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Located near the Antelope and Holt County line is the true hidden gem and pride of many local golfers — Summerland Golf Course.
Located between Ewing, Clearwater and Orchard, Summerland Golf Course, which is celebrating its 25 anniversary this weekend, is one of the most scenic and challenging golf courses in Northeast Nebraska. The public course is used by locals, travelers and area schools for various uses, including golf outings, tournaments and even parties.
The idea for an area course was spearheaded by the late Alex Thramer. His vision came to fruition in 1991 when the original Board of Directors purchased 67 acres of ground a couple miles northeast of Ewing.
“To start, it was just trees, ditches and an old building sight,” recalled Larry Tadken, an original member of the board.
The board then hired Martin Johnson, Jr. of South Sioux City to shape those trees and ditches into a fully-functioning nine-hole course. Between Johnson’s design capabilities and an outstanding outpouring of volunteerism - a common theme throughout the course’s history - from the nearby communities, the course quickly took shape and seeding began in fall of 1991.
“There was a lot of volunteer help getting it going,” said Tom Kester, the current president of the Board of Directors.
Fairways were built and trees removed, carefully crafting a course that would be challenging yet enjoyable for all golfers. Finally, the next year, the course was ready to go.
“In 1992, in the spring, we opened,” Tadken said. “We held a grand opening in June, I believe.”
When the course opened, it was far from the complete course that golfers experience today. Improvements have continued over the years. In fact, the course didn’t even have a true clubhouse.
“We didn’t have a clubhouse at first,” said Tadken. “Then a couple of guys went to a sale in O’Neill. They were actually selling an old schoolhouse. Those guys bought it.”
Tadken recalled the first year presented a few challenges for the new course, especially from mother nature. One night in particular, the course was hit by nearly six inches of rain, washing out spots and forcing the board to rebuild certain areas.
Another challenge for any new business, not just golf courses, was the financial issue. However, the strength of the communities came through again to almost make that a non-issue.
The board raised money for the course early on through several options. They held fundraisers, selling a variety of items. They also sold stock in the course, starting at $500 a share. They also accepted donations, which turned out to be the best course of action thanks to the generosity of businesses and individuals in the area.
As finances grew, more opportunities to improve on the course became possible. In 1999, it was voted unanimously at the stockholder’s meeting to remodel the schoolhouse-turned-clubhouse. However, it wasn’t completed until 2001, nearly 10 years after breaking ground on the course.
“The addition to the clubhouse was headed up by Rod Kennedy,” said Kester. “It gave us a lot more room and storage and was all done by volunteer help.”
The expansion included a 16-by-40 addition to the already 20-by-40 building. It gave the clubhouse more space to host parties and tournaments as well as more storage. There were also three coolers installed, including a walk-in cooler.
The large amount of volunteer work put into the expansion is what made it possible. It was estimated that the volunteer work put in saved Summerland more than $25,000 during the remodel. Many volunteers worked for more than 300 hours each to complete the project.
The most recent major addition to the course came just over a year ago when the ninth-hole fountain was put into place. Despite having passed on, Thramer was once again responsible for the addition, this time through the memorial golf outing in his name. The funds raised at the annual Hardly Dark Tournament, a tournament in memory of Thramer, went toward the beautiful addition.
During its 25 years of existence, the course has continued to prosper and flourish for a variety of reasons. It attracts golfers from all around with its challenge, beauty and well-maintained course.
The theme of volunteerism has also had a huge impact on the course. Kester credits the members of the course and their willingness to volunteer in keeping the course afloat and in a stable situation.
“I had a guy from another course say one time, ‘You have something that we don’t have,’ ” Kester recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but all your people volunteer and you guys get stuff done.’ ”
Kester noted that the volunteer work doesn’t just come about when the course is making major changes. Numerous volunteers can be seen on the course after storms, cleaning up trash and branches that were skewed across the area by the wind and rain.
Throughout the 25 years, golfers have gotten to know a few new faces in the clubhouse as well. The course has had multiple clubhouse managers. Don Graham was first to take the helm of the clubhouse. Dennis Vontz then took over after Graham moved on the next year. Chris, Gene and Delores Weimers were next in line before Don and Vicki Kester took over the responsibilities. Eventually Doretta and Allen Rowse were in charge of the course until 2016 when Craig Flenniken took over as the current manager and course pro. Marv Steskal currently works as the course’s groundskeeper.
Summerland Golf Course has spent 25 years enjoying prosperity and stability in Northeast Nebraska. While it is tucked away in the countryside between Ewing, Orchard and Clearwater, it is far from a secret and a place that many golf enthusiasts have made a priority course during the golf season.