Whispering Pines Golf Course – The Comeback Kid
By E. Nolan
Everyone likes a good comeback story. They’re easy to read, and typically predictable, but mostly fun to follow… for the reader. If there’s one person (or golf course, in tales like these) that might not love a comeback story, it’s the architect of the script – the one pushing the narrative forward, knowing that great comebacks don’t “just happen.” From the orchestrator’s perspective they are often a grind and anything but predictable. They consist of daily struggles and demanding persistence… stories that are hard to write, and often even harder to see through. The author of this particular comeback story is Mark Dvorak, and he started writing the comeback story of Whispering Pines Golf Course in Annandale seven years ago. How is it going now? “It’s going great,” Mark says. “Better every single day… and I mean that.”
The economy is helping. The growing love of, and participation in, golf among juniors, women and minorities (as lauded by the PGA of America recently) is helping. Mark’s positive drive, enthusiastic welcome and dedicated investments are definitely helping. Word of mouth… that’s helping, too. Mark said, “After the Tee Times story ran last year, we were inundated with emails from people asking about it – TONS of people who had never heard of the course before. Is it really that nice? Is it close to the Twin Cities?” (Yes and yes.) In situations like those, the course either doesn’t promote itself, or it isn’t worth promoting. Who knows what kept Whispering Pines in the shadows for so long? Had to be the former (lack of promotion) and not the latter (quality). Doesn’t even really matter anymore, to be honest. What matters is that this course is finally and deservedly getting plenty of great attention.
Whispering Pines is a Joel Goldstrand creation – has to be one of his five best ever – that opened in 1986. “The bones of the course are so great,” Mark says. “So much diversity in the design… there literally are no two holes alike. I could see it clearly before I bought it – the limitless potential for greatness on every level. We did what we needed to do to get the course where it needed to be (restored, cleaned up… prim and proper). Now we’re spreading the word, and couldn’t be more thrilled by how receptive everyone has been to our work.”
It is more than works, and more than words, here. They’re adding pictures, adding amenities (New GPS on all carts)… adding reasons to visit. Annandale is only 50 miles from Minneapolis. That’s closer than the Pei Wei I visit every week. (Don’t ask.) I have no excuse not to play it. Do you? Statistics show the metro golfer tends to stick to what they love, spreading their annual rounds among ten to twelve courses. As more and more venture out, little gems like Whispering Pines are discovered and included in those expanding circles of loyalty. “Every single day we have golfers here who have never played the course before, and I love that.” Mark says. “That was the goal. That’s the dream I had back when – when the story of this course began – and I encourage everyone to tell me what you think after you visit. What did you like? What did you love? Anything we can do better? Is there anything we need to do to keep you coming back?”
Not for me. The Par 71, 6,421-yard course in Annandale is a half-hour drive from home – easily within my loyalty circle – and I encourage everyone within 100 miles of the course to circle it on your map, (follow their social media activity) and make a point of visiting them THIS year. When you get here you’ll find much more than “just a golf course.” Mark has invested $250,000 into the clubhouse as well, with the 1,600-square foot addition of the restaurant/bar called The Sand Trap – THE place to hang out before and/or after your round.
Out on the course you’ll find a number of signature holes, from the Par 4, 3rd hole to the Par 5, 13th and the super fun Par 3, 16th hole. Great players can comfortably be challenged from the tips, and everyone else can find a fun fit across the other tees. There are very few water hazards, yet the design is one that favors the shotmakers. Whispering Pines has a full range and practice area (a rarity in the area) and merits a place on your radar.
I like comeback stories. I like to read them and I like to write them. I particularly enjoy when the subject of the story doesn’t mind the grind, knowing full well that victory is more likely at the end because of their efforts and that victory is bound to be sweet. How sweet is the Whispering Pines story today, Mark? “Pretty sweet.”