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Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
August 16, 2017

The Wilderness At Fortune Bay - Believe The Hyperbole
Fortune Bay Lodging and Golf
+ click to enlarge
Fortune Bay Lodging and Golf
Wilderness at Fortune Bay #18 Photo Courtesy Peter Wong Photography
+ click to enlarge
Wilderness at Fortune Bay #18 Photo Courtesy Peter Wong Photography
By E. Nolan


It's been a big year for The Wilderness at Fortune Bay. And the golf season hasn't even started yet. In January, the Golf News Network published a "50 Best Public Courses in America" list promoting The Wilderness in the same lofty company as the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Bandon Dunes, Whistling Straits and, yes, even Pebble Beach. In all fairness, given the value of the comprehensive experience at The Wilderness, such comparative acclaim wasn't much of a surprise. If you've played The Wilderness, you know how vastly underrated it is as a course, and how exceptional the staff and service are from door-to-door. The BIG surprise, to most, is that The Wilderness was ranked #1 on that Top 50 list. That remarkable assertion begs the question: No matter how much you love The Wilderness, does it honestly, legitimately, stack up to Pebble Beach and the other best courses in the country?

In a single word: Yes.

In a thousand more words... neither "yes" nor "no" tells the whole story. Look up any national Top 100 list and count how many listed courses have year-round golf. (Hint: Most of them.) It's no stretch to contend that a 12-month golf season would not only yield Minnesota more respect as a great golf state, but give us at least five Top 100 courses on every one of those lists. (When life gives you lemons...) Rest assured, no course in the Midwest is more aware of the region's climatic "short-changing" than The Wilderness. Typically among the last courses to open and the first to close each year, we only get seven full months of tee times to fight over there, and fight over those tee times we absolutely do... because (MANY agree with the Golf News Network that) the most glorious months of golf at The Wilderness easily rival the best months of golf anywhere else.

"It's not hyperbole if it's true." I've lived both sides of that premise. As a golfer, when paying every penny of every golf round played, I typically saved for, and splurged on, the courses golf writers and raters (I respected most) described as "the greatest." More often than not, the following equations rang true: 1. The more hyperbolic the description, the less true it was to the actual experience, and 2. Photoshop tells a lot of lies. As a golf writer, I've saved (and splurged) my hyperbolic references for only the most deserving of courses. Places like The Wilderness at Fortune Bay. (Where Photoshop is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.)

Jeffrey Brauer (the same guy who designed both courses at Giants Ridge - only 25 miles from The Wilderness) packed his topsy-turvy creation near Tower with some of the most fun greens in America, and (at just over 200 miles north of the Twin Cities) his playground merits all the hype - never disappointing the droves that drop in to drive their golf balls around. Take eighteen minutes to visit The Wilderness's Facebook page and watch the Course Flyover Tour. If that doesn't get you pumped up for golf season, and incentivize you to spend another five minutes booking your Fortune Bay Stay & Play, check yourself for a pulse.

Whether you've played the course or merely watched the video, The Wilderness competes favorably in "drama" and "shot value" with most of the nation's best courses. Where most of those other courses can't compete with The Wilderness though, is in affordability. (The ONE benefit of Minnesota not having an ocean.) Comparative Note: You can spend FIVE nights at Fortune Bay and play EIGHT rounds at The Wilderness for what it costs to spend ONE night and play ONE round at either Pebble or The Straits. (THAT is the definition of "high value.")

Let's look at the experience another way - in a more professional, Golf Rater, light. (The Wilderness makes a perfect measuring stick for comparing all other courses!) Rate every hole at your favorite course on a scale of 1 to 10. (Consider beauty, design, fun and playability for all 18 Holes = 180 Points) Rate the 19th Hole out of 10 more points (0 if the course doesn't have one) and rate the Hospitality/Service out of 10 as well, for a total score of 200 points. (Do this for every course you play for head-to-head comparisons.) Now "loop" the Wilderness with me. The opening hole, a robust par-5 is one of the two best opening holes in Minnesota. (A solid 10.) The next four holes are loaded with beauty, especially the Signature Par 3 third (9, 10, 9, 10) with the fifth hole ending on a phenomenal Biarritz green. Let's say you're in a bad mood and you give Hole 6 a 6, you'll struggle (even in your worst mood) to give anything less than 29 points for the terrific next three. (Front Nine: 83 points.)

The back nine begins by splitting what I call the "Fortune Foothills", then climbs up Casino Mountain and presents a knee-knocking shot at Bauer Island on 12. (24/30 probably) The stunning 13th hole cuts over a corner of (and runs along) Lake Vermillion, then doubles back splendidly, ever within eye and earshot of the loons on the lake. (10, 10) Hole 15 works its way through the wetlands, 16 climbs another Minnesota mountain-yielding one of the coolest split-fairway approaches from the right side. (7, 8 or flipped) And then you get a great Par 3 and a stellar finisher beside the pond on 18. (8, 10... That's 77 points on the back.) Chef Quaid, at the 19th Hole - The Wilderness Grill - could easily be Minnesota's most underrated culinary captain, (best Wild Duck Rice Soup on the planet) while the Food & Beverage staff rock the indoor and outdoor dining arenas. All told, the 19th Hole is a Perfect 10 in food, views and ambiance, and under the superb direction of General Manager Tom Beaudry, the Hospitality at The Wilderness does KemperSports Management proud, by being (if not the best in state) then the Top 3 in overall service (another 10). Add the numbers together and The Wilderness scores around a 180/200. Put that hole-for-hole with any other course you've played and you'll get a true (and accurate) appreciation for how great The Wilderness really is. (And it won't surprise you if Pebble, Whistling Straits and Sawgrass score lower!)

Every great Stay & Play has a Great Stay or a Great Play. The Greatest have BOTH. Fortune Bay is a fun-filled host for all ages, with a pool, arcade, lake-and-golf-view rooms and a sprawling casino floor loaded with 800 constantly updated gaming machines and various stake-levels of card tables. Remotely situated on the shimmering shores of Lake Vermillion's 40,000-acre splash-around-grounds, the 173-room resort features several restaurant options for guests. Take your time at the Sunset Steakhouse, get your fill at the Tamarack Buffet, grab a quick bite at the Gold Mine Grill or slide up to the North Star Bar for a drink.

There's no hyperbole in calling The Wilderness at Fortune Bay great, your favorite, or even "Best in State," if that's how you really feel. It may be personal opinion, but that doesn't make it anything less than fact.






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