EDITOR'S NOTE: Read the June 1999 review of the Preserve.
by Kevin Turnquist
Only one member of our staff had played The Pines (voted best public course in Minnesota three years in a row by Golf Digest) and he rarely passed up an opportunity to remind his colleagues of that fact.
The Pines has now been joined by two new premium destination golf courses, The Preserve and The Classic. All of these "THE" courses are within a fifteen minute drive of each other and each is billed as sporting a legitimate claim to the title of Minnesotas finest public course. A recent Friday night found us driving north in eager anticipation of playing Gull Lakes Big Three to see how they stacked up against each other.
Our first stop was The Preserve. Located just a couple minutes south of Pequot Lakes and, like The Pines, owned by the Grand View Lodge, this course was opened in August of last year. A visit in early May had found the clubhouse still under construction and the course didnt really feel completed. Memories of our first trip around The Preserve are awfully fuzzy, however. We were golfing our way up to the Leech Lake area for fishing opener and had played Pebble Creek earlier in the day. It was raining. So far everything seems clear.
Another indisputable memory of that first Preserve round was that it coincided with our discovery of the martini-in-a-can. It turns out that these little beauties fit nicely in any golf bag and, with chasers provided by the friendly beer girl, are an excellent golfing beverage. Up to a point. Once the canned goods started flowing we saw a friendly two-man best ball game for a dollar per hole turn into something much more twisted and ugly. A friendly rivalry between two brothers-in-law soon became a contest at $100 per hole. After a press these two were up to $200 per hole while the remaining players were still laboring over one dollar putts. The bizarre conclusion to the match involved the winner forgiving a three hundred dollar debt and agreeing to buy dinner for the foursome if he could serve as commissioner for the big scramble scheduled for the next day. Even after such a noble gesture, however, the "commissioner" found himself stripped of all powers as each of his foursome groupings were vetoed loudly.
So playing The Preserve in mid-July was, quite literally, like playing it for the very first time. Only a couple holes produced dim flashes of recognition. It soon became clear that we had missed something that first time around. This is easily one of the prettiest golf courses in our fair state. The topography includes rolling hills and 40 acres of wetlands. Fourteen of the tees are elevated. Views are often spectacular and are never encumbered by houses. Looking out from the clubhouse to see the first and tenth holes going out with nine and eighteen coming back, all framed by ponds, fountains and woodlands has to count among the most beautiful vistas in Minnesota golf. Standing on the first tee you know youre in for something special.
The Preserve boasts of its layout that you get a "New experience with each hole; no two holes are alike." That is really pretty accurate. Each hole seems to have its own personality and presents its own set of challenges. This is the kind of course that will only get better each time a golfer plays it, especially if he can remember the preceding rounds.
At 6204 from the whites the course plays relatively long but, ironically, the only complaint our group had about the course was that there are very few holes where one can wail away with the driver. Five of the par fours are under 370 yards and there is enough trouble on them that hitting irons off the tee is usually the prudent play. The slope of 132 testifies to the difficulty that is provided by strategically placed traps and narrow landing areas. Scoring well at The Preserve requires both accuracy and good course management.
Golfers expect that premium courses will have superior turf and The Preserve delivers nicely. Tees, fairways, and greens are all bent grass. Like all of the courses "Up North" this one was ravaged by the winterkill that resulted from last winters ice storms. The grass here has been resurrected to the point that few reminders of the devastation are evident. The greens are being left a little longer than theyd like so that the grass can get firmly established but thats about the only "problem" remaining.
We thought that The Preserve got the nod for nicest clubhouse of these three courses. Rustic log construction is surrounded by the most mammoth fieldstone terracing weve ever seen. A full lunch menu is available but was not sampled during this visit.
At $49.50 on weekends, $65.50 with cart (recommended) The Preserve is still significantly less expensive than The Pines or The Classic. As we struggled to rate these three courses our discussions centered on whether The Preserve or The Classic deserved the number one spot so its pretty clear that The Preserve offers the best value of the group. Where The Preserve will rate when our Top Ten List is finally issued is still a matter of ongoing debate, especially as to how it will finish compared to "THE" Wilds. The fact that it will almost certainly be ranked in our top three or four in only its first real season of operation is a testament to how fine this course really is.
Reviews of The Classic and The Pines will be found in the next issues of Minnesota SportsPage. Any opinions differing from those expressed here should be met with appropriate skepticism.