Photo by Arnie Hamel

From Good to Great

by Arnie Hamel

Nothing nullifies the dreariness of a gloomy Monday morning like a day off up north, saddled with the burden of playing golf. There’s something extra delightful about knocking a ball around the woods while the rest of the world gathers for strategy meetings in board rooms, determined one day to be wealthy and golfing.

The natural beauty and atmosphere at Pokegama Golf Course in Grand Rapids make it particularly easy to feel as though you’ve got it licked -- heck, we hardly noticed the occasional sprinkles of morning rain that fell during our round of 18 in early August.

Pokegama was originally a nine hole course that was completely rebuilt in 1977. In 1994 the course underwent some remodeling --  including switching to bent-grass fairways --  with the help of course designer Joel Goldstrand, and is now one of the finest municipal courses of the north, if not the state.

The course was in great shape. Weather conditions almost throughout the state have been ideal this season for golf courses, and at Pokegama it shows. The tee boxes, fairways and especially the greens were extremely well maintained. My playing partner noted that, when repairing his many divots on the greens, not once did he find another, unrepaired divot. It is clear that Pokegama is maintained by both players and staff with great care and respect.

At Pokegama, you really get a feeling for the course’s tradition and there’s a sense of fraternity among both the friendly staff and veteran regulars. This was evident from the first tee, when the starter and foursome on the box greeted us warmly and insisted we play through, as we’d likely play a bit quicker than the more patient senior players.

The first hole is a unique par 5 which plays 469 yards from the white tees (485 blue). It’s lined with trees on both sides and an early dogleg to the left. I played it safe off the tee and was able to turn the corner after hitting a full seven iron -- certainly a rare club choice off the tee for a par 5. My partner chose a 3-iron and was safe on the right side of the fairway, roughly 240 yards out.

Holes four and five were both memorable. Four is a right-bending 426-yard par four (it’s a par 5 for the ladies) that emerges out of the trees and is roomy enough for you to be aggressive in going right at the pin. Five is shorter at 398 yards from the whites (415 blue), but after a slight uphill drive, you’re left with an approach to a green surrounded by water, sand and woods that demands accuracy. If you happen to reach in regulation you’re still faced with a slanted, slippery green that requires your very best delicate putt.

The back nine features back-to-back par 5s at 14 and 15. Both holes are more or less straight and cover 498 and 509 yards from the white tees, respectively. The potential for a late-round surge with consecutive birdies is certainly realistic here if you’re hitting the ball accurately off the tee.

The presence of water at Pokegama is more scenic than dangerous, but it can come into play on the very nice par 4, 372-yard eleventh hole if you’re unable to get off the tee. The par 3 number 17 (170, 189) also features a wet spot, with a big pond to the right and traps on three sides. Competitive players who have put together a good round through 16 holes may be in for a test of nerves here, as a bad tee shot on 17 could have disastrous consequences.

As part of the service to our readers, we always make sure to hit plenty of crooked shots, so as to provide you with the most comprehensive course review possible. After all, how insightful could we be if every shot was hit straight down the middle of the fairway? Therefore, trust us when we say that errant shots hit left or right of the fairway are pretty easy to find in the well-cleared rough. But misfires off the tee often require a lateral chip back onto the fairway, a shot I had nearly mastered by the end of our northwoods tour. Overall, though, Pokegama is mostly kind to fades and slices, and good shots aren’t penalized by gimmicky doglegs or annoyingly placed sand traps.

At $24 Pokegama is easily one of the best golfing values we encountered all season. Single adult memberships are $355, and family memberships run $455. Members also receive a 25% discount off green fees at the other three Grand Slam courses; Eagle Ridge in Coleraine, Sugarbrooke and Wendigo.

It’s difficult to find a flaw with Pokegama, this tranquil gem of the north. Mature trees, bent grass fairways, beautiful views of Pokegama Lake and green fees that make this course one of the best golfing values anywhere. In my next Monday morning staff meeting, I’ll no doubt gaze out the window and think of all the lucky ones currently teeing it up at Pokegama

Click here to read a 1997 review of Pokegama.

Pokegama Golf Course
3910 Golf Course Road
Grand Rapids, MN 55744
(218) 326-3444

  Blue White Yellow Red
Rating 72.2 70.8 69.6 70
Slope 124 121 119 120
Distance 6481 6105 5592 5046