The Jewel Golf Club – Southeast Minnesota’s Precious Property
By Steve Manthis
If you’ve ever made your way down to Lake Pepin in the Southeast part of the state, you’ve seen how scenic that drive is. Whether your route stays in Minnesota or crosses the border into Wisconsin doesn’t matter; it is beautiful either way. If you want to make that drive even better, then be sure to add a round of golf at The Jewel before you head back home. I did that very thing a few weeks ago, and I have to say the drive down there, as beautiful as it was, was the worst part of the trip.
Located in Lake City, MN (about a one hour drive from the MSP airport), The Jewel is definitely a gem among Minnesota golf courses. Designed by 3-time U.S. Open winner Hale Irwin, The Jewel was originally a private club, was sold in 2007, and is now a semi-private venue with about 110 members. While there has been a change in ownership, what hasn’t changed is the quality of the place. The bent grass fairways were fantastic and the greens were immaculate, very smooth and putts would hold their line.
Head professional Kent Blaschko says they try to offer customers the experience and quality of a private club, and I would have to agree with him. “People don’t know what we have here,” says Blaschko. I’ve been blessed by getting to play a lot of great golf courses in the state, but I had never been farther southeast than Red Wing, so I fell into that category Blaschko was talking about. I assured him that I would do my best in this article to help spread the word.
The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” fits so well for The Jewel that I suggest you take a look at their website (jewelgolfclub.com) to see for yourself. Like the website says, the course is indeed “nestled among the grand bluffs of the Mississippi River.” Never having been to this part of the state, I was struck by the overwhelming beauty. Bluffs several hundred feet high surrounded the course, and it was easy to get lost in the scenery. I played 9 holes by myself and the other 9 with two great guys (Reg and Jim) who went to high school together in Red Wing and get together a few times a year to play. Even Jim, who knows this part of the state very well, is impressed by the views. On the 9th tee, Jim did a 360 and said, “I still find myself doing a panorama just to take it all in.” I told him I agreed and found myself thinking of Jim’s comment when Blaschko insisted that The Jewel “rivals anything they have in the cities.”
It would be easy to go on and on about the individual holes, but let me start this way: The Jewel offers a great variety of holes. Irwin’s design provides you with many challenges and types of shots to play. While many holes on the front have a distinct links feel to them, many holes on the back nine are located among the trees. Some of my favorites were the reachable par five 8th hole (a slight dogleg right with an elevated green) and the long par three 15th where the putting surface is surrounded by lots of fairway which gives you many options if you miss the green with your tee shot. Ken Ellsworth, Director of Instruction at The Jewel, speaks of the course this way, “It’s like a European golf course. A lot of greens slope away from you, and several greens have mounds and lumps in them like you’d find on a links course.” Between holes and off to the sides, natural areas with fescue grasses provide another level of beauty. While Mother Nature can take credit for the landscape, Blaschko credits course superintendent Doug Mahal, who developed his craft at a few high profile clubs in the Twin Cities, with the conditions of the course. “He and his crew have been just phenomenal,” says Blaschko.
As for the setup of the course, the five sets of tees make it playable for anyone. The tips measure over 7,000 yards while the red tees come in at just under 5,000. My suggestion here is the same as at any course: choose the tees that are right for you. Don’t go back to the blues if you don’t have to as there are a few holes with long forced carries off the tee. A good mix for the average golfer would be to play the blue/white combo tees. That way you get a challenge on several holes, but don’t have to play some of the longer ones like #4. Trust me, you’ll appreciate the 50 fewer yards when you hit from the whites here.
As for other amenities they have, The Jewel has a spacious driving range and practice area. Ellsworth, who played on the PGA TOUR from 1968 to 1976 and is a former GolfDigest Top 100 instructor, offers lessons, clinics and all sorts of packages. “We can do things like lessons and lunch for a package price. We can also go out and play a few holes too.” Give him a call or check out his website (kenellsworthgolf.com) if you’re interested in working on your game while down there.
The restaurant at The Jewel has a new chef in Mike Walker, and Blaschko was complimentary to him as well, “He’s done a great job for us.” While I didn’t stick around for lunch, the place was filled with hungry diners. If I could have stuck around, I would have made sure I got to sit on the huge terrace that overlooks the 9th hole. Check out the menu on The Jewel’s website too.
Nevertheless, the real reason to go there is the golf. The course does get rented out occasionally for events, and there are some college tournaments slated this fall like the D3 Classic hosted by the women’s team at Carlton College and the NSIC Men’s Conference Championship, but, for the most part, the course has openings. You can reserve a tee time by going to The Jewel website. The stock rate is $88 for 18 holes with a cart (you’ll want a cart), but they do offer specials. One great deal is for seniors. Weekdays, the senior rate is $45 with a cart, an unbelievable price! Another great deal is called the Gas Card Promo where you can get a rate of $68 each for 18 holes, cart and a $20 gas card to pay for the trip down there as long as you have a foursome. No foursome? No deal. So go get three friends and plan the trip.
My trip down there was a blast, and any poor scores were my fault, not the course’s. Nonetheless, now that I know the beauty of The Jewel, I’m going to have to make sure I get down there every so often. With fall coming up, I bet the drive down there gets even better. GolfDigest calls The Jewel the third best course in the state. Go play it yourself and I’d be surprised if this gem of a course doesn’t immediately make it into your top one or two.