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Friday, May 26, 2006

Hawktree Golf Club - Bismarck, ND (Jim Engh)

3400 Burnt Creek Loop
Bismarck, ND

Architect: Jim Engh
Par – 72
EQ – 7/12
Diff. – 7/12
Design – Five and ½ stars
Natural Setting – Five and ½ stars
Conditioning – Six stars
Cost - $60 peak, $50 twilight and replay+ cart $15 per person
Value – Six stars
Overall – Five and ½ stars

Tees Yards Rating Slope

Falcon 7085 75.2 137
Hawk 6444 72.1 130
Eagle 5640 74.0 125
Owl 4868 69.7 116

When I told one New York City friend I was taking three days to play golf in North Dakota he looked quite bemused. He was actually polite enough to inquire if I perhaps had taken leave of my senses. When I assured him of both my sanity and my conviction in pursuing my trip to its conclusion he stood blinking vacantly for a few seconds, almost as if he were contemplating whether I was potentially dangerous. I was pleased to reassure him that North Dakota courses have won two best new course awards in the last five years (Hawktree in 2000 and Bully Pulpit in 2005 for those of you scoring at home), that there is as scenic a landscape as can be found anywhere in the country complete with horseback riding, hiking trails, fishing, National Parks and wildlife preserves and that North Dakota is no more remote for travel than Texas for most Americans.

He still didn’t believe me.

Too few people have taken advantage of all the wonders North Dakota has to offer. It’s like they actually believe things that could be headlines right out of that comedy newspaper The Onion:

“North Dakota really just East Montana, South Saskatchewan
“Area Nimrod actually bragging about going to North Dakota
U.S. to Canada: Trade you North Dakota for hockey pucks”
“Wife concusses husband with nine-wood for suggesting North Dakota for vacation spot”

All right I better quit the North Dakota jokes or Jim Engh, a native North Dakotan, will bust my head. Nevertheless, the secret is out – golf courses in North Dakota are claiming numerous awards for their stellar designs and unspoiled natural setting. North Dakota is no joke…and it’s dirt cheap.

Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck is Jim Engh’s second solo design project and his first public effort. Engh, a one time North Dakotan, was thrilled to create a great course in his one-time home state. “I grew up riding on a tractor in my dad’s lap, so it’s nice to close the circle so to speak and come back home.”

The course is unmistakably Engh and, therefore, looks nothing like either Bully Pulpit or Links of North Dakota. Instead it’s Engh’s now familiar sidewalled fairways, bowl-shaped green settings (both of which give player-friendly bounces and help keep play moving) and squiggle-shaped muscle bunkers, this time filled with black slag, a burned coal by-product instead of sand.

As usual, Engh had to move a goodly amount of earth to accomplish his now trademark look and feel, in the range of 300-400,000 cubic yards. Engh is not a minimalist and his trademark rounded contours will never be mistaken for “natural,” but so what. He derives the basic themes for his holes from strategies and designs he imported from Ireland and Scotland. Even though the holes look different from anything you’ve ever seen before, they still test the same proficiency at golf as any other course. Sometimes the sidewalls keep a ball in play that would have been lost on another course and sometimes the sidewalls of the muscle bunkers are more severe than at classic layouts, but the variety is refreshing. Besides, people tried to sit on Mike Strantz’s originality when he first broke out and we all know how that turned out.

Engh has some other recurring themes in his work regarding routing that are present at Hawktree, as well as almost every other Engh course. He loves ending on a par-5 to increase the potential 18th hole swings in fortune and he loves giving players five par-5s and five par-3s in a round. As usual, the par-5s at Hawktree are all showstoppers. The fifth looks right out of Sanctuary with it’s squiggly fairway contours and severe uphill approach which tapers as you near the green. Seven features another Engh staple of the design repertoire, an expansive water hazard at the green ringed by a sunburst shaped bunker to “save” balls so they don’t bounce in the water. Engh has used this hazard successfully at Redlands Mesa (13) and Sanctuary (13) as well. At the closing hole, Engh tucks the green behind left sidewall mound. Approached from the left are blind and uphill, approaches from the far right will be clear.

Except for 3, you don’t get any break on the par-3s. Two are particularly long and all carry over scrub brush (the 8th, 180 yds. and 13th 208 yds.), another is all carry over water (the 15th, 150). Only the drop shot third, which plays to a green framed by four trees with an expansive view of the hills beyond provides a breather. Otherwise, the par-3s are “survive and advance.”

After the fifth, the long par-4 12th is the best hole on the course. 430 yards long, the downhill drive will reach one of several staggered landing areas. The hole then bends gently to the left and reveals a figure-eight green set on the edge of the hill over looking the vale of most of the rest of the back nine, and with the Northn Dakota hills beyond. It’s a singularly beautiful hole that requires your best drive and crispest fairway-metal or long iron to reach on regulation; a stout par-4, yet a charming one as well.

Engh gives you plenty of room off the tee to hit driver all day. The only exception might be the short, narrow par-4 16th. A fairway-metal or long iron will be played to an island of fairway between to brooks. A short-iron approach will be all that is left to a green set above a deep water-filled chasm.

As Engh’s work has progressed, his routings and individual hole designs have become even stronger. Hawrktree is primordial Engh. The greens are a little more flat than his later work and are not as varied in shape. Indeed, his greens are the flattest of North Dakota’s “Big Three.” Thus is by far his easiest public course to walk. It makes one reflect upon exactly how much of the “unwalkable” myth of Engh’s courses is owed to their extreme altitude.

Hawktree compares favorably to the other area courses. While it as not as strong 1-18 as Engh’s later work at Lakota (which enjoys an even stronger natural setting and more of Jim’s “Scottish flavor” holes) or Fossil Trace (Engh’s U.S. rejoinder to Eddie Hackett’s “Miracle at Connemara” – both of them managed to build a terrific public course on a tough plot of land on a shape string budget), it needs to be played if you’re in North Dakota.

Who knows? If all else fails, I could sell this story to The Onion. It’s right up their alley – “Lunkhead Golf Writer actually recommends North Dakota for golf vacation.”


Blogger Alyson Wilson said...

What a gorgeous course. North Dakota... Wow, thanks for opening our eyes.

Great informative blog, by the way!

-Alyson, thisnext.com/blog

12:47 PM  

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