The Wilderness At Fortune Bay – Where There Are No Losers

By E. Nolan






As a Minnesotan, it’s easy to get a bit bitter when the national golf rankings come out and they essentially overlook us. Those of us who have played the best courses in the state KNOW that our best courses match up very favorably with the best in most other states. True, we don’t have an ocean. True, our season is half the length of many other destinations. True, we don’t have a lot of sand in Minnesota. But we DO have a half dozen courses designed by world class architects that should never be ignored, and one of those select courses is up near the world famous Boundary Waters in Tower, Minnesota. That course actually doesn’t get ignored. That course actually gets quite a bit of attention. In fact, just last year one of the preeminent ranking machines – Golfweek Magazine – declared The Wilderness at Fortune Bay the #3 Public Course in Minnesota and #7 Casino Course in America, while Golf Digest ranked it the 67th Best Public Golf Course in the Country! Thank you Golfweek and Golf Digest for not overlooking Minnesota!

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay is perfectly described by its name – a topographical roller coaster with ridiculously pitched greens, stunning rock and water features, one of GolfNewsNet’s “Top 100 Golf Holes in America,” and a collection of crazy-fun Par 3s. Wild. Fun. And you feel fortunate every time you get to play it!

While many casino courses in the Midwest have a reputation of just being amenities – almost an afterthought – that’s never been the case at The Wilderness. The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa didn’t pay massive amounts of money for a world class course to be built to just let that course grow over and/or go unplayed. The Wilderness at Fortune Bay has always connected its best assets to its best marketers and pushed their message across the state. Come here to Fish and Golf. Come here to Gamble and Golf. Come here to Get Away from the City and Golf. Come here to see the Northern Lights and Golf. Come here to See Bears and Hear Wolves and Loons … and to Golf. Their website ties it all together with this line: “Come Visit the Best Lakeside Golf Resort Course in Minnesota.” Whatever it is that makes it “the best” to you is good enough for them, as long as people come up.

Thousands upon thousands of people venture up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in and around Ely every year, and thousands of those people golf. Many of them never realize just how close they are to not just one of the best casino courses in the country, but one of the best golf courses overall. Fishermen are less likely to make that mistake, given that the palatial Fortune Bay property brushes up against Everett Bay and the shores of Lake Vermillion, host to so many huge fish and fishing tournaments each year. Fortune Bay wisely assumes that people who love to gamble on catching a keeper are just as likely to gamble on a heater at the tables, and it’s not uncommon for the casino’s parking lot to have as many boats in it as cars.

Boaters and fishermen aside, Minnesota golfers know what they get at The Wilderness. Thousands upon thousands of athletes plan their stay and play golf vacations at The Wilderness each year. They come specifically for the Jeff Brauer designed golf course and stay for the food, the drinks, the games, the fish… the calls of the wild. It’s that crowd that has driven The Wilderness up the state rankings and garnered the attention of media from across the country. Year after year The Wilderness is honored with “Best” accolades including Casino, Public, Resort and Favorite Golf Hole rankings.

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay has so many holes deemed “signatures” that the course is nearly a “signature” golf course. From the opening demanding Par 5, to the severely tiered Par 3 third, the Biarritz 5th, and cliff-diving 7th on the front, to the island green 12th, lake-hugging 13th (I call Cemetary Road) and the awesome finisher. I’m always amused by the favorite holes of others being ones I didn’t even list. That’s the true mark of a great course – so many people love so many different things.

I’m often guilty when golfing of getting so hung up on score and on every next shot that I forget to enjoy the round and surroundings. I’ve never had that problem at The Wilderness. A dozen trips over a dozen years and I’ve appreciated the surroundings more every round. The ups and downs of the course routing, through the forests and boulders, alongside and over the lakes and ponds… it all almost mesmerizes with the never-ending beauty. There’s always been a bear, or bald eagle, or loons, or fox, or deer. There’s always been something new, something different, something I love in reflection when on my way home that I’ve never experienced there before. It’s like the golfer who misses the fairway on every hole but the last one, finding that ounce of optimism to bring them back again, except that at The Wilderness there’s something about every single hole that brings me giddily back, and nothing that detracts.

On the inside – inside the Hotel and Casino that is – Fortune Bay is a well-maintained property featuring plenty of perks and attractions for the golfer and non-golfer alike. Many of the rooms offer lake views and plenty of space for any arrangement of guests and families. The pool and sauna are always packed. The ice cream always tastes great. The restaurants, in the clubhouse and on the casino floor offer a wide enough assortment of options to appease and please every guest’s cravings and appetite. In fact, the Wilderness Grill in the clubhouse garners plenty of accolades of its own every year, as one of the best golf grills in all of Minnesota, with a pretty spectacular patio to boot.

The gaming floor of the casino is always active. Blackjack, Poker, Slots and a Gamer’s Club provide a number of levels of entertainment around a lively bar. It’s a fun place to hang out with friends, where losers on the golf course can go home winners, and winners on the golf course can sometimes double up at the table. No one goes home a loser.

It’s cool to watch so many different people from so many different walks of life with so many different passions all gather on the patio, or pool area, or at the hotel’s marina or in the casino to relax and have fun. Most of them drove away from the city for a week or weekend and don’t want to go back home “just yet” so they’re savoring every “win” big and little, even if it’s just at the arcade. At only 200 miles from the Twin Cities, and only 90 miles from Duluth, it’s an easy escape with short notice and a great escape for the boater, fisher, golfer, gambler, friend or family trip. Wild. Fun. #Winning