The Bluffs Golf Course plots a 6,684-yard path through groves of trees and around waterways for a challenging 18-hole layout. A session at the onsite driving range prepares swings and sleep-deprived 9-irons in time for the upcoming pin-hunting odyssey, where water comes in play on five of the first six holes. Duffers can redeem a disappointing round at the 18th hole, a 570-yard behemoth that entices aggressive, satisfying drives and lacks the aquatic hazards that temper bold play on prior holes. A relatively difficult course when played from the tips, the course offers four color-designated tee options to cater to players of all handicaps as well as those with an irrational allegiance to red.
Course at a Glance:
Hosted on the lush estate of South Dakota’s first winery, Valiant Vineyards, The Great Dakota Wine Festival immerses attendees in the region’s sundry flavors. A two-day schedule of feasting and festivities takes place beside the tranquil waters of the Vermillion River, with crowds enjoying live music, cuisine, and demonstrations on how to navigate a waterfall in a barrel. Upon entry, visitors receive a punch card worth 10 samplings, allowing them to savor the mellow fruits of merlot, the oak-tinged sweetness of chardonnay, and the horrified stares of fellow attendees upon the creation of a merlot-donnay. Guests can also remove their foot coverings and sink into a barrel of squishiness at the grape-stomping booth. Cooking demonstrations impart nuggets of culinary know-how, and the amateur winemaking contest shines light on the beverage artisans of tomorrow. Each guest also receives a souvenir wineglass for at-home imbibing.
Stalking through the prairie grass, a guide leads his labrador retriever and a hunter into a stretch of foothills. They hear a rustling ahead, prompting them to pause. Peering through the brush, they see a bird with red plumage around its eye, a green head, and a white ring around its neck—the distinguishing marks of a pheasant. The hunter readies his gun, the labrador poises, and both wait for the guide's signal.
The hunting guides at Pheasant Bonanza lead hunters through experiences like these and ready them for similar outings with sport shooting. The sporting-clay course, for example, supplies beginning through advanced shooters with 20 stations whose targets simulate the movements of animals such as quail and rabbits. To further sharpen hunters' aim, the guides also oversee trap, skeet, five-stand, and snooker ranges. This diversity of shooting scenarios prepares clients for guided hunting trips—which include the retrieval and tracking service of trained labradors or german shorthaired pointers—on Pheasant Bonanza's grounds. Spanning hundreds of acres in the Loess Hills, the grounds sustain game such as pheasant, waterfowl, whitetail deer, wild turkey, and rogue Yahtzee dice.
The lodge accommodates guests on extended trips, surrounding them with rustic touches such as a stone fireplace, knotty-pine paneling, and furniture upholstered in hunters' orange. Further services range from expert advice at the pro shop to Pheasant Bonanza's boarding, training, and breeding programs for hunting dogs.
Trent Meyer and Derek Bergman are committed members of the United Methodist Church, and sometimes choose to practice their faith through tree climbing, zip lining, swimming, and laser tag. They direct the Methodist-run Camp Fontanelle, a year-round outdoor camp sprawled across more than 180 wooded acres of donated land. Both Trent and Derek draw from backgrounds as campers—and Trent from six years as a teacher—to lead summer camps for preschool through high-school students. They lead a team of camp counselors who coordinate harnessed-rope tree climbing, activities on low-ropes courses, archery lessons, and outdoor laser-tag matches.
They also draw visitors at different times of year with water slides, a 35'x65' jumping pillow and bounce houses, a petting barn filled with alpacas and goats, and pony rides. During the autumn-harvest season, they unveil the annual theme of a 10-acre corn maze filled with 5 miles of trails. A 3-acre pumpkin patch contains small and large carving pumpkins, gourds, mums, and Indian corn, which visitors can harvest and stuff into a large, horn-shaped wicker basket.
Featuring professional staff members, an impeccably maintained course, and true-rolling greens arranged according to the position of 18 miniature meteor craters, The Ridge offers a golf experience for clubbers both skilled and woefully handicapped. A full round of evasive holes ($25 weekdays, $27 weekends) tantalizes cleek caressers and promises more excitement than a ruptured appendix. A golf-cart rental ($15) and a medium bag of range balls ($5) are included in the package, as well as a caged self-loathing that, according to The Ridge’s policies, can be unleashed upon any golfer who putts an eagle.
In 2000, a group of farmers decided to diversify their crop production by planting twirling wine grapes into the rolling Midwestern hills. The initial smattering of vines quickly grew into a 4-acre vineyard and led to the launch of Silver Hills Vineyards & Winery, a small operation intent on crafting 100% Nebraska wines. The vintners’ Midwestern pride can be seen in their choice of ingredients—all wines are made with fruit grown at local vineyards and tattooed with the state motto—as well as their choice of decor: the outdoor tasting deck is shaped like Nebraska.
Silver Hills produces red, white, rosé, and berry wines, which visitors can sample during the vineyards’ limited hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Bottle labels display woodcuts by John Schirmer, a resident of neighboring Iowa who has carved wood professionally for more than 35 years.
Picturesque prairie vistas welcome visitors to Elkhorn Valley Golf Club, which challenges golfers with a par-70 course designed by Duane Mines. Carts voyage past verdant fairways as golfers send balls soaring over grasping grass traps and pools of water with precise drives and well-practiced telekinesis. Players master their short-game skills upon the practice field's chipping and putting greens, and guests may equip themselves for the field with accessories, clubs, and apparel from the pro shop. After a long day of sending dimpled spheroids sailing toward the horizon, visitors share laughs over delicious meals at the clubhouse.