The Legend at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, MN
Tee Time: July 18, 2016, 3:00, 72 F, sunny
Designer: Jeffrey Brauer, 1997
Playing Partners: Greg Ryan
Tees: Blue, Par 72 (72.6 rating/132 slope/6,528 yards)
Course Handicap: 7 (6.3 index)
Stats: 92 (46-46); 39 putts; 6/14 fairways; 6/18 greens; 7 penalty strokes
Greg Stats: 109 (55-54); 42 putts; 5/14 fairways; 2/18 greens; 8 penalty strokes
After a great morning at one of my new favorite courses, The Quarry at Giants Ridge, it was a short, three mile drive up the road to the older course at this resort, the Legend. I’m surprised I had any energy left for this second eighteen after the long weekend. I’m just writing this for me, so in twenty years I can look and wonder how I survived the hectic travel. Friday night, my flight was supposed to land just after midnight in Minneapolis. We were then going to fly the 6:15am flight to Chicago, watch the Cubs-Rangers game, then fly right back that night. So I was already looking at about 4 hours of sleep max on this day. Except the flight out of Phoenix got delayed, and delayed, until we finally touched down at 1:30am local time, and my head hit the pillow shortly before 3am. As fun as traveling to golf is, the constant babysitting of your golf clubs is the only real gripe I have about it. Always paying for them to fly, waiting for them to come out the baggage chute, getting a rental car to fit them. Good thing they are the “loved ones”. So on barely an hour of sleep, we spent a hot Chicago afternoon enjoying the renovated Wrigley Field. Then Sunday we slept in, got to take in a Twins game at the beautiful Target Field (Major League stadium #35 for me) and then drive up to Duluth, followed by an early morning Monday and drive 90 minutes to Biwabik. It all ended up being worth it and I’m glad God invented caffeine to help me survive it.
The course opens with a scenic par 4 of 365 yards, a gentle start to the round. The second is a par 3 of 146 yards over a lot of trouble, but not a tough green to hit all told. The 4th is a fun 381-yard par 4 surrounded on the sides and back by three bunkers with no lips to worry about. It’s like the Bigfoot that left its imprint on the 3rd hole squashed them. The 5th is a slight dogleg-right par 4 of 398 yards with a lot of fairway to work with.
The 180-yard 6th is a longer par 3 with a large greenside bunker on the left. The 7th is a fun dogleg-left where you can cut off a big chunk of its 388 yards by carrying the fairway sand trap, but from in the sand it’s a lengthy shot in with a poor angle. The longest par 4 by a considerable margin is the 445-yard 8th, playing uphill as well. It is a fun hole since there isn’t too much real danger, so you get to take two healthy rips and see what happens. The 9th is a challenging par 5 of 516 yards, downhill and the final 70 yards have to carry a large pond guarding the green in front, making it a strategic 3-shot hole.
The 10th tees off parallel to the 1st, a slightly harder version of that opening hole at 378 yards and a visually intimidating tee shot that has to carry almost 180 yards of marsh. The ladies tee’s are across all that and the hole plays 221 yards from there, which seems to take all the fun out of it. The 11th is the picturesque, serene, tiny 130-yard par 3 that may end up on my wall someday. The glassy water of the pond reflects the blue sky and evergreen trees of northern Minnesota beautifully as the green sits out on its peninsula, peacefully awaiting you to attack the flag.
The 12th is everything the 11th is not. Sort of gnarly and ugly, a 383-yard par 4 that opens up on the approach, it’s a fun dogleg-left with a small green. The 13th is a straight, 392-yard par 4 with an outbreak of small fairway bunkers that sit dangerously on the right side that can easily end your par hopes.
The 14th is a fun little par 5 of 480 yards. The tee shot plays to a narrower fairway, with the leftside harboring some bunkers shaped like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The second shot has a couple large trees pinching off the left side. It’s a pretty view from the tee with the rock garden leading the eye from the tee boxes out to the rest of the hole. The 15th is where our round ground to a halt. A tricky and lengthy par 4 of 424 yards with a penal marsh ready to swallow the really bad shots, it’s a fun hole. Unless it takes you over twenty minutes to finish. We were cruising along on this late afternoon round, looking forward to getting our 36 in and back to bed, when the hole suddenly had 4 groups backed up on it. And why? Because the twosome who caused this whole traffic jam thought they were PLAYING TOO FAST. Who plays golf and thinks, “We should slow down, this is too fast for me?” I don’t know who they were, but they started playing two balls and clogged up the course like an Atlanta rush hour. Thankfully, the summer days in upper Minnesota last well past the nine o’clock hour so we had plenty of time to trudge our way in.
The final par 5 is the 493-yard 16th, a relatively easy hole that gives you a quick breath before the next hole. Which is the daunting, 216-yard 17th with almost all carry over the large lake here at Giants Ridge. The front of the green is a very steep hill of rough, and the green is shallow as well, so it will be one of the tougher par 3’s you’ll ever come across. It’s even rated the 4-handicap hole, so the better golfer will be giving a stroke here most likely. The 18th is a simple, uphill par 4 of 337 yards and you’re back to the the base of the ski lift. I don’t think there are every any days where you can ski right to the first tee box and start a round, but that would be a fun day.
The Legend is definitely a very nice course. The only thing it has going against it is that it’s not the Quarry. The Quarry is a truly special and unique course on this planet. The Legend is a very good golf course that is fun, scenic and player-friendly. The rough is nowhere near as penal, the layout is less challenging and the greens a little easier. If this was the only course I could get to as a Minnesota checkmark, I’d be more than happy to say so. In the end, it was the perfect dessert to the day. There are some memorable holes, and until that logjam near the end of the round, we were basically all alone enjoying the upper Midwest summer. Definitely worth a play.
#3, Par 5, 476 yards, 9-handicap, My Score: 6
It was a tough choice for my favorite hole. That 17th is as challenging as a par 3 can be. The 11th is maybe the most picturesque of all 36 holes Giants Ridge has to offer. But how can I not pick the hole with a Bigfoot bunker? One meaty footprint bunker with four smaller toes that protect the left dogleg on an otherwise simple par 5. It’s not just some gimmick bunker either, it’s really well made and actually comes into play. It really is one of the most memorable holes you’ll ever play.
Layout: B; fun holes, with some to score on and some to just hold on and hope for par.
Amenities: A, nothing changes in that three mile gap between courses
Staff: A; sure the starter needs a photography lesson, but if that’s the only non-positive comment I can make, that’s not bad at all
Difficulty: B-; especially after the morning Quarry round, it feels like swinging a bat without the donut weight on. But it will still be tough
Scenery: B+; the par 3’s on the back 9 are some of the prettiest I’ve seen
Value: A; the same price as the Quarry. But the real value is the 36 holes and lunch special, $140 for two rounds and a full lunch, at $70 for summer golf up here per round it’s a great deal
Overall GPA: 3.5 (A-)