Hawktree Golf Club – Better To Be Lucky
By E. Nolan
How often do you realize your dreams? Depends on the dream I guess. A dream to me might not be a dream to you, and vice versa, but it was always a dream of mine to play Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck, North Dakota until I realized it. Now, I dream of the chance to go back. And then back again. Each trip is worth every dream.
On the subject of dreams… I was with the masterful golf architect Jim Engh last week in Coeur D’alene, Idaho at his Golf Club at Black Rock. It’s always a unique pleasure to play with the architects on the courses they’ve built, and just as fun for me to discuss the other projects of theirs that I love. Such was the case (and opportunity) for me with Hawktree Golf Club. Jim was flattered by my passion for his course. “That’s quite a drive from Minneapolis,” he said. Not really. (Six easy interstate hours from my house.)
“I do love that place, though,” Jim said, a fond smile cutting across his lips. “That landscape is surreal, isn’t it?” It definitely is. It’s pretty hard to adequately describe the “pull up effect” at Hawktree. You stand in the clubhouse and look out their panoramic windows in awestruck wonder of the fescue fields, the coal-black bunkers and incredibly crisp shades of green. Most courses built like this one are private (see Engh’s work at Minot Country Club) and you’d need a pretty penny for the privilege to play them. Hawktree is not only entirely accessible, but easily reachable from all over, and well worth the drive no matter how long.
If you don’t know much about Jim Engh’s architectural style, Hawktree provides a dynamic introduction to his “philosophy of fun.” Big greens with lots of movement, backdrops built to corral errant shots, dramatic views, and a demand on precision in order to go low. “I worked on a course in Ireland called Carne,” Jim says. (Oh, I know… I’ve played it and loved it, too.) “Hawktree feels a lot like that.” He’s right, there. It also plays a lot like Erin Hills on steroids. Jim is a fan of Dana Fry, one of the architects at Erin Hills, and you can see some favorable similarities in their work – each man brilliantly creative.
My favorite descriptor of Hawktree (that I’ve used many times) is that the course “proves the earth isn’t flat.” From those panoramic windows I mentioned earlier you can see as many as 14 holes, climbing, crawling, wrapping and weaving up and down the hills and through the valleys. You can see the lakes and the people in their (detached) roller coaster cars, cruising all over the lush fairways. At that point you’ll hand your credit card to the cashier for the chance to play, no matter what you have to pay, and you’ll walk away feeling like you stole something.
A former assistant pro at Interlachen in the Twin Cities, and current PGA Head Golf Professional at Hawktree, Michael Herzog, is a lucky guy (and he knows it). He’s underselling it when he raves about the collection of holes at Hawktree. “Check out our new course tour on the website,” he says, “and tell me how many holes you make it through before you decide you MUST play the course. I jumped at the opportunity to work here, and the experience (especially thanks to the people) has been all I imagined and more.”
The links-style course is a hybrid of prairie and mountain golf with infinite views in all directions afforded at many points. Hole-after-stunning-hole presents you with elevation changes in one way or another, from the tee boxes to the mounding on the fairways and the turbulent tiers on the greens. No two holes are remotely alike, a rarity for a course layout in these parts. “The land has so much character,” Jim says, “and I had free reign to build it as I wanted to.”
Four sets of tees with eight different (rated) slope combinations make for many different levels of challenge and fun. The entire property has only 80 acres of irrigated turfgrass – a mindblowing fact when you think about it. My favorite hole on the course is the downhill Par 5, 6th hole playing towards the pond with the slag bunkers and then over that pond to the boomerang green, but hole after hole I find myself appreciating ALL of the course’s unique features. I close each round uttering the same word I can’t shake in the clubhouse – “Wow.” Just…wow.
Stick around and enjoy more of those epic views at the Hawks Nest Bar & Grill. Grab a pound of wings or the Three Meat Grinder and take a moment to appreciate where you are and what you get to do. You should feel lucky. We should all be so lucky.