StoneRidge Golf Club – Links Style Golf At Its Finest
By R.J. Smiley
Tee Times is once again doing a feature on “links style” golf courses in Minnesota for the July issue. This series is done to bring attention to The Open Championship, and to give golfers some idea of where they can experience the feeling and challenges of links style golf.
In truth, there are no golf courses in Minnesota that can duplicate the conditions that you will see as you watch The Open Championship at Muirfield, including those courses with “links” in their name. On any old Scottish links golf course (even with modern irrigation) the turf is extremely hard and fast, but when the R&A sets up the courses for The Open they become extremely fast. As the ever-present ocean breeze freshens, the game becomes defensive. In today’s pampered world of golf, lush grass and wall-to-wall irrigation, The Open Championship is as much a novelty as Wimbledon, with its grass tennis courts. The Open Championship is a tournament where great golfer’s shot making skills are tested to determine if they can adjust their game to fit the course and weather conditions – at that particular time – on that particular day. That is the reason that shot makers like Tom Watson have a chance at The Open.
With that said, StoneRidge Golf Club, the pride of owner Dave Kloeber, does have several holes that could be sprinkled onto any golf course in the rotation of The Open Championship courses. This story will reveal why, in the eye of this writer, the following holes at StoneRidge, if they were firmed-up and shaved down, would be a comfortable fit on the Scottish coast. Bobby Weed did a marvelous job designing the award winning StoneRidge Golf Club (GolfWeek’s #1 Public Access Course in the Metro). He created a “perfect fit” for the property and the turf conditions are always immaculate.
With the first hole (just a good little warm-up hole) behind you, the second at StoneRidge is a links golf course hole; if the hillside and trees to the right could be erased. With the prevailing southwesterly wind in your face, the beautiful but menacing bunkers along the left side must be avoided. Two solid strokes into the wind leave you a short iron to the slightly elevated green. The problem is that the green is shallow as you approach and even well struck shots sometimes spin back down the slope. If the turf is firm, Scottish style, the ideal shot would be a low running approach taking spin and wind out of the equation.
The third, another with the wind in your face, has the American version of a pot bunker gaping as you stand on the tee, forces golfers to play short of the bunker leaving a blind approach, or take the left line bringing the fescue on the left into play. The fourth has the feel of a real seaside course with the blind bunker to the right off the tee and the gnarly stuff everywhere for the second. The big fifth hole with a cornfield sized green, fescue lined fairway and wind in your face would fit perfectly in Scotland.
The Weed designed par 3’s at StoneRidge are all truly links design. On an ocean-side Scottish links course number seven would not have such a deep false front, however that hilltop par 3, with a mountain that separates the front half from the back half of the thin but very deep green, would be a great little hole on any links course.
The twelfth, minus the trees on the right is another classic links hole with a huge green and even larger bunker. The hole plays long, even with the wind; when it switches to the north, it plays like a par 5. Number fourteen might be the best pure golf hole on a course that is full of good holes. Transplant number fourteen, with its intimidating charm, to Scotland and it would soon be a fan favorite. Only good shots are rewarded and hitting the green does not assure a two-putt par. The high wind-swept green approaches links course speed where a ball can be putted off the surface.
Number sixteen has the real links look, imagine the adoring British gallery sitting comfortably on the hill behind the green. On most days sixteen is a three wood, even for big hitters, but getting a ball on the green, as big as a soccer field, but not nearly so smooth, is the easy part. If the sixteenth green were in Scotland it would have two pins.
That brings us to the most “picture perfect links hole” in Minnesota golf, number eighteen! This Weed creation, with fescue on both sides and nothing but a distant cloud for a target off the tee, can play driver, sand wedge some days and driver, 3-wood the next. The well-bunkered green is very narrow and the back half runs away on the approach. If a golf course was created with 18 number eighteens, no golfer would ever shoot even par. This is one great hole!
This story in no way takes away from the other wonderful holes at StoneRidge; these are just the links holes. StoneRidge is very much an upscale semi-private golf course with country club service. If you like to eat, the recently remodeled Danny’s Bar & Grill is unique with specials each night of the week and live entertainment on their award winning patio (voted St. Croix Valley’s Best Patio) Wednesday – Saturday throughout the summer. Be sure to read the upcoming August issue of Tee Times for a feature story on Danny’s.