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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Travel Club
August 22, 2017

Bully Pulpit - Dakota Drama
By E. Nolan


By definition, a Bully Pulpit is a sufficiently conspicuous position that provides an opportunity to speak out and be listened to.

I would contend that the North Dakota Badlands make for a pretty conspicuous position, and the golf course built in, on and around those massive chiseled landforms definitely speaks out in waves of wow - through many a player's mid and post-round superlatives.

The term "bully pulpit" originated from the lips of President Theodore Roosevelt, but he wasn't talking about violence or aggression - not "bully" as we know it today. Instead he used it as an adjective for wonder and power.

I don't think course architect Dr. Michael Hurdzan cared which way Teddy meant it, or even how the golfer would take it. He knew the course was going to deliver in equal parts both ways - it will push you around and rough you up, but it will also leave you slack-jawed and awestruck. It'll make you get back in line for another round.

Bully Pulpit speaks softly then carries a big kick. It starts out slow then suddenly accelerates, leaving your heart racing and ears ringing. It leads you on, then slaps you. Your easy shots become hazardous, basic reads become perplexing, and good bounces... well, they start to go the other way. It's designed the way a course should be, with plenty of sneak previews and foreshadowing but enough subtlety and surprise throughout to keep you grounded in the present - focused on each tricky hole. Hurdzan's brilliant false front greens and concealed hazards make you pay attention every swing of the way, and those holes along the river... well they have a captivating beauty all of their own.

There's no more truthful way to say this... I wish Bully Pulpit wasn't so far away. At 550 miles from the Twin Cities, it's a hike. But don't take that - IN ANY WAY - to suggest that it's too far... that it's not worth every mile; because any Stay & Play in Medora, North Dakota will make your day (if not your whole summer). I look forward to each overnight at the Rough Riders Hotel downtown, with lunch at TR's Tavern and dessert at Daarthe's Eats & Treats. I enjoyed the guided Jeep cruise through Teddy Roosevelt National Park alongside all the wild buffalo, the great elevated and riverside trails with Badland vistas all around. I still grill out at home to memories of the Pitchfork Fondue - an unparalleled picnic on a cliff - picturing my backyard full of grazing bison instead of neighborhood cats, and those stunning sunsets over rock walls instead of these city lights over walls of houses.

The memories extend well beyond food, golf, and lodging. I remember watching my son up on stage at the world famous Medora Musical (which all kids are invited to participate) - a star among future stars under the brilliant stars on the most crystal clear of nights. These are the mental snapshots of a trip to remember - a North Dakota highlight reel that you can easily recreate your own way. These are also all parts of the Bully Pulpit experience... because you can't come to Bully Pulpit and not experience Medora... and you should NEVER come to Medora without experiencing Bully Pulpit.

Bully Pulpit earns its distinction as a Top 100 public access American course if for no other reason than you've probably never played anything like its back nine. I think of it in association with courses like Quivira (Cabo San Lucas), Wolf Creek (Mesquite, NV) and Royal Isabella (Puerto Rico) for all their unique drama. The closest thing we have to Bully Pulpit in Minnesota is the Quarry at Giants Ridge - another wild Top 100 U.S. course. So consider that for their "company" and let that pique your curiosity.

The course weaves through woods and meadows and along the pretty Little Missouri River. Then it climbs sharply up into the rugged Badlands and puts you on back to back precarious perches for unforgettable tee shots at the Par 3 - ravine carry - 15th hole and the plummeting 16th. If my wife didn't pinch so hard I'd have asked her to pinch me, because those shots just didn't seem real. There's an old school "Lone Ranger" feel to them - a Hollywood Western setting with 6-irons for weapons instead of six-shooters. There's nothing like those two holes anywhere else in the Midwest. In fact, GolfGetaways Magazine went so far as to rank the 15th hole as one of their "Top 101" holes in America in 2014. Yes, it's that impressive. They both are. The whole course is.

Look, few courses make National Ranking Lists by accident or mistake. Each of them is defined by something. TPC Sawgrass has the famed island green 17th, Pebble Beach has the Pacific Ocean, the Wilderness at Fortune Bay has the best Wild Duck Rice Soup in the world, and Bully Pulpit has the Badlands. I'm tired of people saying what a course would or wouldn't be without their signature feature(s). I'd much rather appreciate each of them for what they have... and all they are. Bully Pulpit is far more than just a few great late holes.

Allow me to provide you with a few early highlights. The first hole is a perfect example of Dr. Hurdzan expertise at subtle deception. From the fairway the bunkers that appear to be guarding the green actually aren't. There's room behind them with a false front enticing you to come up way short. The third hole is a dogleg right that begs you to go way left. It wants you to hit driver, but ironically, the further you hit the ball the further you end up from the green - or at least from a good shot at it. And then there are my two favorite holes on the front - the beast of a Par 5 called "Little Mo" with a split fairway and riverside setting, and the Par 3 8th hole called "Cedars" that has green approaches from two completely different angles requiring totally unique strategies. One last highlight hole before you ascend into North Dakota's grand canyons is actually many a golfer's favorite - the super short Par 4, 13th hole (barely 300 from the tips). Downwind it's a legitimate eagle hole. I have one of my six there.

The point I'm trying to make is simple. Don't underestimate this course. And certainly don't underestimate the comprehensive value of a few days and nights in western North Dakota. You only need to experience Medora once to know it lives up to all the hype - and to be hyped up for a return trip.

Bottom line: At Bully Pulpit, aside from great service, spectacular conditions, stunning beauty and a fantastic hometown, you get to spend four glorious hours golfing in a National Park. Wonderful... powerful... Bully.






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