A Genuine Iowa Beauty- Glen Oaks
By Tom Fazio
In my travels around the country, I've always been impressed with how many people from Iowa I've met who are serious about the game of golf. Often, I'd be asked: "Tom, when are you coming to Iowa to do a golf course?" Well, I didn't have that many opportunities, to be honest, but one day a man named Gary Kirke telephoned and asked us to visit a site he had picked out near Des Moines. It turned out that one of my design associates, Dennis Wise, is from that area and had attended Iowa State University. He encouraged me to accept the project, and his enthusiasm was a factor in its eventual success.
The site in West Des Moines is close to downtown Des Moines, and as I walked the property I could see it had great potential. Gary Kirke was in the insurance business and had put together a syndicate of investors, of which he was the lead. Gary and his associates were wonderful people to work with. Everything you read about the heartland of America and the friendly people in the Midwest is true. The property had several distinct environments, one of which was an old corn field. Somehow, I expected to find corn fields in Iowa, but not such a variety of terrain.
Most of us think of Iowa as being wide open with miles of flat farmland, but I found the property to be quite exciting with dips and hollows and several forested areas. The elevation changes are quite strong and rather unexpected. The golf course possesses a great deal of movement and flows through the property in all different directions, taken its cues from the flow of the land rather than from a static plan from the drawing board. We were fortunate in finding two spring-fed creeks and five or six ponds on the site and tied these into several holes.
The course is routed into the trees and alongside the creeks and ponds, which add to the golfing interest. Some of the holes cross streams, others play alongside them and over parts of lakes. When we came to the first corn field, we placed three holes there, shaping them into a setting that offers a contrast with the rest of the course. The holes move easily through changes in elevation, using breaks and hedgerows of trees for framing and borders for many of the fairways. Early farmers had collected stones from the ground to clear the way for planting their crops and had piled them alongside the fields in crude walls as boundaries for different crops. We, too, used these stone walls as boundaries and as frames on some of the golf holes.
Modern technology allows us to do things we wouldn't have considered practical years ago, and it served us well here in Des Moines. In the old days, a golf course laid out in the Midwest on a site like this wouldn't have been likely to exhibit much variety. Back then, many of the holes would have been built consecutively through similar terrain and have a rather uniform appearance. With today's technology however, we are able to change the scale of the landscape, vary the grades and elevations, and create differences in holes even when they traverse the same type of landscape. We were helped enormously by the fact that much of the terrain was quite rolling and possessed distinct points of interest, often suggesting some of the character that later emerged in the finished design.
In 1997, the members of Glen Oaks entered into a partnership with Club Corporation of America to manage the club with a board of directors made up of members. In 2010, Glen Oaks was purchased by a group of investors, Ron Pearson, Bob Pulver and Mark Oman, all residents in the gated community and members of Glen Oaks. Glen Oaks has a world-class clubhouse with outstanding locker rooms and every amenity golfers could possibly want. The golf course is strong and dramatic-looking yet holds to our standards of playability. Glen Oaks is one of our most distinctive golf courses, and one with which we are very proud to have been associated.
Tom Fazio, 2000, Tom Fazio Golf Course Design