Cragun’s – The Legacy Continues
By Tim Ryan
Nearly all Minnesota golfers are well aware of the abundance of heavenly facilities located in the golf kingdom of Brainerd Lakes. Of the many sparkling loops near and around “the lakes”, The Legacy courses at Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake are as blissful of a golf experience as any in the great state of Minnesota. A number of factors combine to make this a fact.
With 55 holes of spectacular golf, each designed by Godsend golf course architect, Mr. Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Cragun’s holds the distinction of being Minnesota’s first certified Audubon International Signature Sanctuary. This affiliation, which recognizes Cragun’s exceptional commitment to environmental stewardship, is obvious from the moment a guest steps onto the sprawling property.
Once at The Legacy, it is clear that the entire staff, from GCSAA Superintendent Matt McKinnon and his team, on down to the very talented and sincere Player Assistants, assumes great pride and responsibility in doing their part to protect and preserve the integrity of our environment – not only now but for future generations.
As such, owners Dutch and Irma Cragun’s Resort was only the second of its kind in the entire United States to earn certification as a certified Audubon Sanctuary. This is commendable, very much so, but if you’re not of the “tree-hugger” mindset (as we all should be as golfers), perhaps you’ll just simply enjoy the inspiring golf collection that was so exquisitely laid out by Mr. Jones, Jr. The layout continues to be perfected by Mr. and Mrs. Cragun, as well as their growing group of impressive and committed professionals.
“We have undergone an extensive tree removal process over the past several years, and emphasized being as eco-friendly as possible,” PGA General Manager Eric Peterson proudly explained, shortly after knocking his ball right at the flagstick on the expertly crafted par 3 twelfth hole of the “Dutch Legacy”. “The focus was primarily to improve on an already quality playing experience, and the added bonus became a noticeable if not dramatic enhancement of the condition of our golf courses.” The man is right. The turf is outstanding, if not astounding. The result of this key upgrade has eliminated the feeling that one is trapped in a jungle by the time they sink their putt on the first green and head into the trees for the rest of the afternoon. They made an excellent decision.
While most who have played this gem of a trail proclaim the Dutch Legacy to be their favorite, “Bobby’s Legacy”, really is an equally satisfying test of golf. And the reversible course, which is one heckuva way to start or end the day, feels almost like the unsung hero of the trio. This fluid plot, which is maintained to the same high standards of “Dutch and Bobby,” is replete with Jones Jr.’s calling card; well conceived bunkering patterns. The monstrous sand traps, not only on the reversible course, but all about the property, help accentuate the beauty of northern Minnesota, even if some of them are very difficult to slug out of. These factors, and several more, leave no reason to wonder why the Dutch Legacy continues to earn itself a 5 star ranking and Bobby’s Legacy maintains a strong 4 ½ star ranking by Golf Digest magazine. A 5 star and 4 ½ star course out of the same clubhouse? Incredible.
Shot value? Did someone say they want to experience all that they can for a reasonable price? “One of our specialties, and something we really focus on, are customized stay and play packages,” Peterson said before knocking his 3 wood onto the green in two on the eighteenth of the Dutch, a magnificent par 5 closing hole, which has the humongous yet understated clubhouse as it’s backdrop. “We have the expertise, facilities, and genuine desire to really show our guests why we believe The Legacy Courses are the best of the best, and an experience unlike any other in the Brainerd area.”
The experienced PGA Professional did not convert his eagle attempt, but did confirm that anyone who takes advantage of this masterpiece and the incredible value it offers, will walk away feeling like they made an eagle of their own. “We are the ideal host for groups that range from 16 to 40 players, and because of this, we are hosting one of the best Minnesota golf events of the year: The Fruit Bowl,” Peterson said excitedly about this fairly unknown but very special golf event. “We guarantee they will walk away happy, whoever wins the cup, as will anyone else we host.”
The 55th hole, called the “Gamblers Hole,” was put in place for matches where the score needs settling. It is sure to get some added action when the “Fruit Bowlers” roll into town!
Cragun’s Resort does not solely offer a quality golf experience, however. In fact, the lodging is superb, with inspiring views, and it offers many recreational activities to boot. Activities of the outdoor variety are abundant at this fine facility. Whether it’s fishing and boating on Gull Lake, or biking along the Paul Bunyan trail on a warm summer day, Cragun’s has a lot of something for everyone. If the northern Minnesota weather is uncooperative, as it can be, then the massive Sports Centre is the perfect respite. The 22,000 square foot facility houses a basketball court, tennis courts, a very well equipped fitness area, as well as a track for running.
For the ladies, or metro men, Gull Lake spa provides a bevy of services and the opportunity to relax and regroup. But, the Cragun’s experience does not stop at the plethora of recreation and activities of relaxation.
The father of famed former wunderkind, Tim Russert, used to make a simple statement to him: “A guy’s gotta eat.” True it is, and thus there are five different dining options at the resort. Sure to please the preferences of even the pickiest eaters, the menus at each range from casual to formal experiences.
Open for events year-round, Cragun’s serves up it’s grandest buffets at the indoor pool complex. Tradition, in fact, is “Welcome Buffet Friday” at poolside. A festive feast is definitely a fine way to kick off a fun-filled weekend.
The Lodge Dining Room is a stunning setting, and features an entirely new summer menu. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals all made from scratch are the focus at The Lodge.
The family friendly Hungry Gull Restaurant, a rustic log dining space with a cozy ambiance, was ultimately the originator of the “Paul Bunyan Basket Meal”, long before the happy meal was ever a concept! The Hungry Gull’s focus is on being big family and golf group friendly. Thus, it features a full table service menu, but the best part is the big ole bowl of salad and house-made rolls that commence dinner at “The Gull”.
The Hungry Gull Snack Bar, which is situated next to Cragun’s outdoor pool and lakeside patio, is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. A great spot for the kids or the kids at heart, the Snack Bar serves the usual summertime favorites: burgers, chicken, hot dogs, ice cream, candy, and more.
Logically, there is an exceptional dining opportunity in the beautiful clubhouse, too. Overlooking portions of the golf course, The Legacy Grille was created to please golfers, as well as families and friends who are just meeting for dinner. The atmosphere is laid back and inviting, and appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches are served daily starting at 11:00 a.m. With indoor or patio seating, a fully stocked bar, and a complete dinner menu beginning at 5:00 p.m., the Legacy Grille is the perfect place to tally up the score at the end of the day.
So, whatever you’re looking for in a family vacation, or golf getaway, or romantic trip with your beloved, it is very clear that Cragun’s will deliver memories that last a lifetime.