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Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
August 16, 2017

Giants Ridge - Bigger Is Better
Giants Ridge Legend #17 by Paul Pluskwik
+ click to enlarge
Giants Ridge Legend #17 by Paul Pluskwik
Wacootah Grille at The Quarry Clubhouse overlooking Lake Mine
+ click to enlarge
Wacootah Grille at The Quarry Clubhouse overlooking Lake Mine
By E. Nolan


There are no other golf facilities in Minnesota with two championship courses worthy of being on "America's 100 Best Public Courses" list. Giants Ridge, with Legend and The Quarry, stands alone. That is a mountain of an achievement for two courses built around one of Minnesota's only mountains. It's worth noting that this golf haven converts into ski heaven when the snow falls, but while their slopes can't quite measure up to the best of Colorado, their twin courses absolutely measure up to the best pair of golf courses ANYWHERE.

Giants Ridge has golf architect Jeffrey Brauer to thank for that distinction. In an area famous for mining, it's possible that no man on the planet has moved more earth in Minnesota than Mr. Brauer. With The Wilderness at Fortune Bay and Superior National, Jeff Brauer has built (by my count) four of Minnesota's eight best courses, and all four of them are in the part of the state known as "Up North" - the topographical wonderland "above" Duluth.

I spent several days with Mr. Brauer in Texas in December, golfing another of his courses, watching the former Minnesota North Stars win, and discussing his quartet of Minnesota projects at length. Jeff told me about the originally planned layout for The Quarry - built entirely along the quarry cliffs. "It really would have been something special," he said. Instead, Jeff and The Quarry have had to settle not just for being Golfweek, Golf Magazine and Golf Digest's #1 ranked course in Minnesota, but a Top 25 public course in all of America. Darn. "It worked out," I said to Jeff, tongue in cheek. "It always does," he replied with a smile.

There's a lot of truth to that when you have his eye for detail and talent for design. The Quarry routing was able to squeeze in a few gorgeous water holes, but it's much more known for the rugged mountainous terrain it traverses. Loaded in dramatic views and shots, The Quarry is considered the more challenging of the two designs on property, and each nine is packed with pure, playing pleasure. The front counts two Par 5s among its "Signatures," (#2 and #5) with the stunning 2nd hole requiring about twenty prepositions to adequately describe the path down from the tee and back up to the distant green. The Par 3, 7th is a "rock star" with a lengthy stone-quarry carry to a crazy-cool green, and don't overlook the fun, funnel-down, "Pinched Nerve" 10th. The back nine doesn't stop delivering the goods. #10 and #11 are great, but many contend the short Par 4, 13th is The Quarry's single greatest hole - a natural beast made beautiful by its risk/reward nature. My personal favorite hole on The Quarry is the Par 3, 17th. It's so serene by that pond, and the shot value from the tee is so great... it's the perfect way to (almost) end any round.

The perfect way to end a round at The Quarry is actually in the clubhouse at the Wacootah Grille. The Wacootah Grille serves plenty of fresh and flavorful fares, and with the stunning panoramic views provided on the waterside patio it is a common hangout for anyone coming off of either Giants Ridge course.

Speaking of the "other" Giants Ridge course. I'm in the minority of loving it more than The Quarry, but that was no surprise to Mr. Brauer, who understands my affinity for Legend's stunning holes on the water, especially #17 - listed by GolfGetaways as one of America's 101 Most Beautiful Golf Holes. It is not descriptively possible to cover the sublime serenity of Legend's 17, except to say that there is no more sensational setting on the Minnesota golf landscape than that tee box on Sabin Lake. The rest of the course merits similar praise for its drama. Each nine triggers out from the clubhouse like the barrels of a shotgun - firing over a canyon aimed at tricky greens. The second hole on each side has a water carry, #11 being slightly more stunning and suspenseful. The third hole is famous for its Giant "footprint" bunker. (Hit out of it once just for fun!) And the front nine ends with a downhill ride then drive over another beautiful pond. Veteran players make the turn looking forward to Legend's 17 (like players at TPC Sawgrass anticipate the island green), but they also know there are more great holes before you get there (like #13 and #15). Legend is a tough course to walk, when you factor in hole transitions like the ones from 12 to 13 and 16 to 17, but I've done it and loved it. It's easy to see how Minnesota-based author Ever N. Hayes was inspired to write his golf novel "The Magician" here. Legend at Giants Ridge is worthy of many effusive pages of praise - a truly stunning place.

State owned and meticulously operated, Giants Ridge works with many great lodging facilities around the area. I've spoken highly of many of them in the past, but (if you've never heard of it before) I'd like to introduce you to the Green Gate Guesthouses - a unique, 13-acre development across the street from The Quarry. Masterful craftsman and mechanical engineer, Shawn Callahan, has built three spectacular lodges on his property with another marvelous "maison" on the way. (French for "unbelievable home"... I think.) You can stay in a tiny home, The 1890's modeled Log Cabin, or in an old-fashioned Farmhouse, a Barn and/or (pretty soon) in a Mining House... all built by hand, on-site. There can't be many golf lodging options like this on earth, and given it's purposeful placement back from the road, you can experience some of the most stellar, clear, and star-filled skies in comfortable Adirondack chairs around fire pits at the "Three Gs," and take pictures of places everyone you know will wish they could stay. Unfortunately, Shawn's homes can't (yet) accommodate everyone. Fortunately, Giants Ridge has other well-connected options up the street. The Lodge is on the Legend course property, there's a 4-bedroom Residence Club, and The Villas between the two golf courses offer an assortment of other "Stay" options. So many different levels of comfort just steps from so many different levels of great golf...really elevates Giants Ridge above most in-state competitors as a resort.

There's more to do than just golf at Giants Ridge. Many people bring their bikes up to explore the Mesabi Trail. There's great fishing in the lakes and rivers, motorcycle and ATV paths to explore and plenty of wildlife watching. You feel like you're miles away from civilization up here. Miles, as in a LONG way.

But, you're also only MILES away in the short term as well - less than 5 miles from the family-fun town of Biwabik. Biwabik, less than 200 miles north of the Twin Cities, has been richly blessed for centuries. The mining community made famous for producing iron, now draws its wealth from people swinging irons. That's called going "full circle." And, speaking of full circles... the drive back and forth to Giants Ridge (from anywhere in Minnesota) is so beautiful that trip times seem to fly, especially when you know what you'll find up there and when you can't wait to tell everyone else about it back home.






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