Just off Highway 58 in Dannebrog, Nebraska, there is a gravel parking lot big enough to fit six or seven cars. There is a cluster of buildings next to the lot and a chain link fence separating it from about 90 acres of land.
That 90 acres look a lot like the rest of the land you’d see driving down Highway 58 – rolling grass hills. But behind that chain link fence are nine sandpits, eight of which are marked off by a wire fence and one by the outside of a grain bin.
There’s no pro shop, no carts and no practice area. The only indication that you’re about to enter a golf course is a sign above the pole that reads, “Welcome to Dannebrog Country Club,” and a painted map of the course that stands beside it.
To gain access to the course you have to open a silver box, grab an envelope, put $4 in it and insert that envelope in a rusty white dropbox. There’s no human supervising your payment. Like the game of golf itself, Dannebrog Country Club runs on the honor system.
“If you don’t pay, that’s on your conscious, not mine,” John Janulewicz, 68, said.
Janulewicz mows the course once a week and keeps its affairs in order. He said the way the course works is pretty simple.
Once you’re on, you play golf just like normal. Until you hit your approach shot, that is. Counter to everything you thought you knew, sand is good.
Dannebrog Country Club is one of less than a handful of golf courses in Nebraska that features sand greens.
Yes, the putting surfaces are made of fine, waxed sand. Instead of a wedge from the sand, your weapons of choice are a putter, a rake and a drag – a metal broom.
Once everyone in the group has hit onto the green, the furthest out marks their ball and grabs the drag. He or she takes the drag and smooths a path from the hole, all of which are located in the center of the green, to the mark. In essence, players make their own line. No need to read it, just give the ball a heavy hit.
“As long as you can hit it straight, I’d say you can make about nine putts out of 10,” Janulewicz said.
Once everyone has putt out, one group member takes a rake and pulls it in circles outward from the hole clearing prints and ball marks for the next group.
Sounds easy, right? It wouldn’t be golf if that were the case. Janulewicz was quick to follow up his high putt percentage, adding that there are plenty of places on the course to get in trouble. He listed on-course out of bounds, a creek that runs through three holes and the bullpen as areas that could adversely affect a score.
Wait, the bullpen? Somehow, the sand greens are probably the second most unique feature of the country club. Ed Boltz, 81, had an idea some years back about a project. The guys running the course had built a sod wall around the green on the second hole, but it was too hard to maintain.
Boltz thought instead of a sod barrier around the green, why not put a tin wall around it? So he got the tin from a plant his brother was working at, dug around the green and faceted tin plating, about three feet high, in the ground.
This made the 125-yard par 3 a little more daunting.
“Sometimes I’ll see people take a couple of tries at getting it in there,” Boltz said. “And some people will just end up tossing it in.”
The barrier serves as a fun feature, but it’s functional as well. It keeps grazing cattle off the green. Up until last year, cattle helped keep the rough at a manageable height. Every green has a thin wire fence around it. The bullpen just takes that to an extreme.
The bullpen is also the namesake of the course’s most popular event, The Bullpen Open. The Bullpen Open is in early August and draws more than 100 people from the area and even from out of the state. There isn’t an online signup or anything like that, Boltz said. The club just keeps it simple, and whoever shows up is in.
More than anything, Dannebrog Country Club is about keeping golf accessible and affordable for the community in Dannebrog, St. Paul and other towns around Grand Island.
Every member has a key to the clubhouse at Dannebrog. Inside there is a fridge stocked with pop and beer, and yes, purchasing of these items run on the honor system, as well.
Boltz has been around Dannebrog for about 50 years and helped out at the course until two years ago. He has since handed it off to younger members in the area. Janulewicz has been running it since Boltz retired two years ago.
Both Janulewicz and Boltz admitted that the aging population in the area isn’t conducive to growing membership. The Bullpen Open had a low turnout last year, and the course has seen less volume of play. Despite that, Janulewicz said he was happy with 70 total memberships last year and expects a similar number this year.
The passion for the game is what keeps one of the most unique courses in Nebraska alive and kicking. After all, it has been around since just after World War II, although neither Boltz nor Janulewicz could put an exact date on when it was established.
“Last summer when I was out there mowing, I saw a lot of young kids out there trying to learn the game, and I think it’s a great place for that,” Janulewicz said. “You have to like watching that.”