Wilderness at Fortune Bay

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The Wilderness at Fortune Bay

Too Fantastic to Miss!

by Diane Ambro www.golfingnews.ca
Resting among the towering pines of Northern Minnesota is yet another fantastic golf course. The Wilderness at Fortune Bay is a spectacular new course only about a half hour away from the equally superb courses at Giant's Ridge, namely the Legend and the Quarry. All three courses were designed by award winning architect, Jeffrey Brauer and the man is a magician. Carol Coffey and I visited the Wilderness in its early stages when it was nothing but rock, mud and trees. How could anyone turn that mess into a golf course? Well, Jeff not only turned it into a golf course, but an unbelievably beautiful one. Measuring in at around 7140 yards, golfers can choose from four sets of tees. All around you see nothing but the enticing natural beauty of the land. Huge pines and granite outcrops surround the sweeping fairways offering glimpses of the picturesque Lake Vermillion. Giant's Ridge is located in Biwabik, MN about a four hour drive from Thunder Bay. Fortune Bay, site of the Wilderness is a short drive from Biwabik up Hwy. 135 towards Tower, MN. You won't want to visit one course without playing the other two. They're THAT good. Carol and I played the Wilderness last October only a few months after it's June opening. It was really hard to believe that it was such a new course given it's great condition. I recently spoke to Joe Wisocki the head Pro at the Wilderness for an update on how the course wintered. He was pleased to report that the course is 'looking wonderful' right now and if Mother Nature co-operates they plan to open on April 28 or maybe as early as April 22.. Get your clubs folks because the price is right and the golfing's great. They have early season rates up until June 15. The golf course is managed by Kemper Sports and Joe Wisocki has worked  with them since 1999. Joe is experienced in opening new golf courses having done three openings in 3 years. He seems especially excited about his newest challenge at the Wilderness. Joe spent the past few years down south in areas like Kansas, Arkansas and Illinois. I asked him if he had any problems with the Minnesota winter and he said 'not at all, I was born in Duluth and my parents still live there'.  I prompted him to speculate on how this course compares to others that he's worked at. He replied 'I've worked at a lot of fantastic courses and this one will be a nationally recognized golf course'. Golf Magazine apparently agrees with him as they've already awarded the Wilderness a spot on the Top Ten Best New Golf Courses. Joe and his wife, Ana, are expecting their first wee golfer around May 15th. Now to the course itself. Here's a brief synopsis of the 18 holes. Hole #1- Par 5 (649/587/562/470 yds.) Long par five with elevated tees. From the tees you can see the huge rock that divides the upper and lower fairways. Safe shot is to take the lower fairway. Adventurous golfers can attempt the 265 yard carry to the upper fairway landing area where you'll be rewarded with some extra roll that can advance your ball an extra 50 yards. The second shot also gives you two fairway options and golfers be advised to play the left when the pin is left and right when the pin is right.   Hole #2-Par 4 (472/453/426/385 yds.)  A long tough par four. The tees are atop a granite ridge and the view to the green features a large white rock on the left side of the fairway. Your tee shot must avoid the rock and it's equally enticing friend, the bunker to the right. Second shot-your choices are to carry the three cross bunkers just short of the green or play to the fairway left of the offset green.   Hole #3-Par 3 (220/193/166/133 yds.) A tranquil pond sits in front of this par three that plays to a two-tiered punch bowl green. The green is perched part way up the slope of a large hill that extends behind the green. Pond and bunker in front so don't be short. The best strategy is to hit it long and let the ball roll back to the green. The adjacent wetlands can offer some interesting wildlife sightings.   Hole #4-Par 4 (410/393/330/305 yds.) Medium length par four that needs a long tee shot for success. The tees are perched atop a granite ridge surrounded by large pine trees. The hole has an upper and lower fairway divided by, you guessed it, rock. The best tee shot is to clear the rock outcropping to reach the upper fairway. You've got to produce a 260 yard tee shot over a valley and a small pond. If you've brought your 'A' game and make it you'll be rewarded with a level approach shot to the green. Safe shot is will be to the lower, left fairway but it should be long so that you can see the green.  From there you'll have an uphill approach to a green that falls away and left so approach to the right of the pin.   Hole #5-Par 4 (363/348/313/279 yds.) You'll feel like the king of the mountain perched on these par four tees that sit on the highest point on the golf course. The shortest par four on the course offers views of Lake Vermillion in the distance. Don't be fooled, this hole requires a well thought out strategy due to the narrow stand of trees guarding the green at the dogleg right. The green features a five foot deep swale through the middle. What was going through Jeff's mind here?   Hole #6-Par 4(464/435/375/331 yds.)Beautiful view from the par four tees. It is a long uphill hole. Play directly at the larger fairway bunker or with a draw for more distance. Your approach should avoid missing left. When you get home you'll have a rolling green to contend with.  Hole #7-Par 3(157/139/124/115 yds.) Stunning views from these par three tees sitting high above the surrounding terrain.The tees are 50 feet above the green with views over a large wetland to Lake Vermillion and the hills beyond. This is the shortest hole on the course with a small green that is straight downhill. The tee shot is often into the wind. Bunkers guard the front of the green and wetlands beckon beyond. Careful with the club selection.   Hole #8-Par 5 (525/511/456/381 yds.)A wide fairway invites a strong tee shot that leads to a reachable par five. Just to make it interesting there are boulders sitting in the fairway. Don't hit them. For the brave, crazy or just plain talented, a second shot has to carry over a large pond and a paw print bunker to a well contoured green.  Hole #9-Par 4(396/369/342/265 yds.)The front nine finishes with a tee shot into a beautiful valley with a large bunker that can affect play. You'll have to carry the pond in front to reach the green. You can putt out to the gentle sounds of the bubbling brook that flows into the pond right beside the green.  Hole #10-Par 4(455/430/403/343 yds.)The back nine starts with a strong par 4 featuring two sets of tees that offer completely different shot angles. The right tees offer a straightforward tee shot , while the left tees require a longer carry to the fairway..  Hole #11-Par 4(465/427/383/333 yds.) This is the second of two long par fours at the start of the back nine. It seems to play longer because of the bunkers that guard the short route down the left side of the fairway and the left front of the green.  Hole #12-Par 3(166/157/129/107 yds.) This beautiful par three plays across a large and meandering pond. It features a peninsula green. If you've got to miss the green hit it long to the back where there's room to bail out.  Hole #13-Par4(340/325/301/277 yds.)Along side of Lake Vermillion lies the signature hole, a short par 4. John Daly types could reach this short par 4 depending on how much carry you have over the lake.The fairway narrows the farther you carry and a bunker pinches in from the right. The green is small and well guarded. Try not to be distracted by the view or the duckies. loonies and eagles ( the flying kind) that inhabit this area. .  Hole #14-Par 4(392/374/341/304 yds.)A long waste bunker skims down the right side of this medium par four but avoid playing too far left. You'll leave yourself with an approach shot directly at the water and a deep bunker guarding the green. You can still get a great view of the lake from here.   Hole #15-Par 5(530/507/458/376 yds.)It's back to back par fives starting at hole #15. Theoretically it is reachable in two. Tee shots must find the fairway between two bunkers. The large green has a center bunker so choose which side to play. Hole #16-Par 5(540/517/486/438 yds.)You'll have to make choices on this one as the fairway splits into an upper and lower. If you play the upper you can get a downhill 'assist' in reaching the tiny green. Or play it safe down the lower left and leave yourself an uphill pitch. This green is perched high above the surrounding terrain offering spectacular views of the large pond on number 8 and the wetland beyond.  Hole #17-Par 3(189/174/144/114 yds.)A straightforward little par three. Is it me or  does number 17 always seem to be a par three down here? Hole #18-Par 4(473/433/408/368 yds.) This strong finishing hole features, I'm told, the most difficult approach shot on the course. Your approach must negotiate a pond on the left and a bunker back right. Don't be afraid to bail out to the right front of the green. Careful there might be a gallery watching from the majestic clubhouse to your right. You'll also have a great view of the cascading waterfall that dives into the pond.   Every hole on this course is eye-catching and captivating. You'll ride along in quiet carts with GPS yardage screens. After your round you can enjoy a refreshment in their magnificent clubhouse. The view out the front windows captures several holes and the landscaping is a delight. They have an inviting outdoor deck and inside the main clubhouse is a unique spiralling fountain.   The whole experience at the appropriately named Wilderness is one of peace and tranquility.  No noisy highways, no condos surrounding the course and plenty of nature to enjoy. I highly recommend this course and I'd be surprised if anyone didn't love it.

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