Rated the #2 course in Iowa, Spirit Hollow Golf Course has been highly regarded since it opened in 2000. The Plugged In Golf team took a trip to Burlinton, Iowa last week to check it out for ourselves. We found a course deserving of all the praise it’s received and more.
The practice facility at Spirit Hollow is located exactly where it should be: steps from the clubhouse and on the way to the first tee. Their driving range is expansive with two-tiers of grass so that you’re hitting off clean turf every day. There are ample greens on the range that provide a way to get your distance and shot shape dialed in. My favorite thing about the range is the music: classic rock played at a modest volume sets a great, laid back vibe.
In addition to the driving range, there is a short game area with a bunker. The green mirrors the size and condition of those on the course so you can fully prepare for your round. Finally, the putting green is large enough to accommodate at least two foursomes, and it has the same speed and subtle breaks that you’ll find on the course.
Amenities & Customer Service
If you can find a place with better customer service than Spirit Hollow, please let me know. I haven’t been to one yet. From the moment you get there, everyone is committed to making your stay as good as it can be.
The amenities at Spirit Hollow are many, from first class lodging to delicious food at Lambos and The Claret Jug. Please check out my feature HERE for a full description.
One thing worth mentioning here is the pricing. From the beer cart through the pro shop and restaurants, the prices are very reasonable, bordering on cheap.
During my stay at Spirit Hollow, the conditions on the course were consistent and excellent. Quality conditions start at the tee boxes, which are flat and large enough to insure that you get fresh grass to hit from every day. They’re bookended by greens that are smooth, true, and were running at about an 11 on the stimp. In between, you’ll find lush fairways and thick, penal rough.
Beauty & Scenery
Spirit Hollow is set in the Mississippi River Valley and it makes wonderful use of the natural elevation. Throughout your round, you’ll have opportunities to hit dramatic shots from tees that are elevated over a hundred feet above the fairway. The holes shift from tree-lined to wide open and back again providing excellent aesthetic variety in the round.
The beauty of Spirit Hollow extends beyond the way the course looks to the secluded feel and quiet. Outside of the birds and some running water, there’s nothing to disrupt your peace on the course.
There are two things I would recommend to take full advantage of Spirit Hollow’s beauty. First, take time to look back from green to tee. The course is beautiful when looking “forward,” but I think it’s even more striking “backward.” Also, regardless of what tees you play, stop by the black and gold tees. They offer different angles, more elevation, and breathtaking views.
Pick up the scorecard for Spirit Hollow, and you’ll see they offer four very different sets of tees. The yardages are 7,550, 6,589, 6,040, and 5,053. This points to the wide variety of experiences you can have from the tee boxes, but you need to get to the course to fully appreciate it. Changing tee boxes not only changes the distance significantly, it also changes the angles and elevation. Hole #3 is a great example: this par 3 has a forced carry for the three back tees, but the forward tees have a 100 yard shot down a fairway. However, moving up doesn’t always make things easier: on hole #9, moving up forces you to go straight over a giant tree to attack the green.
Spirit Hollow’s fairways are generous, but you need to hit them if you hope to score well. On the holes that are tree-lined, hitting into the woods is death. Even when the holes are wide open, tall grass and occasional water hazards lie in wait to gobble up your golf ball. On the elevated, exposed holes, you also have to contend with a steady wind.
Finally, Spirit Hollow presents a test from the tees that is not just athletic but strategic. Playing from the 6,500 yard tees, I hit everything from driver to 9I. The course uses hazards, angles, and a couple of split fairways to force you to think your way around, not just bomb and gouge.
If you can keep your tee shots in the fairway, Spirit Hollow provides you with substantial rewards: level stances, adequate sight lines, and friendly lies. When you venture into the wilderness, the approach shots become substantially more difficult.
The biggest challenge is the rough: it’s thick and can do anything from create a flier to suck two clubs of speed from your swing. You’ll also deal with compromised stances of all sorts. Most disconcerting, however, are the interrupted sight lines. The rolling hills and mounds are a little less beautiful when they’re blocking your view of the green.
When describing Spirit Hollow, I keep coming back to the term “replay value” and that has a lot to do with the variety in the approach shots. You’ll have the opportunity to hit every club in your bag as you negotiate a mix of forced carries, uphill and downhill shots, and pins that demand draws and fades. Also, like the tee shots, there’s a heavy emphasis on strategy. Each hole has good misses and spots that will cost you a stroke or more.
The pin sheet would have you believe that the greens at Spirit Hollow are average sized, but the shapes and pin placements can make them play much smaller. The greens here are not dramatically sectioned off with ridges and plateaus, but the subtle slopes and curves reward precise approaches and tax the putting of those who are out of position. These nuanced breaks can also prove much more difficult to read than the roller coaster greens you’ll find elsewhere. Spend plenty of time on the practice green unless you want a card full of three-putts.
One of my favorite aspects of Spirit Hollow’s design are the surrounds. Every green has bail out spots where you can have a realistic shot at an up-and-down par, but they also have dead zones. The primary thing to look for is the elevation. Most of the greens are elevated, if only slightly. You’ll usually have one or two sides where you can miss and stay on the same level. Make sure you play for those areas, even if it means a potentially longer putt, and you’ll avoid double and triple bogeys.
We spent three days and two nights at Spirit Hollow Golf Course. At most courses, that would be plenty, but as we drove away I said to myself, “I want more of everything.” I wanted to play the course again. I wanted to eat more meals there. I wanted to spend more time with my friends throwing bags and sitting on the balcony. And I will do all those things, because I’m definitely going back.