by Mark Sculati
Helicopters can be fun - just ask anybody who has gotten a ride in one. Now imagine a helicopter ride blindfolded. A helicopter ride blindfolded and with your clubs. You do not know which course you will land at. You are dropped on the first tee and told to “play on”. It’s a great idea because you will have no set expectations on the course, no pre-conceived “oh this is a great course” etc., based on location, reputation, hearsay etc. Minnesotagolf.org has discovered that great course to be dropped off at and that is Turtleback in Rice Lake, WI. Never heard of it? Not up in Brainerd?
You must expand your golfing horizons and get this track on your road trip itinerary. Located just two hours northeast of the metro this track will stand up to anything that Brainerd has to offer - and it’s closer.
With four sets of tees: Blacks 6618 yds, Blues 6307 yds, Whites 5898 yds, and reds from 5210 yds, the course plays fair to all skill levels. The front nine measures about ten percent shorter than the back nine while the average scorecard shows back nine scores to be ten percent higher than front nine scores - hmmm - any correlation there? The beauty of Turtleback is that while the back nine is longer and tougher, it is also the most enjoyable and pleasing part of the round(though your score may not show it). Many a golfer fires a front nine forty and goes whistling to the number ten tee - only to discover that this is where the course really begins.
The font nine layout is a little different than most “traditional” nines in that it has six par fours, two par threes, and one par five for a thirty five. The par four third is the only one of the six that measures at least 400 yards from the blues. The par fours fifth and sixth are deceptively tough holes. Number five has O.B. to the right and it is better to miss left. The second shot is difficult due to a big deep bunker fronting the right half of the green(hello slicers) and the green plays way faster than it looks - chips from above rarely end up close. Number six fairway is pinched by tees on both sides and makes for an intimidating tee shot. Inevitable, two out of your foursome will be hitting out of the trees on their second shot.
You finish with the 276 yard par four ninth - a great, classic risk/reward tee shot. Water fronts the green to gobble up greedy tee ballers. The safe play is four/five iron down the right side leaving a short wedge to the green. This hole pleases the eye as the water, green and clubhouse perched on the hill above stand out.
The back nine begins with the 401 yard difficult tenth. A good drive is needed (watch out for that tree)and one of the more difficult second shots awaits you. Miss the green and a potential double is on your card.
Eleven and twelve are beautiful par fours. Do not go over the green on eleven as the drop off is precipitous. On twelve do not miss left from the tee - do and a tall stand of pines prevents you from going for the green. The pine tree area between twelve and thirteen is a great place to sit and take in the view - maybe that’s why a carved turtle sits to the right of twelve green.
Number thirteen, a 158 yard downhill par three is where you really see the “turtleback” green down below. This is a beauty to look at from above. Treachery waits below. The number seventeen handicapped hole? Hello? Our scorecard showed five, five, five, four.
The drive from thirteen to fourteen under the road leads you to holes fourteen to seventeen - four great golf holes. Par five, par three, par four, par four - a little bit of everything. Really a great stretch of holes. Number fifteen - listed at 171 yards ALWAYS plays longer than it looks - take an extra club and make sure to play to the back of the green to avoid the water up font.
Number seventeen at 416 yards is the longest par four on the course but the driving area is the size of a carrier - the second shot and the green makes this a tough four.
You then drive back under the road for one of the best finishing holes around. A wrap around water par five, number eighteen is a beautiful looking hole from the tee looking forward and looking back down the fairway from the green - the litmus test for a great looking hole. It is truly a fantastic finishing hole that can be played in a variety of ways and can create a dramatic finish for whatever money game is being played.
I’m sure everyone has heard the old adage - go west young man. Well, to all the golfers in the metro area and the state of Minnesota, a new phrase should be used when discussing Turtleback - go east young man. Besides a top notch golf course at a great price, Turtleback features a beautiful clubhouse and conference center. A bar is located below for between nine stops and a bar/restaurant sits atop with a great view of golfers coming up eighteen - one of the better nineteenth holes ever designed.