Golfing in North Dakota
Ten years after its construction raised eyebrows and drew more than a couple of chuckles from the locals, the Links of North Dakota has not gotten any closer to anything or anybody. It is 28 miles east of Williston and a few miles west of the boondocks, hard by the shore of a shriveling Lake Sakakawea.
In a business in which location is everything, the golf course known as Red Mike was left behind.
'It's just hard to get people out here,' says third-year pro Matt Bryant, sitting in an empty clubhouse overlooking a near-empty parking lot on a warm, sunny and calm evening. 'It's so remote.'
Which remains just as unfortunate as always, because it is one of the purest tracks golfers will ever play, a little piece of the British Isles within a couple of tanks of gas. It continues to garner national recognition, checking in this year at 53rd on Golf Digest's list of top 100 public courses.
'It is as good as anything you'll find in Scotland,' says the magazine's course critic, Ron Whitten. 'People will spend thousands of dollars to fly over there to play when all they need to do is drive to North Dakota.'
Isolation has cost Red Mike. It's never been a moneymaker, and the original investors auctioned the course for the bargain bin price of $467,000 in 2002. A group of 15 buyers, most with ties to Williston, have kept the course afloat since then. The annual losses have not been huge -- about $20,000 to $25,000 last year, Bryant said -- but it is red ink. And with businessmen being businessmen, wealthy or not, that's not good.
'The biggest question I get is, 'How do you make it work?' Bryant jokes. 'I always say, 'Well, we have guys who need a tax write-off.'
The course isn't going away anytime soon.
'We're still real optimistic,' says Williston attorney John McMaster, an investor and member of Red Mike's three-person board. 'We can't say we've made any money on the deal, but we view it as a great asset to the area. And we didn't really get into it to make a lot of money, although it would be nice to at least break even. We view it as a positive for people in the area.'
Paid 18-hole rounds at Red Mike climbed last year to 8,200, up from 7,800 in Bryant's first summer. That's still a thousand or more short of what the course needs to break even.
As a comparison, the municipal courses in Fargo-Moorhead do about 20,000 rounds apiece each year. Bryant came to North Dakota from Colorado, where he worked at courses that had 60,000 rounds a year.
So he seeks out positives while working in a pro shop that on a great day sees 75 people walk through the door.
'We had a good start in April this year. Rounds were up 50 percent over a year ago,' Bryant says. 'We had 250 rounds last year in April and 375 this year. You can laugh at those numbers, but that's huge for us.'
A decade after renowned designer Stephen Kay completed this minimalist layout to rave reviews, the course itself is a bit ragged around the edges, but wholly playable and enjoyable. McMaster is proud the course's conditioning the past couple of years improved with the new investors.
Drought has hit western North Dakota hard, and Red Mike is no exception. The course, which drew its irrigation water from Lake Sakakawea, had to drill its own well last fall because there is so little water left in the Missouri River reservoir. Some greens at this early date are crispy.
The most expensive part of Red Mike is the gas getting there. Green fees prior to May 15 are $30 for 18 holes. After that it will be $50 on weekends, $40 on weekdays. For that, golfers are pretty well guaranteed to have the place to themselves.
This is not assembly line resort golf, with bag boys and valet parking. This is a gravel parking lot and ball washers maybe every fifth hole. But the holes are fun and memorable, and the views of the lake are still pretty good.
There is no lodging on site, only a functional clubhouse.
'It would probably be helpful to have something right at the course, but there is nothing in the plans for that right now,' McMaster says.
If only the course wasn't so far from everything and everybody.
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Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.
Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.
“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”
It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.
Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.
“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”
It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.
Tweets by GCTigerTracker
McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.
McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.
But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.
“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.
“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.
“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”
McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.
“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”
McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.
How The Open cut line is determined
Scores on Day 1 of the 147th Open Championship ranged from 5-under 66 to 11-over 82.
The field of 156 players will be cut nearly in half for weekend play at Carnoustie. Here’s how the cut line works in the season’s third major championship:
• After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.
• There is no 10-shot rule. That rule means anyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds, regardless of where they stand in the championship, make the cut. It’s just a flat top 70 finishers and ties.
• There is only a single cut at The Open. PGA Tour events employ an MDF (Made cut Did not Finish) rule, which narrows the field after the third round if more than 78 players make the cut. That is not used at this major.
The projected cut line after the first round this week was 1 over par, which included 71 players tied for 50th or better.