Gopher Hills Golf Course – Sweet River Valley High
By E. Nolan
You can’t call Cannon Falls “under the radar.” Thousands of people drive through it every day – commuters and avid golfers both. You’re only 35 miles to St. Paul and only 55 miles to Rochester. It’s on the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota radar. Smack dab in the middle of the action.
Similarly, you can’t call Gopher Hills Golf Course “unheralded.” Check out the feedback they get on GolfAdvisor.com. We have Top 10 ranked courses in Minnesota that don’t get the amount of love Gopher Hills gets. 76 people have taken the time to rate the course 4 or 5 stars. Do you know how hard it is to get a single person to review anything these days (unless they have a complaint with the product)? It’s hard. So… kudos to Gopher Hills for their rabid and rapidly growing fan base. Maybe you’re one of them. Or maybe you’ve never been there. If not, what’s keeping you? Maybe you’re wondering, “What’s the big deal about Gopher Hills anyway?” (You’ve come to the right place.)
First of all, the facility houses 27 holes of golf, and the executive nine is loved nearly as much as the championship 18. The original nine – “The Glen” – (now holes 10-18 incidentally) was built by Dr. Gordon Emerson (in 1995) and was complemented four years later (in 1999) by another full nine – “The Heath” – (and the executive nine) by Garrett Gill. “It’s a bit of a misnomer to say that we’re IN Cannon Falls,” Head Golf Professional, Ben Bauer, states. “There’s no city noise here. It’s peaceful. We’re a bit out in the country, and our panoramic landscape is natural and… positively remarkable. It’s commonplace for us to welcome pleasantly surprised faces. Gopher Hills is honestly a beautiful place to play golf.”
Gopher Hills Golf Course’s owner also owns two other courses – Clifton Highlands and Red Wing Golf Course. I state that for those of you who have played ANY of them so that you know they all have a similar focus on premium conditioning and personal service. Each course is unique, of course, and what is most unique about Gopher Hills is the diversity within their broad design. One of the nines could be described as a “Traditional” nine (parkland, in other words), another nine is regarded more as a links-style nine, and then there’s the shorter, but just as fun executive nine. “I think that diversity is what draws so many new players in each year,” Ben says. “So many will come over just to play nine and then see the other tee boxes and some of the other great holes out there and add another nine. Next thing you know they have a 27-hole day.” (He laughs, but he’s not joking.) He knows people appreciate the options.
The championship course isn’t long – a Par 72 that tips out at 6,355 yards – but in general is a sufficient challenge: quite hilly, with some blind shots, water in play on a half-dozen holes, and plenty of uneven lies. Personally, as someone who can only hit one club straight (the putter), I consider the fairways to be pretty accommodating. The rough can be tough, but if you picked up golf hoping for smooth and easy you picked the wrong sport. The 18 holes that Garrett Gill added have a more European feel to them (absolutely LOVE the Par 5, 7th hole). They use the mounding strategically and have a few more score influencing characteristics like fescue grass and undulating greens. I appreciate how the course defends itself with so many different variables (elevated greens, sloped fronts and sides, ponds, doglegs, elevated tee boxes and more) and how little redundancy there is to the shots you have to take and make throughout your round. In fact, one of my favorite Emerson designs (ever) is the uphill 12th hole… although 18 is pretty great, too.
The new website gives you an aerial view and some small glimpses of the beauty and diversity of the round. I encourage you to check it out if for no other reason than to reinforce how different the holes look from one to the next. (Yes, that’s all on the same property!) And the best part… you can play 18 holes with cart on weekends in peak season for under $50.