Mississippi Dunes Golf Links – Redemption

By Seamus McGee

The question in Minnesota golf throughout last summer was, “What in the heck is going on at Mississippi Dunes?” A gallery of avid golfers moaned in that, “Doc has a bulldozer and end loader out there and has no idea what he’s even doing.” The oohs and aahs from the throngs of spectators wondered what an extensive course renovation would offer to them.

Flash past the piles of shifting sand and caverns and canyons dug out of the dirt, and move on into a beautiful view from the banks of the Mississippi River in June of 2017, golfers now see something special rising up from the sandy soil. Doc Doebler, the steadfast disciple of Dr. Alister MacKenzie has, in fact, restored order to the most unique golfing experience in the state of Minnesota. He’s making all things new.

Doc’s design decisions with the Dunes are definitely demonstrating dashes of brilliance. And those same naysayers, whom simply wished for their old mighty Mississippi Dunes to return, are beginning to fall in love all over again. Redemption.

“The majority of the changes have been for aesthetic purposes, such as growing healthier turf via airflow and sunlight, and opening up vistas to enhance the views of big Mo,” Doebler said while putting the finishing touches of irrigation on the new second green and third tee, which will open for play in August. “A lot of the work involved removing Box Elders, Sumac, and Buckthorn from areas where bad shots were not only penalized, but lost balls occurred. The end result is going to be an easier course in many ways, but a more difficult one from another perspective.”

So, let’s review the then and now and dig out the positives at this prominent public facility with a vibrant membership and a healthy amount of believers. Groves of trees were removed in droves, with the areas of impact being leveled and graded so that grass can grow. The majority of those roughed in spots have been seeded with native fescue, so natural beauty will appear with a little photosynthesis. Playability will prosper as a result.

Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s working partner, Mr. Robert Hunter, made this statement nearly 100 years ago, “All artificial hazards should be made to fit into the ground as if placed there by nature. To accomplish this is a great art. Indeed, when it is really done well, it is – I think it may truly be said – a fine art, worthy of the hand of a gifted sculptor.”

The ninth hole was made much more difficult with added bunkering and a mound on the back left portion of the green. Appropriately renamed Bastogne as a tribute to patriotism and World War II history. This hole has undergone minor aesthetic work earlier this year (the big elm tree has just been removed to open up the views of the Mississippi), but now proves to be an even better hole than it was previously.

Behind what we all know as the second green, a great little downhill playing par 3 with a humpback whale buried in the middle of it, there is a formidable addition taking place. A massive, undulating, diabolical green complex has been graded, irrigated, and seeded with a mixture of putter bent, as well as red + chewings + hard fescue. So, by August, the second hole will be played as a long par 3.

Behind the new green is a new tee box for the par 5 third hole, which will make what had become a fairly easy par 5 into a much more demanding test for even the best players. No real yardage is being added to the hole, but with the new tee box position being placed where hundreds of trees were removed, the angle makes what was a fairly straight hole into a dogleg. Additionally, a large eight foot high sand dune has been added in the right hand side of the third fairway, mainly to penalize golfers for hitting to the incorrect portion of the fairway. The raw sand dunes have been seeded; and surround the entire hole from 300 yards in and behind the entire green, is a barricade of sand dunes, which was placed as such to offer a feeling of isolation that is a fresh look and lends good sightlines and serene sounds.

Now, the most sensational and substantial additions being made are, in fact, to the par 5 hole – number eight. When Doc initially opened Mississippi Dunes in 1995, with the help of several astute architects, technology advances in golf equipment had not yet been in play. So, the golf hole was a legitimate par 5. Once Tiger came and the ball started sailing past the moon, the eighth hole became a par 4.5. So, the answer was, to dig a 30 foot deep canyon that runs 155 yards all the way down the right hand side of the fairway. “That will teach people how to play a par 5,” the designer told his disciple.

There shall be no doubt that the Golf Links are not only playable, but even more fun than they were to play before. Come see for yourself.

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