EL DORADO — Disregard the Plain Jane introduction to Mystic Creek Golf Course just west of El Dorado.
Along Highway 335, in black letters on a small white sign, the words, GOLF COURSE, mark the proper turn. A pitching wedge down a dirt road, the paved parking lot begins, slightly uphill to a trailer that doubles as the interim clubhouse.
From that point on, all else surpassed expectations.
Start with the practice area, designed with two tiers so grass is always available. Check out the short-game area and move on to the putting green with pitch and roll that duplicate on-course contours. Golfers of a certain age will embrace the availability of six sets of tees — 7,492 yards from the black and 5,518 from the yellow.
That preamble whet the appetite for the 18 holes. Cut through a myriad of pines, the course is first-class.
Developer and part-owner Pete Parks provided the guided tour, accommodating somebody on a tight schedule. We played a hole here and there, circumventing players who paid to play, and soaking up the scenery. Always on the lookout for a funky hole or two, I found none.
Miss a green and encounter run-offs similar to those at the Donald Ross-designed Pinehurst No. 2, site of the 2014 U.S. Open. First-hand experience with the Ross influence occurred when a 7-iron was a yard too long on the par-five first that turns right and downhill and then back left with water awaiting too much draw. Faced with a bump into a hump to a green that slopes towards the water, I was ecstatic with the leave of 10 feet.
Mystic Creek reflects the work of other famous golf course architects — the tee to green shaping of Alister McKenzie (Augusta National) and the bunkering of W.A. Tillinghast (Winged Foot) — the result of Parks’ travels to most of the best-known public access courses in the country and some of the well-known private courses.
A graduate of El Dorado High School and a football player at the University of New Mexico, Parks gave pro football a shot before returning to graduate school in Albuquerque. While there, a co-worker who played collegiate golf, encouraged him to take up the game. A short time later, he returned to El Dorado, recalling the superior courses he played in New Mexico and wondering what it would take to build a quality course in south Arkansas. Along the way, he played a course in Farmington, N.M., and was so impressed that he filed away the architect’s name, Ken Dye.
Aware of 2,000 acres owned by a total of four people, he contacted Dye — no connection to famous golf course designer Pete — and they toured the land.
“I asked him to lay out the best course he could with the information available and I would then attempt to acquire the property,” Parks said. Eventually, he purchased 510 acres.
Parks and Tim Zimmerebner — the local pro who had become good friends with Parks — laid out the course from Dye’s plans. Dye followed up, connecting flagging tape put in place by Parks and Zimmerebner, so the land could be cleared.
“In watching golf and playing golf, to me the two most exciting shots are the tee shot on a short par four where you have a chance to get to or near the green in one and the second shot on a par five where you have a reasonable chance to get to the green,” Parks said.
He insisted on both and Dye complied with the 11th and the fifth, 310 and 512 yards respectively from the whites.
All the way around, they did things right, and there is more to come, including a clubhouse and on-course housing.
The number of memberships are limited to provide room for an expected 7,500 rounds per year by non-members.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.