David McLay Kidd made a name for himself by building a course in a remote outpost far from major cities. His Bandon Dunes design was the fuel that propelled the eponymous resort into the national spotlight just over 20 years ago, despite the effort required by golfers to reach the now famous destination on Oregon’s southern coast.
Now Kidd is tackling a new project in a region known for offbeat but exceptional golf: The Nebraska Sandhills. But his new course might be a bit easier to reach than most major destinations built in the Sandhills in recent decades.
Kidd and his team have broken ground on the private GrayBull project, a Dormie Network project just north of tiny Maxwell, Nebraska, less than a 30-minute drive from North Platte and its commercial airport. The site is on the southern edge of the Sandhills, more than an hour south of several top courses, including Sand Hills Golf Club (Golfweek’s #1 Best Modern Course in the US) or Prairie Club ( with Dunes, the number 1 public access design in Nebraska).
Kidd only had to cross a river to find it.
Dormie Network is a private course operator based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Six courses spread across the central and eastern regions of the country are currently available to its members: ArborLinks in Nebraska City, Nebraska; Ballyhack in Roanoke, Va.; Briggs Ranch in San Antonio, Texas; Dormie Club in West End, North Carolina; Hidden Creek in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey; and Victoria National in Newburgh, Indiana. Network members have access to each course, many of which rank high among private clubs in their states, and their amenities, including on-site cabins.
Dormie began considering adding a new facility near North Platte several years ago, beginning the search south of the Platte River. Kidd was recruited to explore a proposed site, but he didn’t like what he saw this far south.
“The Nebraska Sandhills, which is the famous area where the Sand Hills (Golf Club), Prairie Club and Dismal River and others are located, are all north of the Platte River, not south,” said Kidd, who has built more than 20 courses around the world. “The first time I went there and we crossed the river to the south, I immediately thought, ooh, this is not the direction I want to go. I want to go north, not south.”
Kidd said that to the south he saw steep terrain with dense vegetation and heavy soils: “It’s not a great golf course.” He and his group turned the car and headed north across the river toward the Sandhills, beginning a long search for a new site for what would become GrayBull.
After months of looking at proposed sites that didn’t meet all the requirements (great golf course, sandy soil, pristine views), Kidd was awarded a parcel that was part of a ranch. He loved it from the moment the topographical charts were uploaded to his computer and the Dormie Network set out to acquire nearly 2,000 acres from the rancher.
“I learned that bad ranch land turns out to be great golf land,” Kidd said with a laugh. “The Sandhills ranchers want relatively flat land because they want the cattle to just eat all the grass and not exercise, so they keep gaining weight. Golfers don’t want flat land. We want the rough sand with ridges, mounds, holes, potholes and whatnot. The cows would be running up and down hills all day, almost getting exercise. That does not work. Skinny cows are not good. …
“This site is like Goldilocks: not too flat, not too steep. It is a kind of bowl that faces inwards, and there are no bad views. It’s wide open, no big roads, no visual pollution – it ticks all the boxes.”
Kidd and his team began construction in June with an unspecified goal of opening in 2024. It will become the Dormie Network’s seventh facility, and unlike many courses in the Sandhills, it won’t require a long drive from the airport. North Platte.
Kidd said the course will continue its playability ethos, a mantra he has preached since he built a handful of courses more than a decade ago that were considered too difficult for most players. His most recent efforts, notably the publicly accessible Gamble Sands in Washington and Mammoth Dunes in Wisconsin’s Sand Valley, have been praised for their wide fairways, creativity and playability. Kidd said the GrayBull will retain that sensitivity, even if he adds a few more test shots, especially around the greens.
“The landscape is so vast that it’s hard to imagine building a street 30 yards wide and not looking ridiculous in the landscape,” said the native Scotsman. “Of course, the golf course is going to be muscular. I wish he’d forgive the average guy when he makes mistakes, but I also think the Dormie Network is for golfers…who are probably a little more interested than the guy taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip somewhere. . I think these golfers are slightly better players, so we’ll adjust accordingly, but not much. We still want it to be super fun, and we still want them to be able to mess up a little bit and still get back into the game to some degree.
“The site is extremely unique. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen before. So the look of golf, the feel of golf, the design of golf will respond to the site. I don’t think anyone who plays Mammoth Dunes or Gamble Sands will come up and say this is an exact copy of those because the site is so different. But will my ethos change massively? No. I will stay in my lane, creating golf of that type: wide fairways with tight, aggressive scoring lanes with wide areas to recover.”
GrayBull is likely to become a big part of the Sandhills golf discussion, a geological region blessed with incredibly undulating and bouncy terrain that has burst on the radar of any well-versed traveling golfer since the opening of Sand Hills Golf Club in 1995. And GrayBull is not just like a new development in the state, as architects Rob Collins and Tad King of Sweetens Cove plan to open the publicly accessible Landmand Golf Club on the eastern side of the state, not in the Sandhills but also in a spectacular terrain.
“(Bandon Dunes developer and owner) Mike Keizer showed that a good location for golf course design was more important than a good location for demographics,” Kidd said when asked about building in remote locations at location close to larger cities. “The demographics were surmountable, but a poor golf site was not. You simply can’t build a good golf course if the site doesn’t allow it. No matter how much money you invest, chances are the golf course is almost always inferior because you started with a poor site. …
“The Sandhills are amazing for golf, and this is by far the largest site I’ve ever been given for an 18-hole golf course. Everywhere you look there is a golf hole.”