by Rob LevineBeing one of the lucky generation born in Duluth after the drinking-age in Minnesota was lowered to 18 but before Mothers Against Drunk Drivers had it raised again to 21, I didnt have the absolute compulsion to cross the high bridge over to Superior, Wisconsin in search of legal liquor. And so it was that I successfully avoided for nearly 40 years one of the Twin Ports funnest attractions: Nemadji Golf Course.
Located about 15 minutes from the high bridge connecting Duluth to Superior, Nemadji, with 36 holes, has something to offer just about any golfer. The newer 18--the East/West course--with a slope of 127 from the white tees, is the more difficult of the two, featuring trouble in the form of dense woods, water, sand and enormous hills. Its also more scenic, traveling over some very pretty wetlands and venturing more into the Northern Wisconsin woods, not unlike some of the vistas youd see at a course like The Preserve (although in all honesty no course that Ive seen can match the sheer natural experience of The Preserve).
Built in 1984 and 1991, the East/West course is a favorite for golfers looking for a more challenging, modern-style course. Conversely, the North/South course, built in 1932, is decidedly easier and flatter, coming in with a slope of 115 from the White tees even easier than the beloved Hiawatha (which our reviewer Kevin Turnquist called "Chicken Soup for your game"). Youll also probably notice more Seasoned Citizens playing the older track, given its more forgiving terrain. On the front nine of the newer 18 (East/West) an errant tee shot is likely to be unfindable in the dense thicket, whereas on the older 18 most of the fairways abut other fairways, making errant tee shots findable, and in many cases even playable.
Memorable from our day at Nemadji last August were a number of personal bests, including many scores in the 80s, and (not to brag or anything) my personal lowest nine ever a 37 on the front nine of the East/West course. That nine includes two memorable par 5s. The 486 yard number 11, is a dogleg left with a lake on the left and the driving range on the right. If you play a draw off the tee youll end up about 220 yards out, looking at a large green angled towards you, with water running nearly to the green.
The other par 5, number 15, says 479 yards on the scorecard, but a daring and accurate golfer can cut the sharp 90 degree dog leg right, leaving about a 100 yard shot to the green. But dont miss: its OB to the right.
Perhaps the most interesting of several nice par 3s is the 107 yard number 9 of the North/South course, a hole which is front and center to the clubhouses windows. It features a small, domed green, surrounded by bunkers. Putts are the proverbial "nasty sliders" on this green as it is sharply angled toward the tee.
In short, Nemadji is lots of good, affordable, varied golf with a sharp attention to service and ambiance. This is what prompted Golf Digest to name Nemadji 33rd in the nation in service in their recent Top Places to Play story. Its also what prompts organizations from near and far to host golf events at Nemadji (Theyre hosting over 100 this year. But dont be dismayed theres still plenty of tee times for the regular golfer).
Last year Nemadji suffered a fate shared by many upper Midwest courses: severe winterkill on their greens. But unlike other courses (such as Lester Park in Duluth, which pretty much needs to be mowed down and started over) Nemadji had mostly recovered by last August. Now, according to course professional Mark Carlson, "The course is in just great shape."
Its probably not too much to say that Nemadji is an excellent northern Wisconsin golf haven just across the high bridge from Duluth. And its always comforting to know that if your game suffers a meltdown, hey, youre in Soup Town. A quick drive down Tower Avenue, with its wide berths and ample bars, is enough to sooth any fevered golfer.
Directions: Hwy 2 & 53 to Tower Ave, south on Tower to 58th St, left on 58th about two miles to course