|by Kevin Turnquist
Until recent years the term "Northern
Minnesota Resort Golf Course" has conjured up images of tight little tracks,
marginally maintained, and stuck in dense forests beyond the cabins almost as an
afterthought. Thankfully, this has changed dramatically over the past decade with the
addition of some new premier courses and the upgrading of others. Golf in the Northlands
is no longer a way to kill time when the fish aren't biting.
The newest of Minnesota's "Golf Destinations" is the Grand
Rapids area. Seemingly overnight there are four really good golf courses up here.
Billing themselves as "Minnesota's Grand Slam Of Golf" they
are making a strong bid to become established as a better alternative for the serious
golfer than the more well known courses in the Gull Lake area. Pokegama. Wendigo.
Sugarbrooke. Eagle Ridge. None of these names may be familiar now but we're willing to bet
that in several years they'll be part of our common golfing lexicon.
Pokegama Golf Club was the only game in town for well over
the first half-century of it's existence. Built in 1926 and revamped about 15 years ago,
it is a lovely old course with maintenance on a par with many of the Twin Cities private
clubs. Fairways provide ample landing areas and greens are in superb condition. Tall pines
and hardwoods are an integral part of the challenge here but the brush under them is
cleared out so errant shots can usually be found. At 6105 yards from the white tees it is
challenging yet fair. No gimmicky holes or impossible doglegs. Water can come into play on
a third of the holes and scenic views of Pokegama Lake add to the aesthetic appeal. At $25
per round Pokegama is one of the best golfing values we've found this year.
They play a mean brand of golf at Wendigo Golf Club. While
only in its second season, Golf Digest magazine has already proclaimed it one of
Minnesota's top ten public courses. The Golf Digest guys must love a challenge.
Wendigo is one of the hardest courses we've played, especially if you get duped into
playing from the blue tees. Par fives averaged 534 yards (507 from the whites) and often
felt like hitting down a narrow tunnel.
Flat lies are a rarity. If fairways are missed by even a small margin be
prepared to wade into waist-high undergrowth in search of your ball. Blind gullies and
sinkholes seem to lurk everywhere. On the rare occasions that we played in the fairways we
found them to be in nice shape and greens were well tended. A big log clubhouse is nearing
completion. When we returned to take pictures of the course the day after we played it the
scenery looked beautiful but that beauty was lost on us the first time. When playing
Wendigo for the first time, the properly prepared golfer should bring a guide, a machete,
and several boxes of ammo.
Sugarbrooke Golf Club is run by Ruttgers Sugar Lake Lodge.
Like Wendigo, it was designed by Joel Goldstrand but this is a somewhat gentler layout.
It's still pretty tight and presents a decent challenge but the degree of difficulty is
lower. Of the four courses Sugarbrooke is the closest to the stereotypic "Resort
Course." It does have cabins and condos. Fairways are narrow with plenty of tricky
doglegs. Brush lining the rough makes losing balls all too easy. While another young
course - this is it's third year - Sugarbrooke departs from the stereotype by providing
bent grass tees and greens and above average course maintenance. Picturesque views of
numerous ponds and lakes are common. A nice 19th hole features a full service bar and
Perhaps the most excting of the "Grand Slam"
courses is Eagle Ridge Golf Course. Located in nearby Coleraine, Eagle Ridge is still in
its infancy but you can already tell that it is going to be something special. Built on a
bluff overlooking Trout Lake, this is one of the prettiest courses we've seen. This club
accomplished the seemingly impossible task of forcing our group to stop the usual golf
banter long enough to quietly soak up the breathtaking vistas. Only nine holes were open
when we played (July, 1996) but the front nine is very close to completion. We liked the
back nine so much that we played it twice. Eagle Ridge is the antithesis of the
Fairways are expansive and greens are large. Distance (6254 yards from
white tees) and pronounced changes in elevation provide the challenge. The front nine
looks to be every bit the equal of the back based on the holes we saw.
You'll be hearing a lot more about Eagle Ridge in the coming years.
Several of the area lodging establishments are offering
golf packages which include rooms, meals, and discount golf passes. One call can get you
motel reservations and tee times. Like other resort areas competing for tourist dollars,
Grand Rapids offers a variety of activities besides golf.
The area is, however, unique in that the non-golfers in the group can
while away their days at the Judy Garland Museum on Highway 169.
Four diverse and interesting golf courses at excellent rates, nice
lodging at reasonable prices, a user-friendly reservation system, and Judy Garland's
childhood home. Grand Rapid's "Grand Slam Of Golf" really does have it all.