The course with the area’s toughest par 3
Soldiers Field G.C.
244 East Soldiers Field Drive, Rochester
Par 70, 5,823 yards, built in 1927, 9/$16, 18/$25
Known and loved by Rochester’s senior golfers for its short, flat layout centrally located right smack downtown, Soldiers Field is truly an historic gem of a golf course. The city’s oldest 18-hole course winds among the beautiful hardwood trees and hops over and along the Zumbro River on four holes, including the finishing par 5s to each nine. Yes, Soldiers Field is short, but don’t think it won’t test you. Classic greenside bunkering plus the smallish greens require accuracy on iron shots. You’ll need to be a good chipper to score well at Soldiers Field.
The grand old lady of Rochester golf courses is home to the city’s most challenging par 3 hole, the 220-yard (from tips) eighth hole. What’s so tough? You don’t see any bunkers in play? Easy, right? Wrong. The smallish green falls off hard to the front left. Pitch shots from the rough short or left up to the tiny target are no bargain. More double bogies than pars are made there. Miss right of the green and well, nice knowing you. Trying to hit a lob over the yawning pine trees is suicide. A run shot underneath the pines? Watch out for the roots jutting up from the ground.
Need a bite before or after the round? Soldiers Field also boasts the city’s best golf course grill. Great burgers, sandwiches, soup, and the popular lunch buffet. Toss a tomato slice and some pickles on that burger and sit down to hash over the round with your buddies. The total golf experience at Soldiers Field is old school and helps you remember how you fell in love with the game all those years ago.
The course with the area’s toughest par 5
Eastwood Golf Course
3505 Eastwood Road SE, Rochester
Par 71, 6,572 yards, built in 1969 with new back nine in 2008, 9/$16, 18/$25
The original 18-hole layout at Eastwood was designed by Rochester golf legend Ray Keller. The old front nine was scrapped a couple summers ago, what was the back nine became the front nine and the new back finally opened for play in the spring of 2008. The new back nine is longer, but offers multiple tee boxes so golfers of any level can play to their game. The new nine features very large undulating greens, the opposite of the front nine’s old, small, flatter greens. An 18-hole at Eastwood provides a pleasing array of challenges.
But be ready for hole no. 14, a true bearcat of a par 5. From the back tee the hole plays over 600 yards and demands an accurate tee shot to avoid junk on the right and O.B. on the left. Just lay your second shot up to the 150-yard stake then take your chances at birdie or par from there.
If your putter can’t handle all the fast, sloping putts on the new back nine, just pop on into one of southeast Minnesota’s best pro shops. Head pro Jeff Gorman stocks a nice variety of top line equipment, including the latest putters, at very competitive prices.
The course that started with a farm magazine
Maple Valley Golf & Country Club
8600 Maple Valley Road SE, Rochester
Par 71, 5,916 yards, built in 1964, 9/$13, 18/$23
Cut among the dramatic limestone bluffs of the Root River valley, Maple Valley has long been considered by golf buffs to be a hidden gem of southeastern Minnesota golf. Located in the extreme southeast part of rural Rochester, a round at Maple Valley can seem like a scenic getaway. Especially as you stroll onto the tee of the par three 3rd hole. At just 161 yards, the joy of this hole is the view. Spectacular. Launch your iron shot into the air and watch it fall against the bluffs in the distance. If it’s autumn, it feels like you’re hitting your shot into a painting.
Original course owner and designer Wayne Idso got the idea for creating Maple Valley Golf & Country Club after reading a story in a national farm publication back in 1961. The story suggested taking farm land out of production and re-directing the land use towards recreation…golf. Maple Valley fans are glad Wayne read his farm magazines!
Maple Valley offers a great $25 for 18 holes and a cart special every day of the week. Monday-Friday, play before noon. On weekends, play after 3 p.m.
The course with the best four finishing holes in Minnesota
Rochester Golf & Country Club
3100 Country Club Road, Rochester
Par 70, 6,469 yards, built in 1925, private (call for rates and availability)
RGCC was designed by one of the all-time legends of golf course architecture, A.W. Tillinghast. “Tillie” expanded the original 9-hole layout, opened in 1916, to a full 18 holes in 1925. The course has ever evolved, but still remains one of the truly great golf courses in Minnesota. Originally a links-type course, RGCC became a tight tree-line course thanks to the work of Walter D. “Pop” Sheldon. Sheldon began a push to plant pine and other varieties of trees throughout the course. Eventually, over 30,000 covered the layout. The result is a breathtaking, yet stern test of golf. Good shots are rewarded, bad shots are penalized. Tillie would be proud.
The final four holes, 15-18, at RGCC are—bar none—the best set of finishing holes anywhere in Minnesota and I dare to say throughout the mid section of the U.S. No razzamatazz, humps and bumps, or a drop of water needed. Just golf in its purest form. No. 15, a classic par four of 418 yards, bends ever so slightly to the right. The small green falls off hard to the left, but don’t miss right. Par on 15 at RGCC is a wonderful score which brings a smile to the face.
Every great course needs one great, short hole. At RGCC, that’s No. 11. Only 118 yards from the back tee, golfers of all skill levels have a chance to “knock one close” on the hole named “Deception.” Before he won the 1955 U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff over Ben Hogan, Iowan Jack Fleck successfully navigated the short 11th hole en route to winning the annual “Sheldon Memorial Tournament.”
The greens with the toughest downhill putts
Northern Hills Golf Course
4721 W Circle Drive NW, Rochester
Par 72, 6,271 yards, built in 1976, 9/$16, 18/$25
Ah, it seems like only yesterday. From its opening in 1976 through the 1980s on into the early ‘90s, getting to Northern Hills for your tee time required the windows be rolled up to avoid the gravel dust. I recall a severe rut or two in that gravel road, too. Ka-chunk! It’s smooth sailing at the city-owned course on the northwest edge of town these days, as the layout has aged gracefully. A nice mix of rolling hills, trees, bunkers and natural wildflowers make a round at Northern a fun day.
But to enhance your enjoyment at Northern Hills, just remember one thing: keep the ball below the hole on the greens. Severely sloped back to front greens are found at numbers 1, 2, 3, 9, 11, 14, and 18. A 5-foot putt for par down the 18th green is knee-knock city. Just hope your ball doesn’t roll all the way down the hill if you miss.
If you’re looking for a few swing tips, or pointers on how to play the course, stop in the pro shop before your round and talk to Head Pro Jake Manahan. Jake has been the pro at Northern Hills since day one in 1976, making him the city’s elder statesman in the golf biz. Sorry Jake. Oh, and if you need help with your wedge game? Jake’s the man to see. Watching him hit little sand wedges? Like butter.
The course with the ambidextrous golf pro
Willow Creek Golf Course
1700 SW 48th St., Rochester
Par 70, 6,053 yards, built in 1974, 9/$15.50-$16.50, 18/$27-$28
Like smooth fast greens? Me too. That’s why I always enjoy an 18-hole round at Willow Creek, a staple in Rochester’s golf scene since the mid 1970s. The course features the unique challenge of its pair of extreme dogleg par 5’s, one on each nine. Hole no. 8 is a 521-yard monster. Back in the ‘80’s you could think about cutting the corner over the fence. Now? Not such a good idea. Hole no.11 also turns 90 degrees left out about 250 yards.
Those dogleg lefts are tough on slicers, but if you fall into that popular golfing camp, don’t worry, just get to Willow Creek a wee bit early for a swing lesson from Head Pro Scott Rindahl. The Winona State University grad is a very good teacher. Heck, he can even show you how to drive, chip and putt left handed. A scratch player from the right side, Rindahl is mostly a par shooter from the left side as well. Remarkable.
One of the truly special things about Willow Creek is “Little Willow,” the 1,434-yard par 29 executive course on site. Don’t have time for a full round? Want to get the kids out to play? Little Willow is your destination. How about this deal: junior golfers age 15 or under play free at Little Willow after noon every Wednesday all summer when accompanied by a parent paying the regular green fee.
The best course within an hour of Rochester
The Jewel Golf Club
1900 Clubhouse Drive, Lake City
Par 72, 7,050 yards, Built 2004, 18/$70, Senior (65+) 18/$60, Junior 18/$25, Twilight 18/$40
Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin did himself proud with this wonderful design. The front nine offers a bit of room off the tee, yet still cuts through the beautiful former nursery grounds. The back nine? Wow. Better make that a double wow. Hopefully you got those kinks worked out on the front nine, as you don’t want to be spraying the ball coming home. If you do, bring lots of golf balls. The par 3 11th hole is one to remember. The tee shot on the 209-yard hole arches high in the sky over water with the daunting Mississippi River bluffs forming the backdrop. Inspiring.
A unique design feature of The Jewel are the runoff areas on most greens. Just miss? Your ball may feed away leaving the option to pitch a lob back onto the green, or take out your putter and give it a good whack. The best modern course designers, like Irwin, love to present golfers with options during their round. No two rounds at The Jewel will be alike.
The course with the toughest 9th hole in Rochester
Oak Summit Golf Course
2751 County Road 16 SW, Rochester
Par 70, 6,434 yards, built 1992, 9/$17, 18/$26
Haven’t played Oak Summit in a while? You’re missing the boat, as course owner Leon DeCook has made some great improvements over the years at the course that sits just north of the Rochester International Airport. The greens at Oak Summit roll very nicely, a pleasure to putt. The golfing terrain features a nice mix of trees and hills, making any day at Oak Summit a good day.
Not every golf course has a signature hole. Oak Summit does. No. 9, the beautiful, beckoning yet wickedly difficult 222 yard (from tips) par 3. 222 yards is darn near a short par four! Both the tee and the green sit up high, leaving golfers with a rifle shot of a driver, fairway wood, hybrid, or long iron through and over a tree-lined valley. The green is long, but not very deep and has a bit of slope to it. Most tee shots wind up down toward the bottom of the hill, leaving a very demanding pitch up to the small green. Make a par here and it’s time to reward yourself with a cool beverage at the turn.
Oak Summit is a strong supporter of both junior and senior golf with its “Junior & Senior” special. From Monday – Thursday, until 11 a.m., juniors and seniors can play $18 for only $10.
Best local golf getaway with more to do
Rivers’ Bend Golf Course at The Old Barn Resort
RT 3, Box 57, Preston
Par 70, 6,200 yards, second nine built in 2005, 9/$13-$17, 18/$23-$27
Man does not live by golf alone. (Well, at least some guys I guess.) It’s almost easier to say what there “isn’t” to do at The Old Barn Resort than what there is. 200 acres of camping, hiking, biking, trout fishing, canoeing, just down the road from Rochester near the welcoming community of Preston.
Oh, yeah, you can get in 18 holes on this little getaway, 18 beautiful holes at the Rivers’ Bend Golf Course which winds through the Root River Valley. Keep score, don’t keep score, just enjoy your round then have fun trying to decide what you’ll do next. Still got pep? Hit the bike trails. Legs a bit weary? Maybe wade into a cool, babbling trout stream. There are no wrong choices at The Old Barn Resort.
Best area course to test every club in your bag
Summit Golf Club
31286 Hwy 19 Blvd., Cannon Falls
Par 72. 7,022 yards. Built in 2001. 9/$20-$25; 18/$37-$40.
Set on 204 acres and with bentgrass from tees to greens, The Summit's 7,000 yards will test every club in your bag. It’s not a driver, wedge, driver, wedge type of course.
The course is carved out of a limestone quarry and features touches such as tunnels, bridges and embanked tee boxes. Hole No. 3, the 420-yard par-4, turns the corner to a quarry view. Midway through the back nine, the layout drops into the valley, and the tee shot from the par-5 No. 13 drops 110 feet to the valley floor. On No. 18, a shot through the trees takes you over a waterfalled pond.
The course with the best turf you’ll ever play on
Somerby Golf Club
975 Somerby Parkway Lane NE, Byron
Par 72, 7,209 yards, Built 2004, private (call for rates and availability)
Designed by Minnesota’s native golf hero son Tom Lehman (1996 British Open champ), along with former PGA Tour player and U.S. Amateur champion John Fought, Somerby brought a modern taste to the local golf scene. At over 7,200 yards Somerby has broad shoulders, but with five sets of tees, it offers playability to golfers of all skill levels. Huge greens, yawning bunkers, a meandering brook—Somerby has everything a golf lover looks for in a championship course. The course played host to two Nationwide Tour events (2006 and 2007). Large crowds watched Brandt Snedeker and Chris Riley take home the big first-place checks.
You can golf the world over and never find better grass to hit off of than you’ll find at Somerby. The turf on the practice range? So nice you’ll feel like you’re taking divots out of the putting greens. The greens? Even better. PGA Tour quality. Make that U.S. Open quality. Smooth as your favorite lake on a windless July day.
For those mid round munchies, Somerby has you covered. They’ve got the best beverage cart in the area. Sandwiches, candy bars, sports drinks, soda, or beverages of the stronger variety. Take the opportunity to fuel up. You’ll need all your strength to handle The Moat (No. 14), The Lake (No. 15) and The Beast (No. 16).
The course my wife made her first (and so far only) birdie on
Meadow Lakes Golf Club
70 45th Ave. SW, Rochester
Par 71, 6,304 yards, built in 1997, 9/$14, 18/$24
Meadow Lakes is early into its second decade on the Rochester golf scene. A beautiful driving range and very large putting green, always kept in nice condition, make working on your game at Meadow time well spent. You’ll need your “A” game to handle four of Meadow Lakes’ five par 3’s. All three one shot holes on the homeward nine are tough, especially Hole No. 17, a 202-yard tiger from the back tee. A long, deep narrow green is guarded by water short, right and long.
Another very tough par 3 is No. 11. This hole has a soft spot in my heart. My wife Jacque was new to the game years ago. During an early evening round she cracked a wood up onto the green and drained a 30-footer for birdie. Good enough for her. She’s hardly played since, but doesn’t miss a chance to relive that moment.
Meadow Lakes offers the most unique specials in town. Like the “Veteran’s Golf” special of $20 for 18 holes with a cart, or their Twilight (5 pm until dark Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) and Early Bird (before 10 a.m. Monday–Thursday) offerings, each $20 for 18 holes with cart.
Best Minnesota golf course worth a day trip
Dacotah Ridge Golf Club
31042 County Hwy 2, Morton
Par 72, 7,109 yards, Built 2000, 18/$85 summer, 18/$65 spring-fall
You’ve X’d off the day on the calendar to play golf. So don’t let the three hour drive into southwest Minnesota phase you. Believe me, its worth every mile to tee it up at Dacotah Ridge. Wonderful turf, an exiting Rees Jones design, a feeling of having the course to your self, it all adds up to a memorable golf excursion.
In fact, while you’re there, why not stick around for another day? Dacotah Ridge offers “Stay and Play” packages. How about their “Spring/Fall Special”? $143 for two rounds of golf, one night stay at the Lodge, breakfast, cart, range. Great value there. Oh, and don’t forget you’ll be staying at Jackpot Junction, so forget those double bogies and think positive! Perhaps you’ll have better luck at the blackjack tables.
On your drive back east to Rochester, true golf nuts will daydream about the second shot on No. 9 at Dacotah Ridge. A nice downhill drive on the 433-yard hole leaves a middle iron approach to a long skinny green that sits just beyond a nasty gulch. As you watch your approach shot float back down to earth, pray you took enough club to clear the gulch. If not, next time.