Awarii Dunes: Where Ireland Meets the Heartland

The 12th hole (right) and 13th green (upper left) at Awarii Dunes, a private golf club located in Kearney, Nebraska. Designed by Jim Engh and built by Neibor Construction. May, 2011; PM shoot. Photograph by Paul Hundley.

By David R. Holland 

AXTELL, Neb. – Awarii Dunes is where Jim Engh meets Nebraska. Ireland meets the heartland.

It’s where a Texan reaches the 17th fairway and says, “where the hell is the green?”

Then it dawns on me. This is Jim Engh — the guy that loves Irish golf. That huge dune up ahead is hiding a punchbowl green. I retreat to my playing partners, who have puzzled looks, and have also never played the course before, and lay it out for them.

Engh has always said this is a perfect example of a hole that looks intimidating, but plays pretty easy. All of our approach shots gathered right by the pin on a hole that measures 435 yards from the tips.

Awarii Dunes might just be one of the funkier Engh courses I’ve played and I’ve teed it up at all his Colorado courses plus Michigan, Georgia, Arizona and now Nebraska.

“The rolling character of the land reminds me in many ways of some of the softer Irish links courses; it is the gentle and quirky rolls and falls of the native landforms that most inspired me with this project,” Engh said. “Very little, if any, excavation occurred over the entire project. In fact, there was no disturbance to the existing grasses and vegetation.”

“Most first-time golfers tell me they really like the conditioning,” said Jeff Perdew, PGA General Manager. “We have bent grass fairways, tees and greens and the superintendent and I are the toughest critics.

“The most challenging features are the undulating greens, but I think it is very playable especially the more you tee it up here. Your first round will be the toughest. It is definitely an approach shot golf course. If you know where to leave your approach you have a chance to score.”

Yep, but, I remember the fourth green. The pin was on the left side, but it was on a high point and the entire right side was a downhill slope.  Good luck with that one. Next time I’ll be left. And there are some blind shots.

Awarii means “windblown” in Pawnee – and there was just a light breeze for my morning round. The surroundings were pure Nebraska – wheat, corn, and some cottonwoods along the northern boundary. Avoid the rough, but land in the “bunkers” and you can ground your club without a penalty.

“The hazards aren’t really blow-outs,” Perdew said. “But over time (and wind) they could become that.” Actually only about 30,000 cubic yards of dirt were moved on this 7,001-yard, par 72 that cost a mere $1.5 million to build. The dirt paths for the golf carts cut down on price big-time. And the clubhouse is modest but fine. If your coming just to play golf who needs a Trump clubhouse?

The original nine-hole course on this spot opened in 2004 and did business as Links at Craneview. It closed in 2006 after its investment group lost it in foreclosure.

So Awarii Dunes really filled a welcome spot in Nebraska’s I-80 corridor golf possibilities.

I’ve played the Grand Slam of Nebraska golf: Sand Hills, Dismal River, Prairie Club, Wild Horse – and Awarii Dunes is a fun one you should put on the schedule – just like my road trip to the 2018 College World Series in Omaha.

Where to stay

The Best Western Plus Mid Nebraska Inn & Suites in Kearney was perfect. It is right on the road to Awarii Dunes (five miles away) and next door to Skeeter Barnes BBQ. This place is quiet and my suite, which had a full kitchen, also had the ability to completely close off the bedroom and bathroom to the living room.  Enjoy the continental breakfast, manager’s reception and good night’s sleep here before or after golf.

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