Though the official yardage has yet to be determined, plans are still in the works for Tatanka Golf Club to open in July 2015 in northeast Nebraska. Between now and then, golf course architect Paul Albanese will add the finishing touches to the 18-hole course near the town of Niobrara. The course, named after a Lakota word for buffalo, will be part of the Ohiya Casino Resort owned and operated the Santee Sioux Nation.
The site features rolling hills and ridges with views that stretch for more than 30 miles. “This is easily one of the nicest pieces of property I have ever been involved with, and it has been incredibly interesting,” said Albanese, a principal in the Plymouth, Mich.-based Albanese & Lutzke firm.
During construction, Albanese researched the history and culture of the Sioux Nation in order to incorporate tribal lore into the design. His team would discuss ideas presented by the tribe before creating a fairway, green, or bunker. “We took the history and the culture of the area and the Sioux Nation, and used it as a design inspiration in a subtle and respectful way. 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 would be the kind of thing we tried to incorporate. I remember a story about a medicine woman we used as inspiration.”
In his research, Albanese found the Sioux have a great respect for nature. “I knew then we had to blend the golf course into the natural surroundings,” he said. “In beginning, everyone involved with the project learned the stories. Some of the bunkers, though they may not literally look like something from a story, were made with that story in mind. We looked at the clouds. We looked at the rocks, trees, all the natural surroundings and made the golf course fit there as if it belonged.”
In some fenced-in spaces close to the course golfers will spot buffalo roaming. “You can actually hit a tee shot and have buffalo 20 feet from you,” Albanese said. “We were very careful on where and how we routed the golf holes close to the buffalo, but we felt it was important to have them within the course to be true to the culture of the area.”
The resort decided adding a golf course at the casino-resort would give visitors another reason to extend their stay. Albanese expects there will be an economic impact in jobs and increased tourism. “This is a template used by other Native American tribes with casinos,” he noted. “They use the golf to create a destination resort, more of a weekend trip instead of a simple visit to the casino. Take a break from gaming, and play golf, that kind of thing.”
Ohiya Casino Resort was the first casino in Nebraska when it opened 17 years ago. It serves as a destination for visitors from across in northeast Nebraska, southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota, and northwest Iowa. For more information, visit www.ohiyacasino.com.