Great golf in North Dakota, Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin? Oh yaaaa!
I crack up every time I hear Frances McDermott giving that Scandinavian "jaaaaa" during "Fargo." But the secret is out, the public golf in Minnesota, North Dakota and Northern Wisconsin is no joke.
North Dakota has a trinity of great, affordable public golf. Start with Jim Engh's Hawktree. Located just outside Bismarck, the best point for entry for your trip, the course won "Best new course" for 1999. It was Jim's first breakout work as a solo designer and heralded his arrival as a master of contour shaping and new age bunkering. Best of all, prices rarely top $50
Two hours west in the sleepy but scenic town of Medora lies Bully Pulpit, winner of this years Best New Affordable Public Course. Michael Hurdzan has been quietly designing stunning, yet strategic layouts in the more undiscovered parts of the U.S. for some time. Thus year, he broke through with his first outright win. Bully Pulpit features alot of great views for "looky-loos" a la Redlands Mesa, but also has solidly designed holes and a routing which talkes solid advantage of the site.
Finally, the western end of the trail finishes at Links of North Dakota by one of golf great designer/professors, Stephen Kay. The course is also colloquially known as "Red Mike" due to an interesting and colorful local legend. A rustler named Mike was captured and interrogated rather sternly by local authorities. When he refused to give up the location of his stash, they tied him to a chair and set a fire underneath it to get him to talk. Ever the tough guy, Mike the Rustler didn't squeal - they had to let him go - hence the name Red Mike. Both Bully Pulpit and Red Mike top at $50, but look for a reasonable increase at Bully Pulpit to reflect it's ratings victory.
What about to the east? Using Duluth as a point of entry, Jeff Brauer will be your leading architectural guide, having won awards with the two resort courses at Giant's Ridge and The Wilderness, a half hour from each other. The Giant's Ridge courses run about $80 in high season and appear to be built on some great terrain for golf. On the eastern end, Big Fish G.C. by Pete Dye also made a ratings splash and is a mere two hours from Giant's Ridge, just an hour and a half from Duluth. I hear rumblings that they want to add another 18 and want to have it be a strategic masterpiece. Look for the new course to really make some noise when the designer is announced. I'm betting they'll do alot better than just tapping some old retread touring pro who's name has cache to casual fans.
Mid April is pretty much the earliest one can expect reasonable playing conditions.