Mississippi National Golf Links – Excuse Me While I Touch The Sky
By Colin Ritsick
Living in the land of lakes, it is easy and understandable to overlook the body of water that is most vital to Minnesota’s geography and economy – the Mississippi River. But if you’re a golfer, it’s very apparent to see the opportunity this grand stream has carved out for the sport. Golfing in the valleys, bluffs and floodplains of a major river offer some of the most lush and scenic golf available. The typical challenges presented by a standard golf course can be tossed out the window and replaced with a whole new set of threats to your game. No course takes advantage of every topographical opportunity better than Mississippi National Golf Links in Red Wing. You want elevation? You got it. You want water hazards? You got it. You want a view? You got it. You want two totally different yet simultaneously challenging and entertaining golf courses to test your skill? You got it.
The Highlands Course and the Lowlands Course make up Mississippi National’s 36 holes. The Highlands, go figure, winds through the steep bluff even going up to what feels like the top of a mountain. The Lowlands sits in the floodplain of the river and utilizes the beginning of the hillside for more moderate elevation changes. The courses are brothers, but they are not twins. The best-laid plans to attack one may be ripped to shreds on the other. But, no matter the vast differences, one unifying notion binds them together: great golf on excellent grounds.
Standing atop the tee box #17 on the Highlands, with the scenic valley landscape before you, the promise of budding trees around you and the smell of spring in the air; it’s easy to feel like you’re on top of the world. But that’s probably because you’re standing on a drastic and immediate drop-off from down to the green some hundreds of feet below on this quirky yet endlessly entertaining golf hole that is the embodiment of the rest of the Highlands Course. Driveable par 4’s, so-simple-it’s-difficult par 3’s, sneaky-long par 5’s, scenic panorama hilltop views and what has to be the highest climb a golf cart can physically handle all culminate to a peak at #17. The 181-yard par 3 plays more like 81 yards given the apocalyptic drop off the Earth your ball must traverse before it finds the green. All experience you have of tracking your shots to a certain spot go out the window. I thought my three-quarter swing pitching wedge was flying way long and going to end up off the back of the green only to see it fall yards short of the green. I hit three more balls just for the fun of it. It really is the cherry on top of a destination course that draws hundreds of golfers from the Twin Cities every weekend.
But it isn’t just the idiosyncrasies of Highlands that draws golfers from multiple states to Mississippi National. The Lowlands Course – closer to the river with less dramatic elevation changes – is every bit as contemplative and challenging of a golf course as you’ll find in Minnesota. Nearly 6,500 yards from the tips, this 18 places a premium on tee shot accuracy and approach shots. Whereas the Highlands encourages a grip-it and rip-it attitude, the Lowlands demands precision and forethought. Thin fairways, with lazy twists and turns that beg to be overlooked, and choicely located trees and bunkers give the more demanding golfer a welcome challenge. But where this 18 differs from the Highlands is green protection. Many of the Highlands greens are open, slightly elevated and welcoming. The Lowlands are a little more stingy with its greens, not as inviting to the average golfer. Most, if not all, of the tournaments are played on the Lowlands Course. So much so, that many patrons simply refer to it as the “Tournament Course.” Tournament players love it because it offers plenty of scoring opportunity with five par 5’s and six par 3’s for a total par 71 and a slope/rating of 71.6/133 from the men’s tips. Even though it demands ball striking precision, the Lowlands is still an entertaining and accessible course for all players.
Mississippi National seems to be than just a place for golf; the course has unique connection with the community. The full story can be found on their website, but essentially there was a time when the city government had a plan to dismantle both golf courses. But some influential and hard-working citizens of Red Wing, and fans of the golf course, banded together to form the Red Wing Municipal Golf Corporation in order to raise funds. Their hard work led to city council reworking its decision and reopen Mississippi National Golf Links. This community-driven attitude can be seen in Bragger’s Pub & Restaurant in the clubhouse where golfers commiserate over their round and locals come in for a pint regardless of if they played golf that day. The clubhouse employees interact with the patrons and laughter is the most common soundtrack.
No matter what your intention is coming into your day at Mississippi National Golf Links, I am willing to bet you’ll leave the grounds with a smile on your face and a good time had by all.