The Pines Course at Grand View Lodge: Thrilling Golf in the Northwoods

Across the street from the main lodge, and alongside the fairway cabins, is Grand View Lodge’s premiere 27-hole course: The Pines.

Designed by Minnesota golf architect Joel Goldstrand, The Pines course debuted in 1990 and has been a mainstay on the state’s lists of top courses since, including garnering the #4 public distinction in 2022 by GolfWeek.

Similar to Wisconsin Dells in my home state of Wisconsin, Brainerd Minnesota is a hot bed for seasonal tourists, drawing families and golf enthusiasts alike to the lake-covered region for fun in the sun, and terrific golf with a Northwoods feel.

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It’s this Northwoods feel that envelops players on Grand View Lodge’s two championship courses, The Pines and The Preserve. A rollercoaster ride through dense forest guides golfers miles away from the hustle of everyday life, re-introducing them to nature by way of wonderfully designed golf holes, fresh unencumbered air and plenty of wildlife.

As the resort’s most award-winning layout, The Pines features 27 holes spread across its Lakes, Marsh and Woods nines. Each has its own character, and combined they have a uniform feel that provides continuity and adventure.

The course definitely favors a draw for right-handed players, and the hole designs will put every club in your hands at some point – oftentimes even off the tee.

Stretching to 3,516 yards from the green tees, the Lakes is the most staunch of its nines, but the others are both over 3,400 yards, as well.

Much of the Pines course at GVL, from above

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Our day

Staying in the 8th Fairway Townhomes, I got out early on Saturday morning for our main day of golf at Grand View Lodge, egressing the hill behind our home-away-from-home’s backyard to the 8th tee box of the Lakes course. Finding my bearings while swatting away the swarms of mosquitos that emerged from the night before’s rainfall, I chose to walk the course from there backwards, which I felt provided the best vantage points for the day’s sunrise.

The par four 8th on the Lakes course, with our cabinet to the right

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It was 5 am and wildlife was everywhere. The Assistant Pro’s story about a bear that kept showing up last season on the first hole of The Preserve course had me a little nervous with all the noises coming from the woods, but they usually ended up being deer. One coyote ran past me from about 20 feet, though, making me wish I had my camera ready as I wasn’t about to put down the drone controller.

A huge snapping turtle had burrowed in the mud a few feet from where I was photographing the 6th hole at one point, as well. The day had that feel of oneness with its surrounds, and I tend to enjoy that – as long as it doesn’t involve bears or wolves, of course.

We were off the tee sheet, scheduled to play the Marsh nine prior to the day’s first group out, so I only had an hour with the morning’s golden hour. I spent most of it on two of the property’s signature holes: The par three 7th and short par four fifth. I was hoping for a stunner or two, and these early morning hours tend to yield that.

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All of the facilities at Grand View Lodge have an outdoorsy aesthetic and feel about them, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. Like the 5-bedroom cabin we stayed in, the clubhouse at The Pines is comfortable and home-like with great amenities – it’s exactly what we’d hoped for in an up north getaway like the Grand View Lodge.

For more on the accommodations and family vacation aspect of our trip, check out Troy’s wife, Catherine’s, review on her travel blog, Postcard Narrative:

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The staff was helpful and engaging everywhere we went on the expansive Grand View Lodge property. Like the shuttle driver, Allen, who Troy and I got to know from our trips to the courses, and our wives and kids got to know from their adventures both while we were on the course and when with us before and afterwards.

Or when asking about the holes they’d recommend I start with for photography at The Preserve, for example, the starter gave me his thoughts and then texted me soon after with additional recommendations from the golf staff.

The starter at The Pines even made his way back to the clubhouse to find us insect repellant prior to our buggy early morning start.

There’s no pretentiousness at Grand View Lodge – just a terrific property with outstanding amenities and helpful folks who are excited to share it with others.

Video of The Pines course at Grand View Lodge

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The course

Our initial cart ride to the 1st tee of the Marsh nine took us circuitously around the Woods nine’s 9th hole – a beautiful finish surrounded by water:

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The Marsh has some fabulous topography that’s led to a number of exciting golf holes, like the par three second that tips out at just over 200 yards. Hitting over a depressed fairway to a perched green, it’s a tee shot that’s sure to tighten your grip.

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There are quite a few blind shots at The Pines, and the first of significance on the Marsh nine is on the par four 3rd. From the tee box, it’s hard to tell which way the fairway goes. It bends to the left, playing downhill and over water to a green tucked amid the pond, trees and an expansive marshland.

Over the 3rd hole tee shot on the Marsh course
The approach on 3 – off the left side of the fairway

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The above photo should give a good idea of the terrain you’re dealing with at Grand View Lodge, and in Brainerd, in general. The fairways are wavy with dramatic ups and downs that influence shots toward target and collection areas.

Northern Minnesota had a rough Winter this past year (and their Spring obviously starts later than ours’ in Southeast Wisconsin), so I’d be remiss if I left out that some of my photos may not paint their green complexes in the fairest light. We could tell they’re normally awesome (generally larger in size with a great amount of break and overall character), but several were still recovering from Winter burn. To remedy this during our early-June visit, the resort was still charging off-season rates and aims to have the greens fully recovered quickly. I’d love to see them in mid-July or August!

The fourth and fifth holes on the Marsh course continue across and around the perimeter of the wetlands, starting with a short par four over the hazard and then a pretty little downhill par three fronted by and alongside it.

The 4th fairway (right) and par three 5th (top-left)
The short par three 5th on The Pines course at Grand View Lodge

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Many aspects of The Pines remind me of one of my favorite public golf courses in Wisconsin, Wild Rock. Both high-profile resort courses, each has three distinct regions within their layouts (albeit Wild Rock is a standard 18-hole course versus The Pines’ 27), tons of elevation changes and wild, scenic environments. The Preserve has that, too.

It’s that feeling of being out in the wild, thinking your way around a tough golf course and all the elements it throws at you. Its tree lines and massively undulating fairways are just a few, and are highlighted well in the last few holes on the Marsh nine.

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Exemplifying this challenge is the course’s slope/rating numbers: 144/74.0 from the tips, and 141/72.0 from the first tees in that we played. That’s high!

Courses like this are kryptonite for a player like me. I don’t consistently drive the ball that straight, which obviously creates difficulties with staying inside parkland courses’ tree lines and leaving myself good angles off the tee.

WiscoGolfAddict.com Contributing Writer, Troy Giljohann, on the other hand, thrives when accuracy is at a premium. A former college player at MSOE, Troy played both rounds at Grand View Lodge under par, and left Brainerd with back-to-back 1-under 71’s.

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The Lakes was my favorite of the nines at Grand View Lodge, although I’d probably call it “Ponds” more than “Lakes.” Semantics.

Like the Marsh and Woods courses, the Lakes is fairly heavily wooded even though it felt a bit more forgiving than the other two. There’s also plenty of water, but maybe not as much as you’d expect given the routing’s namesake. The par four 5th, aforementioned par three 7th and par four 8th are the only holes with water in play at all, in fact.

The 7th is all-Midwest.

The undisputed signature hole of the Grand View Lodge portfolio, it’s got a ton of charm. Nestled into a little nook of its own, it has a pond and tall timbers, nicely adorned rock wall abutting the green and a harrowing tee shot that can’t miss left, short or long.

I visited this hole with my DJI Mavic drone at three different times of the day (sunrise, mid-morning and sunset), and it was beautiful each time.

Troy and I both managed easy pars on this hole, but his tee shot almost took out the cup from 153. It was a tough site watching him burn the edge from just a few feet for birdie (I did offer to have him pick it up).

Directly overhead aerial shot of the par four 7th on the Lakes course
The 7th from beyond the green
Slightly offset with great lighting
Set over the trees to the left of the pond – notice the Dye-like wooden facades

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The 5th is really interesting.

Goldstrand designed quite a few golf holes at Grand View Lodge to be “Choose Your Own Adventure” (remember those books from when you were a kid?), and this to me is a terrific example.

Short enough to drive from the first or second sets of tees in, it would require a significant carry over the pond (and corner of the woods) but with extreme, helping elevation. If I had to guess, it’s probably only a 265-yard shot to get there (closer to 300 as the crow flies).

The short par four 5th, from above

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It’s completely blind, though, with no view of the green from the tee nor of the majority of the pond.

The smart shot here is obviously mid-iron off the tee, letting the ball bound down the hillside from right-to-left and toward the bottom of the hill to set up a wedge in from 100 yards. But, there’s always that little guy tugging at your ear saying, “You didn’t drive 7-1/2 hours to Brainerd, with kids screaming the whole way, to lay up on a 275-yard shot… Did you?”

And then, after you make the smart play and wonder to yourself, “I should have tried it – think I could have it hit?” then you, like I did, may find yourself directly behind a tree with a brutal downhill lie in the rough. That gets the little guy going a little further: “You didn’t drive all the way to Brainerd to not skip this ball over the pond, did you?”

That’s the guy that got me. My back-foot cut sliced around the tree low like I wanted, skipped five or six times on top of the water and hit the rocks on the other side. It popped up in the air and back in the water.

I just couldn’t get myself to chip the ball 20 yards left and play for par or bogey (not surprised).

A look back over the 5th green

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While the water-laden 5th and 7th are obvious stars of the show, one of my favorite holes on the Pines course is the par three 9th.

I love when golf courses are able to build in flexibility, and Goldstrand did a remarkable job of doing just that here.

With a green complex that’s probably 75 yards wide, the 9th has a laterally running putting surface that, when pinned left makes the tips play up to 220 yards, and when pinned right as short as 185.

The par three 9th and its versatile green complex
An offset view of the 9th green (top-right) from over the clubhouse

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The center of the green is narrow from back-to-front, but puttable, so simply aiming between the two sections and expecting to have an easy two-putt is far from reasonable. If you find the wrong section of the green, you could quite literally have about a 200-foot putt.

A more scenic view of the 9th, with the lake on the horizon

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The hole location was back-left for our round, up a steep embankment that kept my pitch shot from in front of the left-side sand trap from getting anywhere near the pin.

Troy needed three here to stay under par for his round, and he got it. I finished with a 4 and shot an illegitimate 85 (a breakfast ball, several illegal drops, three or four auto two-putts – you name it!). It was a brutal day for my golf game, but it was still incredibly enjoyable.

Probably our favorite hole on the Woods nine was the par three third, going downhill and around a pond. It’s another beautiful, short one-shotter at Grand View Lodge.

The par three 3rd on the Woods course

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Summary/conclusion

Grand View Lodge is an awesome golf and family vacation destination, and with 27 holes laid out over incredibly dramatic land – including some really memorable golf holes – The Pines to me is its top billing.

The fact that it’s in the middle of everything at the resort, too, makes it convenient (even though The Preserve is also a free shuttle ride away) for those looking to get in some golf and return to their rooms in the shortest amount of time.

There’s a lot more golf to be played in Brainerd, Minnesota, but if you’re looking for an outstanding place to stay and play with your golf buddies or family, Grand View Lodge is really tough to beat.

The Pines clubhouse alongside the Woods 9th and practice putting green

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For more on our trip to Grand View Lodge, check out my destination review here:

Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort: A Northwoods Getaway for All

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WiscoGolfAddict review of The Preserve course at Grand View Lodge

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All photography and video by Paul Seifert and Troy Giljohann for WiscoGolfAddict.com

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