Giants Ridge – Legendary

By E. Nolan






Imagine having a Top 100 American Golf Course in your hometown. People from all over the state, all over the country, all over the world coming to your town to play “your” golf course. It’d be pretty special, wouldn’t it – the incredible pride associated with something like that. Now imagine you’ve got TWO golf courses in your hometown, both part of the same resort, both having been nominated (and worthy of being) Top 100 among the country’s greatest public golf courses. There sure aren’t many towns like that in America… in the world. But guess what? We’ve got one in Minnesota. The little town of Biwabik (Population 1,000), at the intersection of Highway 135 and the famous Mesabi Bike Trail, in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota, has that enviable 1-2 golf punch. Locals pack both courses. Minnesotans pack the courses. Americans and Canadians pack the courses. All of them know what they’re coming for, and all of them know they’re coming back, time and time again. That’s how you establish yourself as a legit 5-Star golf destination beyond the pages of a magazine. That’s where hype ends and legendary begins. That’s Giants Ridge.

The PGA Head Golf Professional at Giants Ridge is actually so much more than just that, but that’s the title he rolls with. John Kendall is a father, coach, teacher, mentor, marketer, manager and entrepreneur who as long as I have known him has deflected all praise but excels at every single one of those things. Ask John which course is better, the one that makes all of America’s “Best” lists – The Quarry – or the one that has Minnesota’s most iconic golf hole – The Legend – and John will honestly tell you, “Whatever course you’re playing at the time.” He’s always all about the here and now instead of the hypothetical. He can tell you all he wants that the course runs and sells itself. Don’t believe him. You don’t have decades of gold standard success by letting a property run itself. Giants Ridge is successful because everyone who made it so in the beginning is still keeping it so today.

Technically, that began with the architect. Jeff Brauer lives in Dallas, Texas today (avid Stars fan), but spend an hour with him in his living room and you’ll find his mind still resides in the land of the original North Stars. “That (golf) land…” he pauses. “I tell you, walking through those giant canyons of boulders, trees, along the rivers, lakes, I had a million visions for what I thought Giants Ridge could become, and I still believe it’s better in its current existence than was imaginable at the time.” That’s saying something considering Mr. Brauer had so many epic plans for golf holes he never got to put into place. Jeff is an architecture nut, a frequent traveler, and a tireless student of the game. He’s rubbed shoulders with and picked the brains of so many golf legends, and brought designs from Pebble Beach, Tobacco Road, Merion, Ireland and Scotland to Minnesota when he began to build The Legend and (later) the Quarry. “What architect gets to contract two mega-projects on such completely different parcels of land only a mile away from each other? While building Legend I drove past the Quarry site every day imagining what that site could be. And then (when given the chance to build on it) I found out. Legend was the best course I ever built… until the Quarry.” But even he can’t really pick between them. “Love them both, equally.”

I’ll always remember my first round on Legend because of my accelerated heartbeat on the tee box steps of hole 17. A perfect evening, calm, in early fall. There were loons on the slightly foggy Sabin Lake to my left and deer grazing on the hill behind the green. I had a camera and a golf club in my hand, and I put the golf club down. For 20 minutes, my son by my side, I alternated between clicking shutters and chill-induced shivers, all the while wishing I never had to leave.

There are lots of places like that at Giants Ridge, where at the right time under the right conditions you can find yourself alone with your thoughts or your favorite friends or people, absorbing all the awesomeness of various par 3, 4 and 5’s with mountain, lake, river, pond and canyon backdrops. I’ve hit tee shots on Legend with a fox only feet away, taken pictures on Quarry of my hand in a bear paw print, nearly aced a Par 4 and spent literally a day’s worth of hours just sitting on the hillside behind 17 taking in everything I love about golf (and this state).

It doesn’t surprise me that Quarry is the more nationally revered of the two. It tends to be the preferred option of the better golfers, with many a challenging hole and a bit more demand in length. But Legend has its own mystique, hole-by-hole, from the double-barreled shotgun out of the clubhouse to the ski slopes on the front and the wild transitions on the back. They’re so similarly great, yet so greatly different that you’d be remiss to miss either round on a visit.

They’ve got lodging taken care of, too. Giants Ridge gives you great, spacious and comfortable options, from cabins on the Lake, to The Lodge with the Indoor Pool and plush rooms overlooking the Legend course, and the 3 and 4-Bedroom Villas of Giants Ridge with the Outdoor Pool alongside Wynne Lake.

Several great dining options, both on-site and in nearby Biwabik, are all worth exploring depending on the length of your stay. The Burnt Onion Kitchen & Brews in the Main Chalet at Giants Ridge has American Grill favorites for lunch and dinner with golf and mountain views, while the Wacootah Grille at The Quarry sits on a cliffside perch overlooking the circular mirror of Lake Mine – giving you lunch and dinner with a fabulous view.

At only 195 miles from the Twin Cities, and less than 70 miles from Duluth, it’s no challenge to get to Giants Ridge, but certainly is a beautiful drive. Wherever you come from and however long it takes, I can virtually guarantee you’ll have an unforgettable experience in the land of giant bunkers, blankets of glistening stars and “best in the world” golf courses.

Taking a page from Mr. Kendall’s live-in-the-moment philosophy, I urge you to absorb and appreciate the course you’re on at the time, whichever one it is. You never know when you’ll be back. You’ll just know you can’t wait to come back.