Minnesota golf: The land of 10,000 lakes -- and great courses

Most likely when you envision Minnesota you think of a land of 10,000 lakes (actually there's 11,842) and Garrison Keillor, the folksy radio variety show host of "A Prairie Home Companion." Or maybe you remember wrestler/Governor Jesse Ventura or Sen. Al Franken, a comedian.

After my trip I now think of golf.

Here are my favorite golf courses in Minnesota.

Giants Ridge near Biwabik

Giants Ridge, about four hours north of Minneapolis, features 36 holes of award-winning golf. Jeff Brauer designed the Legend and The Quarry. "The first year of The Legends [1997] they logged 30,000 rounds," Brauer recalled.

The Legend at Giants Ridge, adjacent to Superior National Forest, features birches and evergreens, boulders, waste areas and enormous bunkers. Look for the "giant's" footprint bunker on no. 3, a 501-yard par 5. Aim over one of its "toes" to cut the corner on this dogleg left.

The Quarry at Giants Ridge, which ousted The Legend for best public-access course in the state by Golf Digest, snakes through an old sand and rock quarry, finishing aside a 550-foot mine-pit lake that also serves as a Department of Natural Resources trout fishery.

The Wilderness at Fortune Bay

Some 30 minutes from Giants Ridge in Tower is your next Brauer gem. Fortune Bay Resort Casino is home to The Wilderness at Fortune Bay. It is owned and operated by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, and the $10.8 million par-72 course measures 7,207 yards and weaves itself through red and white pines, along Lake Vermilion, granite outcroppings and marshlands. Some holes have rock ridges that serve as dividing points between upper and lower fairways. The Wilderness, like The Quarry, was an instant award-winner.

The Classic at Madden's on Gull Lake

The Classic at Madden's on Gull Lake, my favorite in the Brainerd resort area, was designed by superintendent Scott Hoffmann. Back in the mid-1990s, Madden's already had 45 holes of entertaining golf but decided it wanted a modern championship course.

The Classic, a par 72, has elevation changes up to 60 feet and covers 7,102 yards with fairways that dip and roll. Red oaks, maples, flowering crabapple and others line the fairways and create scenic contrast to the more than 50 bunkers filled with "Ohio's Best" white sand. Water comes in to play on 15 of 18 holes, establishing a round with strategic challenges.

Madden's trail-blazed to golf in 1926 when it opened Pine Beach East, the first 18-hole resort course in the state. Pine Beach West followed along with The Social 9, an ideal place for juniors and beginners with awesome views of Gull Lake.

Deacon's Lodge at Breezy Point Resort

Deacon's Lodge at Breezy Point Resort -- opened in 1999, designed by Arnold Palmer and named for his father -- is a 6,934-yard par-72 course that flows through 500 acres of lakes, forest and wetlands with wide fairways and formidable approaches. When they tell you the second shot is key they mean it. If your approach doesn't find the putting surface you might be in trouble.

The Preserve at Grand View Lodge

Mike Morley and Dan Helbling designed The Preserve at Grand View Lodge, a 6,601-yard, par-72 course with 11 elevated tees, forests and wetlands. The bentgrass greens, tees and fairways are maintained for excellence, and the clubhouse offers some of the most scenic golf course views in Minnesota.

Breezy Point Resort, Madden's on Gull Lake and the historic Grand View Lodge will take you back in time in the Brainerd area. These places are old-time summer lake fun with every outdoor activity imaginable.

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

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Minnesota golf: The land of 10,000 lakes -- and great courses