Amazing Brainerd, Minnesota Golf
by Scott A. Sumner
This June I was fortunate to take the 5 hour drive from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Brainerd Minnesota where I experienced some of my best golf ever concentrated in one unique area. Growing up in Northwestern Ontario I am very with the northern terrain found in Minnesota. My
first trip to Brainerd allowed me to play 5 fantastic courses in a few days and leave with an excellent golf experience!
Cragun’s Resort is on the south end of Gull Lake and has 2 - 18 hole golf courses designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., the Dutch 's Legacy and Bobby’s Legacy. The Dutch's course recently got rated 5 stars by Golf Digest, one of only 24 courses in the country. Bobby’s Legacy got 4.5 stars which is no slouch either. Cragun’s also have a 9 hole par three course around their large driving range which is reversable so they change it each day. The courses have a 30,000 square foot clubhouse with 2 dining rooms, a bar, large patio and ballroom. People can sit out overlooking the grounds on the deck which is a great setting.
Chuck Klecatsky, Director of Golf Cragun Legacy course
“ We started construction of the golf courses August 6th 1997 and opened in September of 1998. The Dutch Legacy was first and then Bobby’s Legacy and the clubhouse came in 2000. The courses are owned by Dutch, age 78, and Irma Cagun, husband and wife. Cragun’s has been in operation for 70 years,” said Chuck Klecatsky, Director of Golf Cragun Legacy course. “ We also have 240 cottages and hotel rooms which can sleep over 1000 when we are fully operational. It is a big property. We were was known as a conference and family resort but we have now made a mark in the golf industry.”
The public green fee is $125 at Cragun’s with a golf cart equipped with Pro Link GPS and includes the range. The off seasonal spring rate is $79 and fall rate $50. There also is a twilight rate of $62.50 after 2:30 each day. “ We try to appeal to all segments of the market.
If you stay at the resort you get a rate of $79 anytime of the day. The best way to come to Cragun’s is on a golf package where you get your meals, room and golf all included. See www.craguns.com/golf. We custom build packages for each group and work with our neighbours on the www.brainerdgolftrail.com You can fill on a online request,” said
Klecatsky. “ Dutch’s Legacy and Bobby’s get equal requests. We have been blessed with a nice piece of land. We have 5 sets of tees so you can never get bored with the holes. The Dutch course is a unique course with 6 par 3’s, 6 par 4’s and 6 par 5’s. The par 4 is the hardest hole
for the amateur because you have to hit two good shots in order to have a chance at par. People like par 3’s because everyone thinks you may make a hole in one and on par 5’s everyone feels you have an extra shot to play with. You have plenty of challenge but the penalty fits well with the challenge. The courses are on 450 acres and meander between wetlands and the forest. On the Dutch 18 we moved very little land.”
“ Our biggest challenge here at Brainerd is to get people to try us out. If we get the first try we get great repeat business. We want people to think of Brainerd instead of golf destinations like
Pinehurst, Myrtle Beach or Scottsdale- traditional places. We put our product up against those any day at a fraction of the cost. For the Canadian market it is a drive destination. You can also fly here with Delta. We will pick you up at the airport and transport you between courses,” said Klecatsky. “ Minnesota nice is a true statement. It is a little different feeling here. We are happy you chose to spend your dollars with us and work hard at offering exceptional service. Our
market is Minneapolis, a 21/2 hour drive away as well as Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. The Canadians seem to enjoy the value. We love our Canadian Market especially in April and May as we may open earlier. The Canadians are also good at sharing their experiences with others so that helps.”
The two Cragun’s courses will do over 40,000 rounds between April 15th to October 15th and this year opened March 31st. Craguns is open 12 months of the year with cross country skiing and snowmobiling. The Brainerd area has a population of 23,000 people but can swell to over 100,000 on Brainerd International Race weekends.
It was a real treat to stay in the Brainerd area at the historic Grandview Lodge main lodge building.This stately structure is part of a large compound area which includes cabins, a conference facility, 9 hole executive course and the Pines 27 hole facility built in 1990,
the first high end course in northern Minnesota. “ Our course started it off as a golf focus for the area. We have cottages with 4 or 5 bedroom units with poker tables. You can bring 4, 8 or 16 golfers here as a group and we have large common areas for them. Six miles north of
here is the Preserve an 18 hole golf course and then Deacons Lodge which is another one of our properties. We have 72 holes ourselves and you can also experience Maddens, Craguns and Breezy Point on the Brainerd Golf Trail,” said Eric Peterson, the Director Of Golf at
Grandview Lodge, “ We at Grandview have been regonized nationally as a top 75 golf resort by Golf Digest.”
“ The Deacons Lodge course is situated on a big property of 500 acres with 18 holes with wide fairways and without side by side fairways. It is a unique layout the offers great vistas off the tee boxes. The 17 th hole is a nice looking hole ranked highly by Arnold Palmer. He used the land well,” smiles Peterson. “ The Pines has 27 holes and all have there own feel. We rotate the nines evenly, the conditioning is impeccable and I would put it up against any public
course. Joel Goldstrand is the designer and has designed many Minnesota golf courses.The Pines course has matured over the years.”
The daily green fee rate is $94 and $104 weekends at the Pines with Deacon’s Lodge $10 more. Grandview offers 3 rounds of golf with 2 nights accomadation and meals from $300 to $550 per person based on double occupancy in golfer oriented units. Grandview has 200 rooms ranging from hotel to 8 bedroom cabins. “ We can have over 800 people staying with us on any summer day. Our main market in Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Fargo and Thunder Bay, We are 2 1/2 hours from Minneapolis and 2 hours from Duluth. These are drive markets,” said Peterson. “ We have seen a growing Canadian market with the quality and variety of
golf with the different designers that we offer here in Brainerd. The Canadians usually stay 3 nights with 4 days of golf. They play a lot of golf, usually twice per day. We will build packages for any schedule.”
Nathan Erickson, Head Professional at the Preserve Golf Course
It was also fun to play the Preserve course managed by Grandview Lodge. The course opened in 1996 and was designed by Dan Helbing. “ I believe our patio offers the best view in the state. For me the views of the course from 11 elevated tee boxes hitting down are great,” said Nathan Erickson, Head Professional at the Preserve Golf Course of Grandview Lodge. “ We do around 20,000 rounds each year. Our prime time season is May 15 to September 20th and green fees are $94 during the week and $104 on the weekends. You get discounted rates if you stay at Grandview. Also from 2 to 4 pm our rate is $ 69 and after 4 pm $49 so if you are price concious you have choices. If you stay, play and eat we provide good deals with our great golf packages.”
Deacons Lodge opened in 1999 and was designed by Arnold Palmer. Deacon was Palmer’s fathers name. “Deacon’s Lodge offers a broad variety of golf holes on over 500 acres with a lot of waste bunkers. Everything is very big- fairways, greens, tees and the water hazards. You will enjoy the separations of each hole.” said Nathan Weisenburger, Shop assistant and previously an assistant professional at Deacon’s Lodge.
My last course at Brainerd would be the well known and highly regonized, The Classic at Madden’s. This large golf resort development includes 4 courses and over 300 units to stay including hotel rooms, suites or cabins with 2 to 4 bedrooms. “ I started here at Madden’s in
1973 but the resort has been here since 1929. This has been my life. When I first started we had 36 hoes of golf and a additional social nine, so we were the largest at the time. There were 3 resorts that were separate and we assembled them into one,” said Brian Thuranger,
Owner and General Manager of Maddens. “ My job is to keep it going and improve it. The basic infrastructure was here when I came in 1973. We have just dusted it off a little bit and improved it.”
Chris Foley, Head Golf Professional at Maddens & Brian Thuranger, Owner and General Manager of Maddens.
The well known Classic course at Maddens was opened 13 years ago with the designer of the course their superintendent, Scott Hoffman. It is ranked 40th in the Golf Digest top 100 list and 5 stars by Golf Digest magazine. “ When you are out there you are out there alone with
your group and see few other golfers. It is a great test of golf and you have to play well to shoot a good score. It is a championship golf course but with a variety of tees so any one can play here,” said Chris Foley, Head Golf Professional at Maddens. “ We get about 18,000 rounds per year on this course. The golfers come from Minneapolis and we have many Canadian guests. The green fee is $ 119 weekend . If you stay at the resort it is $85, from Memorial to Labour Day which is our peak season.”
“ We originally contracted with Robert Trent Jones Sr. who did some original layout work. Our superintendent, Scott Hoffman gave so much advice and I believed in him so I said get three people to help you and he found three fantastic guys who worked well with him to create the Classic at Maddens. We walked every one of our existing holes to get a feel for what the Classic would be. This golf course is minimalist. We didn’t have to move much dirt, this golf course was here. As Scott said he just brushed it off.”
My time on the Brainerd Golf Trail was a fantastic golf experience. The quality of golf here stacks up with anywhere you can find in North America, but remains somewhat generally unkown. When you make your first golf trip to this area I am sure it will become an annual event!