Review: Wilderness at Fortune Bay, MN

One Wild Joy Ride
Northern Minnesota is know for its lakes, its forests, and its wildlife. The Wilderness at Fortune Bay has all of those Northern Minnesota features and then some. From the start of our trip until we returned home, it was certainly one wild joy ride. For a large number of golfers wanting to play the Wilderness, it will included a 3.5 hour drive from the Twin Cities. Thankfully, it is not a real tough drive, but by the time you get to the Resort you will feel far away from the hustle and bustle of the Cities.
The Wilderness is set up to be a true resort course.  It is playable for just about every handicap, but yet long enough and difficult enough for even the scratch golfer.  As you arrive at the Fortune Bay complex you get a preview of a couple holes on the back nine.  You will need to follow the sign to the clubhouse as it is set off in one corner of the property.  As you meander over to the Craftsman style clubhouse friendly attendants greet you ready to assist your removal of clubs from your car so that they can get you ready to go on a golf cart.  After settling up in the clubhouse you are invited to use the complimentary range balls on the expansive beautiful driving range.  Adjacent to the 9 green is the large putting green offering an exact replication of what to expect on the course. 

As the starter wishes you well on your round, you cruise on over to the first hole, where the wild joy ride begins.  Hole 1 is just a prime example of what the rest of the day will be filled with.  Looking down the first hole from the elevated tee, the golfer is offered a number of choices on this par 5.  A rock cropping splits the upper and lower fairways.  This is something to get used to for the next 17 holes, there are multiple options with risks and rewards off the tee or from the fairway.  The narrow fairway on the left slopes to the green to offer a shot at going for it in two, while the safe, wide right fairway offers plenty of space for those first tee jitters.  Once the green is reached you notice the many tiers and extreme undulation, which you can expect for the rest of your round.  While the green may look and feel extreme, putting was not.  They all ran true and moderately fast.  It really seemed just about right for a resort course.

After a par on the first hole, it felt like only good could follow.  For the most part it did.  The majority of holes are set up in a way to encourage driver off the tee with confidence.  Many holes feel as if the landing zones are huge.  But if you really want to score, there are certain spots and locations that are much better than others. 

Every hole was certainly unique and played different than the others.  It felt like 18 individual holes spread out over the vast “wilderness” at Fortune Bay.  There are clearly some favorites along the way.  The 3rd hole is their signature par 3.  It looks big and long with elevated tees, over water, and into a massive green carved into the hill.  It has a giant backstop in the middle of the green.  Thankfully, the pin was in the front and not on the top tier the day we were playing.  The 5th hole is another strategic hole.  It is possible to drive the green or find a heap load of trouble.  The fairway narrows in the landing zone and then doglegs slightly to a long green front to back with a 5-foot deep swale in the middle.  The options are endless on how to play into this green depending on pin placement.  Doing something unconventional might work out better.  The 8th hole is another great risk reward par 5.  Almost the entire right side of this hole is a swampy marshland.  It is reachable in 2 even if you aren’t a huge hitter.  But that means the golfer must cut the corner of the marsh, and fly the paw print bunker guarding the front edge.

The back nine also has a fine collection of memorable holes.  The 12th and 13th are sure to be favorites of many.  The short par 3 12th is a test of nerves with water in front and all along the right side.  The clover shaped green has a great deal of undulation, so finding the right level can be important.   The 13th is going to be a crowd pleaser for sure, reachable with a huge drive by cutting over the corner of Lake Vermillion, or safely bailing to the right.   The 16th is a great uphill par 5 that has a split fairway leading up to the green.  It is said to have a secret chute on the up fairway that funnels 2nd shots all the way down the green.  I played down the left side so I didn’t get to enjoy that feature.  And the closing 18th hole is a great down hill long par 4 where the golfer must avoid the pond on the left and finish strong in front of the clubhouse.

The conditions were excellent on every single hole, smooth flat tee-boxes, carpet like fairways and consistent true greens. The Kemper Sports management teams keeps this place in tip top shape.  Our wild ride wasn’t just the joys of the course, but what nature had in store for us this day.  We experienced just about every form of weather imaginable.  It was raining when we arrived, but was hot and sunny by the time we teed off.  About 4 holes it, the clouds rolled in and things cooled off just a little so that we needed to put the long sleeves back on.  After a couple of holes of that, the sun came out again and back to polos for a few holes.  Then more clouds came back this time with some rain.  Now it wasn’t just sleeves, but a little umbrella to stay dry.  This only lasted about a hole until the beating sun called us back to polos.  As we approached two of the prettiest holes on the course, 12 and 13 we could see the clouds rolling in.  As we played over the pond to the clover shaped 12th, we didn’t know what we were in for.  After teeing off the outstanding par 4 13th, we saw lighting over the lake.  As we putted out for pars, we watched the sheets of rain come across the lake and onto the course.  We were happy to see that the 14th tee-box had a rest station for added protection from the hail.  After only a 4-minute wait, during which time the full rain-suit was hopped into, the sun returned with a vengeance.  It was now hot and sticky. Until we finally reached the 18th tee and received a warning from the pro-shop on the cart GPS that the next storm system was going to last at least 20 minutes.  It was clearly visible stacking up behind the 18th green.  We rushed our shots to get in on that final hole.  As the sprinkles began, we putted out, at the conclusion we ran our clubs to the car, and ducked into the clubhouse seconds before the torrential rains came down.  Now we could sit down, relax and enjoy the good food from the grill.  I doubt that every day is filled with such extreme weather conditions, but nonetheless I would make sure I am prepared for everything.

Because of the distance from most major cities, plenty of golfers will be staying up north at least over night.  The resort and casino offers packages, deals and plenty to do.  There is a Marina onsite, a Casino, a restaurant and the other typical hotel amenities.  But just a note, that if you are extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke, remember that because the resort is located on the land of the Bois Forte Band in Chippewa, smoking is allowed inside everywhere.  On the flip side if you miss being able to smoke inside, fee free to light one up anywhere and everywhere.

So if you want to play the best public course in Minnesota, pack your bags and hold on for one wild joy ride at the Wilderness at Fortune Bay.  Jeff Brauer created a playable, fair, but tough display of true Minnesota Northwood’s golf.

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