Tatanka Golf Club rolls out over rugged scrub brush, oak-lined northeast Nebraska ridges, down into a wetlands valley, and past an occasional buffalo grazing on a dense natural grassland that springs to life when you have a wet year like 2019.
This Santee Sioux Nation golf course, that shares a parking lot with the Ohiya Casino Resort, opened in 2015 as a Paul Albanese design and earned GOLF Magazine’s “Best New U.S. Resort Course” for 2015.
Yes, Tatanka is a Lakota word that translates to buffalo – many know that word from the Kevin Costner movie “Dances With Wolves”.
Bring Extra Balls. You Might Need Them.
This is a layout with foot-tall grasses once you exit the primary rough.
And by all means stand on the third tee, look back and gaze upon the Missouri River, South Dakota, and three counties. The tee boxes on five and 16 also have spectacular views.
Albanese, inspired by his research and the culture of the Santee Sioux Nation, created a modern day gem that fits naturally on the land and integrates with the environment.
“Winning this award from GOLF Magazine is a great honor, especially because we have worked with the Santee Sioux tribe for more than 10 years in making this project an award winning reality, something I always knew was possible,” said Albanese. “This recognition would not have been possible without the dedication of the Santee Sioux Nation, allowing us to fulfill a unique and inspiring vision on a beautiful piece of land that reflects their heritage, history and principles.”
This place is fantastic,” said golfer Jarrod Peters. “It has a bar, casino, and golf course all in one parking lot. You don’t waste time driving to the course, driving to dinner, etc. You just wake up and grab your bag and walk across the parking lot. So convenient! The golf course was in really good condition when we played there. It was not crowded and the holes are very scenic and challenge the better players. It is a great place, and I plan to get back there this fall.”
With every hole designed Albanese said it was like writing another chapter to a book.
“We took the history and the culture of the area and the Santee Sioux Nation and used it as a design inspiration in a subtle and respectful way,” he said. “We looked at the land forms and designed something that might reflect local stories. For instance, how a certain mountain looked and got its name was used. We used a story about a medicine woman as inspiration, too.
“We studied the clouds. We looked at the rocks, the trees, and valleys that made the golf course fit there as if it belonged. Another hole, inspired by a story, has a spirit bunker shaped after thinking about the story. It’s all very subtle, but impactful I feel to those who live there.”
Major stories include the great buffalo of the region, and in that regard Albanese took great care to make sure there was literal interpretation. In fenced in spaces very close to the golf course buffalo do roam. Each hole marker tells a story of a Santee Sioux legend.
The first marker tells a story of a Peace Pipe – a young woman turns into a buffalo and teaches two young men to use the peace pipe. The second is the Man and the Oak, about a man who was betrayed by a sorceress and had a tree grow out of his body. No. 18 explains the legend of the white buffalo.
“Depending on where the buffalo graze on a given day the golfer on a tee can be 10 yards from buffalo,” he said. “We routed the golf course close to them, especially Nos. 11, 12 and 13 and they will be part of the experience of playing Tatanka.”
Ohiya Casino Resort was the first casino in Nebraska, and was developed 17 years ago. It continues to be an ideal entertainment destination for those seeking excitement, particularly in northeast Nebraska, southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota and northwest Iowa.
History of the Area – Niobrara Settlement’s Watery Background
Tatanka Golf Club is located just a few minutes east of the historic town of Niobrara, that was established in 1857 – one of Nebraska’s oldest towns – and one with a violent history.
With only the Mighty Missouri River separating it from South Dakota and also the confluence of the impressive Niobrara River, one can guess swollen waters have molded the area. Niobrara’s early days had easy access for steamboat traffic.
The town thrived and by 1880 had a population of 850, but a year later luck ran out. The Missouri was clogged with an early spring ice jam, and water inundated the town.
Through the years flood waters have put the town in danger and eventually some buildings that survived were jacked up on huge logs and rolled to other spots. Today’s Niobrara sits on a hill top but even this March a flood leveled a low-lying café and washed out a Niobrara River bridge.
Tatanka Golf Club is in the boondocks, but the golf is awesome, yet daunting – kind of like the settlers have faced from early statehood to the present. Living here is not for folks having to make a daily visit to a 21st century city mall, Starbucks or Wal-Mart.
Story by David R. Holland