by Kevin Turnquist

Travelers driving between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports have long reserved a special place in their hearts for the tiny burg of Hinckley, Minnesota. A traditional stopping place because of its location halfway between the Cities and Duluth, Hinckley’s traditional attractions were limited to caramel rolls at Tobie’s restaurant or (more often) a pilgrimage to the local tavern for cocktails and a viewing of the mural depicting THE GREAT HINCKLEY FIRE. Any recent visitor knows of the enormous expansion that has occurred in the area. The road-weary driver can now select from a host of fast food restaurants, a hokey amusement park, a casino, and a golf course.

When we played Grand National for the first time last year we frankly weren’t expecting much more than a pleasant diversion on our trip up to Duluth. The course was brand new and hadn’t received much press or even word of mouth reviews. We left amazed at the condition of the course and very impressed with the layout. Recent rounds have only strengthened our original impression. Grand National has filled in quite nicely, to the point that one would never suspect that this is only its sophomore season. Greens and fairways were lush. When the ubiquitous Joel Goldstrand designed the course he managed to preserve many of the mature trees and incorporated water into the majority of the holes.

Mr. Goldstrand seems to have acquired an uncanny knack for anticipating where the slices of the mid-handicap golfer are likely to land. Unlike some of his more difficult courses however (e.g. Wendigo), at Grand National he doesn’t penalize the slicer by sending him into thick jungles in a fruitless ballhunt. This course is much more open and forgiving off the tee. Approach shots are a different matter. Most greens here are heavily protected on the right side so the seemingly innocuous "fade" quickly develops into a long carry over ponds or marshes. The trouble spots are easily visible though and can usually be avoided if one can reign in the ego long enough to play safe on occasion. Accurate shotmaking would be another option. Low handicap golfers will find this an easy course to score on.

Preachers with lipstick?
Golf’s magical moments come in different packages. For the lucky few they can involve successful battles with the course’s par. A sweetly struck drive is enough for some. For others a confluence of factors is necessary. The Minnesota SportsPage golf staff had one of these elusive moments during our most recent round at Grand National. Nearing sunset on a perfect summer evening we had the course to ourselves. Eighteen holes had only left us hungry for more golf so we played on. From the casino’s bandshell came the strains of "Tutti Fruiti." Slowly it became clear that these sounds emanated from none other than Little Richard himself. Granted that he wouldn’t have made the short list of entertainer’s who we would have booked for our private golfing concert, we were still amazed that this peculiar little fellow was alive and playing in Hinckley to make our golfing experience complete. If the course had lights we’d still be there.

Minneapolis to Duluth: Six hours, thirty minutes. Unless one is commuting from the Cities to Duluth for the purposes of business or love, time is usually not a big factor. The trip only takes a couple of hours and most of us wouldn’t be making it if we weren’t On Holiday. Stretching the voyage out to incorporate what Golf Digest has already proclaimed one of Minnesota’s top 10 public courses makes perfect sense to some of us. Those clock watchers who settle for gas and a quick trip to the White Castle will never know what they may be missing.

Grand National Golf Course
300 Ladyluck Drive
Hinckley,Mn, 55037
(320) 384-7427

Green Fees: $22.00 weekdays; $26 on weekends
Difficulty: Moderately Difficult

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6894 6530 6149 5100
Rating 72 70.5 68.7 68.7
Slope 123 120 116 117