Tags Posts tagged with "Minnesota Destinations"

Minnesota Destinations


Troy Burne

One of my first journeys as a travel reporter was in 2007 and it was to The Land of 10,000 Lakes. I went to off-the-GPS-grid stops such as Biwabik, value golf stops like The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake, and boated around with hospitable fishing guides like Walleye Dan. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked on Minnesota ever since. 

The Classic, which is No. 63 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses, can be walked on a weekend for $101. Any Top 100 for something close to $100 is worth tracking down.

Now, almost a decade later, along with the eyeballs of the collective golf world, I’m back in Minnesota for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. And although The Classic is a three-hour drive, there are plenty of options in and around the Minneapolis area. I’ve made my list and added some of your thoughts and Twitter comments (@MattGinellaGC). 

Chaska Town Course

Chaska, MN

Green fee: $50/$69

*Ryder Cup rates are $125 before 2:00; $85 after 2:00.

Distance from Hazeltine: 3 miles.

Hazeltine’s companion course for the 2006 U.S. Amateur, Chaska is famous for Billy Horschel’s 60 in the first round of stroke play. “It was just my day,” said Horschel, who hit one in the water on the 547-yard par-5 18th and still made a birdie. He went out and back in 30. One can only assume the young Gator must’ve flown the tree in the middle of the 280-yard third hole. (Pictured.)

3rd @ Chaska Town Course
3rd @ Chaska Town Course

jeremy weisberg @jeremywize
Oh the town course is LEGIT!!!

Andrew Morris ‏@atmorris8 
Town Course, great track and great people!


Prior Lake, MN

Green fee: $79

Distance from Hazeltine: 25 miles.

Not far from the highway, Legends was built on 360 acres and promises accessible rates but a “private club feel.” With water on 13 holes, it’s obvious this course is in The Land of 10,000 Lakes. Not to mention, Credit River Creek, which runs through the course.


Jake Weaver @jmweaver785
I’d add Willinger’s to that list. It’s south of Legends.

Amie Burrill @amieburrill
Great list @MattGinellaGC @legendsgolfmn is a favorite!  #OnlyinMN

Clark Averill @clark55810
The Legends is the best of the list. Strong Par 3s and plenty of risk/reward holes. Always in great condition.

Keller Golf Course (1929)

Maplewood, MN

Green fee: $43 (Drops to $33 on Oct. 3)

Distance from Hazeltine: 40 miles.

The old and classic parkland course underwent a renovation in 2014. Host of the St. Paul Open from 1930 until 1968, winners include Ray Floyd, Ken Venturi and Tommy Bolt. Keller has also hosted the PGA Championship (1932 and 1954) and the Western Open (1949), which was won by Sam Snead.


el duderino. @MN_Peter
Keller cannot be beat in terms of value.

Troy Burne

Hudson, WI

Green fee: $96. (Fall rate is $60.)

Distance from Hazeltine: 60 miles.

Tom Lehman is the golfing pride of Minnesota, but in 1999, and just across the Wisconsin border, he worked with Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry to build a popular layout on 420 acres of rolling hills. You start with a par 5, 4 & 3, which sets the tone for what will be a challenging but fair and fun day, especially if you avoid the 120 bunkers sprinkled throughout.

Troy Burne
Troy Burne

DV @ViljasteD

Troy Burne, awesome!

Meadows at Mystic Lake

Prior Lake, MN

Green fee: $60

*Ryder Cup rates are $150, which includes a cart and $30 pro-shop credit. After 2:00 it’s $100.

Distance from Hazeltine: 15 miles.

Locals speak fondly of the challenges on the course and at the casino. An assortment of hazards includes 80 bunkers, little lakes, waterfalls and a stream. I would never play in denim, but gotta love the fact they allow (nice) jeans in the spring and fall. Sidenote: The front nine closes on October 6 for bunker renovations.

Meadows at Mystic Lake
Meadows at Mystic Lake

el duderino. @MN_Peter
As a local I say great list! Baker National, Stone Ridge and Willingers could be added as well.

Land of 10,000 Links

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The Classic
The Classic

Nobody is planning on changing Minnesota’s license plate slogan from the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ to the ‘Land of 10,000 Links.’ However golf is a vital part of the sporting culture in this Upper Midwestern state, home to some 450 courses.

With approximately 4.5 million residents, Minnesota has more golfers per capita than any other state in the Union, and is the only state to have held all thirteen of the different national championships sanctioned by the USGA. (The U.S Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, the U.S Amateur, Women’s Amateur, Senior Amateur, Senior Women’s Amateur, the Junior Amateur, Girls Junior, and several others.)

The Ryder Cup has never been held in Minnesota, but that will change this year as summer gives way to autumn. Hazeltine National in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska will host the 41st iteration of these much-anticipated international matches, as the United States attempts to turn the tide. (The Europeans have won five of the last six Cups, and seven of the last nine.)

For those traveling to Minnesota to play golf, the Brainerd Lakes area of the state offers several compelling venues and lots of good lodging. Grab a National Rental Car at the Minneapolis Airport and head north. In about two-and-a-half hour (150 miles) you’ll be smack dab in the middle of one of the Midwest’s golf hotbeds.

Twenty five years ago the area was best known as a getaway for fishing, recreational boating and water sports, and home to the bigger-than-life statues of the mythical Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Legend has it that Bunyan’s giant footsteps created the area’s myriad lakes. In 1990 the landscape began a subtle shift towards golf, with the opening of The Pines at Grand View Lodge. These 18 holes, which expanded to 27 some five years later, were the region’s inaugural foray into the world of the upscale destination course. The Pines at Grandview Lodge begat a host of other dazzlers, including Arnold Palmer’s tribute to his father, Deacon, with a must-play known as Deacon’s Lodge. The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake is another top-tier venue, which features several other courses of varying length and difficulty, 63 holes in total. Same can be said for the 45-hole complex at Cragun’s Resort. All four facilities are exceptional, none more so than Palmer’s effort.

Deacon’s Lodge

Like the king in his prime, Deacon’s Lodge is muscular, bold and dramatic. With wide, sweeping fairways, many tumbling downhill from elevated tees, there’s plenty of room and reason to swat drivers all day.


Cragun’s Resort offers Dutch Legacy as its headliner. This Audubon International certified sanctuary is one of only two dozen public courses nationwide garnering a five-star rating from Golf Digest. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation offers multiple tee boxes, a number of forced carries and varied approach options on a pristine piece of property. Jones Jr. also created Bobby’s Legacy, with several split fairways and a rhythmic mixture of longer and shorter holes. They also offer a unique Reversible 9 par-3 course, ideal for families, kids and novices, which changes direction daily, offering holes from 85 to 225 yards in length.

The Classic

The Classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake was designed by longtime course superintendent Scott Hoffmann, who consulted with the late New England based architect Geoffrey Cornish. The first three holes of this walker-friendly knockout skirt the pristine waters of Bass Lake, and then things really get pretty with bridges, towering Minnesota conifers, and beautiful bunkering. In addition to the championship course, there is Pine Beach East, circa 1926, stretching all of 6,100 yards. Holes 14 through 16 memorably consist of two reachable par 5s and a driveable par 4. Pine Beach West is even more petite, just a shade over 5,000 yards in length, and rounding out the offerings is what’s aptly known as Madden’s Social Nine, eight par-3s with a par-4, perfect for walking-and-talking while swinging a few clubs with family and friends.

The Pines
The Pines

Finally, The Pines at Grandview Lodge, the course that begat the Brainerd Golf Boom, remains as popular as ever. The Woods, The Lakes and The Marsh are separate nine-hole ramblings that can be combined into an 18-hole round, or all 27, if so inclined. The greens are among the best in the area, and depending on the chosen routing, golfers encounter gorgeous stonework, sharp doglegs, deep forests and wonderful lake views.

Dining options go well beyond area staples such as walleye, wild rice soup, and Lutefisk, which is a local delicacy and acquired taste, a white fish cured with lye. Patrons can drive or boat to Ernie’s on Gull Lake, a lively and family-friendly eatery established nearly a century ago in 1917. Grilled Norwegian salmon and braised pork shanks are among customer’s favorites, as is their famed lobster bisque. The Classic Grill at Madden’s offers serene golf course views, and a rich variety of entrees such as Chicken Lobster Oscar, Korean Beef Short Ribs and the Risotto of the Day. Finally, the Barn is a diner as simple as its name. They feature filling breakfasts, homemade pies, and the little-known-outside-the-Midwest ‘Maid-Rite’ sandwich, (otherwise known as a ‘loose meat’ sandwich) which is a ground beef sandwich not made into a patty. Sounds odd, tastes great!

Teeing Up in the Twin Cities

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StoneRidge Golf Club
StoneRidge Golf Club

The Ryder Cup gets underway this weekend at Hazeltine National in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska. Suffice to say, both the U.S. side, captained by Davis Love III and touting the likes of Jordan Speith, Dustin Johnson, and Phil Mickelson, and the European side, helmed by Darren Clarke and populated by Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, and Justin Rose among others, will feature golfers capable of putting on a spectacular show.

The thing about watching great golf in person is it makes us want to go out and play a round or two ourselves. If you have the fortune to make the trip to Minnesota for the 41st installment of the Cup, or if you can’t make it now but want to experience the area at a later date, the good news is there are a number of excellent options in and around the Twin Cities to help you scratch that itch.

StoneRidge Golf Club

StoneRidge Golf Club in the town of Stillwater is considered by many to be in the very top tier of public-access facilities in the Twin Cities. In fact Golfweek magazine rates it as the best public course in the region. This links-style layout designed by Bobby Weed features generously proportioned, rolling bent grass fairways, framed by native fescue grass. Though the highway is close at hand, the setting is serene, hearkening back to the farmland property it once was (there’s even a barn in play on the eleventh hole). The entire opening nine is visible from the first tee box, so players can get a sense of the rustic nature of the bunkering, and the undulations of the greens. The opener is a downhill, potentially drive-able par-4, setting the tone for the rousing golf experience to come.

Chaska Town Course

Municipally-owned courses are rarely considered must-plays, but the Chaska Town Course, not even three miles from the Ryder Cup venue of Hazeltine National, is a notable exception. In fact, the course is held in such high regard it co-hosted both the National Amputee Tournament in 2003 and United States Amateur in 2006 with its more famous (and very private) neighbor. Woods, wetlands and water features abound, tricky green surrounds add intrigue and difficulty to pitching and chipping, and overall this is a delightfully bucolic golf experience. This Arthur Hills design is capacious in scope. Most courses are laid upon 150 acres, but the Chaska Town Course is nearly twice that size, sprawling over 285 acres of oak groves, open prairie and marshlands.

Keller Golf Course

Finally, Keller Golf Course in the town of Maplewood offers an antiquity not found in the other recommendations. (Both StoneRidge and the Chaska Town Course are less than twenty years old.) Dating from 1929, this municipal facility twice hosted the PGA Championship, and even a Western Open captured by Sam Snead. It has a reputation for some of the best par-3 holes in the area, including the daunting sixth, stretching more than 220 yards in length. The course was shut down in October 2012 for major renovations, so all of the greens and bunkers could be brought up to modern standards. It reopened to fine reviews in July 2014, and has reclaimed its position as one of the best (and certainly most historic) public venues in the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis doesn’t have the overt culinary reputation compared to places like New York, San Francisco or New Orleans, but there are loads of exceptional eateries. Among the notable might be Lola’s Lakehouse in Waconia, with a great lake setting and outstanding food. Stone-fired pizza is always popular, but seafood abounds, including specialties like lobster-and-shrimp pie, a cast iron seafood stewpot, Chilean sea bass, diver scallops and many more. The Strip Club in St. Paul is another choice of the cognoscenti. Cozy space, small plates, and fresh food are the watchwords at this unique eatery. Grass-fed beef is one of their calling cards, along with artisanal cocktails. It’s probably not the best choice for the non-carnivores among us, particularly as the menu clearly states, “Vegetarians regarded with benevolent amusement.”

Lastly, there must be a brief mention of a highly unusual bistro called Betty Danger’s Country Club. Billing themselves as “a country club for the 99%,” they offer a unique array of ‘Mexhampton’ food, (IE–inspired by Mexico and the posh Hamptons of Long Island.) Guacamole, fried calamari and enchiladas are among the favorites, as is their on-site miniature golf course and striking views of the city skyline. Suffice it to say eateries like this are the exception, not the norm.

Playing a Different Troon

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The Open Championship returned to Royal Troon for the ninth time in 2016. It’s a magical, historical venue, with the tiny ‘Postage Stamp’ par-3 likely it’s most famous hole. Great as the course is, like every course in the Open Rota, it’s not easily accessible to busy American golfers. Luckily Troon Management, speaking of Troon, operates some of the finest public-access courses in the U.S. Here’s a brief look at several, most all of them 36-hole facilities, in varying corners of the nation:


One still has to fly across the ocean to get Kapalua, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. However, the biggest difference is that lovely weather is a virtual certainty; a guarantee that can never be made in the raw, windy and often rainy weather one encounters in the U.K. Located on Maui’s northwest shore, Kapalua stretches 22,000 acres, from mountain peaks to the edge of the glistening Pacific Ocean. The 7,100 yard Plantation Course is the marquee venue, familiar to TV viewers as the host of the PGA Tour Hyundai Tournament of Champions each January, featuring an elite field of the previous year’s tournament winners. Designed by two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw and partner Bill Coore, the grand scale of the course unfurls across natural geographic formations and pineapple plantation fields. The Bay Course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane, represents the first of Kapalua’s two championship golf courses. Measuring 6,600 yards long, the layout is an excellent example of resort golf at its best with gently rolling fairways and generous greens.

Troon North
Troon North

Another fabulous one-two punch is found in Scottsdale, Arizona. Troon North features the Monument and Pinnacle courses, the former dating from 1989, the latter 1995. Giant granite boulders lie strewn across the rugged landscape of the High Sonoran Desert. The courses, artfully designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, cleverly wrap around the northern slopes of landmark Pinnacle Peak. In golf-rich Scottsdale, these dueling beauties are very near the top of the pecking order, on either the public or the private side of the ledger.

Giants Ridge
Giants Ridge

Biwabik, Minnesota is well off the beaten path, some 200 miles due north of Minneapolis. However Giants Ridge is well worth the three hour drive from “The Cities,” offering a pair of courses designed by Jeffrey Brauer in consultation with former PGA Champion Lanny Wadkins. The Quarry and The Legend are two of the most exceptional golf venues in the Midwest, and in tandem, make for a great weekend getaway. Pristine bent grass fairways, massive lakes, giant boulders and towering trees are all earmarks of The Legend. The Quarry, the younger sibling (opened in 2004) offers dramatic raised tees and deep hazards. The architects routed the playing fields through and around former mine lands, wetlands, forests and a sand quarry to make The Quarry a one-of-a-kind course design. It’s no surprise that Golf Digest named Giants Ridge as the best public-access facility in Minnesota.


The leafy woodlands of eastern Connecticut are the improbable home of one of the nation’s busiest casinos. Foxwoods Resort, within driving distance of multiple millions in the northeast corridor, has much to offer, not the least of which are a pair of Rees Jones-designed beauties at Lake of Isles. The ninety-acre lake provides much of the stunning background, and the rolling terrain, island greens and tees and sublime views have made these courses among the most popular in the entire state. Both the North and South courses opened simultaneously in the spring of 2005, and have been doing brisk business in the ensuing decade-plus. The North Course always welcomes visitors, while the South can be accessed as the guest of a member, or sometime with a letter of introduction from one’s home club professional. Despite the rolling nature of the terrain and the elevation changes, architect Jones insured that the fairways are mostly flat, without the confounding side-hill and downhill lies one often encounters on New England courses with greater antiquity.

Old Works
Old Works

Finally, a ‘one-off’ (IE—18 hole facility) that deserves mention on its own standalone merit. The Old Works golf course in Anaconda, Montana, in the southwest area of the state, is a 1997 design by Jack Nicklaus. This is the first-ever golf course developed on a Federal EPA Superfund Site, which in layman’s terms means something appalling has morphed into something wonderful. Generous fairways, native grass borders and expansive greens make it one of the most spacious and unique golf courses in the region. There are exceptional views of the Anaconda Pintler Mountains throughout the property. What makes the facility even more memorable is the fact that the architect cleverly incorporated many significant mining relics to help reflect the region’s colorful mining history.

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“September.” It’s the most common answer to the question of avid amateurs all over the world: “What’s your favorite month of the year to play golf?” October isn’t bad either. And there have been Novembers to remember. Which leads me to a short list of my favorite destinations for fall getaway.

The criteria isn’t complicated: Walkable courses where the backdrop is trees, showcasing colorful leaves. Throw in thoughtful architecture, good conditioning, snappy service and sensible shoulder-season value, and that’s how I arrived at these five.

Leatherneck Golf Course
Leatherstocking Golf Course

1. Leatherstocking in Cooperstown, NY.

On a fall Friday, back when I lived in New York, my parents came for a visit. My dad’s a golfer and my mom is a traveler. Both appreciate baseball. So we loaded up clubs and a few friends and made the scenic four-hour drive to Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Stay at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, which overlooks Otsego Lake and the Leatherstocking Golf Course. Designed in 1909 by Devereux Emmet, it’s known for its fun finish—a long par 3 over water, and a reachable par 5 that flanks the water from tee to green. Before or after your round, you’ll need a half a day for a good tour of the Hall of Fame ($23 for adults, $12 for children, active or retired military and kids six and under are free). You’ll come back enriched on the history of America’s favorite pastime, a personalized bat or two, a phone full of golf pics and a new appreciation for the fall colors in the Northeast.

Fall special: $485 per night (based on double occupancy and a two-night minimum) gets you breakfast, cart and unlimited golf for both guests.


Top Of The Rock, Table Lake Rock
Top Of The Rock, Table Lake Rock

2. Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, MO.

Johnny Morris started Bass Pro Shops selling bait out of the corner of his father’s liquor store. With his fast fortune, Morris is reinvesting into all that he loves about the Ozarks. High above Table Rock Lake, Morris is piecing together the ultimate golf getaway. With Top of The Rock, the dramatic par-3 course designed by Jack Nicklaus, to Buffalo Ridge, designed by Tom Fazio, both of which are used in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf (usually in April), there’s already a nice mix of challenges for any level of golfer. But Morris is adding a Gary Player family course, and the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are getting started on another championship routing. It’s the setting, amenities, fishing and family atmosphere surrounding the Big Cedar Lodge that separates it from the rest. And it’s only getting better.

Fall special: $550 per person includes three nights, breakfast each day, two rounds of golf, carts and a cave tour.


Barton Creek - No. 10 Foothills Course
Barton Creek – No. 10 Foothills Course

3. Barton Creek in Austin, TX.

It’s never a bad idea to take advantage of the Texas hill country in the fall—especially as the college football season is in full swing and the Sixth Street district in downtown Austin is teaming with collegiate energy and enthusiasm. In Barton Creek, there is plenty of lodging options, four courses and countless menus full of authentic Tex Mex. The two Fazio courses both feature dramatic elevation changes from tee to green. No shock that you’ll need to putt like Ben to score on the Crenshaw course, which has some undulating greens. And if you’re willing to take a short drive or shuttle ride, the (Arnold) Palmer course is about thirty minutes off property. I always look to go to Barton Creek in conjunction with Austin City Limits, a popular music festival that runs for two weekends in October (Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11). Headliners this year: Foo Fighters, Hozier, Alabama Shakes, Modest Mouse and Florence + The Machine, just to name a few.

Fall special: $500 per person, per night, includes lodging, breakfast, unlimited golf and cart.


Madden's on the Lake
Madden’s on Gull Lake

4. Madden’s on Gull Lake in Brainerd, MN.

It was love at first sight. From the simple and cozy cottage on the water, to the Classic, one of the most underrated courses in the country, I can’t say enough about all this resort has to offer any golf getaway, but especially one in the fall. Although I say underrated, the Classic is actually rated No. 63 on Golf Digest’s list of Best Public Courses in America, but I’d put it even higher than that. And it’s not necessarily for what it is, I like it for what it’s not, which is a clash with its surroundings. Superintendent and designer, Scott Hoffman, moved very little dirt to peel back and deftly design a perfectly charming walk through the red oak trees. There are babbling brooks, big lakes and subtle breaks throughout your round at the Classic. From doglegs, cattails and tap-in birdies, there’s no better place to recap fall golf than sitting around a fire pit, which is on the Classic’s back deck, looking out to the ninth and 18th greens. And with 45 other holes, all catering to various skill sets, Madden’s is a must for a lot of Midwesterners.

Fall special: $495 per night includes a two-bedroom cabin on Gull Lake, breakfast and golf on the Classic.


5th Hole, Cabot Links
Cabot Links – 5th Hole

5. Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia.

Most people know Mike Keiser because he built Bandon Dunes, which can be good value (and weather) in November. But in the fall, I’d suggest Cabot Links, Keiser’s East Coast creation. It’s a four-hour drive from Halifax, and the leaves in this part of the world are so electric, it’s as though you’re making your way through a cartoon. It’s no wonder there’s the annual Celtic Colors International Festival, or “Festival of Colors,” which runs for two weeks in October and includes food, music and artisans from all over the country (Oct. 9-17). As for the golf, Cabot Links, built by Rod Whitman, is already one of Canada’s most popular courses. This summer, Keiser and his partner at Cabot, Ben Cowan-Dewar, opened the Cliffs course, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that continues to exceed lofty hype and expectations. With at least ten holes cut along a dramatic mile-and-a-half of Nova Scotian coastline, it’s hard to think it won’t be in the conversation as one of the best courses in North America.

Fall special: $492 per night gets you lodging and 36 holes of golf. (Note: Cabot Cliffs opened for limited preview play this summer. Will officially open in 2016.)

For more of my favorite spots for fall golf, also consider:

  • American Club in Kohler, WI
  • Sunriver in Bend, OR
  • Grand National in Auburn-Opelika, AL
  • Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs and Treetops in Northern MI
  • Greenbrier in White Sulpher Springs, WV