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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Local Golf
August 22, 2017

By R.J. Smiley

The sandhill cranes that we had seen earlier in the round put on a show for us as we came around the dogleg on the Refuge Golf Club.

Traveling from the Twin Cities to Denver and back to visit our son and his family, I-80 through Nebraska's heartland became our preferred route. I-80 follows the Platte River as it flows from the foothills of the Rockies across the sandy Nebraska prairie to hook up with the Missouri River just south of Omaha. The routing of I-80 roughly follows the same path as the first transcontinental railroad; linking the developed east coast with west coast through hostile and dangerous Indian country. That railroad was the last major achievement of President Abraham Lincoln, and was finished shortly after the civil war. The historic novel by William J. Ambrose, The Linking of America, is a great look back at this special time on the western frontier.

The Platte River, in central Nebraska, is a twice a year migration layover spot for hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes as they travel to their winter homes in the fall and the return to their nesting areas in the upper midwest in the spring. These large red-brown birds have a stork-like look on the ground, but fly beautifully in "V" formation like geese and ducks. On trips along the Platte, we often saw the sky blackened by endless Vs - cranes flying in formation from the river to the feeding grounds in farm fields on either side of the river, and back.

I have seen videos of these gangly and uncoordinated looking birds perform their artistic mating dance. The male of the species, the larger ones with the short red feathers that look like a flattop haircut, hop in slow motion with their wings spread around the smiling, but slightly embarrassed hens. But a few weeks ago, while playing The Refuge Golf Club with a good friend and his two sons, I witnessed this beautiful and artistic right of spring.

Earlier in the round, we started on the 10th tee that day, must have been number 13, one of the boys noticed some movement in the swampy area behind the green. The color was remarkably like that of a deer, after shedding the dull brown winter coat. At first glance I thought it was a deer - then a pair of deer. Then I got a good look. "Sandhill cranes," I said. "They seem almost tame. Must be living on the golf course near people."

We enjoyed the balance of the scenic holes on the back nine. After a potty break, we proceed to the front nine. On the second hole, the long hitting Joe hit a poor tee shot that did not make it to the corner. As we drove to the corner to see the layout around the turn of the dogleg and over the trees, there in the middle of the fairway was a scene directly from National Geographic or a Saturday morning kid's nature show.

The love-struck "cock-bird" was doing his best to get the undivided attention of the smaller hen as he pranced and flapped and spun around. The hen, who seemed to be batting her eyelashes in loving admiration, responded by making small suggestive moves.

When the two "love birds" noticed us the dance stopped, but the infatuation continued as they paced, in step, close together down the rough adjacent to the trees. The photo of the pair near the tree is the best shot we got with our iPhones.

It turned out that that was not the only good shot on the hole. Joe, the muscle man, without over swinging launched a 7-iron, estimated at 230 to 240 yards over the front left bunker within 7 feet of the pin. Joe did manage to get the ball down in two for a birdie and another skin.

The round of golf, on a perfect Minnesota summer day, was a joy, but somehow the scene that keeps replaying in the instant replay in my mind is the mating dance of the two love bird sandhill cranes.

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