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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Local Golf
August 17, 2017

From Grandpa To Gunga The Road To Reflection Goes Through Rome
The group at Sand Valley
+ click to enlarge
The group at Sand Valley
+ click to enlarge
By Steven Pease

Growing up, no one in my family golfed.

I didn't grow up playing the hand-clipped fairways of a prestigious country club, or under the tutelage of a Top 100 teacher. And perhaps my golf game reflects that.

Instead, my first formative golf lessons were gleaned from a burly, somewhat gruff man of few words - my great grandpa Overturf. Steven Overturf (great golf name) was orphaned at an early age. He bounced from home to home as a young man, eventually serving as a machinist's mate on the frigate U.S.S. Klondike during World War II. He was an entrepreneur - owning a Schwinn bicycle shop in Ottumwa, IA for decades. At some point between watching Cubs games from a well-worn leather La-Z-Boy, he took up the greatest game ever played.

His weekly nine hole round was an opportunity for the big man to get out on the local muni with my great grandma Fanchen. I was lucky to get to know my great grandpa. And while it's been 12 years since he passed away - I learned a lot in a short amount of time by just watching the way he guided his pushcart from hole to hole.

* Don't drag your golf spikes on the greens
* Be ready to play your shot
* Pay attention to the break of the green even as you're walking up
* If you can putt or chip, don't be afraid to bump it in there

He truly caught the golf bug - becoming a club-maker and tinkerer - restoring sets my grandma would find at yard sales, and giving full sets away to junior golfers for next to nothing. I love regripping my own clubs, and hope to do more of what he did - and grow the game by sharing its mystical qualities and solid values with my own kids, and others who could use a helping hand and a starter set of clubs.

'Gunga Gulunga, Again'

After five of days riding nearly 850 miles of west-central Wisconsin and Minnesota on "The Gunga Gulunga" - unanimously voted by 7 native Minnesotans (and one ex-pat) as one of the coolest 93-hole golf trips ever - it's clear that I have a bit of a golf addiction. And that's a beautiful thing.

I'm currently sitting in a hotel lobby waiting for a Greyhound bus to finally take me back home to my beautiful family in Milwaukee. In the interim, I'm watching the American Family Senior Championship regretting not sneaking out for 9 holes at Trapper's Turn down the road in Wisconsin Dells. Instead, I've decided to record a few thoughts, all of the feelings, and share almost none of the photos taken during the 7th Annual Gunga.

Day 1: Travel way too much. Drink "a little". After doing my best Jordan Spieth Coca-Cola commercial impersonation, I ended a very long day up $30 in singles thanks to cleaning up in an RV cab putt-putt competition.

Day 2: Sand Valley. We booked two foursomes for a sneak preview ($70 for 14 holes in total) at this yet-to-be-completed course set on 1,500 acres of ancient, sandy dunes in the middle of nowhere (Rome, WI).

Upon entrance, it has the feel of a boomtown - with wooden shacks being hammered into place and massive earthmovers taking the right of way. We gawked at workers crafting everything from fairways, bunkers and greens to cottages and even the clubhouse. The Martian-like dunes shone under Rome's cobalt skies, and there were more than a few moments where the heavens opened up and you understand why this course is (or will be) something special. We were among "the first 1,700 or so" to traverse the Coore & Crenshaw design, according to staff. And on more than one hole we "chose our own adventure" due to the (perhaps purposeful) lack of tee markers.

I drove the 1st green from the middle tees (only to summarily power the eagle putt by and record my first "three-putt pumper" of the trip). On the 5th tee, the first man up in our group took a few practice swings under darkened skies only to have the sun illuminate the tee box and fairway just as he was about to swing. It was like the first scene of a good golf movie. And a member of my foursome made the first eagle on the course's 7th hole.

We had a chance to chat with the course's project manager Michael Keiser, Jr., who was equipped with a black persimmon Cobra Baffler 8-wood as he made his way around the property. The tanned, tall and accommodating developer set the tone for his staff and crew - and was as positive, welcoming and attentive as you can hope for. Once the first 18 are fully playable in September 2016, and the first of two courses opens to the public in 2017, it's the sustainable developer and the course's 200 investors' hope that Sand Valley becomes the Bandon Dunes of the Midwest - an ideal destination for the discerning buddy golf trip crowd.

Keiser's request of us was to get the word out to Minneapolis and Minnesota about this hidden, Dairyland oasis. No need, Mike. While the buzz has begun, the course will soon clearly speak for itself.

Day 3: Castle Course at Northern Bay. After dumping what was tantamount to a few gallons of sand out of my golf shoes, we made the 25-minute drive to Northern Bay Resort. Set on the Wisconsin River, the Northern Bay's handful of tribute holes, severely (*cough* borderline illegal *cough*) sloping greens and expansive fairways can be frustrating, but allow for copious birdie (and quadruple bogey) opportunities.

Most viewed the Castle Course's receptive greens and front pins as a nice respite from the thinking man's course the day before. Unlike Sand Valley's bump and run requirements, the Castle Course was happy to accommodate rainmaking wedges and sprayed drives under overcast skies. The "tribute holes" from Augusta's 16th (not sure the 16th has a 16-degree downward slope), to Firestone's monstrous 16th (664 yards and there's still no safe place to even lay up!), made the course - at the very least - interesting and fun.

It was here that everyone played their best, and likely drank the most - even if already heightened tolerances provided some needed equilibrium. The 18th was a near-exact replica of Bay Hill Country Club's closing hole. 200 yards of placid water run right up to the rocks that lined the front right of dogleg green, providing a stadium-type atmosphere that allowed the already finished foursome to cheer and jeer as we holed out and, yes, collected more cold, hard cash.

We spent the evening cooking steaks and pizza, giving golf claps to foursomes putting out on the second green outside our condo digs, talking USGA and Zika, and hanging at a townie bar - exactly the way you'd expect a crew of dads to behave before a pre-dawn wake-up call and 36 holes of golf, right?

Day 4: Lawsonia 'Links' and 'Woodlands'. Of all of the courses, Lawsonia provided the biggest challenge. We started the morning off with an hour-plus drive to the rural, mid-state gem known as "Lawsonia". The original Links course (designed in 1930 by Head Gugna "Adam"'s college-roommate's great-great-grandfather, William Langford) was more than some could handle. Many of the Links' green complexes began at ground level and rose over six feet as you made your way into them. The punchbowl greens gave fits and tantrums to even 4 handicaps. And sadly, 4 putts were not out of the question. Members of the Gunga who were previously infallible on the greens unlocked the "meltdown badge" and put up crooked numbers, matching their crooked frowns.

Still, the fescue-lined Links was my favorite track of the trip. A nearly holed gap wedge on the 17th earned me more dispensable cash from the crew, and helped me finish with a respectable 89 on our first 18.

As the mercury rose, we played the Woodlands course, with its stately tree-lined fairways, cavernous canyons and forced carries wasn't exactly a pushover, either. Alas, once the back 9 rolled around you could tell the Tanqueray and Tonics were finally catching up with us after 85 holes or so. (This was personified, perhaps, by the actions of the single non-dad of the group, who at one point lost his shirt and posed for a series of semi-salacious, but decidedly classy, photos). But that's a story for another time.

In the end, "The Lloyd" - the trusty 43-foot, first-class RV that ushered us through America's two greatest states - headed west to return to its suburban Twin Cities stable. As I watched the crew pull onto 94 West, I was left with the fleeting feeling of victory (even if I did finish T4). Friendships were forged. Embarrassing stories were traded. Every conceivable Caddyshack line was quipped at the perfect time. And farmer tans were all but painted on. This band of rugged road warriors could gratefully tip our sweat-stained caps to the Golf Gods, and finally return to our families as happy, fulfilled golfers.

At least until we passed the next golf course. Then, undoubtedly, the Siren Song called again. Thank goodness for consistently spotty reception, or chances these Caddyshack conquistadors would still be cannonballing along the country roads of rural Wisconsin. I finished the trip longing to be a better dad; better friend; better person; better writer; better golfer. Just ... better.

Until next year, Gunga.

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