Melting snow and warmer temperatures are not only the first signs of spring for golfers across North Dakota. They also represent the beginning of a new season on the links at the state's many golf courses.
Although North Dakota has not been traditionally considered a great golf destination, state enthusiasts have been changing that perception in the past decade. North Dakota has more golf holes per capita than any other state in the country. Four of the newest public golf courses have increased the number of holes in the state, but they have also drawn national attention to some spectacular golf experiences available in North Dakota.
These new courses are the Links of North Dakota, also known as Red Mike near Williston; Hawktree in Bismarck; King's Walk in Grand Forks, and the new Bully Pulpit in Medora.
The Links of North Dakota
The Links of North Dakota has set the standard for a high quality, championship golf experience in the state. Designed by golf course architect Stephan Kay, the 5,249 to 7,092-yard, 72-par course put western North Dakota on the map in terms of golf when it opened for play in the summer of 1995.
Although officially named "The Links of North Dakota," most people know it as Red Mike, a name from local folklore. The story is that Red Mike was a horse thief who lived near what is now the course. He was caught, and during interrogation a fire was built underneath him to gain a confession. The fire got out of hand and he was burned to death. Whether true or not, the legend of Red Mike lives on, but this time it is because of a golf course, not a horse thief.
Located 27 miles east of Williston, "The Links" is truly a spectacular setting. Kay considered the location the best site he had ever seen for a golf course. With only 9,000 yards of dirt (500,000 yards is normal) moved to build it, the natural lay of the course is a special feature. The scenic landscape and a view of nearby Lake Sakakawea from every hole add to its charm.
"The golf course is known for its links golf-type feel, along with a challenging, but fair layout," says Matt Bryant, head golf professional at "The Links." "Sometimes breezy to windy conditions make creative shot-making a must."
Every hole on the par-72 layout features five sets of tees, ranging from beginner to pro, accommodating players at every level of expertise. While all of its 18 holes have potential to be the course's signature hole, many golfers claim as their favorite the par-3 17th. From the back this hole plays about 230 yards with a dramatic drop from tee to green. Very seldom does the hole play to the marked yardage, as the wind is a deciding factor when reaching for a club.
Under new ownership, the condition of the golf course has improved significantly over the past two seasons, and Bryant says it is in prime condition.
"The present condition of the golf course is awesome, the tees, fairways, and greens are excellent," said Bryant.
Besides being given credit as the number one course in the state by Golfweek in 2003, The Links of North Dakota has also been named #57 on Golfweek's list of top 100 best modern golf courses. "The Links" reinvented North Dakota golf and will always be known as the first high quality golf experience in the state.
For more information, visit www.thelinksofnorthdakota.com, www.redmike.com, or call 701-568-2600, or toll-free 866-733-6453.
In the mid-1980s, putting a world-class golf course in Bismarck was a mere dream for a few local businessmen. With luck, hard work and determination, their dream became a reality in 2000 when Hawktree Golf Club opened for play.
Dug into the rolling hills and shaped around the Burnt Creek north of Bismarck, Hawktree is a 7,085-yard par-72 golf course that tests every aspect of the player's game. There are many unique features of Hawktree, the most notable being the severe elevation changes, its mysterious black bunkers, and its consistently immaculate condition.
"When you think of North Dakota you think of flat prairie, not the elevation changes that we have out here," said Chuck Ruppert, Hawktree's head golf professional. From the first hole that drops significantly from the tee to the green, to the 18th hole, which is an uphill climb all the way to the green, the elevation changes are present throughout the golf course.
One of the most notable elevation changes occurs on the par-5 5th hole. From the back tees a shot must carry over the Burnt Creek before getting to the fairway. Once the tee shot has successfully landed on the other side, the challenge begins. From there it is straight uphill, with a narrowing fairway that leads to a small, severely sloped green. It is this hole from which the name Hawktree is derived.
During construction of the course, a hawk nest was noticed in a lone oak tree on the right side of the number five fairway. This oak tree became known as the "Hawktree." The nest has since disappeared from the tree, but the lone oak is still an attention getter as it sits along the cart path of the fifth hole.
Hawktree's eye-catching black bunkers have also drawn a lot of attention. The black sand is actually slag from a nearby coal mine that Dickinson native and now national golf course designer Jim Engh thought would be a unique addition. Along with their mysterious appearance, the bunkers bring a different playability to the golf course that offers a challenge to most players.
North Dakota golf expert Dan Waldoch, of Bismarck, believes the condition of the golf course is what makes Hawktree stand out from the others. "I have played a lot of golf courses all over and the shape of Hawktree is as good, if not better, than all of them," says Waldoch.
Ranked as the 19th-best public course in America by Golf Digest in May 2003, Hawktree has put Bismarck on the map as a world-class golf destination.
For more information visit www.hawktree.com or call 701-355-0995, toll free 888-465-4295.
After the devastating flood in 1997, Grand Forks golf enthusiasts undertook an initiative to bring a top-flight public golf course to the region. The city hired golf legend Arnold Palmer's course design company to develop the course one mile south of the Grand Forks Columbia Mall shopping center.
Named in honor of Palmer, King's Walk officially opened in May 2002. The par-72 course features a natural prairie setting that creates the feel of the great links courses of Scotland and Ireland. It stretches 7,200 yards from the back tees. However, from the front tees it plays to less than 5,400 yards. Each hole's four sets of tees welcome golfers of all abilities.
One of the more intriguing holes is the last, number 18, which is a 559-yard par-five with a dogleg to the right. Accurate shots are necessary to avoid the lake on the left and the fairway bunkers to the right. The large green features a view of the clubhouse in the background.
Managed by the Grand Forks Park District, King's Walk also features a premiere practice facility, a clubhouse, and an adjacent housing development.
For more information visit www.kingswalk.org, or call 701-787-KING or toll-free 800-787-KING.
Three miles south of Medora, in the middle of the Badlands and around the Little Muddy River - this is the location of North Dakota's newest golf course, scheduled to open in June.
The course's name comes from two sources. A bully pulpit is defined as an ideal platform to use in persuasively advocating an agenda. It is what Theodore Roosevelt, one-time Medora resident and 26th president of the United States, called the White House. Also, the 15th hole tee box, which is elevated above the the rest of the course, resembles what could be called a bully pulpit.
The Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation purchased a plot of land next to some it already owned south of Medora. It hired Dr. Michael Hurdzan to design the course. Named Golf Digest's "Golf Course Architect of the year" in 1997 and winner of numerous awards, Hurdazan has designed over 250 courses. Providing affordable golf and keeping the course environmentally sensitive were two goals Hurdzan set while creating an extravagant golf course.
"It is just a spectacular setting," says Randy Hatzenbuhler, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, about the course's rugged scenery. The course offers three different styles of play. The traditional-style course with wide fairways and lots of trees can be found on the front nine, while an almost link-style golf is present on the first few holes of the back nine. The 14th hole goes into the Badlands, where the 15th and 16th holes can be found, and which look and play like a desert-style golf course.
With five different tee boxes to choose from, ranging from 4,070 yards from the front tees to 7,100 yards from the back tees, the golf course is meant to be played by everyone. A driving range is also available for those who like to warm up before they play, or for those who don't have the time to play but like hitting golf balls.
Already known as one of North Dakota's prime tourist attractions, Medora has taken a large step forward as one of the state's top golf destinations.
For more information visit www.medora.com. or call 800-633-6721.
History and golf are partners along Lewis and Clark Golf Trail
The Lewis and Clark Trail that winds through western North Dakota has many attractions for tourists. Among them are 24 golf courses.
These courses are profiled in a 20-page full-color Guide to Golf Along North Dakota's Lewis and Clark Trail, and on a website at www.lewisandclarkgolftrail.com.
This trail was the brainchild of golf enthusiasts and friends, former Governor Allen I. Olson, now living in Minneapolis, and Bob Kallberg, of Bismarck. Through the help of regional sponsors, they charted the trail of these golf courses.
"This guide helps golfers explore the 300-plus golf holes that lie along the trail blazed by Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea and the intrepid band of explorers that helped open the Louisiana Purchase," Kallberg says.
Included along the trail are the nationally recognized Hawktree and the Links of North Dakota, as well as 18 other courses. Four other off-trail golf stops in Minot, Dickinson, South Heart and Medora are also profiled.
For each featured course, the guide provides a color photo, written profile, contact information and the course rating.
The free guides are distributed around the state and will be sent to any interested golfer requesting one through North Dakota Tourism, 1-800-HELLO-ND.
Barrett Ganje is a Bismarck native who is majoring in communications at the University of North Dakota. An avid golfer, he has competed on high school varsity and college golf teams.