Willingers Golf Club – Modern Nature
By E. Nolan
I consider Willingers the course “Closest to the City That Feels Furthest From the City” and/or the “Most Northern Feeling Golf Course in Southern Minnesota.” Put those two oppositional descriptions together and you get a sense of why so many Twin Cities metro residents gently lay their clubs in their vehicle (never throw your clubs) and drive 20-something miles (or so) south to Northfield for an “Out of This (urban) World Experience.”
Thanks to the World’s Biggest Candy Store in nearby Jordan, I’ve made the super sweet Willingers trek many many times, and come away every round a bit more astounded by the design. It’s a tough course, don’t get me wrong, it’s just so darn pretty out there. Willingers has a great aerial photo on their website that I wish we could put here for you to see (Hint, hint www.willingersgc.com). That ONE picture conveys a million different reasons why every shot you take here demands your attention and respect.
There are plenty of great event hosting sites in the Twin Cities area, but Willingers distinguishes itself as one of the best “Best Ball” courses in all of Minnesota – an obviously heavy favorite among tournament organizers based on the course’s active calendar. I love playing in events here where you can take the shots you really want to take instead of the “smart” shots because you know you have a partner to back you up (and take the smart shot if/when you fail), because there are so many epic, tantalizing approaches to these greens.
Your mental fortitude and accuracy are tested from the very first (elevated) tee. I once wrote that there was water in play on every hole on the front and stuck to that story even when the head professional told me water isn’t technically in play on holes 5, 8 or 9 (as it WAS for me). Pretty sure every lake in Rice County is on this property. I try not to list too many holes as favorites at any course, so the reader gets a sense of the VERY BEST, but Willingers makes it tough to narrow down. Locals cite the short, dangerous, downhill Par 3, 3rd hole as one of their favorite shots, with a green more surrounded by water than many island greens (think about that). The 7th hole merits a similar description to hole 3, equal parts pretty and pretty dangerous, and the Par 5, 6th hole requires three daunting shots for most of us to reach the distant green, with wetlands collecting many a mulligan.
The back nine takes you out of the open marshland for a spell and up into the hills and forests. You have less water to worry about (theoretically) but more intrusive trees. Accuracy is still every bit as relevant as it was on the front. The course’s beautiful backside gets your attention in unique ways, like on the short dogleg right 11th, where you have to lay up on the edge of a ravine to make a dangerous approach to a tucked away green. #13 is a similar dogleg right, but it plays downhill, and you have to be careful of the wet fingers of the marsh reaching in on the left. The 14th hole is another beautiful Par 3 (my single favorite shot on the back), with water guarding the left side of the green, and then the course finishes with a stellar one-two punch of a great Par 3, and a long, downhill Par 5… back to the clubhouse.
The clubhouse distinguishes itself with an upper level full-service bar and restaurant featuring a terrace and expansive views out over the course and water. Groups take full advantage of the space and comforts afforded in the large banquet area (with private patio) that seats up to 150, and the pro shop has plenty of high quality merchandise (like golf balls) for you to purchase at the turn (when you’ll need them).
Designed by legendary local architect, Garrett Gill of (Gill/Miller, Inc.) the 6,500-yard course is a perfect blend of the natural (275 acres of Audubon International Certified land) and the unnatural (golf swings like mine). You’ll recognize a lot of Gill’s signature features throughout (a similar vibe to his fabulous design at Legends Club in Prior Lake), and appreciate how he gives large receptive greens to make the course as playable as possible for everyone off the PROPER set of tees. Willingers provides modern golf carts with perks like GPS from iPar, and makes a concerted effort to keep the course both playable and pretty from Spring to Fall.
If you’re looking to play somewhere you maybe haven’t (ever, or in a while), or have a golf group looking for the perfect test, consider a course that’s well worth the drive – consider Willingers.