Ascent of Souptown
NEMADJI in SUPERIOR, WI
by Kevin Turnquist
golfers sometimes find secret sadistic pleasure in imagining what it would be like to play
in places not blessed with our abundance of fine public courses. Apocryphal tales of
"the average Japanese golfer" who plays each and every shot of his career on
matted driving ranges or opulent Saudi princes sweating over three-footers on oil soaked
sand greens offer particular delight. Few pleasures compare with the smug knowledge that
we do, indeed, have it better than the other guy.
The recent inrush of new, superpremium public courses in our beloved Northland now
finds us in the unaccustomed position of being a Golf Destination for golfers from
less fortunate parts of the country. A few hours in an SUV allows us to play outstanding
courses, stay in plush surroundings, and be treated in a manner we gentlefolk deserve.
Even in Gods Country there is, of course, always a catch. A brief golfing holiday
in the Gull Lake Area or other of our fine resort locales can cost as much as what many
publinx players spend on their entire season of green fees. Not every wife has developed a
taste for the course or its questionable fashions. A few golfers actually hanker for more
night life than is typically provided by the 19th hole. For these outliers
another, often overlooked, golfing paradise beckons.
Imagine a place where tee times are inexpensive and easy to arrange. A place where you
can take the minivan to the course without leaving the wife and kids bored and irritable.
A place with a host of lodging and restaurant options, most in a price range you can
tolerate. A place offering a wide range of pleasures-for unfettered males as well as those
saddled with family. Any place coming to mind yet? Imagine a place with a lift bridge and
big boats. Anything?
The Twin Ports of Duluth/Superior offer all of these things and more. Depending on the
number of cretins driving all the way up Highway 35 in the passing lane it is usually
possible to be in Duluth within two hours of leaving The Cities, but the area feels more
exotic than that. The big lake has an enormous effect on the weather-as well as the
general tone of the place. The long sandy beaches of Park Point are reminiscent of those
on our coasts. Canal Park is becoming a miniature version of Fishermans Wharf or
Faneuil Hall. Good restaurants and taverns abound. All of the locals and most repeat
visitors have their favorites. Ours include Bellisios and Normans.
Bellisios is a comfortable Italian restaurant located near the lift bridge. The
food is sublime, prices reasonable, and the outdoor tables provide great people watching.
One meal here and the attraction is obvious. Normans, on the other hand, is harder
to explain. A mildly seedy bar on First Street a block or so from the Holiday Inn it has
nothing to distinguish it from dozens of other bars except for the fact that it has been
undergoing renovation continually for the past decade. Yet we return there year after year
like swallows to Capistrano, just as we do with the venerable Club Saratoga (Girls Girls
Nemadji Golf Course is another local favorite and one which can easily stand as the
centerpiece of any Twin Ports Golfing Holiday. Its located just east of downtown
Superior, out Tower Avenue, a few minutes past the curiously named "Bong
Airport". Set among thick birch and pine forests, this is a scenic old course that
has been around since the 1930s. Interested readers, should they actually exist, are referred to the exhaustive review set down by colleague Rob Levine
in June of "98". As usual, following an observer of Mr.Levines stature
leaves one only with the choice of which correct assessment to voice agreement with.
The earlier review was accurate but typically understated in its depiction of
Nemadji as a place where one can score well. Golfers in search of lifetime best rounds
view Nemadji in a manner similar to the way those in search of land speed records have
come to see The Bonneville Salt Flats. There is just something about this course that can
bring out the hidden golfer in any of us. We have all heard of Mr. Levines legendary
37. Another of our group has played three 18 hole rounds at Nemadji-two on North/South and
one on East/West and equaled or bettered his personal best score each time. The two
courses here differ significantly in terms of slope and rating ( 115/66.9 vs.127/69.8 )
but, as every golfer knows, these indicators do not always accurately predict how the
course will fit a given persons game.
Part of Nemadjis appeal to some of us is certainly its forgivingness off
the tee. Some fortunates can routinely sight down the left side of the fairway, confident
that their gentle fade will bring the ball back down the middle by flights end. Even
fewer can reliably do the same thing going down the right with a controlled draw. Nemadji
(which is roughly translated as "left-handed" ) is a course for we who always
aim down the middle because we are never sure whether the drive will fade, draw, hook or
slice. Here-especially on North/South- if you can hit the ball a long ways you can usually
get a decent shot into the green regardless of the misdirection.
Even when rewarded with good chances for hitting greens in regulation, it is still hard
to score if the greens dont hold your approach shots. The greens at Nemadji are
another part of its mysterious equation. Big, undulating things they hold very well-
occasionally even yielding the much sought after back up ball. For a municipal course they
were quite fast but consistently so. Some members of our expedition commented that they
had never had so many birdie puts yet made so few. At our level the tap-in par is not
regarded as catastrophic however.
Mr.Levines review was curious for its inattention to the quality of the
sand here. The obvious conclusion is that his super straight game rarely results in sand
play. One of the most enjoyable parts of playing the superpremium courses is the ease with
which one can escape greenside bunkers. This lends yearlong support to our belief that our
lousy sand play at the Hiawathas and Meadowbrooks of the world
is due to the quality of their traps. Nemadji doesnt have the fancy, imported
"sugar sand" of some of our pricier favorites but its bunkers were fluffy
and well maintained. For some of us the absense of hard or muddy traps is another
essential prerequisite to the assault on our own personal Everests.
All sorts of little things can impact on the golf score. More for some of us than
others. A quick temper, coupled with adequate provacation, can cause more rounds to
explode than any on-course variables. A recent round at an unnamed metro course which
hosts an unnamed Senior Tour event proved that one snotty comment from a ranger can cause
an entire foursomes game to detonate simultaneously. Its hard to swing relaxed
when you feel like wringing some smartasses neck. Nemadji has always been noteable for
helping us to maintain our fragile self confidence. Service here is relaxed and easy
going. Part of this seems related to the fact that it is clearly a course that is
frequented and treasured by a community of regulars. This does get played out in some
endearing ways. During a recent round it dawned on us that nearly everything on the course
had some sort of marker or memorial attached to it. Hole markers, benches, ballwashers,
you name it. They all implored us to remember some departed golfer or do business at local
establishments. Sort of like a combination of reading headstones and the yellow pages at
once. When youre paying $20 per round ( $30/day for unlimited play ) its hard
to see this as a significant negative.
When trying to understand why those elusive scores seem to crop up at this course the
clubhouse must also be considered. Stumbling out of bed with four hours sleep into 101
degree heat as we did, being able to eat a good sausage, eggs,and hashbrowns breakfast
before playing might have helped a bit. More clubs should offer genuine breakfasts on site
for those of us who routinely leave for the course in a chaotic hurry. The post- round
fluid replenishment here has always proven enjoyable as well. Nemadjis clubhouse is
a casual and well air conditioned spot that invites lingering.
Visitors planning a trip to Nemadji can make tee times up to 14 days in advance. The
course website offers lots of photos and information @ www.downsdd.com/nemadji.html
5 N. 58th St. E.
Superior, WI 54880
(715) 394-0266 Golf Shop
(715) 394-0388 Club House