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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Fairways & Greens
November 19, 2017

Mississippi Dunes Golf Links - Redemption
Mississippi Dunes #3
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Mississippi Dunes #3
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By Seamus McGee

The unending refrain in Minnesota golf throughout last summer, and on through the fall, was "What in the heck is going on at Mississippi Dunes?" A humongous gallery of avid golfers moaned in hordes that "Doc has a bulldozer and end loader out there and has no idea what he's even doing." The oohs and aahhs from the throngs of spectators, most of which were negative by nature, mistakenly peeked past all of the positives that an extensive course renovation would offer to them.

Flash past the piles of shifting sand and caverns and canyons dug out of the dirt, and move on into a beautiful view from the banks of the Mississippi River in February of 2017. This is when "the Sage of the Dunes," Mississippi Dunes Golf Links designer and owner, Dr. William Doebler, decided to launch an unbelievable Membership offer to promote the renovations that had taken place and were starting to take shape beneath the snow drifts and ice that a Minnesota winter always brings. Doc's Membership program was intended to give golfers a glimpse of what is possible if someone has vision and knowledge and passion, and a sixth sense of steely resolve.

The main thing golfers wanted to know, though, was if the deal that Doc put forth was generous, or insane for them to buy (or him to offer). The answer is no on either accord. It was actually an act of goodwill, with the intent being for the links rejuvenate herself and revive "her" fighting spirit. And, golfers have already seen the start of something special rising up from the sandy soil and fine fescue that was planted twenty-two years ago. Doebler, the steadfast disciple of Dr. Alister MacKenzie has, in fact, begun to restore order to the most unique golfing experience in the state of Minnesota. Truthfully, he's making all things new.

Now that a healthy Member base has emerged, and the first phase of renovations is complete, Doc's design decisions with the Dunes are definitely demonstrating dashes of brilliance. And those same naysayers, whom simply wished for their old mighty Mississippi Dunes to return, are beginning to fall in love all over again. Redemption.

The reason for the changes is actually a lot simpler than most golfers suspected. All that was visible in 2016 was a bulldozer ripping up areas they used to hit into and would have to re-tee with a penalty. "The majority of the changes have been for aesthetic purposes, such as growing healthier turf via airflow and sunlight, and opening up vistas to enhance the views of big Mo," Doebler said while putting the finishing touches of irrigation on the new second green and third tee, which will open for play in August. "A lot of the work involved removing Box Elders, Sumac, and Buckthorn from areas where bad shots were not only penalized, but lost balls occurred. The end result is going to be an easier course in many ways, but a more difficult one from another perspective."

So, let's review the then and now and dig out the positives that are in the pipeline at this prominent public facility with a vibrant membership and a healthy amount of believers. As previously stated, groves of trees were removed in droves, with the areas of impact being leveled and graded so that grass can grow. The intent is that the majority of those roughed in spots will be seeded with native fescue, so natural beauty will appear with a little photosynthesis. Playability will prosper as a result. Do not fret. It will happen. Doc always does what he says he's going to do.

The biggest cause for concern from golfers surrounding the 2016 reconstruction was that the beautiful par 3 ninth hole was being removed, as well as the straight away par 5 eleventh being split into two holes. This, however, was only temporary! To make up for one of the best par 3's in the state (#9) being out of play to be resurfaced, regraded, and renamed last summer, the green that had been in place on the 11th fairway for many years was used, converting the hole into a par 4 that played approximately 380 yards. A tee box was added to the right of it so that golfers could hit into the broken apart hole as a 150 yard par 3. Again, this was only temporary, and we have to hand it to Doc for having the vision to have put that green on the eleventh fairway in place many years ago for the very purpose of using it when he renovated the ninth (so there would still be 18 holes to play).

The ninth hole was made much more difficult with added bunkering and a mound on the back left portion of the green. Appropriately renamed Bastogne as a tribute to patriotism and World War II history. This hole will undergo minor aesthetic work early in the year (the big elm tree has just been removed to open up the views of the Mississippi), but will prove to be an even better hole than it was previously).

New Green And Tees
Dr. Alister MacKenzie's working partner, Mr. Robert Hunter, made this statement nearly one-hundred years ago: "All artificial hazards should be made to fit into the ground as if placed there by nature. To accomplish this is a great art. Indeed, when it is really done well, it is - I think it may truly be said - a fine art, worthy of the hand of a gifted sculptor."

Behind what we all know as the second green, a great little downhill playing par 3 with a humpback whale buried in the middle of it, there is a formidable addition taking place. A massive, undulating, diabolical green complex has been graded, irrigated, and seeded with a mixture of putter bent, as well as red + chewings + hard fescue. It will begin to grow in by early May and is perhaps the finest addition of the many being made at Mississippi Dunes. Remember that statement earlier about the positives that an extensive course renovation would offer golfers? We get to see this all taking place first-hand.

So, by August, the second hole will be played as a long par 3 that is going to allow the Mississippi River to take possession of many, many golf balls. Behind that new addition is a new tee box for the par 5 third hole, which will make what had become a fairly easy par 5 into a much more demanding test for even the best players. No real yardage is being added to the hole, but with the new tee box position being placed where hundreds of trees were removed, the angle makes what was a fairly straight hole into a dogleg. This decision makes a lot of sense and will be a ton of fun to play.

Additionally, a large eight foot high sand dune has been added in the right hand side of the third fairway, mainly to penalize golfers for hitting to the incorrect portion of the fairway. "If a golfer doesn't like that mound, tell them not to hit their ball there," was the explanation that Doc gave to a Member who was complaining about making another bogey last week. Eventually, the raw sand piles (also known as Dunes) will be seeded and grown into areas, which act as hazards. And, surrounding the entire hole from 300 yards in and behind the entire green, is a barricade of sand mounding, which was placed as such to offer a feeling of isolation that is a fresh look and lends good sightlines and serene sounds.

The Canyon On 8
Now, the most sensational and substantial additions being made are, in fact, to the par 5 hole - number eight. When Doc initially opened Mississippi Dunes in 1995, with the help of several astute architects, technology advances in golf equipment had not yet been in play. So, the golf hole was a legitimate par 5. Once Tiger came and the ball started sailing past the moon, the eighth hole became a par 4.5. So, the answer was, logically, to dig a 30 foot deep canyon that runs 155 yards all the way down the right hand side of the fairway. "That will teach people how to play a par 5," the designer told his disciple last week. There will be an exciting twist to the playability of that hole. But, that is a secret to be shared at another time.

So while the jury is still out, there shall be no doubt that the Golf Links are not only playable, but even more fun than they were to play before. Come see for yourself.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Article comment by: Charlie Jordan

I have been playing golf at Mississippi Dunes since the first full season it was opened.
It took a bit of time (maybe 8-10 rounds) before I began to really appreciate and enjoy the special quality of this golf course. It will beat you up in the beginning but as you get to know it's subtleties it becomes a course you love to play.
The design of this course is what has made it so special. In fact I enjoy it more than any other course I have played (including several private courses). I totally respect the doctor's ability to design a course and am really looking forward to the changes made and the way it will play in future.

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