Gopher Hills Golf Course – Cannon Ball Fun
By E. Nolan
There are courses around the outskirts of the Twin Cities that metro residents would rather you not know about, just so they have more access to the open tee times. It’s rude, I know – totally uncool and selfish – but, don’t worry… I’ve got your back. Pay attention to GolfAdvisor’s ratings and listen to the local “underground” rumblings among area course managers and superintendents, and it’s easy to identify which courses are getting a steady and well-deserved dose (or dramatic uptick) in business and repeat business. It’s similarly easy, at that point, to know which courses merit a highlight in my stories – to find those cats, and let them all out of the bag.
I found one such cat in a bag 35 miles south of St. Paul – in Cannon Falls – at a course whose name indicates that they might wish I’d actually found a cat there – Gopher Hills Golf Course. You’ve heard about them before… it’s not like they’re a “best kept secret” anymore. But I don’t think people realize just how much good golf you can get in there. I don’t think people think enough about all 27 holes at Gopher Hills.
Okay, maybe I’m wrong there. It’s not just GolfAdvisor promoting Gopher Hills. They’re one of the three courses on the River Valley Golf Trail (with Red Wing Golf Club and Clifton Highlands) so they get a lot of cross-promotion from those clubs and their members. The head golf pro, Ben Bauer, isn’t going to call me after reading this story and thank me for telling everyone something that pretty much everyone already knows, “Gopher Hills is one of the truly tremendous values in Minnesota Golf.”
Wait. Hold on. Are there actually some of you that haven’t heard that yet? Do you not even know about the Monarch butterflies or the sheep grazing in the natural areas? Seriously… I’m not “kidding.” (They’re adorable!) Look… what makes Gopher Hills a tremendous value (beyond their green fee) is the bonus “executive” nine. It’s the Championship Course being designed by two different architects. It’s the great conditioning and diverse topography. It’s the complimentary fan that always seems to be blowing, and the free lessons on the driving range with Pete Hendrickson every Saturday morning all summer long. (Yes… FREE.) It’s the rotation of fresh Specials like: Thirsty Thursday (18 w/cart and 3 beers = $31), The Early Week (18 w/cart + sleeve of TaylorMade balls = $35), the Senior Rate (M-F 18 w/cart = $25) and the After 3PM Special of $29 Every. Single. Day. that includes cart!
So, if you haven’t been there yet, what are you most curious about? The Monarchs? The sheep? The multiple architects? The original nine, designed by Dr. Gordon Emerson, was called “The Glen.” A “traditional” layout, it opened in 1995 and is now holes 10-18. The next nine – called “The Heath” – was completed four years later by Garrett Gill and now serves as the front nine of the Championship Course. Then there’s the Lynx “executive” nine, also built by Garrett Gill in 1999. It’s the bonus nine – the nine that too many skip and everyone should play on a visit – just for the sheer fun. Each of the three nines is very different… complementary but unique.
The Championship Course is a Par 72 that maxes out at only 6,355 yards. It can best be described as “hilly.” Expanding on that description, the course features scattered aquatic features, several blind shots, and many an uneven lie. Garrett Gill incorporated more of a mound and bound European “links style” into his full nine, with fescue-lined fairways and wild, moving greens. The greens in general are fun from the standpoint that they defend themselves well; and do so in many different ways. You have to take into consideration elevation changes tee to green, severe slopes and runoffs, and distractions like ponds and bunkers.
Hole 7 might be my favorite hole on the course, a 5-par with water, OB, and other trouble everywhere – both beauty and a beast! Eleven’s split-fairway can give you a splitting headache, especially if you don’t take the pond short of the green into account. One of Gordon Emerson’s best designs on earth is the uphill Par 4 12th – check out all those mounds! And Hole 18 insists you concentrate until you evade that last pond and your final putt hits the bottom of the cup.
In a typical year Gopher Hills hosts plenty of groups, banquets and weddings, with three different event venues that can be customized to accommodate up to 300 guests. McArthur’s Wood Grill Restaurant caters to all visitors – individual and group – with great food and panoramic views overlooking the golf course.
27 holes of golf and infinite value = Gopher Hills in a nutshell.