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Minnesota's Iron Range: Land of lakes, legendary giants and spectacular golf at Giants Ridge

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BIWABIK, Minn. -- Minnesota's Iron Range region is quite familiar with big things. The Ojibwa Native Americans spoke of 'Mesabi,' a mythical giant whose footsteps created the thousands of area lakes and whose collected treasures became the abundant wildlife in the region.

Modern day legends from these parts include Kevin McHale, a giant in the paint for the Boston Celtics, as well as a giant of modern songwriting, Bob Dylan, both of whom grew up in Hibbing. Golfers with a particular fondness for Dylan could couple a golf trip with Hibbing's 'Dylan Days' festival, which is held each spring.

There are legendary gals, too. The fishing town of Ely is home to actress Jessica Biel, not to mention 'Dorothy the Root Beer Lady,' who lived in solitude on the Isle of Pines in the boundary waters. She came to be so beloved that she was visited by as many as 7,000 people annually and sold root beer to passers-by on canoe.

And lest we forget the world's largest hockey stick is located in Eveleth, next to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame:


Hockey Stick

Major iron ore quarrying was the predominant industry of the Iron Range for decades, but with operations now dormant, the region has shifted into tourism. The transformation is led by a vibrant fishing industry. When traversing through the small towns of the Iron Range like Biwabik and Ely, one gets the sense the local economy is propped up predominantly by bait shops and drinking establishments. Pub chatter usually begins with a question of one's luck on the lake that day, and every menu in these parts serves up a big helping of walleye, served grilled, baked, fried or put on a sandwich.

The leading resort around here is near Biwabik at Giants Ridge, a state-owned golf & ski resort and development with two championship courses and loads of other recreation opportunities in both winter and summer.

The Legend and Quarry golf courses at Giants Ridge

Both the Legend and Quarry golf courses at Giants Ridge, separated by about three miles, are managed to premium standards by Troon Golf and were designed by golf course architect Jeff Brauer. Despite the same architect and opening in the same era of design six years apart (not to mention the same green fee $82-89 peak season), the Legend and Quarry play and look vastly different. The original course, the Legend, opened in 1997 and traverses through deep woods along the base of the hillside used for skiing in the winter.

The first and 10th holes play parallel to one another, but for the most part, every other hole is encircled by nature.


Legend 1 and 10

The first and 10th holes on the Legend play beside one another. 


The signature hole of the entire property -- and arguably the entire state -- comes courtesy of the Legend's par-3 17th. It's more than 200 yards, practically all carry, over Sabin Lake. Flowers encircle the tee box to beautify it further. When golfers aren't white-knuckling their grip on the tee, it's a popular spot for wedding ceremonies.


Legend No. 17

No. 17 on the Legend has a postcard setting. 


The Quarry course debuted in 2003, built on top of the former mining operation, which lends itself to more rugged terrain -- yet it remains more walkable than the Legend course with shorter distances from green to tee. The design features larger green complexes with five pin positions per hole (versus three on the Legend). With larger fairways but a little more trouble surrounding them, there are plenty of opportunities to be aggressive. Each par 5 is beautifully entertaining and different, and two fabulous drivable par 4s for longer hitters lend themselves to a course that has many different looks from the tee.


Quarry Giants Ridge

Big hitters can drive the par-4 13th hole on the Quarry course at Giants Ridge. 


Bordering the Quarry clubhouse and the 18th hole, Embarrass Lake (named for the nearby town, not one's misfirings with a putter) is one of the larger manmade holes dug up during quarrying and is known to be up to 500 feet deep.


Quarry 18

The Quarry's 18th hole requires a firm draw off the tee or you could end up in Lake Embarrass. 


Stay and play (or live) at Giants Ridge

Visitors to Giants Ridge can stay in either the main lodge, located at the base of the ski hill, or a vacation villa located on Wynne Lake, which has its own small beach. There are a wealth of outdoor activities off the course here, including frisbee golf along the ski slopes, and mountain and road cycling on the Mesabi Trail network.

Then of course, there is fishing. It would seem practically sacrilegious to make a visit to Minnesota without putting a hook in the water. You can do it just about anywhere as guides, bait shops and fishing holes can be found on every corner. For those who don't have the gear or know-how, Giants Ridge can arrange guided fishing trips of nearby lakes. Or head to the town of Ely, which has some fantastic lakes teeming with smallmouth bass and walleye.


Fishing

One of many catches caught on Lake White Iron in Ely with our guide Andy Brandau. 


Giants Ridge has opened up some lots for residential offerings, although they are set well off the golf courses.

More top Minnesota golf on the Iron Range

For those who want to play another top Minnesota course, The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, part of a casino development, is located 35 miles north of Giants Ridge. 


View tee times for Giants Ridge and more golf courses in Minnesota on GolfNow


Getting here

Duluth is the main airport hub, about an hour's drive, and services many major airlines, most notably Delta through Detroit and Minneapolis as well as United via Chicago. Giants Ridge is about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from the Twin Cities.

More information: GiantsRidge.com.