Legends Golf Club – Minneapolis/St. Paul’s Premier Public Playground

If you are going to be in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (or already live there) and are looking to play golf, you owe it to yourself to visit Legends Golf Club. Just a short drive south of either downtown, it is one of the top public courses in a metro area known for its quality golf and avid golfers.

My home town is Minneapolis and I have played nearly every public course, and many of the top private courses, our Twin Cities have to offer. Except for the elite courses (Hazeltine, Interlachen and TPC), where PGA, LPGA and Senior Tour events have been held, Legends Golf Club is one of my all time favorites.

What you can expect to find here are country club course conditions, excellent service, a wonderful clubhouse, good food, friendly people and incredible golf.

What Makes This Course Special

  • The course has a masterful mix of holes. No two look or feel the same. You will find a 100 yard Par 3 and 600 yard Par 5 and everything in between. There are straight holes, doglegs, open spaces, tree lined fairways and enough water, traps and elevation changes to challenge the best of players. Holes play to every direction on the compass making wind an ever changing factor.
  • Strategy is paramount. I have enjoyed over fifty rounds here and let me tell you there are many ways to play this course. Approach shots can be flown onto the greens or played low and running. The shortest route is often not the best route. A poor shot almost always leaves a more difficult shot. Tee shots safely down the middle often dictate more daunting approach shots than those that challenge the preferred side of a fairway.
  • Course condition. For those who appreciate a well groomed course Legends Golf Club is for you. The fairways and tees are excellent but it is the undulating, smooth rolling, putting surfaces that take the cake.
  • Best of all, each hole seems isolated unto itself. You rarely see other players, or even other holes, from where you are. Since few holes run parallel (unlike so many courses), the chances of someone straying from a neighboring hole into your fairway is remote. This sense of solitude and quiet maybe the single biggest factor influencing the relaxed, natural and quality experience of playing here.

A Few Examples

The Par 5 fourth is a dogleg left playing to 510 yards. From the elevated tee, one sees a very wide fairway with a complex of traps guarding the corner some 230 yards out. It looks tempting to cut the corner, but finding the traps or even successfully flying them, leaves an exacting second shot. You are left with a tough angle to a narrowing fairway pinched on the left by trees and a hidden brook and on the right by a series of bunkers. The better tee ball is to the middle of the fairway. Did I mention the hole ends at a narrow two tier green that is three club lengths deep? Be sure to check the GPS. Par here….excellent!

Another good risk/reward hole is the fifteenth. It is a beautiful Par 4 of just 384 yards. It is fairly straight, plays slightly downhill, and has a wide fairway but a pond guards the front and right side of the green. A tee ball right down the middle leaves an all or nothing shot over water. A better tee shot challenges the far left side of the fairway. While this takes the water out of play on your approach, it brings a naturalized area just left of the fairway very much into play.

The eighteenth hole is one of the best, and toughest, finishing holes around. At 420 yards, the view from the elevated tee is pure intimidation. A narrow crescent moon fairway, wraps from right to left around a large pond before heading uphill to its finish below the clubhouse. Long hitters who successfully challenge the entire width of the pond are rewarded with a short iron approach to a devilish green. Bailing out right of the pond off the tee may be wise (or even necessary) but will leave a long iron or more to the green. Never mind the people watching from the large patio off the back of the clubhouse. This is no guts no glory. Birdie or triple bogey. Great finishing hole!

The Extras

Legends Golf Club has a very large driving range with multiple greens, including bunkers, set out at varying distances to give a real course feel to your warm up routine. In addition, there is a separate sand trap and pitching green to hone your short game along with a sizable practice putting green.

The clubhouse is large (24,000 sq. ft.) and inviting. It features stone accents, warm woods, great natural lighting, a commanding view of the property and a cozy atmosphere. Inside you will find a well stocked pro shop, an excellent restaurant, men’s and women’s locker rooms along with banquet and meeting spaces. Not to mention the great food available at the turn from the spacious outdoor grill. You can pre-order your burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and drinks from the carts GPS system.

You can visit their website, www.legendsgc.com, and see why this is one of the top rated golf venues in all of Minnesota. Whether you are one of the many visitors to the land of 10,000 lakes or a lifelong resident you owe it to yourself to enjoy a day of play at Legends Golf Club.

Grand View Lodge – Great Golf at a Minnesota Institution

For over 80 years Grand View Lodge has been providing hospitality to Minnesota visitors. Started as a small lodge, it has evolved into an award winning (Conde Nast, Golf and Golf Digest magazines) family resort, spa and golf destination. Grand View’s golf operations include three championship caliber golf courses: Deacon’s Lodge (an Arnold Palmer design), The Pines and The Preserve.

If you have not been fortunate enough to play golf in the Brainerd lakes area, what you will find are courses set in mature forests with towering trees, natural wetlands, lakes and marshes. In general, the scenery alone is worth the trip.

The Preserve is a Par 72 layout that plays 6,601 yards from the tips and is located on rolling wooded terrain that includes 40 acres of wetlands. It has a great combination of holes and while not overly long, it makes up for it with swooping doglegs, elevation changes and large greens with plenty of undulation. Accuracy, both off the tee and into the greens, is paramount to posting a good score.

While The Preserve is just a short drive from the resort, the 27 holes at The Pines are just across the street from the main lodge. There are three nines: Marsh, Lakes and Woods. Each hole of each nine is very private and secluded. A beautiful clubhouse overlooks the property and offers amazing views of the surroundings.

The first question everyone wants answered is, “Which of the nines is the best?” Often times I have played 27 hole layouts where the original eighteen holes are wonderful while the additional nine holes are of lesser quality. This is certainly not the case here.

What I can tell you is that the condition of the entire course was top notch. The greens were fast, the fairways smooth and the rough was, well, rough. There are a number of nice design features throughout. Often a single towering tree, or stand of trees, was left in place to emphasize certain shots. Other times, a lone, well placed, skyscraper of a tree could be found protecting a putting surface as if that was what it was born to do.

The signature holes at The Pines may be the Par 3’s. Most of them are medium length holes but with small narrow greens that tended to angle away from you. Throw in the ponds and marshlands that guard many of them and you have quite a grouping of outstanding three pars.

The third course in Grand View’s championship trio is the Arnold Palmer designed Deacon’s Lodge course. Here again you will find a true test of golf set in a beautiful north woods setting. If you have the time, play all three of the courses. You won’t regret it.

The best bet if you are playing Grand View is to book a stay/play package. They come in various weekend and mid-week arrangements with optional meal plans. This is a perfect trip for your foursome or entire family at one of Minnesota’s iconic resorts. Throw in their nice beach, indoor pool, boat rentals, beachside bar, lavish breakfast buffet and the Glacial Waters Spa and you too will find it very hard to leave this historic Midwest oasis of golf and relaxation.

Cragun’s – 54 Holes of Robert Trent Jones Jr. Golf and so much more

In all of Minnesota, only Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd can boast of having 54 holes of Robert Trent Jones Jr. championship golf. Two 18 hole courses (Dutch 18 and Bobby’s 18) and a reversible 9 hole course make up the Legacy Courses at Cragun’s. In addition to providing great golf, these courses have been granted Signature Sanctuary Status with Audubon International. The Signature status is reserved only for courses meeting rigorous and extensive natural resource management plans. The Legacy Courses are the first in Minnesota and the second nationwide to achieve this designation.

Set on over 300 acres of woods, wetlands and lakeshore, the two 18 hole courses provide challenging golf for all levels of players. More than many of the other courses you may play, I found that choosing to play from the proper distance was the key to an enjoyable day at Cragun’s. I played my round from the Blue tees which measure in at just over 6200 yards. While this may not sound long to many of you the proof is in the pudding.

Like almost all Trent Jones Jr. courses, a premium is put on shot selection, strategy and placement. Many of the holes offer numerous routes to the green with risk/reward shots in abundance. If you have played a Trent Jones Jr. course then you are aware that perception and deception play a big part in his designs. This holds true for many of the shots at the Legacy. You will come across holes with split fairways making you choose a route before you swing. The 14th hole on the Dutch course has two greens! Declare your choice ahead of time and hang on. And, like all good Jones courses, a myriad of tee boxes offers up just the right look for all players. Can you believe the 13th hole has nine tee boxes? That’s right, nine.

My round on the Dutch was very enjoyable and quite challenging on a windy day. Over the course of 18 holes you will be faced with drives over wetlands to rolling fairways, wonderful par threes and many different “looks” including wooded, lakeside and marshland holes. Perhaps it is the variety of hole designs and shot selections that make the Legacy courses so interesting. This is a course designed as much for “thinkers” as it is for long hitters. One of the best parts of the layout is that it is unencumbered by homes or other development crowding the course. This is golf at its natural best. This is why you come to the famous Brainerd Lakes resort area of Minnesota.

A day of play at Cragun’s can only be topped off with your favorite refreshment and/or lunch and dinner at their beautiful clubhouse. At 35,000 square feet, it is home to the Legacy Bar and Restaurant which offering outstanding views of the 9th hole and 10th tee from inside or out on the patio area. You will also find a fully stocked pro shop here with everything you need in the way of clothing and equipment. The balance of the facility is designed to host large events and tournaments.

Make sure to include the Legacy courses at Cragun’s Resort on your next golf outing to the Brainerd area. You will love the challenging golf, excellent course conditions, the secluded and upscale atmosphere, the quality of service and all of the first class facilities that make for a great day on the links.

The Classic – Minnesota Resort Golf at its Finest

Classic. According to Webster’s Dictionary, a classic is something that is historical, traditional, and enduring in design. Others have defined classic as being a work of art of the highest quality. Madden’s on Gull Lake, in the famous Brainerd resort area of Minnesota, has re-defined the term as eighteen holes of Scott Hoffmann championship golf.

I had the opportunity to play The Classic with course designer Scott Hoffmann. The chance to play with a golf course designer is a rare occurrence not to be missed. I was especially looking forward to this opportunity. The abbreviated story behind Scott, Madden’s and The Classic goes like this: Scott grew up working at Madden’s as a kid, went off to college in Michigan to study turf management and returned to resume his career at Madden’s and is now in his 32nd year as an employee.

The course itself is a shining example of how to “find” a course from the given landscape rather than imposing a course on its surroundings. Perhaps the ultimate compliment to the design of The Classic is the feeling that every hole was delicately extracted from the existing natural surroundings. Very little dirt was moved in creating the layout. This tells you what a wonderful piece of property Scott had to work with and how years of walking and hiking the property as a kid prepared him to uncover this course for all to enjoy.

The course begins innocently enough with a tee shot up a slight hill of a tree lined fairway. Think of this as the climb up to the first drop on a roller coaster. You can’t quite see over the edge and you are nervous at what thrills await you. Upon reaching your tee shot the ride and the fun are about to begin. From here, the course flows up, down and around the 220 acre property as if poured onto the land by a higher designer. No holes feel the same and the ever changing topography presents constant challenges to both your game and your brain. Plus, there are no homes or buildings to distract you from the task at hand.

Make no mistake, this is a challenging championship course that is fair yet unrelenting. It demands constant good shot making and even better decision making. There is an amazing mix of shorter risk/reward holes as well as holes with considerable length. The greens are fast and undulating requiring well planned approach shots and nerves of steel. Over the course of eighteen holes you will be faced with tree lined fairways, island-like greens, woodlands, marshes, and natural scenery that tempt distraction like the siren call of the sea.

My overall impression of the course might best be described as a Minnesota version of Augusta National. We all have seen the rolling fairways, undulating greens, little dangers and unique bunkering of that famed layout. Those same influences are at The Classic. Hidden creeks, mature trees, thirsty little ponds, perfect conditions and first class service. And don’t forget to have a wonderful meal after your round at The Classic Grill in the log home styled clubhouse or the relaxing services available at the Spalon Montage spa.

If you are going to stay in Brainerd and play The Classic, I recommend staying at Madden’s. It sits on 1,000 acres surrounded by Gull Lake. Lodging options include lodge rooms, cabins and golf villas. This is Minnesota family resort life at its best.

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