|By Paul Hammel, Omaha World-Herald,
Neb.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Mar. 9, 2007--VALENTINE, Nebraska. -- A long-delayed luxury golf club proposed near Valentine is back on track, and a top professional golfer has signed on to the project.
Tom Lehman, who's earned more than $18 million during his playing career and won the British Open in 1996, will design one of the two 18-hole golf courses at the Prairie Club.
"He is extremely excited about this," course owner Paul Schock said of Lehman. "The first time he set eyes on this property, he fell in love with it."
The two Prairie Club courses, now expected to open in the spring of 2009, had been placed on hold over concerns that adjacent land along the scenic Snake River might be turned into housing and ruin the pristine Sand Hills views.
Schock recently offered to buy the property, which is managed by a state school lands agency, to resolve that problem and restart the golf-resort project.
"This is great news for us," said Dean Jacobs, executive director of the Valentine Chamber of Commerce. "Having a course like that, that brings in people from the outside, will be a big benefit for us."
Lehman, a Minnesota native, is the third high-profile golfer to fall for Nebraska's Sand Hills and its similarities to the wind-swept links of Scotland.
Ben Crenshaw designed the Sand Hills Golf Club south of Mullen, which opened in 1995. Jack Nicklaus laid out the Dismal River Club, which opened last year.
Unlike those private clubs, the Prairie Club will be open to the public, said Schock, a Sioux Falls, S.D., venture capitalist and avid golfer, who bought the site last summer.
"I think it's time for a public course in the Sand Hills," Schock said. "I and my investors are willing to put their money behind that dream."
The initial owner of the Prairie Club, Dr. Cleve Trimble, had planned a private course. Schock said he plans to keep most of Trimble's concepts for a resort that honors the land, but he will make some changes.
Besides public play, another change will be opening two 18-hole courses simultaneously -- the one designed by Lehman and the other by golf course architect Gil Hanse.
Schock said he wants to add a third 18-hole course, which would make the Prairie Club similar to a successful and also remote golf resort on the Oregon coast called Bandon Dunes. It caters to golf fanatics willing to travel to play unique, high-quality courses, eat great food and stay in a beautiful location, Schock said.
"We think we're going to design courses like the great courses in Scotland, Ireland and Great Britain in that they're playable for everybody but challenging for the best golfers," he said.
The Prairie Club, which will include a clubhouse overlooking the Snake River and several guest cabins, was originally scheduled to open last summer.
But the project halted over concerns that land overlooking the clubhouse site might be developed for housing, ruining the view.
Schock made an offer to buy that land, about 200 acres, from the Nebraska Board of Educational Lands and Funds for $1.1 million. The offer will trigger a public auction, scheduled for April 6 at the Cherry County Courthouse.
While such auctions are open to anyone, no other bidders are expected because of the high bid and because there is no access to the property, said Schock and Jay Gildersleeve, general counsel for the school lands agency.
If Schock's bid of $5,500 per acre is successful, it would be a record per-acre bid for school trust land in a rural area, said Gildersleeve, whose agency turns over about $30 million a year to public schools from leases and sales of grazing land and farmland.
The bid would be in line with the $5,000-an-acre Schock paid to buy 480 acres of Snake River frontage, just upstream from the Prairie Club, in January.
"This looks like a good sale for the kids," Gildersleeve said.
Copyright (c) 2007, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.
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