Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Number 18

The Quarry has Great Golf in its Sights
The word Quarry has two meanings.
One is more politically correct in these PETA days: a place where rock is mined. The second is the idea of prey, something hunted.
Both definitions were called to mind during a Media Day round on a gorgeous June Sunday at The Quarry.
The first meaning comes from the original use of the site, a sand and gravel pit that was mined by U.S. Steel for more than 100 years.
The second is the feeling this course is about to bite you—again—or it might refer to the lost balls you'll search the piney surroundings for.
Either way, The Quarry puts the golfer between—wait for it—rocks and hard places.
Course Background
The course is located near Biwabik, a village of 1000-plus souls in northern Minnesota's Iron Range northwest of Duluth, some 3-1/2 hours from the Twin Cities.
Despite its difficulty, and the aggravation it causes, its beauty and quality will bring you back again and again. I know the fellows I invited to join me on the round enjoyed themselves immensely.
Ron McIlroy, my coworker and playing partner from the Twin Cities, was at The Quarry for the first time. He said afterwards it was the toughest course he had ever played, but that he’d rather play there than at similarly-priced courses closer to home.
My old golfing buddy and our host at nearby Hoyt Lakes, Jim Whittington takes every opportunity to play this intriguing course. So does his friend Carl Overman.
Situated in an area of the country that deserves more recognition, there is no madding crowd. Instead; small mining towns remain that are starting to catch their breath, now that some mines have begun to reopen to supply Chinese furnaces.
(Mining is thirsty work. On our way up, some towns seemed to have a bar every other Main Street building. As we drove past The Big Guy’s Club in Aurora, I suggested to Ron they needed to paint a line on the door warning “If you’re shorter than this, you can’t enter”. Texan Ron, at 140 pounds, drawled “I’d have to have lead boots just to get in.”)
Jim told us 60 percent of today’s population on the Range is retired. After all, homes are inexpensive, the cost of living is low, and there’s wonderful hunting and fishing right out your backdoor. Many, such as he and Carl, are returning to their home stomping grounds after careers elsewhere.
Because mining has suffered so many ups and downs over the years, there is a constant drive to bolster the Range economy through technology and tourism. Giant's Ridge Resort on the edge of the Superior National Forest is one tourism tool in the economic development kit.
Begun in 1959 as a private ski hill, by the 1980s the facility had gone bankrupt. Minnesota's Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) bought it, developed Giant’s Ridge, and today it employs some 300 people. In the winter time, Giant's Ridge is a premier ski area.
During spring and summer, though, Giant’s Ridge incorporates two exceptional golf courses, The Legend and The Quarry, both Jeffrey Brauer designs, both overseen by Troon Management.
This duo of gems in such close proximity attracts golfers from around the world. “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” by Golf Digest, in the publication’s May 2005 issue, ranked The Quarry number 16; The Legend was poised at number 88. These are not your typical small-town munis.
(Another fine course I will write about soon, The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, is about 30 miles away from Giant’s Ridge in Tower, Minn.)
A Quick Description
The Quarry's 18 holes were molded from the tattered fragments of natural forest, blended with what remained from the struggle to feed hungry Youngstown and Pittsburgh blast furnaces.
Many of the tee boxes are raised and will require a carry across water or brush, wetland or even large boulders. Carcasses of old mining equipment jut out of the ground in places, their rusty surfaces dripping oxides back into the land from which they had been wrenched. Automobile to boxcar-sized chunks of rock stud the landing areas at other spots.
The fairways, mainly narrow and tree-lined, offer similar contrasts, with seldom a vanilla lie. You always seem to be hitting from a slight undulation, and the topsoil isn’t very deep. There is, after all, a layer of crushed rock under much of this new sod. Hit down too hard and you could suffer a short, sharp shock.
Some greens are huge, others could pass for one of Carl’s postage stamps. Putting is a constant challenge, as two- and three-tiered greens are the rule rather than the exception. I watched one putt on #11 climb 10 feet to the top of a rise, then change its mind, make a sharp left turn and roll another 10, to end up a couple of feet past the hole. (A pretty good putt, if I do say so.)
Few and far between are Texas wedge opportunities, as most greens are protected in some way that precluded putting from the fairway.
It is a fair course, however. I detest those tracks that have an array of pot bunkers lurking in the middle of the fairway, or gathering bunkers placed to scoop a well-hit drive into a pond. (The only thing lacking at such sneaky venues is a windmill and a clown with an open mouth.) No, The Quarry puts its dangers on its shoulder, and dares you to knock them off.
The Play’s the Thing
We went off the blue tees, at a rating of 71.9, and around 130 slope, playing at a total distance of 6,696 yards. (Behind those were the golds, at 7,000+ yards.) Naturally, being a sand quarry, there were a lot of traps. Perhaps because there were so many problem areas, however, they didn’t seem to bother you much. (Not to mention that the best-ball scramble allows us to avoid almost all of them.)
#4 is the first par three – and it's a long one at 269, playing downhill from a former taconite spoil pile. The green is ample, featuring a wide frontal entrance to allow some to hit a driver. Any shot that reaches the green is a candidate for a birdie putt. Each hole is named for an area mine. This hole commemorates the giant Mahoning mines that produced more than 130 million tons of iron.
On the 369 yard par 4 6th hole, a gathering bunker into a tee-side swale nearly divides the green into two. If you go straight at the right side of the green and fall short, you’re in that swale, and it’s filled with deep rough. Fly in from the left, and you’ll be on the long green in two. Should that depression lie between you and the flag, however, par is almost impossible.
The 468 yard #18 carries the Embarrass mine label. It is perched next to what today is a 550-foot deep mine-pit lake, the deepest on the Mesabi Iron Range. (Embarrass, Minn. also claims title to being the coldest place in the nation during winter.) The lake can be seen from the tee, the fairway, and the green. After a good tee shot to the corner you dogleg left. There’s a fairway entrance to the left that lets golfers reach the green, which slants toward the lake. Luckily, bunkers keep you from rolling into it.
Carl, Ron and Jim on #3
Even though he hit very well, Ron’s round emptied three sleeves of balls. Jim’s back spasmed on him at one point, so he eased up and drove his easy swings 250 yards or more. (At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Jim would have passed muster at Big Guy’s.)
Carl, a retired postal employee celebrating his 73rd birthday, didn’t let the course’s difficulty stymie him even though he normally hit from the senior tees. In fact he played best of all of us, with a Furyk-looking waggle at the top of his backswing that resulted in long, straight drives and iron shots. (Asked about the waggle, he said “People tell me I have one, but I don’t want to think about it: it might throw me off.”)
Architect Brauer was quoted as saying The Quarry combined “virgin land, iron ore open pit mine and sand quarry, that gives the course its name, and its distinct character. You might say it's the `most unnatural’ course I have ever designed, because most of the land has been scarred into land of great charm and character by these previous industrial operations.”
In his design, Brauer leaves you an easy way to make par, and a hard way (sometimes more than one hard way) to break par.
Should you have some free time in your spare time, try the fishing. The walleye is a very popular game fish in Minnesota, and northern pike, crappie and other species abound nearby, not to mention lake trout in nearby Lake Superior.
Keep an eye open for Paul Bunyan (not the Giant of Giant’s Ridge, by the way) and his Blue Ox. (I was told that the Giant is called Mesabi, who when he lay down to rest, ended up with trees, moss and grass covering his body.)
For more information, the website is http://www.giantsridge.com/.

No comments: