There has been a trend over the past couple of decades with some of country’s top public courses that have been built. That is, location is everything and nothing at the same time.
Think about some of the more recent masterpieces created on stunning canvases in spots that take some effort to find. From coast to coast, Bandon Dunes along the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, Sand Valley through the restored sand barrens of Central Wisconsin and Streamsong upon land recovered from a former phosphate mine in Florida.
Minnesota can relate with many of its top public courses. None may be more than Dacotah Ridge (www.dacotahridge.com).
While there is less shock and awe with Minnesota’s hidden treasure in the southwest part of the state, the end of a journey to get there is no less inspiring. Take it from Rees Jones who has pretty much done and seen it all in his over 50 years of global golf design including renovations of major championship courses.
“I think it’s an amazing piece of ground,” said Jones in an interview with Midwest Golfing Magazine in 2014. “When you drive out there from Minneapolis you’ll really find open, flat prairie land then all of a sudden you get to Jackpot Junction and there’s this prairie, rolling site with the Wabasha River going through so many of the holes it’s like an oasis that was really meant to be a golf course.”
Jackpot Junction is the affiliated casino hotel, part of the Lower Sioux Indian Community. Dacotah Ridge in Morton is just five miles away. Add the population of Morton (374 in 2016) to Bandon, Nekoosa and Bowling Green – the sites of the aforementioned courses – and there would barely be enough people to fill a small arena.
“Having the course located in a small population area can be challenging but it’s worth the couple hour drive to check it out for the day or weekend,” said Dacotah’s Director of Golf Tyler Pendleton. “We offer play-and-stay packages through the casino which cuts down on the driving in one day. A lot of our golfers come to play a round of golf, stay at the casino, play another round in the morning and head back home after that.”
Replay rounds are almost a must considering the entertainment options at the casino hotel and the price, not to mention the long drive from any of the closest metropolitan areas. Dacotah Ridge is definitely a course that golfers will want to play again not only because of the different ways it can be attacked but also because of its untouched beauty.
“I think I’m proud of the fact that it’s an old-style, classic course because it incorporates all these streams. And that’s the way golf courses were built prior to the Depression,” said Jones. “To have this course, this piece of ground available to us with all these natural features and utilizing them effectively I think is what I’m proud of.
“This routing is really quite effective in that we have diversity of length, diversity of styles, we used the creek effectively, we used the prairie effectively and then it finishes with two really dramatic holes that play along the creek and it really drops substantially. I mean, two very, very spectacular finishing holes.”
The last two Jones refers to are set in a rare wooded portion of the property, thus they put a punctuation mark on what otherwise feels like an open, prairie course. Hole No. 17 is a short par-4 (310 yards from the middle tees) that dog legs sharp left and is risk-reward. Where a golfer places his or her tee shot – and with what club – can make the approach to a sloping green a bit easier. The wind can also play a factor. Some big hitters may try to drive the green, nailing a tee shot over the wooded Wabasha Creek ravine that runs the left-hand side of the hole.
Hole No. 18 is a par-5 that words cannot do justice. It too veers left and the target area off the tee both narrows and becomes more uneven for those attempting to reach the corner of the dog leg. There is plenty of trouble down the left-hand side but plenty of shot options, too.
There is also a portion of the course that features a 14-acre lake that shapes the design of five holes. Only two of those holes run in the same direction so a windy day requires some solid ball-striking and course management. The par-3 No. 11 can especially be tricky playing over the lake from six staggered tee boxes that range from 105-179 yards.
“None of the holes are really similar so it makes for a fun and challenging round all the way through,” said Pendleton. “I’ve played hundreds of rounds out here and don’t get bored with it.
“Rees Jones did an awesome job of designing the course with a variety of different holes.”
Looking for an add-on round to Dacotah Ridge and extend the stay at Jackpot Junction another night? Pendleton recommends setting the GPS for two courses within an hour’s drive – New Ulm Country Club in a historic little German town and Redwood Falls Golf Club located at the entrance of Ramsey Park, the “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota.”
The best spot to wind down after a round at Dacotah Ridge is at the over 440,000-square foot Jackpot Junction Casino Hotel. There is blackjack and poker and “Minnesota’s Best Bingo.” Hotel rooms include VIP, poolside, Jacuzzi and fireplace suites. And this summer, be prepared to be entertained just about every week with local, regional and national interests including the first annual Motor Classic Car Show in August, Polka-Palooza in July and Lee Greenwood in June. For more information, visit www.jackpotjunction.com.