Ramsey County Golf – Diversity Of Greatness
By E. Nolan
Ramsey County, with just over half a MILLION residents, is the second most populated county in Minnesota. We’re going to assume that most of those people feel lucky to live there (the Twin Cities IS one of America’s most desirable metros) and that the reason they feel so lucky is because of all the outdoor amenities at their disposal. We’re talking amenities like beaches, an outdoor aquatic center, a Sports Dome, parks, trails and golf courses. FIVE diverse, municipally operated golf courses (and the Goodrich Golf Dome) spread across a broad beautiful region from Maplewood and White Bear Lake to Shoreview and (almost) Woodbury. These golf facilities present the game of golf at all of its stages, from practice facilities to shorter, family-friendly courses, all the way up to the “big time” at a course like Keller. These facilities are here for you… for the opportunistic – for those looking to begin, develop or enhance their game. (And clearly Ramsey County is loaded with capitalizers!) Well maintained and welcoming, with community investment and great partnerships with the PGA, the First Tee, and various other “grow the game” programs, this county makes it easy to find, afford and play the wonderful game of GOLF.
Keller Golf Course: Coming off of a massive renovation and reopening (in 2014) everyone from Golf Magazine to Golf Inc. has been singing its praises. The original design opened in 1929 and claims an unparalleled rich history among public golf courses in Minnesota. Keller has hosted numerous PGA events, on both the men’s and women’s sides, (including the 1932 and 1954 National PGA Championships) and has been a popular draw for weddings, banquets and private gatherings for years with a space that comfortably seats 300 and provides broad beautiful views of the golf course and Keller Lake.
The award-winning renovated course is an all-bentgrass, 18-hole, championship routing with a full-length range, target greens, practice bunkers and putting greens. The millions invested are most evident in the course’s fantastic greens, in the stellar four-hole stretch from #12 to #15, and in The Keller Grille (located in the NEW clubhouse), which makes for quite the popular hangout post-round, where guests can take in the surrounding glory of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. (Interesting fact: The water hazard on #12 irrigates the entire course!)
Goodrich Golf Course: Keller’s Maplewood neighbor (three miles east by car, a little less far on foot) is a well-maintained 18-hole (par 70) course perfectly suited for walkers and good iron players, with smooth, rolling hills, just the right amount of trees, a fantastic Par 3, 8th hole, and ample natural beauty. Goodrich is relatively short and tight, at only 6,200 yards from the back tees, with water in play on five holes and smaller greens than most municipal courses, but with speeds and slopes that make them rather fun to take on. It is also CLEARLY a local favorite. “It’s a great course to kick back and relax on,” one regular claimed, “the kind of gently moving traffic I don’t mind being stuck in for a few hours.”
The Ponds at Battle Creek: This isn’t the Maplewood of Goodrich, the Maplewood you see when you drive through. It’s the “what course is that” part of Maplewood you can really only observe in a fly over (on a plane). I’ve written several “Best 9-hole Courses in America” articles and The Ponds is always listed in my rankings. Super-fun, this extremely scenic romp through parkland and prairie runs around NINE ponds. The Ponds has three Par 5’s in its routing, to go along with four Par 3’s and a pair of challenging Par 4’s. Many lament that there isn’t a full-18 “championship course” on THIS property… and that’s a fair and complimentary complaint, but that doesn’t diminish the stellar of this nine. (Appreciate it for what it is!)
The Ponds uniquely goes beyond the play to PRACTICE with a fifty-station lighted driving range, an expansive player development area, and a strong partnership with the First Tee of the Twin Cities to develop the game from the roots up by providing area youth with lessons, camps, league-play and great value rounds all season long. If you’re looking to get your kids (or spouse) into the game, I’d strongly recommend bringing them here not just for the facilities, but also to make “new friends” with others taking on the same adventure. The Ponds and Goodrich both offer special weekend programs (mid-afternoon) where golfers 18 and under play FREE (up to three youth) with every ONE paid adult. (Everything a great municipal course should do and be!)
Manitou Ridge: Sprawled across one of the highest points in Ramsey County, in scenic White Bear Lake, is an 18-hole course (par 71) with another great practice facility and even more well attended game-development programs. Manitou Ridge offers many scenic city views throughout the round, three stunning holes at 3, 9 and 17, and a comfortable lounge to relax in (with a full bar) afterwards. The elevation changes give Manitou Ridge it’s defining character, taking you up and down both nines with dips and swings through various doglegs. Manitou is a test for all of your clubs, a high-quality test for all of your game. The maintenance staff on this property are either blessed with amazing talents or amazing turf (or both). This is a course that feels brand new every time you play it, another rarity for muni play. Kudos to the entire Manitou staff!
Island Lake Golf & Training Center: Proving that Ramsey County covers every dimension of the game, and does so in superior style, Island Lake is one of a kind in The Cities. Beautifully landscaped and loaded with ponds to play around, Island Lake in Shoreview not only features another fantastic developmental facility, but real golf (in their 9-hole executive layout) and miniature golf to get the littlest of putters swinging. Large greens surrounded by water and wildlife makes Island Lake a kid’s (young and old) favorite place to play in the metro. Island Lake Golf and Training Center is a fantastic and fun tune-up for other area rounds, and the mini-golf course certainly helps the putting. (Perhaps Rory McIlroy should spend more time here. Believe I said that last year, too!
Bottom Line: Having read through these two pages, you’ve hopefully noticed the synchronicity of the Ramsey County Parks and Recreation golf properties. Not only is the conditioning maintained at the highest level, but also these facilities offer so many rewarding programs and opportunities for people exploring all stages of the game. The onsite PGA professionals provide group lessons, private instruction and even can get you into coordinated league play. Whatever your level of interest, skill and/or time availability, there is a place for you at one (and all) of these facilities any and every day of the week.
Given its diversity of greatness, Ramsey County Parks and Recreation is the envy of many counties, with a portfolio of programs and facilities most urban areas can’t possibly provide. It’s now your turn to join the thousands of metro residents taking advantage of these amenities this Fall – reaping the invaluable rewards.