The number four green at Wendigo--when played as a par 3.

Wendigo (and when to stay)

by Kevin Turnquist

Potential is both a blessing and a curse, carrying the possibility of sublime success and massive letdown. No Minnesota golf course better demonstrates this than Wendigo Golf Club in Grand Rapids. Our first visit two years ago left us convinced that Wendigo would become that area’s version of The Classic or Giant’s Ridge. This course has the natural beauty and challenging layout to go toe to toe with the superheavyweights.

When we last saw this contender it’s clubhouse was well on it’s way to completion. In only it’s second year of operation greens and fairways had already filled in nicely. Golf Digest had it ranked as the eighth best public course in the state and we saw no reason to disagree. Wendigo certainly has it’s charms. Greens are superb, especially for a northern course. Many holes are visually stunning. At $ 30 per round ($25 on weekdays) it is one of the best golf values around. Our primary complaint about the course had involved the dense underbrush lining the narrow fairways (prompting our advice to bring a guide, a machete, and lots of ammo) but correspondence with the owner had informed us that this problem was corrected. Potential of this degree brings high expectations so it was with eager anticipation that we made our way up to Judy Garlandland to see what Wendigo had grown up to become.

Our hearts began to sink when we came around the bend leading to the course, only to realize that the impressive log clubhouse was no closer to completion than the day we left it two years ago. We were soon The definition of the word "languish"informed that one of the owners had pulled out, leaving the course short of capital and up for sale. As we started off the back nine with the course almost all to ourselves we remained optimistic. The fairways seemed a tad shaggy that day in early August but greens were outstanding and the scenery gorgeous. Clearly we were in for a great day of golf.

Hole ten started uneventfully enough. A 531 yard dog leg right, it played to the natural "fade" favored by most of our group. One attempt to reach in two fell 30 yards short and a little right of the elevated green however and the resulting lost ball (which landed in view of two of us) provided ominous foreshadowing of what was to come. The next two holes- 378 and 413 yard par fours-passed without major damage. It was on number thirteen that things took a turn towards the weird.

As we reached the tee for this 133 yard par three we knew no one had been in front of us for a while. We watched in puzzlement as a greenskeeper drove around the green in a tiny vehicle with a long silver contraption in tow, finally realizing that he was painting the green with some sort of chemical to cover up the fact that it was a bit burnt out (the only green on the course that was in less than excellent shape). This was a huge rolling green, the job was less than a third done, and the greenskeeper had given no evidence that he was aware of our presence. Finally Mr. Hamel let loose a single sharp whistle to alert the gentleman that we were on the tee. Imagine our surprise when the faithful employee retorted loudly " HOLD YOUR HORSES YOU FUCKING MORONThe sixteenth green, looking back at the tee. I’M NOT DONE YET!" How he had managed to surmise this about Arnie from that distance and in such a short period of time left us completely baffled.

Needless to say our concentration was a bit off after our encounter with the curmudgeonly greenspainter. Things went from bad to worse several holes later when young Hamel failed to negotiate a sidehill/downhill lie  and ended up rolling his golf cart ( the second overall carting accident in our two Wendigo trips). Fortunately he was unhurt and, in fairness, it should be mentioned that the cartpath had recently been graded in preparation for paving. From that point on, however, all resemblance to a foursome of golfers was lost. It’s hard to turn on the ball when your sides hurt from laughing.

When things turn sour on the links it is always tempting to search out the beverage girl. If nothing else swilling a few ales calms the jagged nerves while providing a convenient excuse for the travesty that is passing as a golf swing. In fact some of us have wondered whether unconscious forces cause us to play horribly just so that turning the round into a party becomes justified. Sadly, on this day there was no such beverage girl. In fact there was no water on the course either. This was not a good day to be denied such simple pleasures.

While there had been some effort towards clearing out some of the brush along the fairways, particularly on the back nine, Wendigo still remains a beast of a course. Even with the improvements we lost more balls here -again- than at the other three Grand Slam courses combined. Goldstrand courses often play a little tough for the average golfer but this is a different order of magnitude. The length of many holes demands hitting driver from the tee to have any realistic chance of making par but hitting the long club here is a harrowing experience. Many drives went screaming so far into thick woods that any attempt to find the ball seemed ridiculously hopeless. Looking up the first fairway.Even when we hit the narrow, undulating fairways they rarely yielded flat lies, sometimes held dangers invisible from the tee, and occasionally sent passable shots bouncing sideways into the jungles. In each of the rounds here members of our group who pride themselves on recording their scores regardless of how absurd they become have given up counting.

Grumpy help. Clubhouse the size of a single car garage. Life threatening cartpaths. Difficulty which a slope of 126 from the whites does not begin to do justice to. Absent beverages. All of these are real problems yet we can’t wait to get out on this course again. There’s just something about it that makes you hope that it does get sold (currently on the market for around three to four million dollars we were told), that it’s clubhouse is finished, and that the on-course improvements are completed. Perhaps it’s simply the loveliness of the 430 acres the course is built on but maybe there’s more to it. Maybe it’s Wendigo’s potential that will bring us back.

Wendigo Golf Club
750 Golf Crest Drive
Grand Rapids, MN 55774
(218) 327-2211

  Blue White Red
Rating 70.7 69.1 70.0
Slope 129 126 127
*Distance 6314/6460 5921/6069 5022/5151

*Curious why there are two sets of distances for each set of tees? The answer is the "passing lane" hole -- number 4, which fans out from its tee box in two separate holes, one playing as a par 3, and one playing as a par 4.