DES MOINES, Iowa — The experience of going home is a story that we can all tell. For me, while Des Moines is not my home, metaphorically it is when discussing my golfing career.
More specifically, Waveland Golf Course is where I honed my golfing skills while attending Drake University in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I fondly think of the course on trips to the Midwest and I gravitate to Waveland when I’m near Des Moines.
Just a couple of miles down University Avenue from the university, Waveland was a constant stop throughout the year.
Built in 1901, Waveland is one of the hilliest golf courses I’ve ever played. Since it’s where I really learned to play, the hilly terrain is what I thought most good golf courses had in common.
I returned to Waveland in August, while covering the Solheim Cup, and found that after 40 years the course had hardly changed. The lone exception was the routing of hole Nos. 2 through 5. Otherwise, the course was as I remember with large trees lining almost every fairway.
The undulating greens, which were always a hallmark of Waveland, still existed and the blind tee shots had not been softened. In fact, I counted 13 blind tee shots. Rarely was there a level fairway lie due to the hilly conditions, and fairway bunkers are even rarer.
The main obstacles were the volume of trees, which at times can make a golfer feel like playing from a forest, the uneven stances and the extremely fast greens. Years later, the greens are not near as fast as I remember, but the rest is still true.
The 17th green sits up on the hill. (Photo: Alex Miceli)
Waveland doesn’t have a great pro shop and the food is just so-so, but none of that really matters when there is an emotional connection to a course. I have played Waveland in my mind more than any other course, though Augusta National is a close second.
Going back can be so much fun.
In the Des Moines Register archives, the first mention of golf at Waveland Park is in the Sunday, March 3, 1901 edition.
The headline read “Public Golf At Waveland,” and the article stated that the course would be laid out as soon as spring arrived and the use of the grounds would be granted to the community without charge and without restriction. The article also indicated that Waveland Park consisted of 190 acres, roughly 40 of which was used for golf. Today, the course takes up much more of the park.
Another interesting fact was that a streetcar was planned for transit to and from the park. According to the article, U.S. President James Polk assured residents of University Park that the rails for the extension of the line had already been bought and improvements begin as soon as the street was graded and ready for installation. The streetcar was eventually built, but is no longer there today.
If you make the trek to Des Moines, then visit Waveland. If for no other reason, go and see what golf was like in 1901, because I assure you, the terrain has not changed at all since it opened.
A round at Waveland is a historic walk back in time around a very old, but stately, golf course.
WAVELAND GOLF COURSE
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Where To Golf Next.