What a weekend in the Great Northwoods
Fewer than 100 miles from the Canadian border, less than four hours from the Twin Cities, for two days my pals and I shared 9 holes of golf at Hoyt Lakes Muni, followed by 18 at The Quarry, one of Minnesota's premier courses.
Saturday, we drove straight to the course and telephoned our host, Jim Whittington. "Jim, where are you? We're ready to go."
By the time he realized where we were, and we checked that they were allowing carts after a torrential rain (6" in 24 hours) two days before, the hunt was on. Jim keeps his cart there on the premises, so he hopped in his truck and ran over.
Hoyt Lakes is that sort of town, a tiny hamlet of around 900 people. Originally a town established by Erie Mining in 1954 to service workers in the firm's taconite plant, homes were assigned to families on the basis of their ranking in the company. Executives got 1500 square foot homes with attached garages, while the rank and file could start out in 900 foot domiciles with detached garages.
As the mining industry faded, the town's future became bleaker and bleaker. Lately, however, with the increased demand for steel, they're starting to build workforces up in this area.
The course itself has raised greens throughout, perhaps because they want to keep them above the melting snow. They were in good shape except for one that suffered some winterkill. On that, large blotches of dead areas would bounce your putt around pretty well.
The nearby woods serve in place of Out of Bounds markers: go in there, and you'll be penalized enough by losing your ball.
As usual, I was unerring with my Minnesota Wood-Seeking Golf Balls. I left no jack pine unjacked. The ball bounced back at me so often, I felt like I was practising tennis against a wall.
It was a good warmup for The Quarry at Giant's Ridge, however. That is a magnificent venue torn out of the North Woods to patch the scars left by mining, gravel quarries and sandpits.
It's built on mountains of waste tailings. You shoot out over more waste onto greens that are sculpted and polished.
The woods are nearby here, too. I went through at least two sleeves playing in a Best Ball match in which we went to 4 under at one point, only to fall back to 3 under.
On 11, a par 3, Doug, one of my playing partners, drove onto the back of the forward-pitched surface and watched as it trickled down toward the cup. It stopped about 2 feet from winning a brand new Harley-Davidson. "I'd have learned to ride a motorcycle if that had gone in," he promised. As an experiment, I dropped a ball next tohis ball mark but about a foot to the right, and it trickled down to within a couple of inches. Of course, another inch and it would have ended on the other side of the green.
Giant's Ridge serves skiiers and snowmobilers in the winter, then opens up The Quarry and The Legend in the spring. Both of these courses are great places to play, highly recommended by a number of magazines. If you're ever in the neighborhood, give them a try.