Madden’s Resort, Classic Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #63 US public, #10 Minnesota
GolfWeek: #8 Minnesota public
Golf.com: #5 Minnesota public
Designer: Scott Hoffman, Geoffrey Cornish, John Harris, Warren Rebholz (1996)
With overall golf rounds down across the Midwest, most courses lean heavily on cart rentals as their top profit generator. Glenn Hagberg, Head PGA Golf Professional at Madden’s on Gull Lake Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota, has their courses leaning the other way.
“Too often golfers speed through their round without taking in the golf course and beauty of the surroundings. We wanted to take a step back to one of the things that made the game of golf great…walking the course! We see that trend both among the Gen X and Millennia’s, as well as The Classic at Madden’s peer group on the Top 100 courses. Most of the courses on the top of the list require walking with caddie. Offering professional caddie services on The Classic offers an experience that is total unique, and in my opinion the best way to play the course!”
With three eighteen-hole courses and a nine-hole executive track, there is a lot of yardage to walk at Madden’s Resort, and Glenn’s goal was to walk 200 miles last season. The New Miler’s Club program at Madden’s gives credit for 6 miles on The Classic, 4 on Pine Beach East, and 3 on Pine Beach West. Carrying a pedometer with him during all rounds, he was up to 60 by June and had some work to do both on his own mileage and with changing the culture of golf in Brainerd.
This past season, The Classic course at Madden’s Resort provided another great reason to walk: Professionally trained caddies as good as any in the country. All caddies at The Classic are 18 or older, are put through extensive training, and are single-digit handicap players.
My caddy during our first round, Dave, is a two-handicap from Worcester, Massachussetts, and is a student in Coastal Carolina University’s PGA Golf Management program. He has been blessed with an internship as a professional caddy at The Classic this summer, along with twenty other knowledgeable and professional loopers.
If you have yet to play a round with a professional caddy, I highly recommend it… And I highly recommend that you do it here. Not only is the course beautiful, but it is unbelievably challenging, as well.
The Classic at Madden’s opened in 1997, following rigorous work by course Superintendent Scott Hoffmann, former US Amateur champion John Harris, Minnesota Golf Association Executive Director Warren Rebholz, and the late East Coast golf architect Geoffrey Cornish to create a true PGA Tour level experience that can be enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels.
The Classic course was designed from the tournament tee boxes in, and features five sets of tees that measure less than the 7,102 yards played from the tournament tips. My golf buddy, Dan Hogan, is a six-handicap and die-hard long-ball hitter. I made what I initially thought was a mistake in promising him we could play the course from the tips.
Dan and me on the 11th hole of The Classic course
I am normally a big proponent of the PGA’s “Play it Forward” campaign, but our quest to play The Classic the way it was built to be played turned out to be a wonderful decision. Along with being a tremendous challenge, The Classic forces golfers to appreciate what it takes to be a PGA Tour player.
Although every hole at The Classic can be considered a “signature” hole, the one that sticks out most is the par four eleventh. From the normally unused tournament tees, the hole measures 444 yards with a 270-yard carry between [what appears to be] about ten yards of a gap between trees. To say this was the most intimidating tee shot of my life is probably an understatement. I typically work the ball left to right with my longer clubs, leaving my only option a high fade over the left-side tree line. I thought I connected big-time, only to find my tee shot 30 yards short of the start of the fairway.
One of the legendary stories of the genesis of The Classic came on a rainy spring day: While conceiving the layout of this hole, John Harris suggested the tournament tee location as being absolutely essential. It’s an impossible shot, scoffed the other three on the committee. Harris then took a driver, teed up a ball in the mud and hit a draw to the spot of the 150-yard marker. While that shot is not in my own golf repertoire, the committee was convinced.
Tournament tee boxes on 11
The aggressive location of the tournament tee box is far from the only special aspect of this great hole, which was voted the third most beautiful golf hole in the state of Minnesota. A large red oak tree towers above the front of the flight zone from the fairway, and must be carried along with the pond that fronts the green. Five sand traps reside above the back side of the green, along with two others to the left and two directly in front.
No expenses were spared in the formation of The Classic at Madden’s Resort, including these seven and 50 other bunkers filled with Ohio’s Best sand. While golf course quality sand can be sourced just miles from the resort for a quarter of the cost, Madden’s commitment to the absolute highest quality shines through here as with all other aspects.
The approach area on 11
The same direction from Harris went in to the design of the par five thirteenth hole, where the tee shot from the tournament tees sets up from 641 yards. This is actually 23 yards longer than Minnesota’s only par six hole, found on Madden’s Pine Beach East course just a mile away.
Tournament tee box on 13
The par threes are fantastic here, too, with three of the five playing 215 yards or longer from the tournament boxes. Another, the breathtakingly beautiful seventeenth, extends to a more manageable 155. Number two is 176 yards with a lake guarding the front and right sides of the green.
Hole 17: Par 3 (159/155/146/133/133/80)
Hole 7: Par 3 (214/207/182/160/160/83)
While the course lost some red oaks a few years back, it was merely a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands of red oaks and maples found on the property. The loss actually helped create my favorite tee shot on the course: The first hole tee shot plays to what is now a wide landing zone, before firing fiercely downhill to the left along Bass Lake (one of the course’s many inland water features). This is one of the most impressive opening holes I have ever played.
Hole 1: Par 5 (545/510/500/489/380/380)
One of my clients told me the day we left for our trip to Madden’s, “The only thing better than the golf course is the food and the service.” I was extremely impressed with both of these, but the golf simply cannot be beaten.
If you are looking to take a great golf trip this summer, and especially if you are looking to play one of the finest courses in the Midwest and the country, consider Madden’s Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota.
Location: Brainerd, MN
Yardage: Tour-7,102, Black-6,717, Blue-6,438, White-6,062, Gold-5,438, Red-4,859
Slope/Rating: Tour-145/75.6, Black-141/73.9, Blue-134/72.1, White-130/70.4, Gold-131/72.5, Red-123/69.3
Weekend Rates (including cart): $119