The Bully Pulpit Golf Course:
North Dakota’s ‘Diamond in the Rough’

Story by: Mike May

Any golf course with holes named Boots & Saddles, Black Gold, Crook’s Feast, and Custer’s Wash is bound to perk the curiosity of any golf enthusiast.  It certainly did for me!  The course I’m referring to is the Bully Pulpit Golf Course (https://medora.com/do/outdoor/bully-pulpit-golf-course/), located in Medora, North Dakota.  Medora is located in western North Dakota, just off Interstate 94, not far from the Montana/North Dakota state line.

There are five tees on each hole.  The length of the course ranges from 4,750 yards from the forward tees to 7,166 yards from the back tees.

Simply put, playing the Bully Pulpit Golf Course (3731 Bible Camp Road, Medora, North Dakota) is a real treat.  It is scenic, well-maintained, memorable, breathtaking, affordable, fun, and filled with history.  There are five tees on each hole.  The length of the course ranges from 4,750 yards from the forward tees to 7,166 yards from the back tees. 

“Although I have seen thousands of potential golf course sites, this one near Medora, North Dakota may be the best I have seen without ocean views,” said Dr. Michael Hurdzan, the architect of Bully Pulpit, which was named “America’s Best New Affordable Public Golf Course” a few years ago by Golf Digest.

Bully Pulpit Golf Course Head Golf Professional Patrick Rominger agrees with Hurdzan’s thoughts on Bully Pulpit.

“Bully Pulpit is like a sanctuary,” added Rominger.  “Playing this golf course is like a great escape.  The area has a rich history and a unique topography.  We take pride in our golf course and our superintendent, Kyle Fick, does a great job as he really understands turf grass management.”

Each player at Bully Pulpit is given a course booklet/guide that gives you an aerial perspective of each hole.  The booklet also provides the reader with a fascinating and informative description of each hole’s design; the distances to the middle of the greens from various points in the fairway; advice on how to play the hole; and what historical events have taken place in this area.

It’s always important to read the Local Rules at every course.  Bully Pulpit is no different.  If you hit your ball into an environmentally sensitive area at Bully Pulpit, you get a free drop with no penalty!

The Front Nine
The opening two holes are fairly wide open, straightaway par fours, though strategically placed fairway bunkers alongside the left side of the first fairway and in front of the second green play games with your sense of distance.  In both cases, those two bunkers are farther away from the putting surface than it appears from the fairway. 

If you hit your ball into an environmentally sensitive area at Bully Pulpit, you get a free drop with no penalty!

The third hole is a slight left-to-right dogleg par four where the green is tucked away at the rear of a small forest where trees border the green on three sides.  Two well-struck shots are required to give you a putt for birdie. 

The fourth hole is your first introduction to water, as the Little Missouri River runs alongside this par five from tee to green.  The bowl-shaped green gives you a chance to get your third shot close to the pin for a makeable putt for birdie. 

The course’s first par three is the fifth hole and is called Quicksand.  Simply put, on a windy day, the hole will ‘eat you alive!’  You can play this hole, which ranges from 97 yards to 210 yards, conservatively by aiming right of the green where there’s a very generous bailout, giving you a chance to pitch and putt for par. 

The sixth is very similar to the fourth as it’s a par five and the Little Missouri River runs alongside the left of the hole.  But, it gives you a split-fairway option for your second and third shots.  The locals say that a par at the sixth is a good score and birdies are few in number. 

The seventh hole heads away from the river and into a wooded area.  Wayward drives into the trees – left and right – can lead to a big number. 

What makes the par-three eighth so unique is that three of the tees are on the right and the other two tees are on the left.  For those tee shots on the left, you must clear Davis Creek in order to reach the green.  For the other three tee shots, Davis Creek only comes into play if you hit the ball wildly to the left! 

On the ninth, this par four is defined by a fairway bunker that sits on the right-center portion of the fairway.  A wayward drive into the sand will give you a long bunker shot to the green.  If you land in the sand, be happy with a bogey five.

While every hole at Bully Pulpit is an experience unto itself, it really starts getting interesting when you arrive at the 13th hole – a 318-yard, drivable par four, known as Roughrider.

The Back Nine
While the 10th hole is the beginning of the march to the Badlands, this dogleg par four is marked by a lush green fairway and looks like any tree-lined parkland golf course in the U.S.  As you approach the green, the pathway to the putting surface tightens and the green slopes to the right.  A weak approach shot to the green may trickle off the green to the right.  A par is a great result, though double and triple bogeys have a way of creeping onto your scorecard. 

The 11th is a short par five, though three fairway bunkers along the hole have a way of transforming visions of a birdie into an unnecessary bogey or worse.  Swirling winds from the nearby Badlands add to the difficulty of this hole. 

On the 12th, it’s a case of “what you see is what you get.”  Known as Sully’s Trail, it’s a long par three, but the hazards are limited to a bunker short right of the green.  The putting surface is marked by a ridge that runs through the green from front to back.  If you miss the green with your tee shot, you have a good chance to get up-and-down for par.    

While every hole at Bully Pulpit is an experience unto itself, it really starts getting interesting when you arrive at the 13th hole – a 318-yard, drivable par four, known as Roughrider.  From the back tees, there’s a 200-yard carry over Davis Creek before you hit the fairway.  As you would expect, the carry over the creek is less of a concern from the more forward tees.  The backdrop behind the green is a huge cliff that borders the Little Missouri River.  It’s a sign that you are on the verge of entering the Badlands of North Dakota. 

Without a doubt, each of the 18 holes at the Bully Pulpit Golf Course presents unforgettable memories that will bring you back time and time again.

Many great golf courses in the U.S. have a memorable stretch of holes that define the course such as Augusta National’s Amen Corner (11, 12, and 13), PGA National’s Bear’s Trap (15, 16, and 17) or the Colonial Country Club’s Horseshoe (3, 4, and 5).  Bully Pulpit is no different as the 14th hole is the beginning of a four-hole stretch known as “Oh, My Goodness Corner.”  The 14th hole is named Peaceful Valley.  The length of the hole ranges from 228 yards to 404 yards.  From the tee, you look down to a narrow fairway which is flanked on both sides by the rocky Badlands.  If there’s ever a time to hit the fairway with your tee shot, this is the hole.  But, before you strike that tee shot, take a picture.  Because the tee box is raised well above the fairway, a well-struck tee ball will soar for quite a while before landing, ideally, in the fairway.  The approach is a little more forgiving, but it’s an uphill shot and it’s usually into a prevailing breeze, so you must take an extra club or two.  Aim left of the flag because the rocky outcrop to the left of the green will push the ball down to the right.  There’s plenty of room to the right of the green to pitch and putt for your par if your second shot is a little wayward. 

The 15th hole is a short par three -- only 161 yards from the tips.  But, it is the most intimidating hole on the course and is considered the course’s signature hole.  This hole is aptly named Bully Pulpit.  After you hit your tee shot on 15, there’s little margin for error as the terrain between the tee and green is pure Badlands filled with rocks and scrub brush.  If your tee shot is short, long, wide left, or wide right, getting up-and-down for par will be difficult.  It has been said that the putting surface on 15 is “the badlands version of an island green.”  As Bully Pulpit’s yardage guide suggests, “no matter which set of tees you play, take a minute or two and survey the majesty and magic of this beautiful landscape.  This is truly “God’s Country.”  Even Teddy Roosevelt, the course’s namesake and a non-golfer who referred to golf as a “sissy” sport, would have enjoyed the view from the 15th tee.  When I played the 15th hole, the pin was on the far left side of the green.  My tee shot ended up pin high, but on the right fringe.  I rolled the chip down to three feet and made the putt for par.

Before you leave the premises, check out the Transportation Museum, which is located inside the Bully Pulpit Clubhouse.

The 16th – named Perched Rock -- is a long par four which starts high above the fairway at one of the highest points on the course.  Looking down on the fairway below causes you to reflect on the moment and say, “Wow!”  A par is a great score on the 16th and there’s nothing wrong with a bogey five.  While playing the 16th, aim up the right center of the fairway because Mother Nature and gravity will pull the ball down to the left. 

When you stand on the tee of the par-five 17th (known as Happy Trails), you need to avoid the series of sand bunkers that dot the center of the fairway.  If you go left, you can shorten the hole, but the angle into the green is not that attractive.  If you hit your tee shot to the right, it will take three shots to reach the putting surface and the angle into the green improves. 

Once you reach the 18th -- named Dakota -- you quickly realize that Bully Pulpit opens like a lamb and closes like a lion!  The par-four 18th is a right-to-left hole where there’s trouble up the left – three bunkers, thick rough, and the remnants of the Badlands.  The approach is to a raised green -- guarded by two sand traps at the base of the green plus long, thick grasses left of the green.  There’s plenty of room to miss the green to the right, but getting up-and-down for par is no easy feat.  A par is a very satisfying score.

Play It Again, Sam!
After walking off the green at the ‘home hole,’ the natural tendency is to head to the ‘19th hole.’  Instead, you really should walk into the pro shop to pay for another 18. The replay rate on the same day or the next day is roughly 60 percent of the original price.  That’s a deal!  Without a doubt, each of the 18 holes at the Bully Pulpit Golf Course presents unforgettable memories that will bring you back time and time again.  Before you leave the premises, check out the Transportation Museum, which is located inside the Bully Pulpit Clubhouse.  This museum is free and it features a 45-minute video which describes Roosevelt’s role in the building of the Panama Canal. 

Are you ready for Bully Pulpit?  CLICK HERE for tour of Bully Pulpit! Grab your phone and call the pro shop to reserve your tee time – 701-623-GOLF (4653).  The first tee awaits your arrival! 

P.S.  And, if you have time during your trip to North Dakota, make plans to the state’s other two top golf courses – Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck and The Links of North Dakota in Williston.

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The author of this story – Mike May of Wellington, Florida – is an avid golfer.  He visited Medora, North Dakota in July 2012.  While there, he played the Bully Pulpit GC.  He recorded a par on the course’s signature hole, the par-3 15th, known as Bully Pulpit!  He is looking forward to another visit to North Dakota’s ‘Diamond in the Rough.’  Mike can be reached via email:  mmaymarketing@gmail.com