Splendor in the Leaves

Great Golf Getaways and Fall Beauty Await at Minnesota’s Premier Resorts.

August 30, 2022
By Chuck Lennon

Bonfires and s’mores tinge the crisp air as the seasons’ flavors and changing of the leaves take over. So goes the golf, with morning fairways accented with dew, and tee sheets beckoning eager players.

When dawn’s early light finds Voyageurs National Park and skims south across Lake Vermilion, it finds Tower and the Wilderness at Fortune Bay. Because of its northern location, it’s one of the first resort courses ready for the change of season, for which the state’s golf resorts always have a plan. 

The Wilderness opened in June 2004, with Notah Begay hosting a par-3 all day. The course routes along Vermilion’s rocky shores. The complex includes stay and play packages, three restaurants, two concert venues and gaming. The first hole is a lengthy par five, and the track’s white and red pines marry for a leafless fall romance. Wilderness reservations and tee times: Golf clubhouse: 800.992.4680; Stay & Play: 800.555.1714, golfthewilderness.com

From Lake Vermilion, the color curtain drops south to the Iron Range and Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort at Biwabik. The dramatic duo of The Legend and The Quarry were crafted from rock and neatly landscaped within to become very highly ranked, both state- and worldwide. Jeffrey Brauer and Lanny Wadkins teamed up on The Legend in 1997. Brauer took on The Quarry solo in 2003 and considers it his best. The resort’s commitment to skiing is obvious, but there’s significant options for the golf crowd with mountain biking and chairlift rides, as well as snack bar, food court and Wacootah Grille and Burnt Onion Kitchens & Brews to tease palates. Lodging: The Legend and Quarry golf shops: 800.688.7669, giantsridge.com

From Giants Ridge, the dashing colors lure east to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Superior National at Lutsen’s 27 holes show vivid color in the Sawtooth Mountains and Poplar River range, a perfect setting for the Canyon, Mountain and River nines. Superior National tee times and Lutsen Mountain Resort reservations: Golf clubhouse 888.564.6543; Resort: 800.218.8589, superiornational.com

A drive along the North Shore of Lake Superior is one of Minnesota’s fall treats, with overwhelming scenery and great dining stops and overlooks. For example, trek west from the Port of Duluth via Highway 210 to Carlton, where Black Bear Golf Course and Resort Casino await. The course architects made sure the blue tees wouldn’t be “easy street” at 72.4/134 and 6560 yards. It could be an autumnal mystery. Black Bear reservations and tee times: Golf Shop: 218.878.2485, golfatthebear.com

Rolling west from Carlton along Highway 210 is a heady fall color array leading to a Brainerd Lakes fall golf resort smorgasbord. 

Breezy Point leads with an Arnold Palmer vibe. Both he and his dad, Deacon, reportedly loved fall golf in Pennsylvania. That’s probably apocryphal, but it doesn’t matter because the elegant atmosphere of the clubhouse, course and cabins at Deacon’s Lodge exude a feel like no other in Minnesota.

And that feel is a blessing. It’s a wonderful entry to one of the state’s oldest and most historic bases, Breezy Point Resort. There, the historic Fawcett Cabin lays amid the vast area of dining and recreational amenities. Golfwise on site, The Traditional and White Birch, two par 72 eighteens, have been challenging guests for decades. When Whitebirch, Inc. (Breezy Point), acquired Deacon’s in 2012, it established its own tradition. Breezy Point Golf Shops & tee times: 218.562.7166, 800.432.3777x4. Deacon’s Lodge Clubhouse: 218.562.6262

Fall color and great golf envelop the entire region, including Grand View Lodge’s contribution, with its reputation of “great days.” The resort’s vast lodgings surround the The Pines (27 holes), and The Preserve (18) adds additional lakeside lodgings nearby, all with decks and cozy lodgings with grills. If there’s a hankering to fire one up, Shafer’s Foods in Nisswa offers 80 flavored brats, including the newest Tater Tot Hotdish! Grand View has added the North Park Recreation Center, with pool, slide, hot tubs and more catering for the entire family. Its extensive breakfast, brew and grill pub and restaurant offerings touch every note. Grand View packages 866.801.2951; tee times: The Pines 218.963.8755; The Preserve 888.437.4637, grandviewlodge.com

Madden’s on Gull Lake has four courses and the charm of Pine Beach Peninsula’s autumnal setting. This upscale property has a marina, extensive athletic pursuits, Gull Lake Waterpark with three sand beaches and countless activities. Pine Beach East and Pine Beach West are great family and couples tracks, and the quintessential The Classic, a feast designed by Scott Hoffman and managed by pro Glenn Hagberg beckons major players. It’s MGA’s 2021 Member Club of the Year (see Minnesota Golfer Directory). maddens.com

Cragun’s Legacy Courses intermingled with Tom Lehman Signature Course Design to introduce an exciting renovation, with 36 holes and its reversible nine available for fall play. The impressive golf complex hosted the CRMC Championship in August. The resort has a marina, as well as a sports centre in the heart of the property, with basketball, tennis, track, fitness center, five restaurants and more next door to Maddens on Gull Lake’s Pine Beach Peninsula. Cragun’s Legacy & Reversible Nine Clubhouses & Golf Shops: 800.272.4867, 218.825.2789, craguns.com

On the western edge of these golf destinations is Thumper Pond Golf Resort, an all-suite property overlooking Ottertail Lake. The facility has a water park, but the golf course is the entree. Fewer than 7,000 yards are served by four tee boxes. Don’t be fooled: the forested fairways (90,000 red pines) box players in and keep the course and slope ratings uneasy. And there are almost no leaves here. Thumper Pond Birdie Stay & Play Package (mid-Sept–close) 218.367.2000, thumperpond.com

Chuck Lennon

Chuck Lennon has produced the “Driving Minnesota” series in the Minnesota Golfer magazine for more than a decade. He retired from media relations at Explore Minnesota Tourism in 2012, where, having been a liaison with the MGA, golf resorts and courses, effectively positioned the state as a golf travel destination. A product of Cretin and Highland Park high schools, he honed his journalism skills at the University of Minnesota and the College of St. Thomas. He is a member of the Golf Writers’ Association of America.   

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