of about 255 yards, but that's dicey because the hole winds downhill. Otherwise, the tee shot must carry 285 yards (from the tips) to clear the creek the first time. From there, a shot of perhaps 165 yards is needed to carry the creek again and find the green.

Back-to-back par-5s bookend the turn; both the 537-yard ninth and the 560-yard 10th are mostly flat and can be reached with two well-executed swings. The course returns to precision at the 155-yard par-3 11th, which offers an all-carry tee shot that is straight uphill to a hidden, shallow green surrounded by three deep bunkers.

Looking Back from 2nd Green at Veenker Memorial GC

The 416-yard par-4 14th can be shortened by a drive over the trees at the elbow of the slight dogleg-right, and its 32-yard-deep green is one of the kindest here. The 420-yard par-4 15th veers left to right as well, but the turn is much more severe, often taking driver out the player's hand in order to stay in the short grass. The second shot is over a creek to a green bunkered both sides.

No. 16 is the second of three par-5s on the inward half and features a narrow, tree-lined fairway. The second shot here is either left of two huge trees to a generous lay-up area at the fairway's end or over the trees and across a creek to a small, oval green with a deep bunker behind. The green can be reached in two, but the impending peril might persuade a more prudent play.

Through the years, Veenker Memorial Golf Course has remained one of the most discussed and demanding tracks in the Upper Midwest. Golfweek ranked it among "America's Best State Public Access Courses" in 2003, and Golf Digest has listed the course as the sixth-best public track in Iowa.

Veenker Memorial is a quirky, distinctive layout that is a must-play if you're a Maxwell fan or when visiting Ames. For more information, visit www.veenkergolf.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's world correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports, covers the Longhorns for CBS Sports, is regional editor for Texas Golfer magazine and files stories for Golf Oklahoma magazine, Texas Links magazines and Golfers Guide. Habel's main blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com) features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com)chronicles his many travels, on which he has played more than 350 golf courses since 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.