A look at Golf Digest’s new Minnesota course rankings

If you can avoid burning out your retinas by looking at the bright orange pants on the cover of the May issue of Golf Digest, there are some interesting lists to consume in the issue.

While seemingly every golf publication does rankings — all of them have some value and some drawbacks — the GD rankings are at least interesting because they only come out every other year. And because they rank courses on a state-by-state basis, including both public and private.

I suppose this is where I need to put in a disclaimer that I am a rater for a publication other than Golf Digest. I do know people that rate courses for GD and I’m sure they do an honest job. Rating courses is like no different than rating movies or restaurants, it is subjective. And just because you don’t share an opinion doesn’t mean you are right and the other person is wrong.

Minnesota’s Top 20

1. Interlachen

2. Spring Hill

3. Hazeltine National

4. The Quarry at Giants Ridge

5. White Bear Yacht Club

6. Windsong Farm

7. Somerby

8. The Wilderness at Fortune Bay

9. The Classic at Madden’s

10. Northland

11. Minikahda

12. The Legend at Giants Ridge

13. Somerset

14. Minneapolis GC

15. TPC Twin Cities

16. Willingers

17. StoneRidge

18. Dacotah Ridge

19. Deacon’s Lodge

20. Legends Club

My thoughts:

I have played 19 of the 20 on the list, with White Bear Yacht Club being the only outlier. I agree with a lot of it and probably even most of it.

The thing I’m most confused about is Spring Hill, the ultra-private rich guy oasis in Wayzata. On this list, GD ranks the Tom Fazio as the No. 2 course in the state. I have played Spring Hill just once. I liked it quite a bit, but I’m not sure that it is better than Hazeltine. The holes on the north side of County Road 6 feel a little squeezed.

I also don’t understand the love for The Legend course at Giants Ridge. It’s fine, but I will take every course on the list before it.

The two Brainerd-area courses on the list are in the correct order. The Classic > Deacon’s Lodge. Why? I can’t imagine anyone with a handicap higher than about 7 enjoying Deacons because of the multitude of forced carries. I do OK on the golf course and felt like I was wearing out my 3-wood and hybrids.

The most underrated course on the list? Northland Country Club at No. 10. Golfweek has Northland as one of the top 100 classic courses in the country. It is a wonderful Donald Ross course that is playable, interesting and has a wonderful set of greens. Recent work on conditions and tree removal is spectacular. To me, it is easily one of the five best courses in the state, maybe even top three.

The course I’d like to see crack the list? Golden Valley is wonderful and is better than at least a couple of the options near the bottom of the list. I’m totally a sucker for Oak Ridge, the way under the radar gem in Hopkins. If I had 10 rounds to split between those two, Willingers and Legends, I’d probably go 5-5-0-0. Seriously.

The top 100 lists

Overall

From a Minnesota perspective, the overall top 100 list is pretty boring as there isn’t much on there.

Interlachen made a big jump over the past two years, going from 64 to 51.

Hazeltine also moved up, going from 91 to 86.

From a regional perspective, Whistling Straits is tied for 17th and Milwaukee Country Club is 57

What I’ve played: 19. Muirfield Village; 37. Pinehurst (No. 2); 51. Interlachen; 84. Valhalla; 86. Hazeltine; 88. Kapalua (Plantation)

Two more in the top 100?

Perhaps the most interesting part of the overall top 100 list was in the fine print. Both Spring Hill and The Quarry actually ranked ahead of several overall top 100 courses. They weren’t included because they didn’t have enough ballots cast to qualify for the top 100.

That’s why Spring Hill ranked ahead of Hazeltine in the state list, but wasn’t on the overall list. And it is why The Quarry ranked ahead of overall top 100 courses including Kapalua Plantation on the public list, but isn’t on the overall list.

If you look at the fine print of all of the lists, it takes 10 visits by raters to be eligible for the state list, 25 for the top 100 public and 45 for overall top 100. That means that Spring Hill has between 10 and 45 visits and The Quarry has between 25 and 45 visits. We will see if that changes over the next two years.

In a quick glance through the state-by-state lists, there appears to be a dozen or so courses in this category. Some are in more remote areas that require pretty much a special trip to get to — Biwabik probably fits in that category — others are clubs that don’t want raters visiting and don’t care about lists. For example, a club I have a slight bit of familiarity is the Camargo Club in Cincinnati (where I used to live). It is currently No. 24 on Golfweek’s Top 100 Classic course list and is second in Ohio on the GD state list. That puts it ahead of four clubs currently in the GD overall top 100. I would be stunned if anyone at Camargo cares. It is an exclusive club with a cool old course and they are just fine with flying under the radar. It is the Cincinnati version of Woodhill.

While The Quarry would love to be in the top 100 overall for marketing purposes, I’m not sure if the people at Spring Hill really care. The place seems less closed off to the world than when it opened in the late 90s as it hosts a U of M tournament each fall and hosted the MGA Players Championship last year, but I can’t imagine it has an open door policy for raters.

Public

GD also put out its top 100 public courses. It was very good for Jeff Brauer, who designed both The Quarry at Giants Ridge and The Wilderness at Fortune Bay.

The Quarry checks in at No. 16. The Wilderness is at No. 40. As a fan of playability, I do like the less severe site that The Wilderness sits on, but both are fantastic.

The Classic at Madden’s — the best course in Brainerd — is tied for 53rd.

What I’ve played: 8. Pinehurst No. 2; 16. The Quarry; 17. Kapalua (Plantation); 34. Paa-Ko Ridge; 39. The Harvester; 40. The Wilderness; 47. Cog Hill No. 4; 48. Pine Needles; T53. The Classic; T53. Eagle Eye; 58. Hawktree; 64. Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek); 74. Wailea (Gold); 78. Tobacco Road; T86. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms.

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