Just two and a half hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, this land of lakes and forests features more than two dozen public golf courses, including several recognized as some of the best in the country by Golf Magazine, Golf Digest and other golf experts.
Golf is very popular in central Minnesota, in part because the area is so rich with nature. It's not uncommon for golfers to see bald eagles or hear the cry of loons. In fact, many courses have gone to great lengths to incorporate nature into their design. Expect to play holes that flank sprawling wetlands, require shots over water, and take advantage of forest and undulating terrain.
Brainerd Lakes Golf
The Brainerd Lakes area features championship courses designed by famous golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and the Arnold Palmer Design Co. It’s also home to many less challenging courses that appeal to the casual golfer. Some courses charge less than $2 a hole, and even the top-rated courses keep summer green fees in the $100 range. Discounts are available for those who tee up later in the day or combine a round with lodging or dining at the resort.
Brainerd-area courses are operated primarily by family-owned resorts. The big four are:
Cragun’s on Gull Lake features two 18-hole championship courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and a par-3 reversible nine ideal for novice, family and group play. The 18-hole courses are set in a 1,000-acre Audubon Signature Sanctuary. The par-3 course is also open for soccer-style foot golf.
Grand View Lodge
One of the most awarded golf resorts in Minnesota, Grand View’s Pines and Preserve courses have earned accolades from Golf Digest, Golfweek Magazine and the World Golf Awards. The resort has invested more than $3 million in course upgrades over the past several years. A family-friendly nine-hole course is also available.
Madden’s on Gull Lake
One of Golf Digest’s “100 Greatest Public Courses,” The Classic at Madden’s is the stunning vision of course superintendent Scott Hoffman, who used rolling hills, forest and water to maximum effect. Adult caddies with low handicaps are available for hire. For fun, rent old-time hickory shaft clubs at the Pine Beach West course.
Breezy Point Resort
This Pelican Lake resort offers three distinct options. Its premier course, Deacon’s Lodge, was carved into the north woods by the Arnold Palmer Design Co. Whitebirch is a great choice for those who want to play a championship course at a moderate price. The Traditional course is perfect for golfers who prefer shorter holes, flatter greens and easier pars.
Outstanding golf courses can be found in the Willmar, St. Cloud, Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Perham, Fifty Lakes and McGregor areas. In central Minnesota, you're never far from a challenging championship course or a family-friendly links that is just right for novices, or those whose swings have swung past prime.
Golden Eagle Golf Course in Fifty Lakes and Minnesota National Golf Course in McGregor are both big beautiful courses that flow through magnificent natural surroundings. Thumper Pond Golf Course in Ottertail is another good choice. So, too, are Izatys golf course on the south end of Lake Mille Lacs, nearby Fiddlestix Golf Course in Isle, Ruttger's Bay Lake Lodge in Deerwood and Pebble Lake Golf Club in Fergus Falls.
C.B. Bylander is a hunter, angler and outdoor enthusiast. He lives on a small lake in Crow Wing County. Now retired, he spent much of his career working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
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