Cragun’s Welcomes Veterans

With little fanfare, one of Minnesota iconic lake resorts is doing its part to honor Minnesota Veterans on Memorial Day. If you have lived in Minnesota for any length of time then you recognize the name. Whether you have been there or not, most of you know that Cragun’s is one of Brainerd’s premier resort getaways. Founded in 1940 by Merrill Sr. and Louise Cragun, the resort is now owned by their son Dutch and his wife Irma. They have transformed the resort from the original six cabins into the sprawling property it is today.

Long known as a fishing, boating and family playground, Cragun’s can now brag about its 54 holes of Robert Trent Jones designed golf. Dutch and Irma decided to get into the golf business as more resorts were building championship style courses and the demand for tee times at area courses was becoming limited for their guests. The solution? Well, why not build your own course. But not just one course. Three courses. Two championship eighteens as well as a reversible nine hole course. And not just three courses but three Robert Trent Jones, Jr. courses.

Dutch Cragun’s career in the family business stretches back to age eight or nine when he was put in charge of the worms and minnows at the fledgling resort. From this critical job as keeper of the bait to his present position as owner, Dutch has remained passionate about his association with his roots in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and local Veterans. Having served in Germany during the Korean War, Dutch is familiar with the sacrifices made by our armed forces and their families.

I was invited to visit Cragun’s for the Veterans event held on Memorial Day weekend. In the spirit of giving back, seven years ago Dutch and Irma decided to open their resort to any Minnesota veteran for a day of free golf and recreation. Started as a one day event, the popularity has grown so quickly that the event has now been expanded to two days (Memorial Day and the day after).

I was fortunate to be able to sit down with Dutch for a quick chat. Three hours later all I can say is that Dutch Cragun is a weaver of marvelous tales, a so-so painter, a Gopher graduate, an aspiring sculptor and a generous supporter of the troops. I asked Dutch what motivated him to offer the vets free golf or boating at his resort on Memorial Day. The answer should not have been surprising. Dutch explained how he always watched Memorial Day events and was struck by one thing in particular. He would observe how the day was usually filled with speeches, parades and other appropriate tributes to our Veterans across the nation. Yet, Dutch noticed that not much was actually being done for the Veterans. He felt that while there is certainly room for the speeches and accolades, there was even more opportunity to reach out and make a difference.

Dutch being Dutch, decided that while words are nice action is better. News quietly spread by word of mouth the first year that any veteran was welcome to come to Cragun’s on Memorial Day where they would be treated to free golf (and discounted golf for family members) on the championship Legacy courses. If you weren’t a golfer then you were welcome to come and go fishing instead.

This year’s event saw hundreds of deserving yet grateful participants come out and enjoy the generosity of the Craguns. Mark Nagel of Little Falls (and Camp Ripley) had recently returned from deployment in Iraq as part of the Minnesota National Guard. Mark explained how much he appreciated the opportunity provided by the Craguns to come out with his fellow service members and enjoy a day of golf. Neighbors Barry Knox (Air Force/Guam) and Ron Behning (Marine/Korea) came from Outing, Minnesota to enjoy this year’s event. They have come every year and said that word has quickly spread among the Veterans making this year’s turnout the largest yet. Barry and Ron both emphasized how much the generosity of the Craguns meant to them.

One of the wonderful stories Dutch told is how the golf courses name became the Legacy. During one of their many meetings, Dutch finally asked Robert Trent Jones, Jr. what they should call the course. After many ideas were bantered about none had made the grade. As it turns out, Dutch and Irma never had any children. Dutch would wonder, and prophetically Trent Jones, Jr. would ask, just what do you want your legacy to be? A course was born and Legacy established. Yet I would dare to correct one thing, Mr. Cragun. Your Legacy is not your legacy, giving back is.

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