Iowa City Elks' golf course a hidden treasure

BY KYLE HUGHES | JULY 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Location has made the Elks Lodge 590 golf course exactly what it is today.

The private nine-hole golf course has pleased many Elks members while still staying hidden from the majority of Iowa City. Nestled along the Iowa River off Foster Road, less than a mile from Dubuque Street, it remains a mystery to much of the community.

Golf course superintendent Ned Giles said it is one of the oldest nine-hole courses west of the Mississippi River still running today. When and where it was built had a big effect on the course design.

"It was built around 1900, back when they didn't really have earthmoving equipment," Giles said. "They pretty much followed the terrain [and] the lay of the land — so it's a little bit shorter than what your normal courses are."

The course is a par-36 with 2,688 yards of length from the farthest tees, which doesn't stress many modern golfers. Still, the course finds ways to present a fair test.

"It's a challenging short course," said head golf professional Tommy Dee. "It makes up for it in placement off the tee shot. If you're not hitting the tee ball well, scores can go up. But if you're getting off the tee well, you can shoot a pretty good number."

Iowa City local and 14-year Elks Club member Mark Welsh said the course's short length puts an emphasis on hitting the ball straight. The many different lies created by the hilly landscape also adds to the difficulty.

Giles, the man in charge of shaping and maintaining the course for the past 32 years, said the distinctive experience offered by the course is what keeps many members coming back.

"This golf course is unique because it's not just a golf course. It's kind of like an ecosystem," he said. "Only half of it is golf course. The rest of it is timber, woodlands, and marshes along the Iowa River."

Giles is a former winner of the Superintendent of the Year Award and a member of the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame. In his time as the superintendent of the Elks golf course, he has put up nest boxes for birds and planted food plots for various wildlife. He said he enjoys being able to wake up and experience the outdoors.

Elks Lodge general manager Kevin Carr estimated that 50 to 75 rounds of golf are played by the local Elks members every day. He said that even though the Elks is one of the largest such groups in the United States, most lodges don't have golf courses.

"Between the swimming pool and the golf course … that certainly drives membership," said Carr. "They get involved, [and] when they are asked to do something, they'll chip in. We do a lot of volunteer work for the course itself."

He said the Elks organization focuses a lot of charity events on youth programs, scholarship programs, and veteran's organizations. Having a golf course at the local lodge allows the members to use the course for different charity events, such as the hospice tournament being held Aug. 1.

With the river running next to the course and the rapid city development of the Peninsula, Dee said, space constraints mean there likely won't be major changes or expansions to the course any time soon. That is the way many of the Elks members want it, anyway.

"Some golf courses are just straight back and forth with a few poplar trees in the middle," Giles said. "This one sets itself apart with its location."

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