The Bridges of Winona – Come On Over
By E. Nolan
By definition, bridges are built to make life easier – to facilitate and encourage travel from Point A to Point B. Many of those bridges become iconic, regionally, nationally and/or internationally. Golf is the only sports “field” with bridges, and yet it doesn’t have many iconic ones. I can think of the Swilcan Bridge at The Old Course at St. Andrews, in Scotland… and then I can think of The Bridges of Winona, here in Minnesota.
Historically, there’s obviously no comparison between the two, but that isn’t to say that The Bridges of Winona isn’t also deeply and historically storied. They just have two very different plot lines. But, getting back to the basics, you could say that the Bridges of Winona has done exactly what it was built to do… what bridges are meant to do. It has made life easier on many, taken golfers from Point A (Work) to Point B (Play). To get to my bottom line, let me point this out: there are dozens of iconic bridges in the world and hundreds of iconic golf courses, but only one iconic golf course in Minnesota with Bridges in its name. (And that course really lets you appreciate the good life.)
What makes The Bridges iconic? Well, for starters, the course was partially built by legendary golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., at the same time that he was building the prestigious Hazeltine National (host of last year’s Ryder Cup). Ben Knight started the project way back in 1920, Mr. Jones “took it over” and Joel Goldstrand completed the project. We might not know much of what made Ben Knight think this turbulent Mississippi River land was suited for a golf course, but we do know what it was turned into. The former Country Club of Winona now stands (widely regarded) as one of the Top 3 Public Courses in Southeast Minnesota.
There are many bridges at this golf course, (literally dozens) of all shapes and sizes. There are dramatic structures (massive trestles) and modest walkways. Some of them had to be there, but most of them didn’t. (They just make life easier.) I noted years ago, in one of my first articles on the course, that I wish the architects of the course had modeled the bridges after the world’s most famous crossways – built a replica course of an entirely different nature. That fantastic trestle on the par 3 10th could have easily resembled the Brooklyn Bridge. The extensive walkway off the 12th tee box, would’ve made for a great Golden Gate Bridge. You can visualize the assorted bridges your own way, however you want, but you sure won’t miss them. They are there to be appreciated, and appreciate them we do.
I love the many bridges at The Bridges, but what I appreciate most about the course is how similarly widespread the great golf holes are. The architectural drama of the course, and on the course, is a visual and playability treat. The course was designed to let you get off to a great start, with a straightaway opener, followed up by the first “bridge hole” – a scenic, downhill par 3 over water. You meander through a few open but tree-lined corridors after that, and then have a pair of great water-lined testers at 7 and 8.
Most of the drama and scenery is reserved for the back, a crescendo design feature worth appreciating in what amounts to a pretty, memorable round. The back is more challenging as well, a great reality check for your tee box selection, but played the right way it’s a fair test of every club in your bag. Many consider the par 3, 10th, THE Signature Hole, but combine that with the 12,000 yard par 5, 11th and five other great holes with water in play on the back and you’ll come to regard picking a signature as shortsighted. Take it all in. Appreciate it all.
The clubhouse is perched high above the playground of rivers and ponds, hills and valleys, gulches and peaks with wide greens and long fairways. That clubhouse features the AAA “3 Diamond” Signatures Restaurant, and a spectacular banquet and event facility – the Visions Event Center – built to host personal, private, golf and corporate groups of every theme (wedding, graduation, reunion, etc.) and size. There’s always a party of some variety going on at The Bridges.
All in all, bridges become iconic once they are truly appreciated for what they are – for their place in history. The Bridges Golf Club merits mention among the best golf courses in Southern Minnesota, and definitely deserves a chapter in your own personal golf story.