BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Doesn't it always seem like it rains before the rounds you're most excited about it. Driving out to Minnesota Valley Country Club, it was pouring. I mean, raining Garfields and Marmadukes. This is a round that was a month in the making, and I didn't want to miss it. Imagine my relief when club GM Steve Gilles met me in the parking lot, with his clubs strapped to his back!
The rain sputtered as we put the peg in the ground on the first tee. I should explain why I was so excited to see "The Valley." It's a Seth Raynor design, plotted just north of the Minnesota River in 1924. Other Raynor designs in the cities include Somerset and Midland Hills. I can, with all honesty, say the architect sterling reputation is more than well-deserved. This course is immaculately maintained and very fun to play; Raynor plays with the angles and hilly terrain masterfully.
I will start by saying every hole out here is very good. Not a boring one in the lot. There are a lot of raised greens with good movement and well-placed deep bunkers to keep you honest, not to mention a substantial variety of fairway lies. Some are just as easy to birdie as they are to bogey which keeps the round fun.
I only have space to pick a few holes, so here goes. The final four holes on the front were fabulous. Number 6 is a severe dogleg left, with a landing area 200 yards out. The second shot will likely be from a downhill lie to an elevated green. Great fun and a good challenge. Number 7 is a good par 3 with trademark drop-offs on the sides of the green and Number 8 is a short risk/reward par 4 over water and straight uphill. I hit driver and paid the price. The roller coaster ride ends at number 9, a long par 4 straight down a hill with blind water threatening and a steep climb up to a 2-tier green. I should take this moment to mention Minnesota Valley is known for having some of the best greens in the state. Confirmed.
Unique to "The Valley" are back-to-back par 3s on 11 and 12. Twelve was a beautiful and excellent hole over water with bunkers short and long. Number 18 is a classic finishing hole with a severely sloping fairway and a blind 2nd shot. It was here that I met Mike Brower, the man who masterfully maintains the greens and grounds. He's known by members for his fun blogs, one of which features his Spiderman-like ability to scale some of the 1,000 plus mature trees that frame many of the holes.
I keep hearing the word classic to describe golf courses. Nowhere in Minnesota is it more appropriate than at MVCC. If you get an invite from a member, put on your plus fours and go, no matter what the weather forecast looks like.
I've had 1 golf lesson in the past 5 years. It was with a Bearpath Assistant Pro last year. As I skull-shanked a variety of missiles on the practice range, I looked around and thought, this is a really nice range. From the time you enter the gates of the Bearpath community, you get a sense that everything here is first class. The golf course is no exception.
Alone as the new member on the metro's private circuit, the Jack Nicklaus design offers both generous and beautiful fairways. The course opened in 1996 and quickly became a course that many a metro-area-golfer sought to sneak a round on.
I had the pleasure of playing with two members who were as laid-back as the atmosphere of the club. If Dan and Brian epitomize the membership (and I suspect they do), than the members of Bearpath help make the overall experience both fun and entertaining.
Bearpath is a blast to play. Not because the grounds are maintained to almost ridiculously high standards, but because it is super playable. The landing areas are generous but the bunkering, which just looks really cool, keeps you honest off the tee and on approach. There are a lot of houses on this course but they're not obtrusive, nor do they make you feel claustrophobic like some of the great courses of Scottsdale, Arizona do.
The par 3s are all great holes. They look good and they don't play easy. The 6th was my favorite, a long 180 yard carry over water to a tumbling green that is very 3-putt-able. Jack follows it up with a fabulous par 4 that requires a precise drive (green-blocking trees right) and an even more demanding approach to a narrow green with water right. The front 9, like its better half, completes a loop that gets you back to the gorgeous clubhouse.
I might have liked the back a little better than the front, and the final 3 holes offer the best of the bunch. At 330 yards, the par 4 16th requires a 4 iron or hybrid to 210 yards, laying up in front of a marsh that guards a crowned green with two of the cruelest bunkers you could imagine short right. A great hole that a former Twins pitching ace used to live next to.
17 was the prettiest hole on the course. The bunkers make this a memorable one. They're everywhere and they twist and turn among the mounds on both sides of the fairway, all the way up to the green.
This was my 3rd Nicklaus course I've played, and like the previous two (Old Corkscrew in Florida and the Bull at Pinehurst Farms in Wisconsin), Bearpath didn't disappoint. The staff, the grounds crew, the members, and finally, the architect, make it impossible for you not to have fun inside the gates!
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