Review: Giants Ridge Golf Courses, MN

Beauty and The Beast
I’m sure I’m not the first person to use this title to describe the two courses at Giants Ridge and I’m sure I won’t be the last either.  The two courses, while similar in some ways, feel and play very differently from each other.  The Legend is more resort minded and beautiful, while the Quarry is more challenging and rugged.
Giants Ridge resort is a three-hour drive from the Twin Cities, MN.  Our early morning drive couldn’t have ended soon enough.  By the time we got to the Legend, we needed to stretch and move and get loose for the first of two rounds.  The attendant at the bag drop kindly greeted us, even though we were out in the middle of the parking lot stretching.  After unloading our jigsaw puzzle of supplies out of the MINI Cooper we made our way into the little pro shop and out to the driving range which is set off to the side.  After whacking balls for 30 minutes, just trying to work out the kinks, we spent a little time on the putting green.  It was rather slow.  We were hoping the greens on the course would be faster.  

Year after year the Quarry and the Legend make most golf publications top 100 for public courses.  There is no doubt in my mind that they deserve it.  They are clearly the top courses in the state.  When you get there you have a pretty good idea of what to expect since they are managed by Troon golf which holds all their courses to certain standards; smooth tee-boxes, well manicured fairways and true greens.  We would have liked to see the speed of the green up from where they were, but we couldn’t complain about the conditions.  

If you live in Twin Cities, the three-hour drive is worth it, if you don’t live in MN, fly in to experience true Northwood’s golf.  You can even catch another Jeff Brauer course at the Wilderness at Fortune Bay.  You can make the drive back home in one day, but it is much more relaxing and enjoyable to stay up north for a few days and take it all in.  May sure to bring some bug spray, the black flies will eat you up otherwise, and make sure to apply more as the round goes on.

The Beauty and Beast, the Legend and the Quarry, are sure to please all who make the trek up north for Minnesota’s best golf.

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Once the clock struck our tee-time away we went.  It was time to tackle some of Jeff Brauer’s finest.  The first hole is a gentle little par 4.  It is wide enough to kick off your round, but full of features that would be found throughout the round; sloping rolling fairways, moderately undulated greens and strategic bunkers.  It doesn’t take long to see the beauty of this course.  Even on the first tee you can see the expanse of holes 1 and 10 as a deep ravine cuts in front of the tee-boxes and fairway.  The Legend has a great collection of signature holes that will stick in your mind for years.  #3 is one of the most famous with the huge footprint fairway bunker.  Drive it between the toes and you can go for the green in two on this par 5.  #8 is a brutal long uphill par 4 with bunkers all around.  #9 finishes with a tricky par 5 which has a green guarded by a pond.

The back nine is the true beauty of this course as it meanders far from the clubhouse and front nine.  The drive itself was very back woods, driving down what felt like old logger’s trails.  #11 is a beautiful downhill moderate par 3 over water.  #12 is a short dogleg that allows you to play so many different options off the tee- leaving a short wedge up to a long iron into the green.  #17 is my favorite par 3 in the state and possibly the country.  It plays 225 from the tips and must carry the lake to a small green perched on the side of the hill.  We were stoked to have relatively short birdie putts on this hole, only to come up 2 feet short on the slow green.  

The 18 holes of the Legend that are cut through the woods and along the lake really are picturesque and playable for golfers of all skill levels.  We were a little bummed about how slow the greens were running, but they were green and true.


Our afternoon began with a lunch at the Quarry.  The Wacootah Grille offered a nice selection of treats and signature dishes.  Again the friendly and helpful staff got us on our way after some time at the range and on the putting green.  The practice facilities at the Quarry are very nice.  The beast was calling on hole one.  You can quickly see the difference between the 2 courses.  The Quarry has longer rough, is more rugged in overall design and plays much narrower off the tee. It also plays another 300 yards longer from the tips.

The greens also have more undulation and the old rock quarry offers and abundance of waste areas.  This course has some of my favorite holes in all the state and a couple that I loathe.  # 2 is a signature quarry hole.  It is a massive par 5 playing from elevated tees.  The big hitters can try to carry the quarry on their uphill second shots, while the smart play to the left, which leads too much easier pars.  #4 is a crazy long par 3.  From the tips it plays to 269 yards.  It is pretty much a flat hole from tee to a Redan green that runs toward the back.  #6 is a great risk/reward hole being short enough to almost drive the green from the right angle, but dangerous enough to play safe.  There is a big swale in the right middle half of the green that can’t be seen from the fairway, but will collect  golf balls and suck them off the green.  #9 is a great wrap up to the front 9.  It looks very narrow off the tee, yet it opens up with plenty of space to hit driver.  If you get the right bounce your tee shot will shoot toward the green.

No time to let up as #10 is a test of wills again.  Tempt faint and fire over the water between the trees, or play safe and walk away with an easy par.  #13 is my favorite par 4 hole anywhere.  It has high, elevated tees that look out on a wide, yet shallow green.  It is drivable from the tees for the big to moderate hitters.  But don’t let the temptation throw out the other options.  An iron or hybrid might just be the safe play because of the bunkers and tall rough.  #15 might be my least favorite hole in the state.  It is a dogleg left, but the fairway runs out at 225, which is OK to hit long iron or hybrid, but that leaves you with another 225 in to the green.  It is never fun to  hit a longer second shot than your first shot.  It just plays funky.  #18 I think is a love/hate relationship.  A well placed tee ball will allow you a mid ranged iron into the green, but this 90* dogleg has trouble that will leave a tough second shot into the green perched along the cliffs of the old abandoned quarry lake.