by Kevin Turnquist
It's getting hard to know what to believe when it comes to the printed word these days. Reading's shrinking niche in the communication world is increasingly occupied by those who have a particular agenda. Usually this involves making money. The once lofty profession of Golf Course Reviewer is certainly no exception.
This business of
describing and rating golf courses used to be pure and untainted except for all the
alcohol. Nowadays big corporate bucks subsidize a constant courting of the
reviewer's positive regard. Objectivity can get pretty scarce when luxurious golf
packages, free equipment, and representatives of escort services are involved.
No better example of skewed opinion-giving comes to mind than that
of the lauded Chaska Town Course. The StarTribune gushed over this track like it was
Minnesota's answer to Augusta National. During a recent visit to Chaska it soon
became apparent that the Tribune writers had fallen prey to the payola boys. Mushy
fairways, hard greens, forced carries over swamplands, gimmicky holes and inflated green
fees resulted in our renaming this course Buffalo Run South.
So it was with considerable ambivalence that we made the three and a
half hour journey to Giants Ridge Golf Resort last week. Sure,we had read some glowing
reviews of the course. Some even had beautiful pictures but a lot can be done with
computers these days and photographers rank high on the list of the ethically challenged
too. Frankly, we were skeptical of the idea that a true contender for the mythical title
of " Finest Public Golf Course In Minnesota" might be found residing in Biwabik.
Shortly after our arrival at the Golf Resort/Ski Resort/Cross
Country Ski Training Ground/Doug Woog Hockey School we had to concede that the
service was first rate. Everyone from the boys who brought the carts to our car to the
waitresses, the starter, and the omnipresent "player's assistants" displayed a
friendly, informal attitude that seemed more in keeping with the ski resort than a
superpremium golf course.
Once the golf got underway it didn't take long to realize that we
had truly hooked onto something special. This is a big, sprawling course that sends
clusters of two or three holes off into the forest in all directions. With seven and a
half miles of cartpaths it makes no pretense of being a walking course - in fact carts are
Everything at Giants Ridge was done on a large scale. Whereas The
Classic moved only 20,000 cubic yards of earth when preparing it's layout, Giants Ridge
moved half a million. Huge pockets of boulders are stacked up around the course. Nearly
five million pounds of white sugar-sand were hauled in from Ohio to fill the 60 plus
enormous bunkers. Greens, tees, and fairways were covered with over 80,000 tons of topsoil
before being seeded with Creeping Bentgrass. One man-made pond alone contains 4.5 million
gallons of water.
The result of all of this massive construction is a course unlike
any we've encountered in Minnesota. Each hole is scenic and shows it's own unique
character. Nothing gimmicky about any of them. Par fours average 365 yards from the white
tees, 409 yards from the points. Hitting the driver is almost always a good option as good
drives are never penalized. Enough trouble awaits errant shots, though, to encourage
hitting fairway woods or even irons from the tees in hopes of reaching safer landing
areas. Appropriately enough, much of the subtle difficulty of this course comes from
actual giant ridges. Big, elongated mounds of earth are everywhere and must always be
taken into consideration. Landing on the correct side of them will often make a decent
shot better by throwing the ball onto the fairway or green. More frequently, though, they
seemed to funnel shots into the big, Lake Minnetonka-shaped traps.
If you've heard about any of The Ridge's holes it's probably been the par five third. We've included the obligatory picture of the giant's
footprint shaped sand trap. There's a lot more to this hole than the cool 10,000
square foot trap though. The fairway past the trap is bisected by a long ridge that sends
even slight fades off to the right, well out of reachable range. If you carry the
big footprint with a draw you're rewarded with a mid- to-long iron approach shot to
the green. There, another subtle ridge protects the right two-thirds of the green by
banking shots into yet another expansive bunker. Short left has two more traps to deal
with. As with most of these holes, a safe play is provided even though it's not
immediately obvious. In this case large mounds behind the green keep long shots in play.
This is one green you don't want to miss short.
A recent contest to select Giants Ridge's "Signature Hole"
found number three in only third place. A pair of lovely par threes grabbed the top two
spots. The eleventh hole, a wedge shot into a green protected by water on three sides with
a big trap in front, earned the top spot. Runner-up number 17 was our personal favorite. Five
tee boxes, terraced with huge boulders, allow distances ranging from 137 to 226
yards. The green is on an elevated peninsula so the shot is almost entirely carry. Unlike
nearly all of the other holes this one offers no margin for error unless you count using
the greenside drop area for your third shot as a safety play. Even here there is solace
for the many golfers who leave their tee shots in the drink. A pretty flowered walkway
leads to the drop area and getting up and down from thirty feet is all that's required to
Perhaps the most telling statistic about Giants Ridge Golf Resort is
that in the Signature Hole contest every hole gathered at least a hundred votes.
Mythical readers of The Sports Page golf course reviews might recall
the criteria set down for our equally mythical title of "Best Public Golf Course In
Minnesota". You can play any course you wish on a perfect summer's day. No one else
is on the course and neither cost nor travel time are considerations. Where do you choose
Giants Ridge offers tremendous scenic beauty, friendly service, a
superb layout, some of the nicest sand traps in the state,and great turf throughout. It's
the sort of course that has posted green fees for the second eighteen of the day because
one round only leaves you wanting to get right back out there. Even if it's green fees
were more in line with it's spendier competitors for the heavyweight belt (e.g. The Wilds
and The Classic at over $90 per round) it would still receive my vote as The Best Public
Course In Minnesota. If you permit factoring in value for the golfing dollar, at $59 with
cart for the first 18 and $35 for the second the choice becomes even easier.
So this is it. One man's mythical Champion Of Golf Courses. We can't
wait to see the the golf course (or the escort service girls, whichever the case may be)
that can dethrone this one.
Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort
P.O Box 190
County Highway 138
Biwabik, Minnesota 55708
Check out the Giants Ridge web page