Hawktree Golf Club – Nationally Ranked, But Underrated
By E. Nolan
A panel of Midwest journalists meet monthly to discuss current events and topics of relevance in the golf world. Last month the core of our discussion focused on emerging golf destinations and noteworthy golf in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Norway was mentioned. Iceland. Portugal. Each sounded interesting, but SO far away. (What about here? Within driving distance of all of us.) A brief lull presented the opportunity to turn the discussion to a local favorite – a course that had the moderator interrupting the name volleying to say “What?” and ask “Where?”
“Hawktree,” I replied. “It’s in Bismarck, North Dakota.” Another writer chimed in with an emphatic “Yes!” and “I love that course!” Everyone else was at a geographic and experiential loss, so I took their collective pauses to jump through an open-door and promote the club further. “It’s a Jim Engh design; the guy who designed phenomenal and nationally ranked private clubs like Black Rock (in Idaho) and Creek Club (in Georgia), and in many rights is every bit as impressive as both. It’s an easy drive over from Grand Forks and Fargo, and not that bad of a drive from Minneapolis/St. Paul.” (An all-interstate six-hours.) I could see heads nodding and guys looking up the website on their phones.
“Golf Magazine just ranked it one of the Top 100 Public Courses in America,” one guy said. (Yes) Another chimed in with a remark about the bunkers. “Is that black sand in that bunker?” (Yes) A third guy was blown away by the topographical landscape. “Holy cow… is there really that much elevation change in North Dakota?” (Yes) “How far from Mt. Rushmore?” (Different Dakota, but only five and a half hours.)
That’s all it took. One mention that they heard and paid attention to, and suddenly a dozen journalists were intrigued and considering when and/or how they could schedule a visit into packed calendars of golf travel. One mention and one Google search to the Hawktree website had this group wide-eyed and scratching their heads over the dramatic scenery. I smiled, satisfied I’d done my part to pique interest in a “new” golf place to these people and (hopefully) their respective audiences. But, pleased as punch as I may have been, I still felt sucker-punched that so many had no idea North Dakota boasted such great golf. North Dakota’s tourism board does a phenomenal job of pushing the state as an overall tourism destination, but golfers still seem(ed) skeptical that North Dakota’s best GOLF could be as good as the best golf elsewhere. Well… BELIEVE IT.
“What is it about Hawktree that you love?” the moderator asked. The appropriate reply demands more of a longform presentation than a print article allows. Still, I gave it a shot. “The adventure, for starters. The diversity hole-to-hole in topography. So many elevation changes… so many dramatic views. I love the challenges, the quirks (like the black sand), the shots over and around lakes and ponds. Really… I just love all the unexpected discoveries. You stand in the clubhouse, survey the entire course below and can’t help but be in a rush to reach that first tee… and in another rush post round to plan out your next visit. Once is never going to be enough at Hawktree.”
“Pretty great sales pitch,” the moderator opined. “Sold,” another journalist nodded his head enthusiastically. “And this is really in North Dakota?” an unbeliever persisted. (YES) “Absolutely is.”
Hawktree may have broken the mold of golf courses in the Dakotas. It may have been the trendsetter of excellence there. It may have already been the state’s best course when it opened and may be the best course there still. Whatever it was or is, one thing it isn’t is complacent. Michael Herzog, the GM and Head Golf Professional at Hawktree, is adept at finding ways to improve AND implementing them. “The leagues are booming, public play is way up, new visitors arrive by the vanload and advance bookings are terrific. We’re not hurting for play, but our current and future players deserve the best we have to give so we’re actively listening to suggestions (and jumping on new technology).” Hawktree recently introduced a new app that lets players preview the course, have shot-by-shot GPS throughout their round, book tee times, run group events AND have their own interactive scoring.
“However you check out our course for the first time,” Michael says (website, app or in person). “I think you’ll be impressed by what we have to offer. And, once you play the course, I believe you’ll find our accolades unbiased and Top 100 ranking warranted.”
“Could be ranked higher,” one of those journalists insisted. “Probably should be.”
No argument here.