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Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
August 22, 2017

Wild Ridge - Victory Lap
E. Nolan

I hear it all the time: "I want to play somewhere NEW, somewhere close, no more than an hour or so away, somewhere GREAT." An ideal day trip. When May comes to the Midwest, and Twin Cities' residents start querying, my mental compass tends to default east - to Wild Ridge in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Truthfully, I don't even need the mental compass. It's a legitimate no-brainer.

I like the straight shots, the freeway zips that are so simple you could go "old school" and just use a map. (Those ancient paper puzzles impossible to fold up correctly.) Wild Ridge is a mere interstate hour from St. Paul - 75 miles, and the anticipation (there) and celebration (back) make it seem even less. It's what I call the "Victory Lap" - a full-circle adventure where everyone goes home a winner.

I can say that every course I write about is "different" in a different way, and Wild Ridge qualifies in the most complimentary of senses. They bill themselves as "the only true Championship golf experience in the Chippewa Valley" - a literal distinction worth noting. Wild Ridge IS an experience, a full day experience, and the longer the day the better the golf gets, considering you can take the 18 spectacular championship holes and top them off with another 18 at the property's sister course - Mill Run. That's right... 36 holes, one property, one hour from St. Paul. Bingo, Bango, Bongo.

If you've never been to Wild Ridge YOU are my target golfer. Stop and think for a minute of the best courses within an hour or so of you. Write them down if you have to. Rank them even. How many of them can you play for less than $50? I would venture that Wild Ridge would not only kick a course off that Top 10 list in front of you, but probably cost less than half of the picks on your "sweet" sheet. That alone should make it worth the short "loop of confirmation." I'm not going to name names, but if Hudson and Prior Lake are the extent of your travel bubble you need to blow it up a little more - expand your directional golf horizons. (Or at least one of them.) Go East.

Here's why: Wild Ridge is a links-style course with five sets of tees covering 7,000 sprawling yards of peaks and valleys, highlights and low score opportunities. You're launched out of the chute at the clubhouse summit into a beautiful fescue-laced bowl of fairways so green, and lakes so blue, with wildlife a plenty and gorgeous views, too. The course plays fast and mostly friendly, with superior conditioning and a truly great overall design. The layout unfolds on two sides of the road, with wide runways and steep hills on one side, and some forest elements and more ponds on the other.

Their website yields very little of the overall reward - more peek and less Boo! - but I dare say that's intentional. They don't want to give away the wow factor you get on that first tee box, or the thrill-inspired appreciation you'll feel walking off that final green. You'll want to play Wild Ridge again (probably even immediately) and you'll make a mean Arnold Schwartzgolfer with your emphatic "I'll be back." Been there. Done that.

Mill Run is just down the hill from Wild Ridge, and far more parkland in feel and family-friendly overall. It's an entertaining zigzag, a Junior and Senior favorite, a great warm-up or cool-down to the championship 18. Far more flat and walk-able, tipping out at only 6,000 yards, it boasts plenty of its own beauty in the ponds and flowers, and more than enough challenge in the selective risk/rewards. The duo makes for quite a daily deal. A two-in-one punch you'll feel in your heart far more than your wallet.

And so... you have a decision to make. It's definitely worth a day-trip to Wild Ridge just for a single round on the 18-championship holes, BUT... you could double up and play 36 at Wild Ridge OR triple your benefits splitting 36 between Wild Ridge and Mill Run (with lunch in between) OR... (better yet)... you could go for the home run and spend the night in Eau Claire. Yes, there are Stay & Play packages available to fill up multiple-day excursions if you'd like. Wild Ridge partners up with the local Holiday, Hampton, Clarion and Americ-Inns. One hit, four scores - that would qualify as a Grand Slam, wouldn't it?

Call your friends and family, tell them you want to play somewhere new this year, somewhere close... somewhere GREAT. Or tell them you're going back (again). Tell everyone you're playing Wild Ridge this year, and my advice (for your swing and your planning) is this: Follow Through.

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