16. Brainerd Lakes (Minnesota)
Courses: Breezy Point Resort (Deacon’s Lodge), Cragun’s Resort (Bobby’s and Dutch Legacy), Madden’s on Gull Lake (The Classic), Grand View Lodge (The Pines)
Best Kept Secret: Deacon’s Lodge is Arnold Palmer’s “Best Public Design in the U.S.”
The sheer quantity of amazing golf in Minnesota is just that: amazing. And, when you consider that you can play the five best courses in this zone for about the same as a single round at Sawgrass, you understand why this place makes A TON of sense for golf groups. Unfortunately, geographically, Minnesota’s best golf is basically divided up into three sections that a GROUP can’t reasonably cover in one trip. That’s why Minnesota gets THREE different “destination features” in this countdown -- with all three of them falling in this section. I’ve had golf groups spend two weeks here and cover all three zones in one shot, but that’s not the norm. (Email me for my ideal Minnesota 10-day itinerary.) In fact, you could easily spend 10 days in just this zone and barely do it justice. You could flip-flop Brainerd and Duluth in ranking and probably not be wrong, but I find the BEST golf is just a little bit better in the Duluth zone (so it is ranked one spot higher). Fly into Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), rent a van and drive up here. On a budget, stay at Breezy Point or Cragun’s and get extremely high value with their golf packages. Want everything to be immaculate? Stay at Madden’s, one of America’s Top 20 Family Golf Resorts. Madden’s is home to “The Classic," which is one of the three best courses in the area. Arnold Palmer’s Deacon’s Lodge (at Breezy Point Resort) is another of the three best area courses. In fact, I believe it is his “Best Public Design in the U.S.” (It's also the second best in the World, behind Tralee in Ireland.) Cragun’s Resort has two Robert Trent Jones Jr. designs that garnered 9.5 out of 10 Stars from Golf Digest. And then Grand View Lodge has the best 27-hole course in Minnesota at The Pines. Love Mini-Golf? Check out Wild Wedge in Pequot Lakes, one of America’s Five Best Putt Putt Courses.
15. Duluth (Minnesota)
Courses: Wilderness at Fortune Bay, Giants Ridge (Quarry and Legend), Superior National, Big Fish
Best Kept Secret: Portland Malt Shoppe
What’s better than one top-100 course? Two, of course. Northern Minnesota gives you that in The Wilderness at Fortune Bay and Giants Ridge. The interesting thing is, in the opinion of some, the OTHER course at Giants Ridge (Legend) is actually better than The Quarry (which always seems to be ranked No. 1 in MN by every other publication). Even more interesting, Jeff Brauer designed all three of those stalwarts AND is celebrating the grand opening of his newest Minnesota Rock Star in June -- Superior National in Lutsen -- also within this same Duluth zone. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 13,000 times: “The Wilderness at Fortune Bay is THE most underrated golf course in America.” I’ve taken unbeliever after unbeliever (golf writers) up there and to a person they’ve come away surprised that it NEARLY lived up to my hype. One very nitpicky writer told me, “I went up there expecting a B+ course at best, and very nearly give it an A+.” I’ll take it. Stay at Giants Ridge or Fortune Bay (if you like casino action) and play all three of those, then head over to Lutsen Resort on Lake Superior for a night and two rounds on Superior National. Make sure you make the quick jog to Grand Marais (from Lutsen) for the “World’s Best Donuts” (actual name of the shop) and stop at Betty’s Pies and the Portland Malt Shoppe on your way to the Duluth Airport or Minneapolis/St Paul, if you can handle that much awesome. Not traveling with a golf group? Do yourself a HUGE favor and stay at Green Gate Guest Houses at Giants Ridge for one of the most extraordinary lodging experiences of your lifetime.