This article is supported by members of the Minnesota Heartland Association.
By C.B. Bylander
The biggest golf challenge in central Minnesota is simply deciding where to play.
That’s because this region is the heart of Minnesota golf country. From small community courses to large championship courses, central Minnesota is the state’s golf mecca.
Nowhere is this more true than the Brainerd Lakes Area. This forest-and-lakes landscape features more than 450 golf holes, and has been named one of the top fifty golf destinations in the world by Golf Digest.
This ranking reflects quantity and quality. Robert Trent Jones Jr. and the Arnold Palmer Design Company are among those who have developed courses that rise, roll and twist through region’s picturesque pines, oaks and aspens. Noted golf course architects Joel Goldstrand and Dye Designs also have developed courses in the area.
Among the Brainerd area’s often honored championship courses are the The Classic at Madden’s Resort, which Golf Digest labeled as one its “100 Greatest Public Courses;” Deacon’s Lodge at Breezy Point Resort, an acclaimed Arnold Palmer design; the Legacy courses at Cragun’s Resort, which Golf Digest included on its “Best Places to Play” list; and the Pines, Preserve and Garden courses at Grand View Lodge, all tourist favorites.
Yet there’s much more than these big four.
Outstanding golf courses can be found in the Willmar, St. Cloud, Alexandria, Fergus Falls, Perham, Fifty Lakes and McGregor areas. In fact, you are 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.
Golf is very poplar in central Minnesota, in part, because the area is so rich with nature. It is 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.
Golf is also popular in central Minnesota because lodging and dining options are so varied and plentiful. From campgrounds with grills to motels with restaurants to luxury resorts with fancy brunches, there is a lodging and dining option for everyone.
Things to consider when planning a golf trip to central Minnesota:
- Value: Green fees with a cart are in the $100 range at top-end resort courses in the Brainerd area during prime tee times in June, July and August. Expect to pay $60 to $90 at other top-end courses. Still, there are ways to play these same holes for less. Most courses offer substantial green fee discounts later in the day. Twilight rates can cut green fees by a third. Similarly, “stay and play” lodging and golf packages greatly reduce green fees. Costs are less during spring and fall, too. Spring is a perfect time to dust off the clubs and play a great course for a reduced price. The same is true in autumn when oaks turn red, aspens brighten to yellow and tamaracks morph to a smoky gold.
- Quality: Golfers who seek high-quality experiences have plenty of options. In the Willmar-Spicer lakes area, the Little Crow Country Club is a challenging and beautiful course. Just five minutes from downtown St. Cloud, the Territory Golf Club is an affordable championship course. It starts with a “links” style grassland design then shifts to an “up north” wooded style. The lakes-rich Alexandria area features the recently renovated Atikwa championship course at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center.
Golden Eagle Golf Course at Fifty Lakes and Minnesota National Golf Course at McGregor are both big beautiful courses that flow through magnificant natural surroundings. Thumper Pond Golf Course at Otter Tail is a good choice. So too are Izaty’s golf course on the south end of Mille lacs lake, nearby Fiddlestix Golf Course and the championship course at Ruttger’s Bay Lake Resort at Deerwood.
- Family experience: For many people, golf is a vacation tradition but not a passion. For these folks – those who are not great golfers but enjoy a great time - there are plenty of options, too. Cragun’s Resort at Brainerd, for example, offers a reversible par three course that alternates the direction of play daily. Par-three or short golf courses can be found at Cross Lake, Pequot Lakes, Deerwood and Fifty Lakes. Most cities have golf courses that can be enjoyed for about $20.
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