The Bridges of Winona – Seek and Ye Shall Find (Great Golf)
By E. Nolan
Every year I write an article for the Golf News Network on “Hidden Gems.” It shines the light on courses that everyone should be playing, but far too few people know about. I see it as a public service announcement: Free Advertising to 800,000 national readers. Great deal, right? Well… Interestingly enough, some courses object to the coverage – courses that couldn’t possibly afford that kind of PAID advertising. I’ve actually been asked by some places NOT to list them as a “hidden gem” because it’s insulting. LOL. Okay.
I LOVE hidden gems and I LOVE to write about them. Minnesota has a handful of them and when you get down to southeast Minnesota there’s a 9-hole gem in La Crescent, and an 18-hole one just up the Mississippi River in Winona – The Bridges. Fortunately, for Twin Cities golfers, Director of Golf Matt Rockwell has no qualms with being listed as a “hidden gem.” Why? “It’s pretty much the truth,” he says. “We’re not in the middle of a major metropolitan area… (though only 95 miles from the Twin Cities and 30 miles north of La Crosse) and we’re not on some heavily trafficked road (two miles off Highway 14). We’re a pretty great place to play at a really affordable rate with some really stunning scenery. I think we shine just fine… we ARE a hidden gem.”
Don’t you love people that “get it?” I love courses that get it too. They take care of the course at The Bridges. The course conditioning is great – as firm and fast as they can keep it on higher ground, and as clean and dry as they can keep it along the creeks, ponds and other water hazards highlighted by the namesake bridges. They don’t have a multi-million dollar maintenance budget at The Bridges and they don’t need it. They essentially sit on a reservoir that keeps them green and pristine all year long.
The course maintains a private feel without any stuffiness. You can change your shoes in the parking lot. You can laugh in the restaurant. You can take pictures (which you’ll want to) and post them on social media without hiding in a bathroom stall. The service at check-in is such that you feel welcomed and you’ll welcome the food, views and vibe in the restaurant in whatever attire is most comfortable (and socially appropriate). “We’re an exceptional hangout for everyone,” Matt says. “No exceptions.”
The Bridges opened in 1920 as a 9-hole golf course (Winona Country Club) and has hosted several State Championships through the years. In the mid 1960’s legendary golf architect, Robert Trent Jones (while tackling Hazeltine National) donned his Superman cape, flew over The Bridges and sketched out his vision for an 18-hole conversion. Land was generously donated, work was seriously done, and today seven of the original holes remain, with local (Minnesota) golf legend Joel Goldstrand swooping in to provide the finishing touch (rebuilding #18) in 1994. In other words, this lasting work of art was the classic and modern collaboration of several hearts – the passionate legacy of some of the design game’s greatest legends.
“What other courses in Minnesota can make such a claim?” Matt asks. “We’re the public Hazeltine.” He’s somewhat joking – not trying to make a case for national rankings – but he’s also somewhat serious. The locals and members love this club and are very protective of it.
The Par 71 (6,778 yard) roller coaster is a walkable course for triathlon competitors and high school golfers, but most prefer to ride the comfortable carts around the course – over the rivers and through the woods. It sure makes for a beautiful ride with some scenic bridge photographs if that’s your thing. It’s certainly no pushover in terms of play, especially the “longest looking hole in Minnesota” (#11). The dramatic topographical changes make for some great up-and-down golf shots. One of the signature holes – the Par 3 second hole – plays from an elevated tee down to a small but wide-open green guarded on two sides by the ever-hungry Pleasant Creek. It’s a very photogenic golf hole… and a good par. Take that 3 and run!
The bridges at The Bridges provide other memorable moments, great transitional walks from tee to green (like at 10) and from tee to wide open fairway (like at 9 and 12). There are at least 18 bridges here, in fact, and I remember fondly the holes found on both sides of most of them. (Hole 3 owes me… I’ll collect next time!)
Stay for lunch or dinner after your round, and take in the gorgeous view over the pond and 18 green. Enjoy the food served in the AAA “3 Diamond” Signatures Restaurant, in fact, bring all your friends and family… get married here… make maximum use of their great banquet and event facility – The Visions Event Center. Make yourself at home here as golf lovers have been doing for 100 years now. Come find this Hidden Gem.