Maple Valley Golf & Country Club – Sweet As Maple Sugar
By E. Nolan
Maple Valley’s address claims to be in Rochester. Ha! Rochester may indeed have beautiful bluffs, but it doesn’t have bluffs like these. Rochester has many a river and stream, but it doesn’t have rivers that glimmer so sheer, so pure as these. Rochester has many a doctor, but none that could doctor a hole like a dozen of these. Yes, Rochester may have a variety of entertaining golf courses, but it doesn’t have a golf course anything like this. No disrespect intended to any of the other local designs, but Maple Valley is in a league of its own when it comes to golf scenery, and hole-to-hole transitions.
The drive out here alone is worth the drive. Uh… yeah, I meant that. As you head south from Rochester you can see the beautiful city in your rear view mirror, and then you just stop looking at it as you take in all the shades of fall… the fields of corn, of pumpkins, of apples… the brightest prism of greens, golds and purples this side of the Metrodome on a Packer game day… it’s a bold and a beautiful sight.
A gravel road takes you to a dead end, before which you’ll turn right, after which you’ll discover the pot at the end of that aforementioned fall prism rainbow. When you pass through the pillars to the course’s main driveway, take pause… better yet, stop altogether… and look ahead to your right and your left at the holes adjacent the road. (Numbers 10 and 11) While the management and staff at Maple Valley take great pains to maintain their varied landscapes and hole presentations, they can’t control the people hitting the little white orbs at you… so proceed in a straight line to the clubhouse with diligent caution. You’re welcome. Upon arrival at the clubhouse you’ll be greeted by one of the pleasant “family tree” managers, it seems everyone is related to someone who is related to the owners out here, ever grateful that you’ve made the trip out to play a round on their memorable course. And then they hand you the key to a cart, and in the process their castle, this spectacular setting on a towering hill.
Maple Valley already took the cake for most scenic course in Olmsted County. But they aren’t ready to eat it yet. They’re still working, listening, tweaking, and making changes now that they’ve wanted to make for years. New tee boxes. More open fairways. Less brush. More playable areas. Faster greens. Funner holes. (Yes, I said funner.) From the get go, a blind slight dogleg right hole you’ll be kicking yourself for not carding a birdie… not bogey… birdie. The dramatic downhill third over a pond to a green in front of a pond (follow that one) has as pretty a backdrop as there is in Southern Minnesota (with an Autumn nod to #11 at the Jewel).
The next three holes are horseshoed by the river, followed by the front’s final three that literally zigzag you back to the clubhouse, and the most intimidating green on the course (#9). At that point you’ll get the opportunity to hit an oncoming car of Packer fans on #10, (they welcome everyone equally) and then a shorter repeat shot at fame on #11, before careening/plummeting madly (imagine your golf cart on a zip-line) back down into the valley on the “where in the world do I hit this” 12th and fun little 13th. Safe again at the base, you’ll encounter what has to be the prettiest – and most hazardous – Par 5 in Southern Minnesota (no pun and pun intended – because I can). After observing the golf ball graveyard to the right of the 14th green, you’ll unwind on the second of the back-to-back Par 5’s on the back (sorry English teacher) and then begin your ascent back to the clubhouse with a blind tee shot on 16. But let me stop you right here. Hey… I said stop. If you hit even a remotely good tee shot on #16 there is a pond short and to the right of the green just 300 yards from you. Just think about that. If it’s in your head at this point I’ve done my job, and probably messed you up in the process. Oh well. You’ll get over it on the next two holes and walk off the course impressed.
Will you lose some balls, in the leaves, water or an oncoming car’s windshield? Perhaps… Okay, probably. But will you lose a lot of stress and gain a lot of unique perspectives in the process? Absolutely. At 5,900 yards from the tips the length won’t keep anyone away… but then with a utopic setting like this, nothing should. This place is sweet. Maple syrup sweet. Nothing like a subtle simile, or a great golf course, to make you smile. Okay so it was as subtle as Loudmouth pants.