Minnesota...Land of 10,000 Lakes, Paul Bunyan
...and 9,828 Holes of Golf

Story & photos by: Ed Stone

For year’s, I have read the license plates of vehicles from Minnesota, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”  I have also heard a lot about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox from that part of the world.  Little did I know prior to planning my golfing visit to this state I would meet the man who’s father was responsible for both of these icons.  Dutch Cragun’s father, Merrill, Sr., may have been responsible for these well-known Minnesotan trademarks, but today Dutch’s Legacy Golf Course in Brainerd is just as popular.  You see…Junior’s name is becoming more of a brand name in Minnesota golf than a fictitious character with a…ahem, Blue Ox.

We’ll come back to the Craguns, Bunyan and Babe a little later in the story.

Bobby's Legacy

Family activities on Gull Lake

The Quarry

Minnesota has lots of golf courses…498 of them public and 48 private.  The beauty of a variety of trees, wildflowers, wildlife, rolling terrain and scenic beauty makes this a perfect setting to play the game of golf.  I was very pleased that the rates for accommodations and golf were very reasonable and affordable.  Flying into the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport is convenient from most anywhere.  There are two terminals: the Lindbergh Terminal used by most of the major carriers and the Humphrey Terminal use by the smaller airlines.  Midwest, AirTran and Sun Country fly out of this less congested terminal. The following chart is a list of courses GoGolfandTravel.com visited recently.  By clicking on each of the courses, you will be taken into the story to that location.  At the end of each story, you will see a "back to editor's notes.  That link will bring you back to this chart.  top

Braemar Golf Club
Edina, MN

The Grand Lodge &
Bloomington, MN

The Grand View
Nisswa, MN

The Pines Courses
at Grand View Lodge
Brainerd, MN

Deacon's Lodge
at Grand View Lodge
Brainerd, MN

The Preserve
at Grand View Lodge
Brainerd, MN

The Classic
At Madden's
on Gull Lake
Brainerd, MN

Dutch's Legacy
at Cragun's
on Gull Lake
Brainerd, MN

The Lodge
at Giants Ridge
Biwabik, MN

The Quarry
at Giants Ridge
Biwabik, MN

The Legend
at Giants Ridge
Biwabik, MN

The Wilderness at
Fortune Bay
Tower, MN

Grand National Golf Club
Hinckley, MN

Alexandria Golf Club
Alexandria, MN

Geneva Golf Club
Alexandria, MN

Peter's Sunset Resort
Glenwood, MN


Braemar Clubhouse area

Within 10 minutes from grabbing my clubs at the baggage claim, I was at the beautiful Braemar Course in Edina.  Opened in 1964 and named for a golf links in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, this municipal course is first class in every respect.  I had the distinct opportunity to play a round with the course’s General Manager John Valliere, the State’s Tourism Communications guru, Chuck Lennon and Chuck’s 12-year old son…my new buddy, Charlie Lennon.  Indeed, a trio of delightful gentlemen.  It is noteworthy that John was the first chairman of the Explore Minnesota Golf Alliance in 1999 and is currently a Governor’s appointee to the Minnesota Tourism Council.  In 2007, John was the President of the Minnesota Golf Association.

This course is extremely popular with ladies and junior golfers…some 1,100 ladies and 350 juniors are regular players.  On the par 3 course, Friday’s are set-aside for younger players 8-10 to play with a parent.  They are making great efforts to grow the game within the area and justifiably doing a great job. 

Windmill adds character to course.

“We pay a lot of people to keep the grass cut down the middle of this course.  So, please use it,” announces the starter, Tom Rochel prior to teeing off.

No. 12, par 3 of the Braemar Golf Course.

For 18-holes, our foursome used a little bit of the entire course.  This is a picturesque and challenging layout.  I was impressed at the feeling of seclusion with several lakes and rolling terrain in a 500-acre setting.  Only once did I realize the course was as close as it was to a thoroughfare.
It is noteworthy that Golf Digest has rated the Braemar Golf Course among the top 75 public golf courses in the nation.  And, Golf for Women Magazine has named it as one of its top “100 Women Friendly Courses.”  John also points with pride the fact that several state and national amateur tournaments and championships have been hosted on his turf.

The municipal complex features 27 regulation holes, two 9-hole executive courses, a pro shop, driving range, practice putting green, indoor golf dome, banquet and meeting rooms and other amenities.  Also available are golf lessons, rules and etiquette clinics and leagues.
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My overnight accommodations were in The Grand Lodge & Waterpark of America just minutes away in Bloomington and off of I-494.  This unique property opened in May 2006 and is doing gangbusters.  The waterpark is a major draw to this 403 room deluxe hotel and features all the latest for an attraction of this kind.  The mascot is Hobey the bear.  The nickname comes from a local popular hockey personality, Hobey Baker.  Today there is a Hobey Baker Award presented to a college player for individual honor.  It is college hockey's Heisman Trophy.  The other appeal is that The Grand Lodge is only 1/2 mile from the gargantuan Mall of America.  The rates are reasonable, the Split Rock Grille offers outdoor and indoor dining and the accommodations are superb…don’t miss this one even if for only one night.  If you have the family along, plan on several days for the waterpark and shopping.

The Grand Lodge in Bloomington, MN

Waterpark of America

Leaving the big city, I set my sights on Brainerd.  Brainerd is a golfer’s paradise with some 17 courses with more than 300 holes to be played within a 45-minute drive or 47 miles from the farthest point.  Before planning your trip to this area, be sure to check out www.brainerdgolftrail.com.  This is a great site and allows you to select the courses best suited for your game and wallet.
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The historic and gracious Grand View Lodge

My accommodations in Brainerd were at the 80-year old and charming Grand View Lodge.  The Lodge is on the National Register of Historic Places and was selected as exceptionally preserved example of log resort architecture.  My first two nights were in the Grand View Clubhouse suites, just across the road from the Lodge and overlooking the Pines Golf Course.  These are spacious rooms with a large sitting area including fireplace, kitchen, refrigerator and coffee pot.  You are within a short walking distance (less that 100 yards) to the Pines Golf Clubhouse which quarters Freddy’s Tavern.  Freddy’s is perfect for a casual meal and you may choose indoor or outdoor dining.  I never expected to find Alaskan king crab on the menu, or for that matter to be served by the owner’s son.  I gorged myself on the crab while hearing some wonderful tales of the Resort. For two nights I stayed in the Grand View Villas, newly built, spacious, more modern than the Clubhouse, but still contained that private, out of the way, natural and woodsy feel.  These accommodations had hot tub and complete kitchen.

The beautiful walkway to Gull Lake
Grand View Villas perfect for families and golfing groups

Breakfast and dinner are included with most package plans.  You have several choices as to where you can enjoy your meals.  Breakfast is usually served buffet style in the Lodge.  You could tell by the expressions of the guests, that the breakfast was much more than they imagined. The Grand Dining Room is very charming and I highly recommend having at least one dinner here and then stroll down the walkway to the water’s edge of Gull Lake.  The watering hole below the Lodge had live entertainment and a quaint campfire-type feeling to it…without the campfire. 

Sherwood Forest Restaurant is Grand View’s fine dining steakhouse located some five miles from the Lodge.  The atmosphere is that of hewed logs and North Country ambiance with outstanding steaks.

Grand View Lodge is a total family vacation destination situated on the 371-acre Gull Lake. The resort offers just about everything you could desire, from a 1,500 foot natural sand beach, to fishing, boating, spa, tennis, children’s programs, fitness center, hiking and yes…golf.  Lots of it…like 72 holes!  This is the largest golfing complex in the State of Minnesota.
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The Pines Clubhouse and the number 2 fairway of the golf course.

Playing the 27-holes of The Pines at Grand View Lodge presents all the challenges you want in the game of golf.  The Pines also allows you to enjoy a relaxing round on well-manicured turf and greens.  You have The Marsh, The Lakes and The Woods as names of each of the 9-holes.  This course has garnered many awards and accomplishments in the golfing world.  For instance, in 2002-03 The Pines was named Minnesota's only five-star course by Golf Digest.  In 2005, Golfweek placed The Pines in the Top 10 Public Courses in the U.S.  Eric Peterson, a most affable gent is the Director of Golf and Joel Goldstrand was the course’s architect.
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Two of my very favorite courses, Deacon’s Lodge and The Preserve, I played on the same day.

Deacon's Lodge No. 5
Deacon's Lodge No. 8

As the saying goes, “so many holes of golf and so little time to play.”

Arnold Palmer took a personal interest in designing and building Deacon’s Lodge.  Why?  His father’s nickname was Deacon and that…well, just made it special to Arnie.

The drive out to Deacon’s Lodge was a comfortable 15 minutes.  Stepping up to the first tee, the layout in front of me was a bit intimidating.  There is a 175-yard forced carry to a landing area that really required about a 225-yard drive.  The second shot is played to a dogleg right and an elevated green.  All other holes were just as challenging.  The course plays from the back tees 6,964 yards with a rating of 73.1 and a slope of 134.  Most golf courses do not require each tee box to experience the same type of hazard or forced carries.  This course does a tremendous job of placing all players in an equal position for their tee shots.  Built on 500 acres of some of the most beautiful Minnesota “North Country” woods and wetlands, Deacon’s Lodge has received accolades ranging from being one of Golf Digest’s 2005 “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses,” to Golfweek’s 2005 as “Minnesota’s #1 Public Course.”  Golf Magazine names this course one of its “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” in 2002-2003 and 2004-2005.  All are very deserving honors and I rate it as one of the best.
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TOP: Holes No's 10 on left and 1 on right 
BOTTOM: Hole No.17, par 3 on the Preserve

Later that afternoon, I drove some 9 miles back toward Grand View Lodge to play The Preserve for an exhilarating experience of 18-holes on one of the most beautiful courses you will find in this part of the world.  The rolling terrain, expansive fairways and undulating greens cause one to have the highest respect for architects Mike Morley and Dan Helbling.  The course stretches some 6,601 yards with a rating of 71.9 and a slope of 139.  It is tough, magnificent, challenging and most interesting.  Don Seaberg, the starter was most accommodating and several times checked to make sure play was progressing at a good pace and all golfers were happy.  A nice touch!  Holes number 1 and 10 deserve mention, as they present your first impression of The Preserve from the balcony of the clubhouse.  This commanding view allows you to view both holes from a high advantage point…just spectacular.  All honors are most deserving to this course.  They include: 4.5 Stars, Golf Digest Places to Play in 2002-03 & 2004-05, the Silver Medal Golf Resort from Golf Magazine in 2002-2003, and in 1999 the National Golf Course Owners Association selected it the Minnesota Golf Course of the Year.
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Madden's Classic Clubhouse

Only 17 golf courses were given a five star rating by Golf Digest in 2006.  The Classic at Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake was one of them.  Remember back in 2002-03 The Pines carried this moniker.  One of the more impressive and interesting facts about this course is the golf course superintendent, Scott Hoffman was the architect along with Warren Rebholz, head of the Minnesota PGA and Jeff Cornish a regional golf course designer.  This is one beautiful and enjoyable golf course…and, did I mention it is a very challenging one, too.  On the Brainerd Golf Trail, The Classic is the longest with 7.102 yards and has the highest rating at 75.6 and a slope of 145…making it the toughest of all the courses on the Trail.  The #5 hole allows you to select which of two greens you want to play.  Five bridges over lakes and streams add character and aesthetics to this outstanding golf course.  The Classic is a “must play” when you are in this area.

Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake is another outstanding family operation with all the amenities you could need. 

Accommodations range from deluxe to premium to luxury and are perfect for golf and family outings.  The Panache Spa is their latest addition and very popular with not only the golfers but also families coming to this area for relaxation and vacation.  They offer a complete choice of spa services.  This is the only resort in this area with a croquet lawn and Madden’s offers a floatplane certification package for those golfers wanting to be pilots.
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Ed Stone (left)interviews Dutch Cragun (right) on Gull Lake

Just down the road from Madden’s is another outstanding and first-class family owned and operated resort…Cragun’s Resort & Hotel on Gull Lake.  This resort offers 46-holes of ecstasy golf.  And here is where we meet up with our friend Dutch Cragun…remember his father came up with the slogan “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and copyrighted Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

The Clubhouse for the Legacy Courses

No.18 green of Bobby's Legacy Course

First off, you know ahead that Robert Trent Jones, Jr. designed both 18-hole layouts.  One is called Dutch’s Legacy and the other is Bobby’s Legacy.  But what you may not know is that the Cragun’s selected Jones over 20 other golf course architects…including brother Rees Jones.  Why?  The Cragun’s wanted the distinct honor of having a “Signature Sanctuary Status” with Audubon International.  Only golf courses that have followed the stringent "Signature Program" guidelines and developed an extensive Natural Resource Management Plan that can be granted this esteemed recognition.
“We are the second resort golf course in the world to gain this honor and the first ever in Minnesota.  The first was Pinehurst,” said Cragun. Playing Dutch’s Legacy and Bobby’s Legacy at Cragun’s Resort & Hotel was pure pleasure.  The courses are fairly similar, but you get a different feel going from one to the other. 

Top - Cragun's on Gull Lake
Bottom - The Lodge Dining Room

Within the 1,000 acres, the two courses intertwine with the 104-acre Legacy Lake and some 200 acres of marsh and wetlands.  Jones has accomplished a giant feat in placing each tee, each fairway and each green among this awesome setting.  In addition to enjoying the course, there are numerous species of birds and wildlife to be seen as you play your round of golf.  Two holes on Bobby’s Legacy are noteworthy.  They are numbers 14 and 16.  Fourteen offers the option of two greens…one is a bit further and more challenging.  Number 16 gives you the option of two different fairways.  Both are very difficult with one causing a forced carry of about 150 yards on your second shot.  My advice is to hit your drive to the left and play a safe shot.  One more unique feature is the “Gambler’s Hole” or number 19 on Bobby’s Legacy.  This is a par-3 playing 125 yards from the black tees.  This hole is to break any ties or settle one last wager.  To finish out the 46 holes, there is a reversible nine-hole par three course.  Yep, one day it plays to the left and the next day it plays to the right…you gotta see it to understand it!  Now you understand why the junior Cragun will be long remembered…maybe longer than Bunyan and Babe.
The overall Cragun’s Resort & Hotel is another family owned and operated resort business.  There are primarily five families who have been responsible for developing the resorts and tourist attractions in the Brainerd area.  The Cragun’s have been one of the stalwarts and leaders of these developments.  As a matter of fact, there is only one corporate owned and operated resort in Minnesota.  It is the Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center in Alexandria.  Cragun’s Resort & Hotel offers great accommodations, water sports, beach, family activities, tennis, basketball, exercise facilities, swimming pool, meeting facilities and four restaurants.  You get a real sense of family involvement when you visit.  The repeat business of returning families is evidenced when walking around the resort with Dutch and his wife Irma.  They spoke on a first name basis with most of the guests as we toured the property and dined at the charming Lodge Dining Room overlooking Gull Lake.  The local fish, walleye, was perfectly prepared and delicious!

Departing the Brainerd area, I headed northeast to “the range”…iron range that is.  Here tons and tons of iron ore was mined back in the 1800’s and the early to mid 1900’s.  This beautiful area offers several great golf courses you will want to play.  My destination was Biwabik just north and east of Duluth to check in at The Lodge at Giants Ridge.
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Entrance to The Lodge at Giants Ridge

The Lodge at Giants Ridge is a grand looking ski lodge for winter travelers, but in the summer, it is a golf lodge.  The rooms are extremely nice and comfortable with gas fireplace, small refrigerator and a coffee pot. 

John Kendall, director of golf at Giants Ridge

There are two courses at Giants Ridge, The Quarry and The Legend.  The owners brought in Jeffrey Brauer and Lanny Watkins to design both courses.  Upon checking in at the golf clubhouse, I was introduced to the director of golf, John Kendall.  Now this gent is a true Cajun from Louisiana and a LSU Tiger.  John came to Giant’s Ridge in late April1996 as an Assistant Pro and the first course to open was the Legends Course that following October.

John pointed out that The Quarry is truly a reclamation project.  Just behind the clubhouse is a 150-acre lake that is over 500 feet deep.  It was a Taconite iron ore mine that was no longer in use and now provides an impressive backdrop for visitors checking in, dining and the 18th hole.
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 Hole No.2 on The Quarry at Giants Ridge

The Quarry at Giants Ridge Clubhouse

Fittingly, my first course to play was The Quarry at Giant’s Ridge.  Seems like everything in this state is of large proproportions.  The Quarry is unique and most memorable.  The utilization of land and space creates an amazing and impressive layout.  You really don’t realize how close other holes are to you because of berms, trees and landscaping.  This has to be on less than 125 acres of land.  Don’t let this scare you away.  You will be amazed at what they created from this beautiful terrain and forest. 

The designers made great use of grasses around the sand traps and bunkers…you are asking for double-trouble if you get near one of these obstacles.  The Quarry plays 7,201 from the back tees and 6,101 from the whites.  The back tees have a rating of 75.6 with a slope of 146 while the whites are 70.6/130.  Indeed the toughest course on this tour, yet…and I played the whites.  Most fairways are broad and expansive with nice size greens…lots of undulations.  However, a few fairways are quite narrow and greens are small.  Several wetlands, a former sand quarry and mine lands were reclaimed to build this magnificent golf course.  In 2004, Golf Digest named The Quarry as the top public upscale golf course in the U.S.  Don’t’ miss it!
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Top - The giant's footprint on hole No.2 of the Legend at Giants Ridge
Bottom - Hole No.17, par 3 on the Legend at Giants Ridge

The Legend at Giants Ridge is awesome! From the first tee to the 18th green, you will know that you have played one heck of a challenging golf course. Hole #3 features a giant footprint as a sand trap. This feature carries out the theme without being hokey. If you can hit the ball 225 or better, you can fly the footprint. If not, keep the ball to the right of the trap and you should have an easy second shot and make the green in regulation. This course is pretty much wide open for most of the holes. Number 17 is considered the signature hole and plays a full 170-yard water carry from all but the forward tees…definitely all the trappings for a postcard.

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The Wilderness at Fortune Bay Course
Some 35 miles north of Biwabik is the town of Tower and our next course, The Wilderness at Fortune Bay. Again, Golf Digest named this one of the top public upscale golf courses in the U.S. in 2005. A most deserving accolade as this course plays around Lake Vermillion, which also borders Canada to the north. This is a must play course if you come this far north in Minnesota.

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The Grand National Course in Hinckley, MN

Traveling South towards Minneapolis is a real jewel just off of I-35E at exit #183. The Grand National Golf Club is located next to the Grand Casino in Hinckley about 90 minutes north of Minneapolis. Here you find the perfect spot for an overnight, weekend or getaway. The Casino has five Restaurants, two lounges, 24-hour entertainment and over 700 hotel rooms. The Grand National Golf Club’s back tees play to 6,894 yards with a rating of 73.6 and a slope of 137. This is a delightful course and uses three pines as its trademark. You will notice the three pines behind each hole when you play the course. Joel Goldstrand, the architect who designed The Pines at Grand View Lodge also designed the Grand National golf course.


"Big Ole" welcomes visitors to Alexandria
Alexandria Golf Clubhouse
No.7 green is shape of the State of Minnesota

My next stop was Alexandria, about two hours northwest of the Twin Cities. Here is where my wife and I met up with our dear friends Gene & Marilyn Sipe along with David & Karen Bang. The Sipes have a beautiful home on Lake L’Homme Dieu. The Sipes and Bangs are dear friends from our winter home in Estero, Florida. Gene plays to a 5 handicap and one of the most affable gentlemen you will ever meet. Ditto for David as well…but his handicap is closer to mine.

I was pleased to be able to play Gene’s home course, the Alexandria Golf Club, twice. My second round was much better than the first…by about 10 strokes. This course is open to the public and famous for being the home course for PGA Professional, Tom Lehman. Even the sign out front touts Tom’s association with the club. Tom grew up in this town of some 11,000. Tom’s father and mother still live here where his father is in the insurance business. Tom played on the high school’s golf team and was a walk-on at the University of Minnesota.

Alexandria Golf Club was incorporated in 1915 and has a wealth of history. This is a grand golf course layout and one to be enjoyed whenever you are in this part of the country. The landscaping is beautiful, the terrain is gently rolling, the fairways are somewhat tight and the greens are as good as they get. It is pertinent that I point out three holes on this course. When the course was being built there were friends visiting the initial members from the states of Oklahoma and Texas. So, three greens are shaped to honor these two states, plus Minnesota. Greens 7 and 8 represent Minnesota and Oklahoma, respectively and green #17 is in the shape of Texas. The Okie is a par 4 while the others are par 3’s. Overall, the course plays some 6,504 from the back tees and 5,745 from the whites. It has a 71.9/132 from the blacks and 69.9/128 from the whites.

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The 13th green is designed in the shape of the State of Texas


The no. 3 on the Island Course

Another golf complex in the Alexandria area is the Geneva Golf Club. Located approximately 3 miles off I-94, this 27-hole layout is challenging from any of the five sets of tees. Again. Joel Goldstrand is the architect of The Pond, Island and Marsh courses. I must say that each of the nine holes is different from the other. Goldstrand provides all golf playing levels the opportunity to enjoy these courses by presenting options to either take a challenge or play it safe. I was impressed with the GPS system used on these courses…very compact.

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Hole No.1 at the Pezhekee National Golf Course

Some 17 miles down highway 29 is the beautiful Peters Sunset Beach in Glenwood on beautiful Lake Minnewaska offering accommodations with an outstanding 18-holes of championship golf just outside your door. The Pezhekee National Golf Course features fairways skirted with maples, basswood and oaks with beautiful vistas of Lake Minnewaska. The suspension bridge on hole #4 adds unique character to the course. Other features of this family resort include an historic dining room, tennis, putting and chipping green, swimming beach and some great walleye fishing. One of the great features of this resort is that you can park your car and not use it until you are ready to depart. I found the writings of Peters Sunset Beach founder, Hendy as profound today as back in 1915: “the good life of rest, recreation, tasty food, and good fellowship.”
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So, there you have it…14 courses and 252 holes giving you only a sampling of what golfing is like in Minnesota. With the exception of the Geneva Golf Club, none of the courses have houses built on them. Now that is something rare to find these days. Each course is unique in its own rite. Each course has its own personality and character. Each individual I met extended the hand of fellowship and spirit of sharing as I felt such warmth and sincerity.

For years to come, I will treasure the memories of these Minnesotans who captured my heart and spirit. Whenever I hear the call of the Loon or see a beautiful sunset, I will think of Minnesota. This is a special place where God put special people and places for great golf courses. Go explore Minnesota…you will never be the same.

 For More Information, Contact: 

Minnesota Department of Tourism

Websites: www.exploreminnesota.com

Minnesota Golf: www.exploreminnesota.com/things-to-do/golf

Brainerd Golf Trail: http://brainerdgolftrail.com