CRAGUN’S RESORT – A Glimpse Into The Future
By E. Nolan
Let’s say you have two award-winning golf courses… that you’re one of only two resorts in the entire state with multiple Golf Digest honorees. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself, right? You’re a massive lakeside resort in the Brainerd Lakes area, only a couple of hours north of the Twin Cities, and you get tens of thousands of visitors each year – you’ve sold out almost every summer week for the past decade plus. You literally don’t have to do ANYTHING else, and you’ll succeed on every tangible and intangible level, year after profitable year. It’s a foregone conclusion… a guarantee. Why would you mess with that? Unless…
Unless… you knew that you had land on your property that was better golf and that it could give golfers an even more memorable experience. You’d build those additional holes creating Minnesota’s newest 18-hole championship course, wouldn’t you? You’d find a top tier golf architect, get a professional construction and shaping crew, and you’d shoot for having something no other resort in Minnesota had – 45 award-winning holes all out of one clubhouse.
Yeah, so you’d probably build that course. You’d draw thousands more golfers up each year and call it good – bask in that glory. Most of us would follow that path. The owners of Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota though… they’re not most of us. They had bigger plans. MUCH bigger plans. 30 Million Dollar plans.
I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. But seeing is believing, right? Well, I believed it even less when I saw it. A few months ago, General Manager Eric Peterson took me out in a golf cart to help me better grasp the ginormous scale of the renovations and expansion the resort is undertaking this year (and next). They are, in fact, building Minnesota’s next championship course – bigger than the other two, and with professional tournament aspirations they’ll likely attain. But, they aren’t leaving their award-winning courses alone. Not one bit. They are widening fairways, reshaping the greens, adding bunkers, moving trees and (get this) flipping holes completely head to toe. Yes, that means exactly what you think it does. Minnesota golf legend, Tom Lehman, and his design team came up with a plan that changes virtually every hole on property in a massive way, and many of those holes he flipped on their heads. The former green is now a teeing area, playing back to the former teeing area that is now a green. And those new green sites… some of those green sites are just spectacular.
Eric Peterson told me, “For what Robert Trent Jones had to work with here, in terms of equipment and land restrictions he did a wonderful job. But technology has come so far, and the design industry is light years ahead of where it was decades ago. Tom Lehman and his team, plus the Duininck Golf construction company, will be able to make almost every single one of our golf holes better somehow – artistically, functionally and in playability – which is only going to make each one of our (soon to be) three championship golf courses among the very best in the state and… even in the Midwest.”
“What about the really great holes? Like (former) Bobby’s Legacy #17, and all those great holes on the water?” I asked. “Trust me,” Eric smiles. “We didn’t take any of the greatness away. There’s more water, more views, more new angles and much more wow factor.” More, more, more… I’m liking where this is going.
“We took a really good hard look in the proverbial mirror,” Eric acknowledges. “And we didn’t shy away one bit from hard critiques. We asked for brutal honesty from our design candidates, and we analyzed every proposed option. I am confident that every flaw we found has been (and/or will be) addressed to the point it will no longer be perceived as a flaw. I love this place… it’s awesome. But I’m so ready to love it even more soon, when it will be so much more awesomer.”
People who know Eric Peterson well have aptly referred to him as the Energizer Bunny. Personally, I’ve always seen him more as the Optimism Bunny. Show him a glass completely full and he’ll figure out how to fill it fuller. I tick off all the incredible things I’ve heard about Cragun’s over the years, ending with Midwest Living calling them a “Top Ten Resort” and Eric says, “We can still get better.” That’s not lack of satisfaction. It’s a firm grasp on reality. This is a man connected to the pulse of both the owners and the visitors. He’s heard from thousands of guests how Cragun’s is their favorite Minnesota resort, and he’s heard from the owners how they want to keep adding more. So… more they have added, and more favorite lists they will undoubtedly be added to.
On top of all the golf course work underway Cragun’s has invested in modernizing their resort lobby and gift shop, their marina, purchased a 65-foot luxury yacht to open their own Gull Lake Cruise business, added new pontoons, speedboats, jet skis, paddleboards, rowboats, canoes and bicycles to their outdoor activity arsenal and remodeled, refreshed and rebuilt cabins, villas, basketball courts and food carts, expanded the Cabana Café, opened six new 7-bedroom Bayview Villas, changed all fireplaces from wood to electric, and arranged for six more Homes at the Legacy to take on guests. Eric insisted I didn’t have to list out everything new and updated. (So I didn’t. There’s more.) He enjoys having the element of surprise on his guests… absolutely loves it when he overhears guests raving to each other about how much fun their kids are having here compared to elsewhere they’ve been, as if they’re congratulating themselves on winning some sort of “best parent ever” competition.
“We’re in the vacation business,” Eric says. “And the best in the business know that people always want more than they have, and more than they’ve had before. When you are in a position to be able to afford that to the guests, you do it, and I’m fortunate to work for owners who want every guest to maximize their Cragun’s Resort experience in every good and great way. We’re in the vacation business. But we’re also in the repeat vacation business.”
I returned to Cragun’s this past week to walk around the courses, this time without Eric (or any other adult supervision). I wanted to soak it all in, to see how the new Tom Lehman course was shaping up, and to really get a feel for how great these former holes will play now that they’re flipped completely around. It’s hard to adequately state just how different the former Dutch and Bobby’s Legacy courses will play, and equally hard to state just how excited I am to get my first shot at each of them in their new layouts. I’ve long been a Tom Lehman fan, and long appreciated the skill and craftsmanship of Duininck Golf in all their projects around the Twin Cities (mostly at private clubs). I’m thrilled that a completely public facility is going to showcase just how far golf architecture has come in the past two decades. We get to see it all happen here, people… here in Minnesota. You can come check some of it out this fall, then come back next spring and see even more of it. Then, in two years, in the 2023 golf season, you can come play all 45 championship holes in their full glory and decide for yourself whether or not Cragun’s ownership and management attained their goal of having…
The Best Golf Facility in All of Minnesota.