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by Kevin Turnquist

It's getting hard to know what to believe when it comes to the printed word these days. Reading's shrinking niche in the communication world is increasingly occupied by those who have a particular agenda. Usually this involves making money. The once lofty profession of Golf Course Reviewer is certainly no exception.

This business of describing and rating golf courses used to be pure and untainted except for all the alcohol.  Nowadays big corporate bucks subsidize a constant courting of the reviewer's positive regard.  Objectivity can get pretty scarce when luxurious golf packages, free equipment, and representatives of escort services are involved.

No better example of skewed opinion-giving comes to mind than that of the lauded Chaska Town Course. The StarTribune gushed over this track like it was Minnesota's answer to Augusta National.  During a recent visit to Chaska it soon became apparent that the Tribune writers had fallen prey to the payola boys. Mushy fairways, hard greens, forced carries over swamplands, gimmicky holes and inflated green fees resulted in our renaming this course Buffalo Run South.

So it was with considerable ambivalence that we made the three and a half hour journey to Giants Ridge Golf Resort last week. Sure,we had read some glowing reviews of the course. Some even had beautiful  pictures but a lot can be done with computers these days and photographers rank high on the list of the ethically challenged too. Frankly, we were skeptical of the idea that a true contender for the mythical title of " Finest Public Golf Course In Minnesota" might be found residing in Biwabik.

Shortly after our arrival at the Golf Resort/Ski Resort/Cross Country Ski Training Ground/Doug Woog Hockey School we had to concede that the   service was first rate. Everyone from the boys who brought the carts to our car to the waitresses, the starter, and the omnipresent "player's assistants" displayed a friendly, informal attitude that seemed more in keeping with the ski resort than a superpremium golf course.

Once the golf got underway it didn't take long to realize that we had truly hooked onto something special. This is a big, sprawling course that sends clusters of two or three holes off into the forest in all directions. With seven and a half miles of cartpaths it makes no pretense of being a walking course - in fact carts are mandatory.

Everything at Giants Ridge was done on a large scale. Whereas The Classic moved only 20,000 cubic yards of earth when preparing it's layout, Giants Ridge moved half a million. Huge pockets of boulders are stacked up around the course. Nearly five million pounds of white sugar-sand were hauled in from Ohio to fill the 60 plus enormous bunkers. Greens, tees, and fairways were covered with over 80,000 tons of topsoil before being seeded with Creeping Bentgrass. One man-made pond alone contains 4.5 million gallons of water.

The result of all of this massive construction is a course unlike any we've encountered in Minnesota. Each hole is scenic and shows it's own unique character. Nothing gimmicky about any of them. Par fours average 365 yards from the white tees, 409 yards from the points. Hitting the driver is almost always a good option as good drives are never penalized. Enough trouble awaits errant shots, though, to encourage hitting fairway woods or even irons from the tees in hopes of reaching safer landing areas. Appropriately enough, much of the subtle difficulty of this course comes from actual giant ridges. Big, elongated mounds of earth are everywhere and must always be taken into consideration. Landing on the correct side of them will often make a decent shot better by throwing the ball onto the fairway or green. More frequently, though, they seemed to funnel shots into the big, Lake Minnetonka-shaped traps.

If you've heard about any of The Ridge's holes it's probably been The "Bear Paw" trap on #3the par five third. We've included the obligatory picture of the giant's footprint shaped sand  trap. There's a lot more to this hole than the cool 10,000 square foot trap though. The fairway past the trap is bisected by a long ridge that sends even slight fades off to the right, well out of  reachable range. If you carry the big  footprint with a draw you're rewarded with a mid- to-long iron approach shot to the green. There, another subtle ridge protects the right two-thirds of the green by banking shots into yet another expansive bunker. Short left has two more traps to deal with. As with most of these holes, a safe play is provided even though it's not immediately obvious. In this case large mounds behind the green keep long shots in play. This is one green you don't want to miss short.

A recent contest to select Giants Ridge's "Signature Hole" found number three in only third place. A pair of lovely par threes grabbed the top two spots. The eleventh hole, a wedge shot into a green protected by water on three sides with a big trap in front, earned the top spot. Runner-up number 17 was our personal favorite. Five tee boxes, terraced with  huge boulders, allow distances ranging from 137 to 226 yards. The green is on an elevated peninsula so the shot is almost entirely carry. Unlike nearly all of the other holes this one offers no margin for error unless you count using the greenside drop area for your third shot as a safety play. Even here there is solace for the many golfers who leave their tee shots in the drink. A pretty flowered walkway leads to the drop area and getting up and down from thirty feet is all that's required to make bogey.

Perhaps the most telling statistic about Giants Ridge Golf Resort is that in the Signature Hole contest every hole gathered at least a hundred votes.

Mythical readers of The Sports Page golf course reviews might recall the criteria set down for our equally mythical title of "Best Public Golf Course In Minnesota". You can play any course you wish on a perfect summer's day. No one else is on the course and neither cost nor travel time are considerations. Where do you choose to play?

Giants Ridge offers tremendous scenic beauty, friendly service, a superb layout, some of the nicest sand traps in the state,and great turf throughout. It's the sort of course that has posted green fees for the second eighteen of the day because one round only leaves you wanting to get right back out there. Even if it's green fees were more in line with it's spendier competitors for the heavyweight belt (e.g. The Wilds and The Classic at over $90 per round) it would still receive my vote as The Best Public Course In Minnesota. If you permit factoring in value for the golfing dollar, at $59 with cart for the first 18 and $35 for the second the choice becomes even easier.

So this is it. One man's mythical Champion Of Golf Courses. We can't wait to see the the golf course (or the escort service girls, whichever the case may be) that can dethrone this one.

Tees Yardage Rating Slope
Gold 6930 73,7 133
Blue 6528 71.9 129
White 6112 70.1 126
Red 5084 70.3 126
Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort
P.O Box 190
County Highway 138
Biwabik, Minnesota 55708
800-688-7669

Check out the Giants Ridge web page