Photo by Peter Wong
The Legend and Quarry golf courses at Giants Ridge in Biwabik
The Legend and Quarry courses at Giants Ridge in Biwabik are consistently ranked among the best in the state, and among the top 100 public courses in the U.S.
With more golfers and golf courses per capita than any other U.S. state, Minnesota’s love for the game runs deeper than an uphill bunker. Here’s a closer look at how our courses are driving a new generation of golfers to the tee box.
Around the state, courses are adapting to better serve beginner and occasional golfers. Wider fairways and shorter roughs are common, and a handful of courses are trying out bigger golf holes. At Superior National in Lutsen, a new five-tee system offers varying distances to the putting greens, some of which have doubled in size, while players who land on the beach will have an easier time playing out with the addition of soft Ohio White sand in the bunkers. Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge in Brainerd, which opened Minnesota’s first resort course in 1921, has thinned out wooded areas to improve playability when shots go rogue. And Medina’s Baker National Golf Course has brought fairways closer to the tees, which golf services manager Jeff May says has improved pace of play.
Caddie services also are on the rise. Madden’s brought back caddies on The Classic course four years ago after a 13-year hiatus. Glenn Hagberg, Madden’s head PGA golf professional, says tourists traveling to play at Madden’s especially appreciate the insights of a caddie familiar with each bunker, green, and fairway. “The enjoyment of playing a great golf course with a top-notch caddie is tough to put into words, but it is simply something every golfer must experience,” he says. At Interlachen Country Club in Edina, head golf professional Nathan Ollhoff calls the longtime roster of 150 caddies “one of the course’s most enjoyable attributes.”
Prefer to tote your own clubs? A new personal electric golf transport vehicle dubbed the Golf Skate Caddy allows golfers to “surf” the fairways standing up, riding with one foot in front of the other as they would on a surfboard or skateboard. It first arrived in Minnesota last summer at Edina’s Braemar Golf Course, and will likely be popping up at more local courses this summer.
For the Kids
In a fast-paced social media era, Minnesota courses are capitalizing on golf’s appeal as a fun, relaxing, and truly social game for players of all ages. “Families are seeing golf as a great way to unplug and enjoy quality time together outside without distraction,” says Ruth Glaser, senior director of sales and marketing at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Madden’s Hagberg agrees: “We have seen a significant trend over the past three to five years with Generation X and millennials coming with their friends and young families.” Giants Ridge offers free junior play for families playing together. In Hinckley, Grand Casino’s Grand National golf course has extended free golf and club rental to its members’ children and grandchildren, with an annual youth clinic and tournament.
The commitment to developing young players with junior leagues, schools, and programs is widespread. Hazeltine’s summer golf programs serve children in elementary through high school. Braemar Golf Course’s youth program, with more than 800 players, is among the largest in the state. And The Meadows at Mystic Lake, which the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community owns and operates, offers a junior golf school, half-price greens fees for youth golfers, and free driving range time for local high school teams.
The rushing Poplar River serves as a dramatic water hazard at Superior National in Lutsen; Photograph by Bryan Hansel
Since carving out four hours for 18 holes can be a challenge these days, courses are adding less time-consuming options for play and practice. “Our practice facility is open nearly sun up to sun down and we have members looking to use it all times of the day, often for only short periods of time that fit into their active schedules,” says Interlachen’s Ollhoff, adding that club members are increasingly coming out to play just six or nine holes. Giants Ridge also has expanded its nine-hole offerings for those wanting a shorter outing. “With golf in competition for people’s time these days like never before, we have to adapt to the expectations and constraints that have changed for many,” says John Kendall, director of golf at Giants Ridge.
Grand National golf course added two new holes in 2012 but also kept open the holes it replaced as practice holes. “Along with re-routing the course so it plays faster, so you can get on with your day, you can come early and hit the range and then go play our two par-4 practice holes before you even tee off,” says Casey Fahey, director of golf.
The focus on flexibility even extends to footwear. University of Minnesota graduates Sam Swanson and Matt Stang recently invented Swannies, soft-spike golf sandals that can be worn on and off the golf course. “We wanted a more comfortable way to enjoy our favorite sport, a way to make the game more fun,” says Mike Hau, director of marketing for Swannies. “You can leave home in your sandals, jump on the first tee, and head to the bar after your round, all without changing your footwear.” The sandals will get their first taste of competition this year as the footwear for White Bear Lake High School’s boys’ golf team, currently ranked first in the state. This summer, American flag Swannies will be released in anticipation of the Ryder Cup.
An (Almost) All-Weather Sport
Edina’s Interlachen Country Club has played host to many professional events, dating back to the 1930 U.S. Open;
Photograph courtesy of Interlachen Country Club
Though sandals may not always be in season, many Minnesota courses are open eight months per year. “Even as far north as we are at Giants Ridge, we are able to play golf an average of 28 weeks a year,” Kendall says.
Hearty Minnesotans are game to take advantage. “Minnesota packs in more rounds than some Arizona and Florida courses that are open year-round. During the heat of the day in those states, many tee times go unused, whereas Minnesotans play in all weather conditions,” Fahey explains. “A nice spring or fall day is perfect for golf,” agrees Baker National’s May. “Dress appropriately and get out and play.”
And when we do, the reward is stunning scenery, from plush fairways and flowing streams to towering pines and the dramatic edge of Lake Superior. “Our combination of quality golf courses at reasonable green fee rates gives golfers traveling to Minnesota a value that we can put up against any other destination area in the country,” Kendall says. “The players who see what we have to offer for themselves become lifelong advocates of Minnesota golf.”
The 2016 Ryder Cup
Hazeltine’s 16th hole will re-emerge as hole seven during the 2016 Ryder Cup; Photograph by Peter Wong
From September 27 through October 2, an anticipated 250,000 spectators will descend upon Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska for the 2016 Ryder Cup. Airing in more than 160 countries to a potential 500 million people, television viewership of the event will rival that of the Super Bowl.
History: First held in 1927, the Ryder Cup is the world’s premier international team golf competition. The competition typically takes place every two years, pitting 12 players from the United States against 12 players from Europe. Different from stroke play, which counts each shot for an overall score, the Ryder Cup is a match-play competition, which counts the number of holes won by each side.
Course: Hazeltine is no stranger to professional events. With the Ryder Cup, it will be only the second U.S. course to have hosted the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Amateur Championship, PGA Championship, and Ryder Cup matches. Players familiar with the 7,674-yard course will notice a switch-up, with current holes one through four and 14 through 18 comprising the front nine, and current holes 10 through 13 and five through nine making up the back nine to offer spectators a better view.