Grand National At Grand Casino Hinckley – Two Grand

By E. Nolan

Thousands of golfers head north on I35 from the Twin Cities each year towards Tower, Biwabik and Lutsen and, about halfway to each you pass by a Stay & Play destination (in Hinckley) that would serve all as the perfect pit stop and/or tune-up to/from any of those places.

On the other hand, thousands more golfers come here each year (from the north and south) with no intention of going elsewhere. Most of those have been here before, appreciate the convenient proximity, and know exactly what they’ll find. (Or they’ve had a cinnamon roll at Tobie’s, “Minnesota’s Famous Half Way Stop” and need a place to rest, or burn off the calories.) At Grand National they count on wide-open fairways, great course conditions, fast consistent greens and excellent service. Adjacent to the golf course, at Grand Casino, they know they’ll find soft beds, some of the best area entertainment, plenty of gaming action, and a plethora of food options ranging from the incredible filet mignon (at The Winds Steakhouse) to the most popular buffet north of St. Paul.

It doesn’t really matter why you come or where you come from. The hotel attendants greet you as if you’ve walked from Alaska, and sincerely serve you like they hope you’ll stay forever. All it takes is once and you’ll come back. (Even if you did walk from Alaska.) “Pleasure is a priority here.” An affable Guest Service agent says in the hotel lobby. “We try to identify what you’re looking for and make sure you find it. We’ve all been places we never want to go again, and a few places we always look forward to going back to. We don’t just hope we’re the latter. We make sure we are.” (To be fair I asked her to be honest, but make it sound like an official statement. I think she did quite well.)

And, as an “only bet on a sure thing” kind of guy, even I’d take those odds. While gambling is the primary activity in this very active hotel/casino, it is far from all that brings people here. There is a spacious pool area, a large arcade, the Grand Venture – an enormous indoor kids play zone – (perfect for vacationing families, kids 6 weeks to 12 years, open to 10, 11 or midnight all nights) and a security force keeping the children safe, smoke from the hallways and rooms, and the noise levels down in sleeping quarters. In other words, every aspect of you and yours (family size, age, interest) is taken into consideration and accommodated. Anyone and everyone can come here and have a great time. Spend a little or spend a lot… it’s up to you. It doesn’t matter to them. They’re glad you’re here, even if it’s just to eat. And if you are staying, they’ll treat you with consistent high class from 5AM to 4:59:59 the next morning, without the faintest trace of service fatigue, or sarcasm, in their sincere “yes sirs” and “yes ma’am’s”. (If you’ve been to Las Vegas you know what I mean.) Additionally recognized for their “Best Players Club in Minnesota” distinction (10 years running) and phenomenal entertainment line-ups (Alabama – August 31st, and the RockTember Music Festival – September 14th… to name a couple) it’s quite reasonable that many would come here for far more than just gambling and golf. But…

If they do come here for golf, well, we at Tee Times consider that their greatest amenity. When it was mentioned (post round) to the gracious (and extremely active) Director of Golf, Casey Fahey, that there was far more to the golf course than we imagined from the road, he laughed. “I get that a lot. People drive by, see a few of the roadside holes and envision a course with little character. Those holes are like the blank cover of a book, not even a tease. They don’t tell you anything about what the rest of the course has.”

So… don’t judge this book by its cover then. And he’s absolutely right. Those two holes you see when you drive by the course are #1 and #18, and while apparently tame, are absolutely what you’ll want to start and end your round with. A four-some of golfers (emblematic of the opening paragraph) on their way up to Biwabik, chimed in with their thoughts on Grand National’s course. “It’s fun and you can play it quickly… We come here every year and like it a little more each time… It’s the perfect stop for us on the way up north, and everyone we bring here is pleasantly surprised.”

That would be the perfect title for the entire piece (if it didn’t sound so contrived) because it is genuinely quite true. “A Pleasant Surprise.” After the first hole, the course takes off on a furious drive, and dive, into elevation changes you wouldn’t believe from the road, jetting back into the deep forest for two new holes (4 and 5), recent additions in their multi-phase renovations, and pirouetting around plenty of ponds, protected marsh areas, mounds and tree-line fairways. Casey Fahey is quite proud of where the course has come from, and eager to see what else designer Kevin Norby can pull off in future alterations. “The Tribe has consistently provided us with superb support, truly believing in the potential of this property and making a concerted effort to turn this into a true destination course. It is such a compliment to them, and such a complement to the hotel and casino. I’m honored to be a part of the entire process.” As a golfer, that’s what you want to hear. It’s good, and getting better.

At many casino resorts the course is merely a toy, of little relevance to the overall picture. Listening to Casey talk about the investments made at Grand National is refreshing. And we haven’t even touched on the course conditions. It’s clear that ownership and management have put their money where their collective mouths are. The course is in great shape, from the fairways to the greens (and even the rough where I spent most of my round). Course Superintendent Steve Benson has done a spectacular job and his staff is always making day-to-day, minute-by-minute improvements, from filling in divots, or raking bunkers, to watering and maintaining the natural lush green of the entire property.

“People don’t refer to us as their favorite course, and we don’t expect them to. We thrive off of the “I love it!” and “Can’t wait to play it again!” comments we hear daily,” Casey paused. “We want to be that place you come back to. The course you can relax on. The place you bring your friends to. The place that plays well and fairly to anyone’s game.” He’s a guy you could talk to all day, just for his candor. You can tell he loves where he is, and looks forward to coming back each and every day. In other words, he is every bit like the guests we spoke to, a ripple of the waves of people the course and hotel/casino host weekly. Isn’t that how it should be everywhere? Well… it doesn’t matter how it is anywhere else. All that really matters is that that’s how it IS here at Grand National Golf Club, and Grand Casino. Come on over.

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