Cloquet Country Club
June 9th 2002 was a red letter day for our crack team of course reviewers. For the first time, an unwary private country club had shown a willingness to allow us on their premises. We departed the Cities on a steamy Sunday morning, tense with anticipation and clad in our finest hot weather golf attire. If we could only be convincing in our portrayal of the well bred, genteel golfers that inhabited this strange new world, who knew where the path might lead? Perhaps Minikahda or (gasp) Interlachen would be part of our golfing future.
Things never work out quite like we imagine them.
When we stepped out of the car in the Cloquet Country Club parking lot the temperature was in the high 40s if one disregarded the windchill. The course professional and general manager, Steve Anderson, and his cronies happened to be coming up to the adjacent 2nd green at the same time. These gentlemen clearly seemed to enjoy the sight of rubes from the big city being so hopelessly underdressed for the arctic conditions. Amidst substantial teasing, we scrambled to find any clothing that might help us to stay alive for the next four hours. As we dressed, shivering, in the parking lot we knew that our cover had already been broken.
Teeing up on the 330 yard par four first hole, several impressions came to mind. We immediately noticed that there were no other golfers around. Did members of private clubs always get the course to themselves like this- even on Sunday mornings? Golf the way it was meant to be played. The backdrop of mature pines captured our attention next. This is a very pretty old golf course.
Cloquet C.C. was designed by Donald Ross way back in 1923. It existed as a nine hole course until last year when a second nine designed by (who else?) Joel Goldstrand was added. We were surprised to note that the distances of the separate nines were exactly the same, right to the yard, from all sets of tees. Blacks were 3375 yards ( 6649/ 72.9/ 130). Golds played at 3233 yards ( 634571.0/ 127) and Purples were 2956 ( 5830/68.9/123). The ladies nines were each 2695 (70.1/ 120). This seemed too strange to be coincidental, sort of like the Northwest Bank building and the IDS center being exactly the same height. Too proud to play the Purples, too cowardly to play the Blacks, we opted for the Golds.
We figured the front nine would be a lot like the first hole. Ross courses are often noted for shorter distances ( as was the norm in the 20s) and smallish rounded greens. The 439 yard par four second caught us by surprise (445 yds from the blacks) and the 218 yard par three third made it clear that this course held some serious challenge. Greens were usually guarded by several bunkers. Some nice elevation changes, several ponds, and the ubiquitous tall pines all contributed to the difficulty.
To Minnesota golfers the name Joel Goldstrand immediately evokes one thought: lots of trouble short and right of the green. He seems to delight in placing ponds, bunkers, steep slopes, marshes -whatever nastiness he can think of- exactly where the intermediate golfer is likely to put his mis-hit, “faded” approach shots. Forced to aim even farther left than normal, the usual slice is accentuated and all sorts of havoc results. Perhaps every course feels like this to some of us and it’s just that Goldstrand has designed so many of the places we play. That sort of objectivity is not welcome here.
At any rate, Goldstrands’ nine seems to blend very nicely with the older Ross nine. In fact, a newcomer to the course might not even suspect that the nines were constructed nearly 80 years apart by very different course designers. The condition of the greens and turf was not in mid-season form yet on either side (due to the abysmal weather) but Mr. Anderson assured us that the grass is usually impeccable.
One might intuitively suspect that any private course that would allow us to play on it isn’t really that exclusive. Cloquet is private but does not completely discourage daily fee golfers, especially on weekdays or other times when they aren’t busy. The atmosphere is really quite friendly and informal. As was pointed out some years back when we visited Nemadji Golf Course in Superior, the Twin Ports area represents a very nice alternative to the more trendy-and pricey- “Golf Destinations” found in the Brainerd area. Anyone contemplating a golfing trip to the Duluth area should consider a call to Cloquet to see if it is possible to add this gem to their itinerary. At $45/ round this is a genuine golfing bargain.
Cloquet Country Club