The Bridges Golf Course – Baby’s Got Back
By E. Nolan
|Sometimes golf course names don’t fit the course. And then sometimes, in particular with The Bridges in Winona, MN… they do. Rumor has it, the original course designer Ben Knight was such a fan of the card game Bridge that he named the course after the game. Even though I made that rumor up someone, be it Ben Knight or his design compadre Robert Trent Jones, (yes, THE R.T.J.) clearly loved bridges. They’re everywhere. There are even bridges built to get to bridges. The 9th and 12th holes… neither with water… each have a bridge. The Signature 2nd, 10th and 11th holes (three very worthy “signature” holes) all have bridges. The fantastic closing pair of holes, both have bridges. The Mississippi River near the course has… you guessed it… bridges.
Granted Pleasant Creek, which winds throughout the picturesque Pleasant Valley setting, does come into play on 9 of the 18 holes, but once again even the name of the creek is fitting. It’s as menacing as a baby kitten or bag of peeled carrots. The course, while ranging anywhere from 5,100 to 6,800 yards is as fair and catching as the reflections seen in any mirror in New England Patriot Tom Brady’s house. And while it’s true that it would be hard to build a golf course in this region of Minnesota that isn’t beautiful, it took a lot of work to make this course as playable and well conditioned as it is. The greens are immaculate and very true. A well compensated, uber critical, NBC golf analyst recently remarked on air about the greens at East Lake in Atlanta. “If you putt the ball perfectly you should make the putt.” This slightly less compensated journalist feels the same holds true for the conditions here in Winona. Chances are, if you make the putt it goes in the hole.
As a national golf journalist for the past 7 years I’ve played hundreds of incredible golf courses. However, even being based out of nearby Rochester (MN) I’d never played The Bridges. I was missing out. Chances are there are many of you in the Twin Cities area who have driven through Winona and/or do so every single year who have never played it either. You are missing out. Head Pro Bill MacAskill is well accustomed to the surprised reaction he gets from golfers here for their maiden round. “The scenery and conditions catch everyone by surprise. We are very much a personal service operation open, and catering, to the daily fee golfer.” Quite true. From their spectacular Signatures Restaurant to their Visions Event Center, from their professional food and beverage staff to the super friendly golf shop staff, this place is brimming with shiny happy people holding hands… (somehow had REM on my mind)… but seriously, people love it here. Their event calendar is packed. Their restaurant is packed. Their course, well, it should be packed… but the many golfers, regulars and first timers alike, love the fact that they can play it pretty much anytime, and always under ideal course (and financial) conditions.
A quick tour of the course reveals some incredible shots. There’s the picturesque tee shot on the Par 3 second hole, over Pleasant Creek. The downhill Par 3 sixth that only a fool would leave short and double bogey. (Don’t worry, I call myself a fool all the time.) There’s the well designed tee shot and uphill approach on #8 to a green that slopes back to front so severely that you’ll wish the pin was in the back left fringe or subsequently ten paces right of the green in the rough, under the tree. (In adhering to standard golf course regulations, it was neither.)
But this baby’s got a lot of back and every effort was made to not conceal that in any way. The 10th hole requires an anything but casual little chip shot over three goats and a troll to a wide-open green you probably won’t hit… or at least stick. And #11, at 600 yards, is a beast of a Par 5, with a bell at the bridge 300 yards out that ominously tolls to sound your defeat before you even begin to approach the bunkered in pin perched high upon the turret shaped hill. The pursuant five holes, while not flashy, are fun, taking you up hill and down valley, presenting shots at every turn that require skill but forgive reality. And then 17 and 18 conclude the round perfectly with two aqua-present gems you’re unlikely to soon forget.
Ascending back to the clubhouse take the time to pause at the summit, or dine out on their spectacular patio, and take in your surroundings, revel in the pleasant surprise, and relive the sensational time that was your round at The Bridges.