Fairways & Greens
August 17, 2017
|Minnesconsin Golf Trail: The Borderline's Best|
|The Quarry at Giants Ridge #2 Photo Courtsey Peter Wong Photography|
By Joseph NorthWhether you're in Minnesota or Wisconsin, you're only one state away from amazing golf.
You see, in most categories, the best of Wisconsin and Minnesota are a relative toss-up.
● Lutefisk hotdish remains marginally less attractive than beer-battered cod.
● The Twins' three championships give Minnesotans bragging rights over the Brewers game 7 loss in '82.
● And the three Packers "official" championships are oft cited by ex-pat Wisconsinites around 10 p.m. during backyard Minnesota barbecues.
● Furthermore, comparing a solid week at First Avenue to Summerfest isn't exactly apples to oranges.
For mid-continental golf fans planning a road trip, The Minnesconsin Golf Trail offers an attractive array of golf road trip possibilities once the snow melts and the standing water finally recedes to reveal last year's frozen V1. While Minnesota may have private club bragging rights - hosting nearly a dozen notable golf competitions over the last 100 years - Wisconsin is now a buzzworthy hotspot for destination public golf.
Your Minnesconsin Golf Trail begins on the East Coast (of Wisconsin) and makes its way west - like your forecaddies did before you. If all else fails, please laugh at my 'dad' jokes.
Before I get into how to prepare for and subsequently "crush" the Minnesconsin Golf Trail, I should share my apologies ahead of time to the following courses that are glaringly omitted from this list: The Bog, Northern Bay, Washington County, Erin Hills, Wild Rock, University Ridge, The Jewel, Madden's, The Wilderness and many more. However, there are only so many courses that you can possibly fit along a designated route.
The Road Trip Resume
And please allow me share my Road Trip Resume.
● Three Minnesota golf road trips since 2009, not including a PGA and a Ryder Cup.
● One epic, four-day Minnesota-to-Wisconsin golf road trip.
● A short, but respectable track record of diligent, affable and largely complaint and drama-free road tripping. I pay my fair share and try to give Wisconsinites a decent name when surrounded by a slue of Gophers.
● I know what it's like to golf 40 holes in 12 hours, imbibe until the fire burns out and then crash on a sheet-less, yellow styrofoam bunk of a 1978 Ticonderoga Winnebago.
In short, I've flown, driven, bused and RV'd around some of the finest public golf facilities these two amazing states have to offer. Gas money and greens fees add up quickly, and that PayPal account you've stashed money in for the last two fiscal quarters will soon be tapped. Join me on this hypothetical mission from the Golf Gods. Leggo.
The most important piece of planning you can do is to determine who you'll be spending these few, precious days with. You're looking to round out a foursome of men/women who contain an equal balance of golf handicap to coolness scale. Old friends often make for the best new adventures. Write that down.
You could basically "green-eggs-and-ham it" around the two states. You could drive in a car, in an RV, you could catch a cheap Southwest flight, but I would not, could not, in a MegaBus.
I'm no Seussian poet, but I've done it all. I've even explored the idea of taking the Empire Builder to Minneapolis (that's a train, folks), but have yet to pull the trigger on that. My favorite, no surprise, is the RV. I've had the pleasure of stowing away on Minnesconsin golf vacations in a borderline luxury RV, and barely making it back in a junky-yet-funky late '70s Winnebago. It was so choice, and I'd highly recommend it. Aside from the MegaBus which, again, I would not recommend unless you enjoy basking in B.O. Sorry MegaBus people, but after you arrive on a MegaBus you feel a little like Bono did in Beautiful Day "I've been all over; and it's been all over me."
The most important item you can invest in is a comfy pair (or two) of broken in golf shoes. Assuming four days of golf, here's your checklist of "absolute must-haves":
● Invest in a travel case and light bag
● Bring five pair of underwear
● Five pairs of socks
● Four polos (you'll sleep in one at least one night)
● Three T-shirts
● Two hats
● Two gloves
● Add two pairs of shorts
● And bring some flip flops. Nothing feels better after a long day traversing Sand Valley then slipping on flip flops and sipping a Mich Golden Light. Yeah I said it.
● Oh, and spray on sunscreen.
● And swim trunks and a towel if you're near Lake Michigan, Superior or a Super 8. For some reason a towel is the one thing I will inevitably forget.
Golf: Day 1
Playing Whistling Straits is a bucket-list golf experience if you've got deep pockets or a depleted savings account. Majestically manufactured to the enth degree, The Straits course is Midwest resort golf at its finest. Few, if any, Wisconsin constructions projects - perhaps aside from the annual summer reconstruction of Interstate 94 - have seen more shovelfuls of dirt strategically rerouted. Mastermind and billionaire Herb Kohler commissioned Pete Dye's lakeside masterpiece, and the golf complexes in proximity to it. The opening of The Straits course in 1998 has proven to be a watershed moment in Wisconsin golf history, and Kohler's Blackwolf Run (River) course is still a Top 100 in its own right. But I'm more of an Irish Course ($70 walking after Nov. 1) kind of guy. It serves as an Irish Twin (alternate 18) to the great Straits, and is an absolutely fantastic way to finish the golf season if you're near Lake Michigan after Halloween.
Don't miss The Golf Courses of Lawsonia ($100 in the spring for an all-day pass w/ a cart). Lawsonia Links captures golf course architecture at its purest and finest. Expansive fairways, some of the slickest rough and perhaps the most visually intimidating greens make the course a marvelous test to even the low handicapper. Play Lawsonia's back 18 Woodlands for some unreal carries and beautiful views. Or the Coore/Crenshaw 18 at Sand Valley, a short drive away. The new backwoods gem opens for public play on May 2. Stop by SandValley.com for an unreal look at the "Midwest Bandon Dunes." I was lucky enough to get a preview of it last year and it is, in short, unforgettable. If you have a hard time getting a tee time on Sand Valley early in the season, and you're looking for a great value within driving distance of the Twin Cities, consider the newly renovated SentryWorld ($85 before May 15) in Stevens Point. It's a helluva track, featuring easily the most fluorescent hole in the Midwest - the par 3 16 that is deceptively long. Don't be surprised if you end up smelling the roses from a pot bunker in front of the green. The SentryWorld resort is fantastic. You haven't lived until you've purchased SentryWorld's hand scrub. I know it sounds weird, but it's the most soothing post-round treat of all time. Almost as relaxing as playing the course, itself.
On your way out of Wisconsin, Troy Burne ($75 ride in the Spring) offers a linksy test. For some reason I've never played the course in clear conditions. A front always seems to sweep in, evoking the 1996 British at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's. I half expect to see Ole Tom Lehman, who'll ask to play through in a Dockers cap and baggy khakis. He'll take a forward press, make that powerful abbreviated move down and through the ball that will start at the right bunker and end up a foot from the hole. Lehman doesn't even bother to putt it. Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah. Headed to Minnesota.
Because you do IronMan Triathlons every weekend and enjoy playing three straight days of 36 holes, why not pop on over to StoneRidge ($100 for all day play) for your afternoon 18. StoneRidge is another links-style, fescue lined expanse of golf. A great value. The Hooky and Hall Pass rates are a play all day fee including cart. "If you have the ability to skip a day of work or are given permission on the weekend to play all day then take advantage of this!!" the site reads. Well put. The Bobby Weed designed course is worth an all-day stay, and GolfWeek Magazine as the #1 public access golf course in the Twin Cities. Which is nice.
On the final day, point the compass north and you'll feel like you've got an entire golf course to yourself. Never have I felt so blissfully alone then during a round at Quarry at Giant's Ridge ($72 for the Legend or Quarry through May 25). Nearly every hole on the back nine in particular is borderline breathtaking.
That should cover it. If you are starting in Minnesota, just reverse. Again, apologies to any course that's been omitted. But I guess you'll just have to get out there and play a few of them to prove me wrong.
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