Royal Treatment At The Royal Club
By Rhett Arens
If you want to operate a public access golf course like a private club it only makes sense to bring in a person with built-in, country club DNA. That is exactly what Hollis Cavner, Gary Hendrickson and the rest of the ownership team have accomplished in adding new Head Golf Professional Kent Blaschko to the roster. Kent’s pedigree runs deep with previous positions at Troon Country Club in Scottsdale and The Hag Point Club near Hilton Head. The Royal Club was already a top-tier course in the Twin Cities and now they have all the bases covered and the right person at the helm. The magic in all this effort boils down to how customers are treated. When the paying public walk through the doors at The Royal Club, they will feel like long standing members at their own private course.
The former Tartan Park, 27-hole track is a whole different animal these days. A massive course redesign resulted in a challenging yet fair 18-hole Championship stunner under the hands-on direction from two of golfs most renowned figures – Annika Sorenstam and Arnold Palmer, the Queen and King respectively. How is that for golf royalty? Not only did the course transform but the clubhouse, dining areas and outdoor common spaces were completely upgraded, retooled and expanded. When you walk through the spacious Pro Shop out to the practice putting green and chipping areas, the view will stop you in your tracks. The gentle #10 uphill par 4 is straight ahead, the scenic #1 par 4 drops off an elevated tee into a fairway that runs along water on one side and a set of trees on the other. That new clubhouse takes in a wide view of Horseshoe Lake as it stretches out and disappears to the south.
Some of you might know this, but some might not. The last hole Arnie ever designed was the par 3 twelfth. It’s not long but given the prevailing westerly wind, the smallish green and a tough bunkering complex will have you carefully rethinking your club selection. Exactly what a quality hole design is supposed to do. As for the rest of the course, Annika led her design team on the front and Arnie’s team put together the back. The greens tend to be on the smaller side with a healthy dose of undulation, but it’s all fair given the lengths and approach shot set-ups. The Royal has smartly included 5 sets of tee boxes. They stretch from the forward tees at 3,907 yards back to the Royal tees at 6,901 yards. With plenty of options for everybody, ‘inclusion’ is not just a word on a mission statement, it is a fundamental principle in Kent’s day-to-day working philosophy.
A perfect example of this walk-it-like-you-talk-it mentality is the Royal Club’s Junior Program that has players under 17 playing ‘The Short Course’ which is a par-3, 6 hole course anytime they wish… for free! The holes range from 34 yards to 98 yards with a total length just over 400 yards. The individual holes have been cleverly named after iconic courses around the world – Augusta, St. Andrews, etc… creating fun for the whole family. The course is mostly wedge play and putting through long standing oaks and some fun up and down terrain. To further promote and support golf as a family friendly outing, The Royal generously provides clubs and balls at no charge. The Annual Junior Membership for play on the Championship course is priced at an incredible $165 with very few restrictions. This unique commitment to youth golf is directly in line with Arnie and Annikas’ vision for developing the game long-term and keeping the family playing together.
As the course has filled-out, matured and refined itself since its opening two years ago, the word has travelled fast. So in 2020, Kent and his team will be hosting a number of prestigious events. Top’s among the list is the 103rd Minnesota State Open in July, the Cub Care Foundation Tournament, the Evolve Family Services Event and the Hobey Baker Hockey Tournament. Of course, pending the ever-changing PGA schedule, there is the 3M Open Pro-Am event. A busy calendar like this will keep new Superintendent Mike Sonnek working long hours to keep those silky greens rolling smooth and those broad fairways divot-free. Again, all of this attention to detail is aimed to deliver a high-end experience with accessibility for all.
The Royal Club plays host to the annual The Annika Intercollegiate Golf Tournament which brings together 12 of the country’s top Division 1 Women’s Teams for a 54-hole stroke play event. Annika is on-hand for the entire four-day event which provides networking opportunities and visibility at a critical time when the amateur players are transitioning into their professional careers. At the gala reception hosted by The Royal Club the ANNIKA Award is presented to the best female player in college golf. 3M functions as the event’s sponsor every year with the 2020 tournament scheduled to be played September 13-16.
The course plays like a champion. The opening par 4 is like passing through a door into an adventure. A sweeping elevated view takes in views of 3 bodies of water. The fairway looks narrower than it is and offers up a nervy look but hit that width and you’re looking at an easy second shot. More of the same on the #2, par 5 – a tight landing area if you’re trying to squeeze distance but if executed well than either a fairway wood up the hill to the green or a mid-iron layup at the base leaves you with a par opportunity. The undulated green drains towards the front and staying under the pin is great but also a lot to ask. The fifth hole is a stunner with a downhill advance towards a large pond that protects the whole front of the green and creeps up the right-side of the fairway leading into that green. Getting that tee shot distance as close to the ponds edge will leave you with a playable look but not an easy shot into the green over water. Walk off this hole with a par and it will feel like victory. The front closes with a grip and rip tee shot that will roll out and give you a middle to high iron into the table top green. A birdie look here is a real possibility.
The back nine starts innocently enough with a short, uphill par 4, but reprieve comes to a halt on the 410 yard, par 4 #11 which may be the toughest hole on the course. No room for error up the left side and plenty of greenside trouble for that long second shot. The short par 4 15th plays off an elevated tee that makes you choose a layup distance in front of the water that looks like it is right in the wheelhouse. Again, a great shot leaves you an easy wedge in for that birdie. Arnold’s back nine ends with back-to-back par fives. This means two opportunities to clean-up that card. Neither is overly long or crooked but keeping the ball on the right half of both will give you 3-wood looks into the greens. Go left and the troubles will mount. It’s fair like Arnie was. The course has teeth in spots but like any good design it rewards well placed tee shots very quickly.
The Royal Women’s Club and Royal Men’s Club offer a relaxed golf evening without all the handicap sandbagging and over-zealous competition. They have incorporated a different theme each week that starts with a 5:30 shotgun and continues with plenty of food and refreshment options and then winds down at Arnie’s Restaurant and Bar where the stellar views out over Horsehoe Lake provide the perfect backdrop while toasting the evenings best shots. It’s a good time to sample a menu that offers a great selection of sharable starters, an impressive sandwich assortment and delicious entrées. Everything from Butternut Squash Tortellacia to Filet Mignon to Honey Bourbon Glazed Salmon. The open, light-infused dining area is designed to reflect the same family orientated atmosphere that Arnold Palmer intends for his golf course design. Laid out for comfort and plenty of elbow room, lunch and dinner is served year-round. If the sun is shining and the temperature is cooperating you can move the gathering outside for lunch or dinner onto the upper-level, wrap-around deck with great views.
Arnie’s legacy was a torch passed to Annika as they worked together to build The Royal Club, her first course design. With her on-going engagement, Hollis and his partners’ commitment to the community and Kent’s relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction – we can all enjoy a royal treatment at The Royal Club.