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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
June 23, 2017

Clifton Highlands - Point Of Views
Clifton Highlands #14
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Clifton Highlands #14
Clifton Highlands #18
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Clifton Highlands #18
By E. Nolan


Long before civilian drone technology had been used on golf courses, Clifton Highlands Golf Club had the capability of taking drone-height aerial photography (without anyone leaving the ground). In that sense, and a few others I've since discovered, you could say they were "avant garde" - ahead of their time.

Clifton Highlands has a course that surrounds a plateau with another course built on top of it. It's that elevated platform that gives unique aerial perspectives to photographers, and presents St. Croix River golfers with a most unique place to play. Suffice it to say, there is no course like the Short Course at Clifton Highlands in either Minnesota or Wisconsin. That "Little Course on the Plateau," that I've affectionately labeled "Nine of a Kind" over the years, is a 9-hole par 3 course that requires a Tram Ride to reach the first tee, and ends with a climactic 150 foot plunge to the 9th green. It's a cool, well-kept, fast and fun way to "Play Nine" and (with Clifton Highlands being part of the 3-Course River Valley Golf Trail) fits perfectly into The Trail's Mission Statement of: "Exceeding Expectations Inside and Out."

Exceeding Expectations. You're certainly not prepared for what you find at Clifton Highlands - even beyond that par 3 course. Ideally situated on a lush slice of St. Croix River Valley land near Prescott, Wisconsin (and Hastings, Minnesota) only minutes from the suburban roots of the Twin Cities, Clifton Highlands is close enough to everything, yet remote enough to escape the chaos. With their Highlands Grill and 27 holes of great golf, they are an easy getaway with plenty to provide in terms of pleasure.

Given my hectic global travel schedule, it's been years since I've been to Clifton Highlands, but I know ownership well and appreciate their passionate involvement in making patrons happy. General Manager, Ryan Timm, insists the conditioning of the course has never been better (something I knew they were really focusing on the past few years), and I already thought it was pretty good. Exceeding Expectations. Publisher of Tee Times Magazine, Steve Wetzler, says, "It's really a fun course, different from everything else in the area, and that par 3 course is a great place for golf parties."

That's right, you can reserve the park-like setting of the "Little Course on the Plateau," with its 3 sets of tees, 8 bunkers, 675 yard to 1,100 yard range, two water holes, and wonderful vistas, for a low cost golf event of up to 64 people, and even get lunch and a drink to go along. The championship course is obviously ideal for hosting LARGE group events, with food provided by the Highlands Grill, but how many other places provide a small course for area groups to play on? Very few, if any. Exceeding Expectations.

Clifton Highlands averages over 30,000 rounds of play annually, so this place isn't exactly a secret. A favorite to area golfers for over 30 years, the championship routing was built by Dr. Gordon Emerson, who also assisted good friend Garret Gill in building "The Little Course" (in 2001). Dr. Emerson is famous for his classic, conservationist style - letting the land dictate his layout. That pays off great at a place as topographically gifted as Clifton Highlands, with its diverse arrangement of elevation changes. It's worth noting that Clifton Highlands features an expansive driving range and practice green, a well-stocked pro shop, and plenty of tasty selections at the Highlands Grill, where the staff "exceeds expectations" in many valuable capacities. "Service should always be THE highlight," Mr. Timm says, "even at a place like this with so many other highlights."

Speaking of highlights, the front nine at Clifton Highlands has numerous water features that can come into play. There are great golf shots at a number of holes, like the par 3, 2nd, and what many contend are their favorite holes - the par 3, 7th, beside the pond, and the long, dogleg left par 5, 9th, with its defensive bunkers. The back nine has more aquatic draws, including my favorite hole on the course, #10 (with its tight approach to a green pinched by water). Everyone else seems to prefer the par 3, 16th, which (if you read this entire description) tells you that Clifton Highland's ("Little Course" included) is really lauded for its Par 3 Collection.

Another highlight, has more to do with Staying than Playing. The three courses of the River Valley Golf Trail (Clifton Highlands, Red Wing Golf Course, and Gopher Hills) offer Golf Packages featuring unlimited golf and lodging, starting at only $159/night (double occupancy). Check out Best Approach and GolfNow mobile app deals as well.






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