Bully Pulpit’s 18-hole layout lies close to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named after the 26th President of the United States who once used it as his favourite hunting ground. Roosevelt also owned a ranch there that he retreated to when both his wife and mother died on the same fateful day in 1884.
While in office, the President coined the term “bully pulpit” for the White House (meaning a great platform from which to influence opinion) and this was the rather appropriate name chosen for the golf course when it opened for public play in 2004.
Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan, the Bully Pulpit course sits just south of the small town of Medora, along the Little Missouri River, with the final five holes routed through the spectacular landscape of the North Dakota Badlands.
Playing to a par of 72 and measuring a meaty 7,413 yards from the back tees, the course is owned and operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, which is a public non-profit organisation formed in 1986 to promote the historic character of Medora and the surrounding area.
Highlight holes on the course include a couple of par fives on the front nine: the left doglegged 4th, laid out along the banks of the river, and the 6th, which features an intriguing split level fairway. On the inward half, the signature hole on the course is the 161-yard 15th, played downhill to a “postage stamp” green that falls away on every side.
Located in the Badlands section within North Dakota is Bully Pulpit -- named for the phrase used by former US President Teddy Roosevelt when describing the platform that any Presidents can use in advocating his positions. The course is primarily set in a valley floor which has several holes near to the Little Missouri River.
Much of the fanfare tied to Bully Pulpit has centered on holes 14-16 which work their way directly into the hills. The uphill 14th is a quality hole with not one bunker included. The land itself is the star. At the par-3 15th is one of the most scenic and devilish short par-3 holes in all of American golf. Hitting the green requires the most well-executed approach. The 161-yard hole plays from a ridgetop to a green also set on a ridgetop. The slightest error can mean some big time numbers on the scorecard. When wind is blowing the target can become an immense chore to hit and hold. To give an example the 15th at Bully Pulpit is on par with the likes of the 8th at Royal Troon because there's literally no place to miss.
The downhill par-4 16th that follows is also well done with a bottleneck fairway that provides a demanding target to hit. The par-5 17th is especially well done with a series of bunker that split the drive zone between right and left sides. The par-4 18th caps the round in solid fashion -- a mid-length par-4 to a green set just above the fairway so that one's approach has to be hit with precision.
The downside with Bully Pulpit is that the first third of the layout is fairly ordinary. There's no real design elements that add much beyond the natural beauty of the land itself. That does change at the long par-4 7th but the real qualities of Bully Pulpit have to wait till you get to the 10th tee. The inward half is over 300 yards shorter than the front nine but the range of holes, the unique terrain and the need for a range for a broader array of shotmaking expertise is clearly called upon.
The golf season is not a long one in this part of America but the Medora area is quite a recreational getaway on a number of fronts. Bully Pulpit would certainly gain from an updating of a few of the holes from the outward side. Not overdressing them as sometimes Hurdzan and Fry have done with other projects but in being able to add design elements that can add a bit more to holes not blessed with quality terrain.
Nonetheless, for those venturing through western North Dakota a side visit to Bully Pulpit is certainly well worth the time and effort.
by M. James Ward