The Links of North Dakota – Connect Four
By E. Nolan
Ten years ago, almost to the day, I made my first golf loop through North Dakota. I started in Bismarck, at Hawktree, then drove the 140 miles to Medora to play Bully Pulpit, then 150 more miles to play The Links of North Dakota, then (reluctantly) circled back home to the Twin Cities. The memorable raving among our group continues to this day. “Three nights, three incredible (and very diverse) courses… one amazing golf road trip.” That’s how I would tell anyone to do it. It doesn’t make sense to just drive to North Dakota for only ONE of those three courses… not when it’s SO “interstate easy” to link all three. You and three phenomenal golf rounds – the ultimate “Connect Four.”
Some courses want nothing to do with their competitors. They’ll stomp out the chances of drawing golfers to their own course if it means sharing in the profits. The Links of North Dakota isn’t one of those courses. They get it. They’ll promote and advocate for Hawktree and Bully Pulpit as much as (or more) than the state tourism board because they (like the avid golfer) know the allure and value of a topnotch “Trifecta.” They know that two is better than one, and three is better than two. Simple math. Easy driving. Major value! (Look up the “Triple Golf Challenge” on their website if you think I’m kidding.)
The great thing is, each of the three courses COULD easily stand on their own. The Links of North Dakota is a beautiful links-style course surrounded by open prairie, farmland and a portion of the Missouri River that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers converted into the third largest manmade lake in the United States – through their Garrison Dam project – Lake Sakakawea. The Links of North Dakota DOES feel more like Irish than American golf, a considerable architectural accomplishment and compliment… given that was Stephen Kay’s intent.
It’s pretty remarkable that a golf course was ever built so far north in the Dakotas. (Yes, I know there are golf courses in Canada.) Not that the land wasn’t deserving, but because of the vision it took to even logistically consider such a venture so remotely. Yes, this land was part of the recent oil boom (heart of the Bakken Oilfield area), and yes (like the Prairie Club in Nebraska) there’s a certain allure to destination courses like The Links, but… think about it… the builders of The Links of North Dakota had to be 100% Certain that they had a Home Run on their hands to invest like they did. There was no interstate up there back then (when it opened, in 1995) – nothing like there is today. There were definitely not thousands of golfers up there looking for places to play. Fortunately, for today’s golfer (and the thousands upon thousands that have visited since then), Stephen Kay did anything but swing and miss with that remarkable project. The Links of North Dakota is a SOLID hit, and – at the very least – an inside the park home run.
Authentic links in the eternal exposure to the wind and elements, lack of trees and water on the course, and in the firm, fast playing conditions across the fairways and greens, The Links of North Dakota is a blast for what it is AND for what it isn’t – unlike any other experience in the state. With five sets of tees, 85+ bunkers there to swallow you up, incredible water views throughout the round and some true signature holes like the Par 4 second hole (stunning view), the Par 3’s (holes 3, 8, 11 and 17), and my favorite hole on the course #12, this is a round you’ll remember (and fondly at that). You won’t see a house on the course. Some flames from local oil refineries, yes, but no houses. Gloriously remote, and yet…
Lest you think you’re in the middle of nowhere… far from it. You’re only 28 miles from the Applebee’s in Williston. (I’m sure they have other restaurants, I just always eat there.) There are also a number of lodging opportunities for the visitor close to The Links. They have rental cabins on site, a campground next door and more modern luxuries at Lund’s Landing (five minutes away, on Lake Sakakawea) then Lake Sakakawea B&B, North Fork Lodge and Montana River Ranch (all within 10 minutes). Each option provides its own options and perks. Check them each out if you’re heading up there.
Need a little more encouragement? From 2009 to 2017 The Links of North Dakota was ranked the #1 course in North Dakota by both Golfweek and Golf Digest. It was lauded as the “Second Most Affordable Course” on the Top 100 Public Golf Courses List, and is absolutely one of the 4 Best Golf Courses in the Dakotas. Play the Golf version of Connect Four. 100% chance you’ll win.