Adventure Golfers: 72 Hours in Northeast Minnesota
By Martin Kaufmann, courtesy of Golfweek
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Northeast Minnesota is home to the Mesabi Iron Range, a name that evokes the region’s unique landscape.
There’s still active mining here, but some of the closed mines have been repurposed into beautifully rugged recreational escapes for golf, hiking, biking and other activities designed for adrenaline-seekers.
Here’s a sampling of just some of the things to do on a three-day visit to Northeast Minnesota.
Start your trip with a bang by playing the state’s top-ranked public golf course, the Quarry at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. Carved out of a repurposed sand and iron-ore mine, the Quarry is a demanding target layout that punishes errant shots. Better players will appreciate the risk-reward options on the Quarry’s terrific par 5s, and everyone will enjoy the lovely vistas from the elevated tees.
After lunch, golfers interested in a 36-hole day have a good option: Giants Ridge’s second course, the Legend. It is less penal than the Quarry, but still no slacker; Golfweek ranks it No. 10 in the state.
If you’d prefer a different form of exercise, consider spending the afternoon on Giants Ridge’s hiking or mountain-biking trails. Chairlifts are in operation during the summer, affording mountain bikers the chance to enjoy exciting downhill runs. Others might prefer to explore the region by hopping on the Mesabi Trail, a 135-mile paved bike path that cuts through the resort and stretches from Grand Rapids to Aurora.
There’s a bustling music scene on the Iron Range – fitting given that Bob Dylan was raised here – and many nights visitors can find a free concert in towns such as Biwabik, Chisholm or Virginia.
It’s time to learn why it’s called the Iron Range. There are several ways to do that. You can drive to Chisholm and catch a vintage trolley at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm to explore a mining ghost town. (There’s even miniature golf on a mining-themed course.) In Hibbing, you can get some sense of the scale of modern-day mining at the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine View, the world’s largest open-pit iron-ore mine. Volunteers are available to answer questions about the mine. Or head north to the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, where you can take a three-minute cage ride a half-mile underground, then board an ore car for the three-quarter mile ride to the deepest part of the mine. University of Minnesota researchers also used to operate the Soudan Underground Laboratory in the mine to study dark matter and alternative energy sources. The lab is no longer operating, but visitors still can tour it. The mine’s temperature is 51 degrees year-round; dress accordingly and wear sturdy shoes. The park also has a campground if you prefer roughing it rather than staying at a resort.
From Soudan, it’s a short drive to Fortune Bay Resort for an afternoon round on The Wilderness, ranked No. 2 in Golfweek’s state rankings and designed by Jeff Brauer, who also built both of Giants Ridge’s courses.
Set on the banks of Lake Vermilion, the impeccably maintained Wilderness is routed through soaring pines and peppered with rock outcroppings. The split fairway on No. 1 is the first indication of the creativity that Brauer unleashed on the site. The long par-3 third played across a lake to a two-tiered green, is one of the most photographed holes in the state. The Wilderness’ par 3s, in fact, are particularly memorable. The short seventh, which plummets to a green fronted by spectacle bunkers, offers spectacular views from the tee, and the lovely 12th is played across water to a peninsula green. The 13th and 14th, both par 4s, hug Lake Vermilion. Keep your camera handy for sightings of eagles and other wildlife.
Rise early and make sure there’s plenty of gas in your car for the two-hour drive east to Superior National at Lutsen, nestled along the banks of Lake Superior.
Under Brauer’s direction, Superior National completed a two-year, $4.6 million makeover in 2018. Brauer stretched Superior National to 6,763 yards, but also softened the pitched fairways and greens to make it more playable. He reasoned that if you’re coming to Lutsen, you’re there to enjoy the stunning views of Lake Superior and the raging Poplar River that slices through the River 9. Still, the topography – the Sawtooth Mountains cascading down to the lake – compares favorably to his decorated Iron Range designs.
Before an afternoon of golf, consider pulling off Highway 61 for a short hike at Tettegouche State Park. In the space of an hour, you can enjoy the cliffside views of the lake and the Cascades waterfall.
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