Golf Getaways

Tee it up at one of the state’s best resort courses before the Ryder Cup

golf, giant's ridge resort
legend’s #17 at giant’s ridge resort. Photo by Peter Wong.

Every four years, one American state is selected to host golf’s premier event, the Ryder Cup, and this September 27–October 2, Minnesota will take its turn at the center of the golf universe. During the prime months until then, idyllic summer weather and six spectacular golf resorts make a strong case for why the state should annually draw the traveling golf crowds.

Madden’s on Gull LakeBrainerd

Madden’s owns 1,000 acres of Gull Lake beachfront and recently put $13 million into new construction for some 40 percent of its property, including dozens of new guest rooms. While resort amenities include an on-site spa, manicured croquet/lawn bowling/grounds, and even trap shooting (shotguns provided), Madden’s 63 holes of golf are its crown jewel. The Classic ranks among Golf Digest’s American Top 100 and is also home to Minnesota’s only public caddie program: Professional golf assistants who accompany, coach, and cater to you throughout your round—a luxury typically reserved for high-end private clubs and the PGA Tour.

golf, madden's on gull lake
The classic at Madden’s on Gull Lake. Courtesy of Madden’s on Gull Lake.

Grand View LodgeNisswa

Statistically, one of the most popular of Minnesota’s  lakes will be even more so this summer as Gull Lake’s Grand View Lodge celebrates its centennial year. The resplendent main lodge, built with Norway pine in 1916, remains one of the best examples of log construction from the era. But the resort’s newer features also stand the test of time. Grand View just completed a renovation of all 45 of its championship golf holes—bunkers, greens, and landscaping—and the 7th hole of the Lakes Nine at The Pines is stunning enough to have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s golf calendar. For post-play relaxation, the posh Glacial Waters Spa is one of the state’s best, with its extensive range of services from massage (one tailored to golfers) to hydrotherapy (Vichy shower) to body treatment (Hungarian herbal mud). Or dine at one of the seven on-site restaurants, including the elegant, wine-focused Cru—but save room for dessert at the Chocolate Ox candy/ice cream shop.

golf, grand view lodge
Grand View Lodge golf course. photo by Peter Wong.

Cragun’s Resort Brainerd

Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and his sons, Rees and Robert Trent Jr., have designed more than 850 golf courses worldwide, including this year’s Ryder Cup host course, Hazeltine National. Cragun’s, a second-generation family-owned resort on Gull Lake, has 36 holes of Jones Jr.’s legacy. His Dutch’s and Bobby’s courses feature designs so similarly spectacular that ranking experts reportedly used a coin toss to determine final supremacy. True or not, this is: One of the most beautiful holes in Minnesota is the Par-4 17th on Bobby’s. To attract non-golfers to the course, Cragun’s reversible 9-hole is one of the few places in the state offering FootGolf—a new sport played in the same manner as golf, except with a kicked soccer ball.

foot golf, cragun's resort
FootGolf at Cragun’s Resort. Photo courtesy of Cragun’s Resort.

Breezy Point ResortPequot Lakes

Few combos are as superbly meant-to-be as lemonade and iced tea, but Breezy Point created one when they acquired golf icon Arnold Palmer’s tribute to his father, Deacon’s Lodge, in 2012. The 500-acre loon refuge is quite possibly Palmer’s greatest design in America, and features one of his all-time favorite holes, the lakeside 3-Par 17th, as well as what is arguably Minnesota’s best opening hole. For 90-plus years the resort itself has been a Brainerd Lakes mainstay, offering everything from basic inn rooms to a four-bed home with its own swimming pool. There are also 36 more holes of golf at Whitebirch and The Traditional, plus frequent live entertainment on the lake—this summer’s lineup features musical tributes to Elvis, Sinatra, Diamond, and Cash.

deacon’s lodge at breezy point resort
deacon’s lodge at breezy point resort. PHoto courtesy of breezy point resort.

Giants Ridge ResortBiwabik

The Quarry is an American Top 20 public course, per Golf Digest, yet many prefer it’s unranked sister course, Legend. So who’s right? That’s hardly a quandary for the year-round golf/ski resort, and far more a tribute to the consistent quality and diverse polarity of the 36-hole experience. The Quarry intimidates—rugged in beauty and relentless in pursuit of challenger humiliation—if that’s your cup of tees. If you’re a better photographer than golfer, Legend is the Quarry’s antithesis: kind, forgiving, and supermodel stunning. (The 17th hole has been rated among the 100 Most Beautiful in America—remove a “0” and that’s still true.) While the Lodge at Giant’s Ridge offers the usual resort condo digs, the more unique options at neighboring Green Gate—the architecturally intriguing Barn Home, the historic Farmhouse and Log Cabin—are as 5-star as the golf.

Fortune Bay Resort CasinoTower

Even though Golf Digest has ranked The Wilderness among the Top 60 courses in America, it could easily qualify as the country’s most underrated golf experience. The abbreviated season of play and travel distance from metro areas are the only detractions to one of the more remote and memorable golf rounds, rich with wild terrain including thick woods and scenic panoramas of Lake Vermilion. (The course covers plenty of the resplendent topography, at more than 7,200 yards from the back tees.) The Bois Forte band of Chippewa operates the Wilderness on reservation land and accommodates guests at the adjacent Fortune Bay Resort Casino—its Wilderness Grill is among the best 19th holes in the state. 

Hazeltine National’s Ryder Cup

Since 1927, the Ryder Cup has been the Olympics of Golf (this August, the sport returns to the summer games for the first time since 1904). Contested biennially between Team America and Team Europe, the one-week, multi-format event only graces the United States every four years, and from September 27 to October 2, Minnesota will host its first Ryder at Hazeltine National in Chaska. (Tickets are sold out, but NBC and the Golf Channel will broadcast the Cup.) Europe has won eight of the last ten contests, including the past three in a row. Hopefully our passionate fan base can help reverse that trend.

mini golf, wildwedge
Wildwedge mini golf course. Photo by Jill Beyer.

Best MN Mini Golf: Wildwedge

Depending on the source, there are anywhere from 850 to 1,000 mini-golf courses in America. More than 20 of those are in Minnesota, and the standout is an adventure that goes well beyond the usual windmills and water hazards. Wildwedge, located in the appropriately diminutive town of Pequot Lakes, is a detail-rich collection of challenging holes inspired by literally thousands of hands-on research rounds across the U.S. With new carpeting and designs tweaks implemented in 2016, this is the year to fall in love with little landscaping and explore the inversely large property’s other feature attractions: a 10,000 square-foot Amazing Mystery Maze, 9-hole Par 3 course, and full-service RV Park.

Online extra: Discover artist designed mini-golf courses in the Twin Cities