Dutch Cragun’s Latest Coup As Lehman Returns!
By Joe Stansberry
For many years the Brainerd Lakes area has been home to several great golf courses. From The Classic to Deacon’s Lodge to The Pines and Preserve to Golden Eagle, and ultimately The Legacy Courses at Cragun’s, one could argue the strengths and weaknesses of the of each resort’s “signature course” to see who would be crowned BEST of the BEST in the Brainerd Lakes area.
Well in my humble opinion. There is no more argument… Come Fall of 2022, the new Lehman Course at Cragun’s Resort will set the new bar high above the rest!
A few years back, my friend Ron Sanders (Founder of Brainerd Lakes Tour Showcase) reached out and asked nearby Alexandria, MN native, Tom Lehman to be Honorary Chairman of the CRMC Championship. Tom happily agreed to be involved with the CMRC Championship that has now evolved into what will be the first and only U.S. course to host Canada’s PGA sanctioned McKenzie Tour event!
Cragun’s General Manager, Eric Peterson shared that Dutch Cragun, owner of Cragun’s Resort has been looking at expansion for many years and over the years prior to the Lehman Design Group he had three golf architects draw up plans on this land that will be home to Minnesota’s newest Championship Course. According to Eric, Tom and his partner Chris Brand met to discuss the Lehman Design Groups routing and plan this past September. Tom asked “Are you firm on another 18 or would you be interested on a complete renovation of the existing courses and a merger of the new 18, using some of the existing holes but finishing by the Clubhouse?”
Eric and Dutch “sat in amazement” as Tom proceeded offer hole by hole improvements to the course that his son had played just a month earlier during the MPGA Junior Tour Match Play Event.
They then presented a concept of what has now modified the existing 36 holes into 27, and somehow Tom and Chris interwove the new “Lehman 18” while removing, reversing or renovating some of the landlocked holes to create a spectacular new redesign and renovation.
Of the existing 36 holes, only 16 will play with similar routings, but ALL will have extensive green complex changes with all new bunkers! When project is completed, the Legacy will be home to a completely renovated 27-hole course to be named the Dutch 27 and Minnesota’s newest course the Lehman 18.
During my three hour tour with Eric and I spoke with Chris Brands, chief architect and partner of Tom Lehman while they were in process of a cannibalize hole, explaining how they were focusing their work to keep 27 holes open. It’s a brilliant concept whereby they were able to rework green side run out areas, expand or reposition greens and fairways using existing sod, after re-sculpting from holes “cannibalized“ from the original 36 holes. This brilliant idea allows for faster grow-in with minimal seeding. I asked “how much is Tom involved in this project?“ Eric replied that where else have you seen a project where the chief architect is on site basically the whole summer and now with Tom spending the summer in Alexandria he is only 90 minutes away in fact he came over 3 mornings just last week as he had a week off from the Champions Tour.
During a recent interview with Chris, who said he’s been working with Tom for over 20 years, Chris said, “Tom especially loves the field work! I estimate that, at minimum, we are in contact five to six times a day, regarding changes, ideas, cost analysis, problem solving!”
When I asked about Tom’s passion for this project, Chris replied, “Tom really wants to make another mark on Minnesota, but in particular northern Minnesota since his family roots are located so close to the Brainerd Lakes area.”
I’m a huge fan of Tom Lehman’s design or redesign work. Their renovation/redesign of TPC Twin Cities to facilitate the 3M Open, a PGA TOUR event, was professional and creative, none more apparent than the new tee and water expansion on the 18th hole. I also love one of Tom’s earlier works – Troy Burne Golf Club in Hudson, WI, with one caveat – the bunkering. Tom wanted, I’m guessing, a Scottish bunkering feel with deep severe faces. While I like the look, I believe the concept is flawed by making the sand very deep when you get in the bunker and it creates huge foot prints and plugged lies. Not fun for the players or maintenance staff, I’m sure.
Fortunately, that problem has been solved at Cragun’s and Lehman’s 18. They incorporated a relatively new lining system called Porous Pave XLB Sand Guard. The beauty of this two-part one inch black mixture, is that combined with Ohio’s Best white sand, you can pack the sand against the face so the ball will roll back down to the flats and thus reducing maintenance cost and much more enjoyable play – all while making it look aesthetic and visually intimidating at the same time.
Most TOUR quality golf courses are not much fun for the average golfer. Not so with Lehman’s design! Sure, they can push the yardage out to close to 7,500 yards, and the course can be shrunk down to less than 5,000 yards. Also, with Tom’s vision they were able to work around many of the forced carries that plagued the old Legacy Courses. Also, by removing over half of the existing bunkers and creating more “playable” run out areas with closely mowed grass, the average player can advance much easier and faster. Whereas the TOUR and low handicap players will still find the course challenging because the trouble is placed in play designed for them! For example, many short right collection areas, where the average player misses are now less penal and fairway trouble is extended to 260-300+ yards, making it tougher for the longer and better players.
What you will find with many of the new holes on the east ridge are nearly 70 homesites. It definitely does not feel anywhere near a housing development! The beauty of the design is the homesites are built up and back into high ridges that offer spectacular views, not only of the course, but of the beautiful northwoods landscape – some with lake and pond views or open grass marshes. These amazing lots that average an acre are sure to be sold quickly as they go on the market later this summer. Lot prices are projected to range from $160,000 to over $400,000.
I always appreciate an opportunity to see a golf course in development. I’ve been lucky enough to see many, not only here in Minnesota, but all over the country. I can tell you this with certainty. This course will already rank in the top five in Minnesota and change the whole complexion of the Brainerd Lakes area as a championship golf course destination forever. I can really tell that Tom put his heart and soul into trying to give northern Minnesota a gem. And he has succeeded!
Just a reminder, Cragun’s Resort will always have 27 holes open for play during this project. So if you’re making the journey to look at lots and play a little golf, I’d highly recommend you stop on by Dutch’s Cragun’s Resort. I think you will thoroughly enjoy seeing a masterpiece in the works.