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Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
August 16, 2017

Cragun's Resort And Hotel - Take Ten
By E. Nolan

When Midwest Living named Cragun's a "Top 10 Resort" they knew what their readers were looking for: an affordable, entertainment-packed getaway with gorgeous views, a serene setting and the potential to please kids, parents, hobbyists, professionals and everyone with an appetite of any nature. Generally speaking, this shore-hugging facility on Gull Lake meets all the criteria. Specifically speaking, Cragun's can expand on people's pleasures a whole lot further than that.

To fit the Midwest Living theme, here are TEN elaborated examples of what makes Cragun's so great:

Gull Lake: Of the seven Gull Lakes in Minnesota, Brainerd's (at 10,000 acres) is the biggest and most popular "birdbath." People flock here from across the continent to swim in the clear waters, fish for walleye, bass, and a variety of pan fish, and to cruise the bays and channels to their heart's content. Early risers enjoy the calm, barely rippling waters - the enchanting loon calls echoing across the lake - before the warmth of the sun brings out the other wildlife - the boaters and beachgoers. With most of Cragun's lodging options right on the water, you can easily enjoy the amazing natural beauty inside and out, 24/7, simply by opening your eyes.

Bobby's Legacy: Cragun's has two Robert Trent Jones, Jr. championship courses, and plenty of debate among "experts" as to which is better. Resort management insists the only way to determine your position is to play both. As usual, I go against the grain - I stand firmly in the Bobby's camp. When I line the courses up hole-by-hole in my head-to-head comparison Bobby's has nine holes I would deem "Signatures" and Dutch has eight. The best hole on the front of Bobby's Legacy is the "church pews" Par 4, 4th with a pond carry and uphill approach, and on the back I can't pick a favorite hole... I have three. I love the Par 4, 13th - a dogleg right, along the lake, and I think the most beautiful hole in Brainerd is the Par 4, 17th. (The views from that tee box are astonishing.) And then there's the 18th, a long winding Par 5 that leads you to Cragun's Bonus Hole - the Par 3, Gambler's Hole.

Dutch Legacy: Every golf publication in America prefers the Dutch Legacy course over Bobby's. Golf Digest even gave it 5-Stars. (An extremely rare distinction, mind you!) I'm not disputing the comprehensive quality of Dutch, not at all, and you won't either. If anything, you're truth may be this: Together the Legacy Courses give Cragun's the best 1-2 punch of golf courses among all the Brainerd Lakes area resorts. The best hole on Dutch's front nine is the Par 4, 3rd hole - a gorgeous downhill sweeper along the lake. And, in the interest of equal quantity promotion, the back has a stellar Par 3, 4, 5 stretch from 11 to 13 that is stock full of drama.

New Lodging Options For Golfers: There's something new to love at Cragun's every year. This year it's three new Legacy Lodges and four new Bayview Villas. The Bayview Villas replaced the Rustic Cabins on the south end of the resort, and are built to take your family get-togethers to a whole new level. Snuggly tucked into the hills overlooking the south beach, the three-level villas will have 7 bedrooms (12 beds) and 6.5 bathrooms each, comfortably sleeping up to 24 people. The three new Legacy Lodges are located off the main resort property and adjacent to the golf course. Each Golf Lodge has been outfitted to handle 8-12 golfers and includes amenities like game tables, full kitchens, great rooms, outside fire pits and grill areas all within easy cart access of the courses.

Recreation & Fitness Rooms: There's a playground on the beach that qualifies as a fitness center for children, but that's nothing compared to the 22,000 square foot indoor Sports Centre (basketball/tennis courts and a one-tenth mile track), connected to the Fitness Center (cardio and weight equipment) and Indoor Swimming Pool (with an arcade and large hospitality area). In other words, there's plenty of space to run and play indoors AND outdoors at Cragun's.

Footgolf: One of the hottest crazes sweeping golf nation is Footgolf. Depending on who you ask, there are approximately 25 Footgolf courses in Minnesota, and the one at Cragun's just might be the best of them. I've only experienced eight of the 25 so far, and there's no question Cragun's is the most topographically diverse. There's something to be said for a game that requires no equipment but shoes and a ball (you don't even need shoes, though it hurts less if you have them). My 11-year old daughter Brooklyn aced the first hole at Cragun's last year and said, "This game is easy, Dad." "Just like real golf," I replied. (Then laughed for about twenty minutes.)

Reversible 9-hole: The genius of Cragun's Footgolf course was made possible by the greater genius of their reversible 9-hole golf course. Yes, that means this course can be played both directions AND both ways (with your feet and your hands). The routing flips daily, and was inspired by the Old Course at St. Andrews (in Scotland) - originally built to be played backwards (like they drive their cars).

Irma's Kitchen: There are several great places to eat at Cragun's, but the newest and most acclaimed is Irma's Kitchen. "Gull Lake's Freshest Restaurant" dominated the 2016 Taste of the Lakes, winning "Best Entrée," "Best Dessert," and "People's Choice Award" for dinner. Chef Brian Diumenti uses the freshest locally grown ingredients to produce masterful creations like the Fried Sunfish & Wild Rice-Quinoa Burger and a Surf & Turf with steak and walleye. I must confess, I had two of their desserts last time - Irma's 1979 Rhubarb Crisp and the brownie-cookie "Brookster." (And I really wanted the Red Velvet Cake, too!) Next time. Note: I do have to give a shout out to the spectacular patio at the Legacy Grille - a phenomenal place to hang out post round.

Legacy Pavillion: Cragun's can make any wedding or party memorable on the beach, or they can fit you and 250 of your friends into their Pavillion at the Legacy Golf Courses. "The Brainerd Lakes Most Photogenic and Preferred Location" they claim, with flowers, waterfalls and a beautiful bridge providing an assortment of backdrops; if you've seen the setting, you can imagine how incredible any event could be if held there.

Unlimited Early Season Golf Package: I can give plenty of praise to the many phenomenal facilities at this resort, but any Cragun's experience is exponentially greater when you combine assets to save money. There are many Stay & Play packages to choose from (including one called "The Best $600 You Can Spend on Golf"), but right now Golfers can take advantage of a: 2-night stay in a Lakeview Fireplace Room with 3-days of unlimited golf on any of the Cragun's courses, 2-dinners at the Legacy Grille and 2-breakfasts (Now through May 4th for only $299 per person and only $20 more through May 18th.)

When you take all of this into consideration, there's little doubt why Midwest Living considered Cragun's a "10 Best Resort." The only question is how high on YOUR all-time vacation list a stay at Cragun's would rank. And, similar to the supremacy debate between the Legacy Courses... there's really only one way to find out for sure.

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