The key to golf at The Greens at Nutters Chapel may be the drive.

And we’re not talking about the tee shot.

The first 18-hole public course in Conway offers an extremely challenging walk — but a great drive in a cart.

With tight fairways along wooded hillsides, one will see vistas you might never expect to see in Conway. The course often changes elevation dramatically, sometimes within doglegs. There are challenging shots off an elevated tee, difficult shots from uphill and sidehill lies and a couple of wicked doglegs.

It’s not a course where one can live and die with a grip-and-rip driver. Sometimes, a big-hit drive can put one in a bind.

"It’s more of a shotmakers course," said Reggie Rose, who directs golf operations for The Greens and its cousin country club at Centennial Valley. "It requires target golf. You’ve got to think your way around the course."

And sometimes the elevation will change 60 to 70 feet on a hole.

And it’s a very scenic course, particularly on the holes away from the apartments.

"It’s a great setup because you need a lot of flatland for apartments, but you need for the golf course to go on the hilly ground," said Lyndy Lindsey who designed the course. "The first time I drove around this course (cared diligently and nicely by superintendent Phillip Stance and his crew), it took my breath away. You find you’re playing golf in some places that might be nice for deer hunting and things like that."

During a round, you might see a deer (several have been spotted by the apartment dwellers along the course).

A golf might also see ducks and geese flocking about the lakes and ponds and even some chickens and livestock along the hillsides in adjacent Richland Hills. And you might hit a ball in the woods to an area that has creatures you don’t want to meet firsthand.

One of the most scenic and challenging holes is No. 17, a short part four that features small cliffs alongside the entire length of Nutters Chapel lake on the left. On the right of the narrow fairway is a wooded hillside that slopes dramatically toward the water. The green at No. 16, a par-3, is nestled against part of the lake and slopes from front to back.

Another signature hole is the par-4 No. 6, which drops 100 feet from tee to green.

"A lot of courses are getting away from those that you can score well because you can hit a drive a long way," Rose said. "A lot of it has to do with the land and how you use it. We don’t have a huge track of land but I think we’ve got a good course out of it."

Thursday, developers had a grand opening golf round for VIPs, including those who have provided financial support and city officials.

One of the most impressive parts is the clubhouse, which has the feel of a fine country club with a large, nicely decorated lounge with a big-screen TV, an activity room, a pool, sauna and tanning bed and a high-tech exercise room that takes up almost the entire second floor.

Immediately, this doesn’t feel like most public courses you’ve been around.

You don’t need a big drive on every hole, you can make birdies with smart golf, you can feel good with par on some holes, you can lose a few balls (some into water, some that might role down into adjacent parking lots), you experience several scenic holes and interesting bits of nature and see mounds, sloping wooded hillsides, traps, ponds, lakes and doglegs — the perfect challenge for a good public course.

It has been years in the discussion and dreaming. 

One of the major complaints about Conway for decades has been the lack of a good, 18-hole public course.

Nutters Chapel is a product of the vision of Jim Lindsey (the former Razorback who has made a nice career of developing golf course communities in Arkansas and adjacent states), the determination of Hal Crafton and Rush Harding and the support and joining cooperation of local banking officials at First Security and Centennial.

"You thank God first and then the bankers," Crafton said during the opening ceremony.

"Sometimes, you have to flip it and thank the bankers first," Harding joked. "God’s got a lot more patience than some of these bankers."

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)