Willow Creek Golf Course – Rochester’s Daily Double

By E. Nolan

Willow Creek deserves consideration as Rochester’s best public golf course. Few in this Minnesota mini-city would dispute the suggestion. Consensus is it’s “top two or three.” Willow Creek won’t argue with that. In truth, it has some scenic competition with Eastwood’s back nine and a half dozen holes at Maple Valley, but face-to-face it goes toe to toe with both and many locals deem it, collectively, head and shoulders above either. (How’s that for the anatomy of Rochester golf?) While, in a Minnesota Fall, beauty is often in the eye of the deer holder, there’s no question Willow Creek is beheld favorably by the eyes of all golfers. The dispersing foliage tapestry is so captivating, and so colorful; in particular when pitched against a clear bluish gray autumn sky, and the greens play as crisp, as brisk as an early October breeze.

General Manager and Head Pro, Scott Rindahl, one of the quietest yet most consummate professionals you’ll ever meet, pretty much lives here. He manages the kids’ golf camps throughout the summer, runs the pro shop, and is a fondly appreciated fixture of the southern Minnesota golf scene. Every aspect of this course, his course, is always under his keen and attentive eye, and he’s one of those guys who noticeably (selflessly) bends over backwards to make everyone feel at home on his range. When asked what he loves most about Willow Creek he’s known to respond with a dozen different answers, depending on the day. His answers range from the colors of the fall, to the many regulars he interacts with daily, to his time with the kids (and his passion at growing the game the right way), the presence of the (par 29) 9-hole family course, and even the view out his office (front desk) window. He loves a lot of things about Willow Creek, and with good reason. While few will contest the presence of some quirks, most of the references you’ll hear from those who play (and have played) it are to the perks, the unique features, the fun and challenges the course presents… and of course the excellent greens.

I’ve known Scott for years and have been playing Willow Creek just as long. But there are thousands here who could say the same. It is the preferred public destination for golf events in the city, with amazing banquet hall facilities, catering, and service staff. Their rates, for what they provide, are nearly unbeatable, and those fortunate enough to tie their event to the golf benefit from Willow Creek even more.

The front nine offers many great scoring opportunities and several revered holes. There’s the downhill 2nd with an approach to a green guarded by a pond. The dogleg 4th to another pond guarded green, and the “signature” 9th along the entry road, an elevated tee, Par 3, whose initial shot takes precision and concentration the surroundings try hard to prevent. While 2, 4 and 9 can evenly compete for best tee and approach shots on the entire course, there’s little doubt that the most intrigue (and sporadic insanity) is contained on the back. The fairways get tighter, the risks higher, the potential for snowmen (absent all precipitation) revealed around every sharp tree-lined corner. The best way to prevent throwing your driver is literally to leave it in the car after 9. You won’t really need it on the back until the 18th… although I realize my chances of getting your ego to agree are slim to none. The “best hole on the back” is a title that many would dispute. What is indisputable, however, is the most polarizing hole (perhaps in all of Southeast Minnesota) is #16, a dogleg right to a protected green; think of the “Clown’s Mouth” scene from Happy Gilmore. It is best to prepare for rejection and not take this hole personally. Almost no one, regardless of handicap, figures it out in his or her first half-dozen rounds. Thank God for 7th chances.

If you plan ahead well enough, and or have an hour or two left on either end of your day, the Family course is an enjoyable fine-tuning romp, carved in the middle of Willow’s Championship 18. Perfect for any age or skill level, it offers many opportunities for birdies and aces… and who doesn’t love either of those. Their elevated tee driving range won’t dampen your confidence either. Yes, a day at Willow Creek is better than a day at the office… in particular if you’re Mr. Rindahl, in which case they’re one and the same… The perfect “Daily Double.” I knew I was in Jeopardy of ruining my cliché free streak. Oh well!

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