Landscapes Unlimited is preparing to resume construction on the new Lost Rail golf course designed by Scott Hoffman in Omaha, Nebraska.
The project is the first new private course in the city for 25 years and was kickstarted by Hoffman, a former associate of Fazio Design and Jackson Kahn, who wanted to create a golf-only club with a small membership.
“Nebraska is one of America’s best states, per capita, for golf, but its famous courses are far from population centres,” said Hoffman. “Sand Hills, Dismal River and Prairie Club are all 300 miles from Omaha.
“Granted, the remote feel of places like Sand Hills and South Dakota’s Sutton Bay is a huge part of their charm, however, we think we can blend seclusion and convenience. As one first-time visitor put it last summer, ‘you feel like you drove five hours for this view, and you only drove 20 minutes.’ Indeed, we’re 5-10 minutes from Omaha’s western edge and 30 minutes from downtown.”
The project gathered steam in late 2019, when Hoffman contacted Landscapes Unlimited’s owner Bill Kubly, having worked for him in the late-1990s before embarking on a career in golf course architecture. Kubly shared Hoffman’s vision that a pure golf club could be a success in Omaha, and they began looking for a site.
“The first potential site was smaller and not nearly as dramatic,” said Hoffman. “Negotiations with the landowner stalled in fall 2019 so we started looking around.
“One mile farther west, overlooking the Elkhorn and Platte Rivers, we found 155 contiguous acres, rare for a property so close to the city. It wasn’t for sale, but we cold-called the owner – a 75-year-old widow named Marleen – and asked if she’d be interested in developing a golf course.
“To our surprise, she said yes. As Marleen put it, she didn’t want to see her special land ‘go to concrete.’ Marleen passed away in December 2020, one year after our first visit.”
Read more: A tribute to Marleen Muenster posted on the Lost Trail website.
“The property is special with its variety,” said Hoffman. “From the ridge where the clubhouse sits, you can see 20 miles to the west. Almost half the site is rolling pasture dotted with mature trees. One-fourth is open farmland with long views. The final quarter is dense trees and deep ravines with a unique feature – an abandoned century-old railbed.”
The area has strong links to the Transcontinental Railroad, which was built in the 1860s with Omaha as a starting point. In 1914, construction of a 12-mile railroad connecting Omaha to Burlington’s main line began. The project was abandoned after the First World War and largely disassembled in 1926, but workers left a 10-foot-high railbed that crosses about 500 yards of the Lost Rail property. “At one point, the bed collapsed over the ravine and formed a 40-foot canyon,” said Hoffman. “There’s nothing in golf quite like it. You’d swear the earth swallowed a boxcar!”
In February 2020, the Lost Rail team began marketing the club to potential partners. With the onset of the pandemic these efforts moved to social and by November, when final permitting approval was granted, Lost Rail had almost 200 members.
Initial earthwork and shaping of five greens were completed before winter, and Landscapes Unlimited will resume construction in March.
“In some ways, Lost Rail shares characteristics with the Sandhills courses,” said Bill Kubly. “The fairways are 50 to 70 yards wide, there’s wispy native grass, firm and fast conditions, dramatic views, and from the putting green you’ll see 12 holes.
“But in other ways, it resembles the classic clubs of Long Island or Chicago. The first tee and driving range are right outside the clubhouse. And our connections will be some of the tightest in American golf – Scott is a stickler for walkability. The routing has tremendous flexibility, with several little loops around the clubhouse.
“Most notable is the arrangement of 15 to 18,” continued Kubly. “It’s hard to find a course anywhere with three of the final four greens within 100 yards of the clubhouse. It’ll be an incredible perk for members and should make Lost Rail an intriguing tournament venue.”
According to Hoffman, the par three holes will be memorable. The fifth plays over a 40-foot canyon, through the gap where the railbed collapsed; the eighth green sits on the exact spot that the railbed disappeared into the ground; and the sixteenth plays from the clubhouse gazebo out to a “little knob” overlooking the rivers.
In addition to the 18-hole course, Hoffman has designed a six-hole short layout. While the average greens on the Lost Rail course will be 6,500 square feet, the short course’s will be around 1,700 square feet. Holes will play as short as 40 yards, with the fourth requiring a blind pitch into a bowl-shaped green.
The club is planning to build a handful of cottages near the property within a few years of the course opening, which is expected to take place in June 2022.
Read more and follow the progress of the Lost Rail project on the club’s Twitter page.