By Mpls.St.Paul Magazine / Inspired by Tom Lehman's My North

In a world where the difference between winning or losing a tournament can be a few blades of grass catching the club face, professional golfers need every competitive advantage they can get. That’s what makes the story of Alexandria’s Tom Lehman so incredible. Growing up in Minnesota, Lehman had the competitive disadvantage of playing only in the summers, while his southerly peers played all year round. But despite (or because) of those challenges, Lehman still grew up to become one of the best to ever play the game. Through his career, he has played in three Ryder Cups, and in 1996 he both won the British Open and was named Player of the Year by the PGA! 

So how did Lehman become so successful despite Minnesota's snowy setbacks? Simple. Even though our courses are frozen for a chunk of the year, Lehman excelled at the sport because golfing culture runs deep in Minnesota. Here are five epic Minnesota public courses that show why. 

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, Tower

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay golf course_Peter Wong
The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, photo by Peter Wong

Overlooking scenic Lake Vermillion in the Iron Range, The Wilderness at Fortune Bay exploits its lakeside perch for uninhibited panoramas of the seemingly infinite lake. Designed by acclaimed course architect Jeffrey D. Brauer, the longest and most challenging of its six tee boxes (7,207 yards) might even intimidate pros like Tom Lehman. For the rest of us, the other five tee box options ensure that the course is playable for all skill levels. And for those who want more games besides just golf, stay-and-play packages at Fortune Bay Resort Casino offer up plenty of indoor competition, as well.

Dacotah Ridge Golf Club, Morton

Just shy of two hours southwest of the Twin Cities, Dacotah Ridge is one of Minnesota’s most unassuming great courses. Carved into the sprawling prairie topography of southern Minnesota by none other than Rees Jones himself (one of the greatest course architects in the world), this 18 hole, 7,109 yard masterpiece is built on 240 acres of rolling countryside along the winding beauty of Wabasha Creek. Book a play-and-stay package with the Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel, or book your golfing a la carte.

The Quarry at Giants Ridge, Biwabik

Located in the hills and mine pits of the state’s Mesabi Iron Range, Giants Ridge features two top-notch public courses, one of which (The Quarry) was recently named the number one public golf course in Minnesota by Golf Digest. Carved into the footprint of a one-time sand and gravel mining outfit, The Quarry’s 18 tree-lined holes somehow feel both distinctly Northwoods and otherworldy. Guests at The Lodge can choose from summer and fall stay-and-play packages that make a weekend on the Range super affordable. 

The Classic at Madden’s Resort, Brainerd

Some of Minnesota’s best links are found in the Brainerd Lakes Area, but The Classic has a certain timeless appeal that can’t be denied. One of four courses found at Madden’s Resort, The Classic works its way to and from Gull Lake through oaks and pines in arguably the closest thing to a PGA-quality public course in Minnesota. The best part? Madden’s Resort has a variety of affordable stay-and-play packages ranging from unlimited golf on the Pine Beach courses to single rounds at The Classic.

Deacon’s Lodge Golf Course, Breezy Point

Another of the Brainerd Lakes Area gems, Deacon’s Lodge is nestled into a peninsula-like 500 acre mix of forest and wetlands north of Brainerd on Pelican Lake. Designed by the late Arnold Palmer (yes, that Arnold Palmer), Deacon’s was named one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses by Golf Digest. Like its Brainerd Lakes Area contemporaries, Deacon’s Lodge has ample stay-and-play packages at the Breezy Point Resort, ranging from all-inclusive, all-you-can-golf options to one night, two rounds packages.

My North is a weekly video series created in partnership with Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Explore Minnesota. If you missed Tom Lehman's story, view it here.

>See more My North itineraries