Great golf in North Dakota You betcha

By Jay FlemmaOctober 10, 2008, 4:00 pm

north dakota hawk tree
Hawktree Golf Club
 
I told a New York City friend I was taking three days to play golf in North Dakota, and he was polite enough to inquire if I had taken leave of my senses. I was of sound mind and body, yet he blinked vacantly for a few seconds while I reassured him that North Dakota courses have won two best new course awards in the last few years (Hawktree in 2000 and Bully Pulpit in 2005 for those of you scoring at home). Moreover, there is as scenic a landscape as can be found anywhere in the country complete with horseback riding, hiking trails, fishing, National Parks and wildlife preserves. And - Surprise! - North Dakota is no more remote for travel than Texas for most Americans. Most importantly, the golf is dirt cheap.
 
Too few people have taken advantage of all the wonders North Dakota has to offer. Its like they actually believe things that could be headlines right out of that comedy newspaper The Onion:
 
North Dakota is really just East Montana, South Saskatchewan
 
Area Nimrod actually bragging about going to North Dakota
 
U.S. to Canada: Trade you North Dakota for all the Molson we can drink
 
Wife Concusses Husband with 9-wood for Suggesting North Dakota for Vacation Spot
 
All right I better quit the North Dakota jokes or golf course architect Jim Engh, a native North Dakotan, will bust my head. Nevertheless, the secret is out ' golf courses in North Dakota are claiming numerous awards for their stellar designs and unspoiled natural setting. North Dakota is no joke. The golf ' like the state itself - is an unspoiled frontier adventure, and its dirt cheap.
 
First, fly into Bismarck and play Hawktree Golf Club, Enghs second solo design project and his first public effort. Engh, now a Coloradan, was thrilled to create a great course in his one-time home state. I grew up riding on a tractor in my dads lap, so its nice to close the circle so to speak and come back home.
 
The course is unmistakably Engh and, therefore, looks nothing like either of North Dakotas other two flagship courses, Bully Pulpit in Medora and Links of North Dakota in the states northwest corner. Built-over Hawktree features Enghs now familiar side-walled fairways, bowl-shaped green settings (both of which give player-friendly bounces and help keep play moving) and squiggle-shaped muscle bunkers, this time filled with black slag, a burned coal by-product instead of sand.
 
Next, drive two hours west to rugged Medora, home to Michael Hurdzans Bully Pulpit. With solid design features, several different types of topography ' from serene meadows to several holes that climb through, around and over Badlands canyons - and holes with plenty of options, the course is particularly well rounded. Part shades and glens, part rugged mountains, the course is eminently natural.
 
While the minimalism is to be commended, the greatest asset is Hurdzans creation of many lines of charm. Bunkers frequently bisect fairways perpendicularly (most notably at six and thirteen) and meadows filled with native grasses tempt players to try to carry them to gain an advantage for the next shot. The greens have more interesting contours than most other public courses, yet do not have the cloak and dagger terror of a Black Mesa or Pinehurst No. 2.
 
Finally, a trip to Williston, N.D., two hours north of Medora, to play the Links of North Dakota, is a trip back to the land of the great frontier expansion. Architect Stephen Kay built the Links of North Dakota in a remote but pristine plot of land in the far northwest corner of the state. The course overlooks and meanders along he bluffs a gorgeous corner of Lake Sakagawea among heaving natural grass covered dunes. Its only twenty-eight miles from the nearest town, but the landscape seems as remote and primal as when Lewis and Clark walked there with the Lakes Native American namesake exactly 200 years ago
 
Best of all, all three courses can be played for $60 or less.
 

Jay Flemma
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 260 nationally ranked public golf courses in 39 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer, Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan.
 
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