King’s Walk Golf Course – Royal Fun
By E. Nolan
I can’t say I’d walk 300 miles to play The King’s course in Grand Forks, North Dakota, but I’d certainly drive it (again). I wish I lived even closer, but four and a half easy hours of interstate is all that separates the Twin Cities golfer from North Dakota’s only Arnold Palmer Signature Course (only an hour north of Fargo).
Owned and operated by the Grand Forks Park District, I can’t think of many (if any) other municipal courses with such prestigious origins. I make it a habit to play every Arnold Palmer course I have the chance to, partially because I like seeing how The King thought about golf in his designs – what caught his eye, what entertained him, what he appreciated and what elements he wanted to share with the everyday golfer – and I couldn’t pass up the “next door” opportunity to play this one. Kings Walk gives you plenty of insight into Arnold Palmer’s designer frames of mind.
Mr. Palmer was given a piece of land with wetlands and lakes that clearly screamed “links-land” to him. A lover of golf in Ireland and Scotland, Mr. Palmer fashioned these 18 championship holes to play like those in the UK – firm, fast and fun. The UK doesn’t get winters like we do, and has a different kind of turf with more fescue fairways, but Mr. Palmer made magnificent use of what he had and produced a round you won’t soon forget.
Mr. Palmer’s team moved over 650,000 cubic yards of earth to create a mound-filled rolling course with deep ravines, steep ridges and two beautiful lakes. The course has bent grass greens protected by deep and massive bunkers, more mounds and some purposefully placed grass collection areas. It wouldn’t qualify as any sort of links-style course without fescue, and neatly trimmed fields of the tall grass separate the holes splendidly, serving both as a beautiful enhancement and a punitive hazard for those who stray a bit too far from the lush green.
This is as legitimate a championship test as you’ll find in eastern North Dakota, stretching out to over 7,200 yards from the back tees. If that’s too much course for you, you can play it shorter, across three other sets of tees, including a front set of only 5,400 yards. This course is easily walkable, playable for absolutely everyone, and wide-open and forgiving enough to let you bomb away from the tees and be a little less than accurate on almost all of your other shots (except putts, of course). Proper positioning and course strategy will pay off with better scores, but if you just like to play golf or are a beginner in the game, this is a great place to spend the day and to enjoy the game.
The course begins with two straight and open par 4’s, houses to your distant right and a creek bed to your distant left. With those two holes and the Par 5, 3rd hole, you have ample opportunities to get your round started right. My favorite holes on the front nine are the Par 3 4th and 8th holes with short carries over troubled waters, before a drive back to the clubhouse on an epic Par 5, it’s green well-guarded by both sand and water.
The fairways pinch in a little bit more on the back, the shots get a little less straight, and the hazards creep in, but Mr. Palmer still gives you plenty of scoring opportunities. If you are hitting straight you’re going to have birdie opportunities throughout the round (even as a 12 handicap). I wish more courses were designed like this, to push the average golfer towards more success than failure.
My favorite holes on the back are the Par 3 16th hole protected by water down the left, and the magnificent Par 5 closing hole, running parallel to the 9th hole, sharing the same lake and essentially the same green.
A light breeze (or no wind), will let you lower your handicap here. Many have shot their best score ever at King’s Walk. I’m convinced that’s what Arnold Palmer would have wanted, and know that the Grand Forks Park District loves that fact. The course is a local (and travel golfer) favorite for that reason, and more.
The red and white clubhouse is home to the Eagle’s Crest Bar & Grill (open for lunch, dinner and Sunday Brunch), overlooking the lake and 9th and 18th greens, with plenty of space to accommodate the many events, meetings and banquets they book. The food is great, the atmosphere lively, and the club stays open for dining guests and catering year round. Golf would be in a better place if more cities had phenomenal facilities like this.