Located a couple of miles outside the state capital Bismark, the course at Hawktree Golf Club burst onto the golf scene at the end of the 1990s, quickly vying with The Links of North Dakota as the number one course in the Roughrider State.
Jim Engh was the architect behind the contemporary design at Hawktree, weaving eight of the fairways in and around Burnt Creek with another three holes constructed around three man made lakes.
Elevation changes in the routing – such as at the par three 3rd and the par five 18th – offer some wonderful panoramic views of the local landscape but the abiding feature here is one rarely found on a golf course – black sand.
Actually, the bunkers are filled with black coal slag (a neat way of solving the problem of losing sand when storms blow through the mid West states) and they give the course its own rather distinctive stamp in a golfing world where most modern courses are constructed with snowy white sand traps – hats off to Jim Engh for daring to be different.
Architect Jim Engh commented as follows:
“Originally, the clients wanted to use an expensive white bunker sand. I suggested that with the North Dakota winds and prairie, the white sand would be brown in very short order. The discussions continued for months, then one day, while meeting with the greens superintendent at his shop, I noticed a coffee can full of a material that appeared to be black sand. As it turned out, this was the remains of the coal that was burned at a nearby power plant. Typically, it was used to sandblast stripes from highways. After some convincing with the clients and a test bunker, the decision was made to use the alternative substance.”
Mark White covered the main points regarding Hawktree and frankly for some people architect Jim Engh will be a polarizing designer. The dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists often frown on the heavy hand approach he takes with his efforts. On the flip side the more pragmatic sorts often embrace his creativity with difficult land forms and the golf he produces.
I have played a good number of Engh's designs since he really came onto the scene with his effort at Redland Mesa in Grand Junction and then followed-up with Sanctuary in Sedalia.
Many of Engh's designs follow the pattern in having five par-5 holes and an equal number of par-3 holes. The issue at Hawktree centers around the eight (8) par-4 holes which are adequate but hardly noteworthy. There are two (2) exceptions the long 2nd aided by a fairway that offers plenty of internal movements. The other noteworthy two-shot hole is the 12th which does not suffer foolish plays.
Hawktree is aided by being in a location where WIND is often front and center. It's a rare day when the flags are simply hanging limply. This is especially challenging when crosswinds roar and then players must be ever mindful in knowing how to keep shots below the wind and never pushing the margin with foolish choices.
Hawktree is a good layout but I don't view it as being beyond what Engh crafted at Redland Mesa. In fact, I marvel at two other public courses he did in The Centennial State which are open to the public -- Lakota Canyon Ranch and Four Mile Ranch. I see the two aforementioned layouts to have the better overall mixture of holes and shotmaking requirements.
In some ways, Hawktree benefits from a North Dakota address because of the dearth of really top tier layouts in the State. Place Hawktree in the uber competitive metro Denver public course scene and it would still be noticed but not as the main headliner status it gets from being in North Dakota.
Those traveling through the State can enjoy Hawktree, Links of North Dakota and Bully Pulpit. Engh has a knack in adding a good bit of his fingerprints on his efforts. The squiggly bunkers he uses can be sunken pits one must avoided at all costs. The mounding around the greensites can sometimes cross lines and instead of blending in with the natural landscape -- can stand apart from it. When one has sites in the western half of the USA - you need not feel the need to add more and more to the point of overkill.
Hawktree is certainly worth checking out but if one really enjoys what's there you need to sample the other upper echelon courses that Engh has done. A number of them, as I have stated, really have all the elements tied together and for whatever strange reason do not generate much ink. Hawktree for me was like watching a remake of an original movie I truly liked. For a number of architects when that happens the formulaic outcomes can easily be carried out again. Instead of breaking new ground -- one falls back on doing similar concepts that were previously carried out in a far better manner.
M. James Ward
Hawktree, is considered by many to be the number one course in North Dakota. It is often listed among the top public courses in the USA. Recently, one USA golf magazine rated it one of the top 100 public courses in the world.
I think it is debatable as to being the number one course in North Dakota. It is certainly not one of the top 100 public courses in the world. It is worthy of discussion as to whether it should be included in the top 100 public courses in the USA.
After playing Hawktree on a mixed weather day, starting with a consistent wind of 30 mph, it reminded me of a good course one would find at an upscale resort where there is only one course on offer. Most of these resort courses are manufactured to be visually attractive and striving to balance easier holes with more difficult holes. There are a few difficult holes at Hawktree but there are a fair number of easier holes.
Jim Engh, the architect, had to route the course around Burnt Creek as well as hilly terrain that make the majority of the holes going up or down. There are also three man-made lakes that are also part of the routing.
Most players remark on the black coal slag used in the bunkers. This is a brilliant idea in a high wind area which I had only seen before at Old Works in Montana. Yet for me, what registered the most are the hills and the enormous amount of manufactured mounding/banks used alongside many of the fairway and particularly as green surrounds. The largest man-made mound is a small hill off the left side fronting the eighteenth green which is at least 18 feet high. The mounds are sometimes repetitive – sometimes four behind a green going up and down like waves on an ocean. Sometimes Mr. Engh also created amphitheaters or bowls to surround a green. Often these bowls can be used to stop a shot from going too far and sometimes will even bring a ball back onto the edge of a green. One can usually choose to take an extra club and hit into these bowls in order to avoid larger danger on the hole. The consistency of the mounding is detrimental to the course, providing too often the same shot from these banks as well as protecting players against a higher score. There simply is not much variation in these mounds/banks other than in number and sometimes in height.
The hills dominate the course more so than even Burnt Creek. Here is a summary:
1. Down, then level
4. Down, then level
5. Very uphill
6. Somewhat down
7. Very downhill
9. very uphill
10. very downhill, then level
11. very uphill
12. very downhill
14. downhill, then level
16. downhill, then level
18. very uphill
The best part of this course is the bunkering, and not just because one notices the black as a visual. The bunkers vary in size and depth with good shaping. They catch one’s eye although they can be easily avoided on all but the par 3’s and the twelfth.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the course is the shaping of the greens, which generally is friendly and someone who is decent with a putter should not be overly challenged. I was a single and had time to putt from multiple locations after playing my ball. The slants in the greens are easy to spot, the bigger challenge was with the length of the putt.
The fairways tend to be generous. However, if one does not hit a fairway they will likely be in tall grass and lose a ball. I lost a ball on the second where the wind threw it both back at me and to the right. I made bogey due to chipping in from the rear of the green. I also lost a ball on sixteen which was a bad tee shot.
I started off in high wind blowing the opposite of the expected direction. This made the first hole play easier and the second very difficult. The wind was just under 30mph. With the wind in my face on the downhill par 3 third I took an extra club that I did not need and ended up on atop the hill behind the green near one of the trees that I had to play my second around to get to a front pin. That was probably the most fun shot I had all day although there were others. The fourth hole saw the wind kick up followed by a 20 minute deluge of rain where I took shelter under a tree. Thankfully when the rain ended the wind returned to 5-10 mph for awhile before returning on sixteen.
For me the best holes were the par 3’s as I thought they represented the right mix of difficulty and decision-making, although three of them had the same look from the tee. The bunkering around most of the par 3’s is very good. As for the par 5’s, I thought only the tenth to be a strong hole. Of the par 4’s, I liked the second and twelfth the most. I did not think there is a truly memorable hole, perhaps because of the consistency of the presentation. The third hole is probably the highlight of the course, followed by perhaps the tenth.
The course measures 7085 yards from the Falcon tees, par 72, rated 74.7/140. The Hawk tees measure 6420 yards, rated 71.7/134. There are two sets of combination tees between these two at 6902 and 6654 yards respectively called Falcon 2 and Falcon 3. I played the Falcon 3.
1. Par 4 – 410/384. This hole plays downhill with higher ground and tall grass on both sides. There is a long bunker on the left about 240 yards out which narrows the fairway. After the tee shot the hole plays level. At the green there is a long bunker on the right side that begins about 30 yards in front of the green and continues nearly to the back of the green. This bunker is about 7 feet down. The green is angled to the right with a smaller rear. The green sits in an amphitheater with higher ground on three sides. This should be a warm-up hole. The green tilts a bit to the front but is not overly sloped.
2. Par 4 – 467/442. This fairway should be wide enough except when there is a strong cross-wind. You climb up from the green on one to reach the tee box for two so this hole plays downhill. The hole goes down all the way to the green which sits in another amphitheater although with a couple of mounds on the left side. The fairway has higher ground on both sides all the way behind the green and has tall, thick grass. The green is slightly arced to the right. The green tilts to the left and front. I liked the ripples in the fairway.
3. Par 3 – 164/146. One can only see about a fourth of the green from the tee. The tee shot likely drops 40 feet or more to the green. There is rough ground between the tee and green although at the green there is a long, thin snake-like bunker starting before the front going halfway back to where the green widens. The front of the green is thin. Behind the green is a hill of about 15 feet where there are two trees. The green is relatively simple to read except for pace. It is an interesting and fun hole due to the blind nature if the pin is right as well as ending up on the hill behind the green.
4. Par 4 – 412/371. After another elevated tee, the hole plays level from the fairway to the green. There is a pond on the left side from the start of the fairway all the way to the green on this dogleg left. There are two trees that frame the fairway which can be carried with a good tee shot. I do not really care for trees in the fairway, especially off the tee. The green is angled right to left consistent with the shape of the lake and dogleg. There is a small round bunker on the left front corner. The green has a higher portion about halfway back. The back left is tiny. Again, there is a hill behind the green that one can use as a bailout.
5. Par 5 – 569/550/519. There is a forced carry off the tee of about 190 yards with Burnt Creek coming in from the right side. The fairway is somewhat narrow off the tee but then unexpectedly widens about halfway up the hole before it gets even narrower as you continue the climb upwards. This hole goes uphill from the tee to the green. The green again is surrounded by higher ground on all three sides and it has a bulge on the right side and a narrower rear. Any shot from 150 yards or more will mean a blind shot as one cannot see the flag. There are no bunkers on the hole with the only penalty being the trees down the left side for the second and third shots. I did not think this should be the second hardest hole on the front nine.
6. Par 4 – 376/344. This hole plays slightly downhill but basically level. The green sits off to the right with two long and deep bunkers protecting the right side of the fairway. The fairway has a lot of movement in it, reminding me that I wished more of the fairways at Hawktree had this characteristic. There is another long bunker fronting the green which is angled sharply to the left. Mounds are at the back of the green to prevent balls from going too far. This is a decent green, slanted to the front but with some vertical ripples and low spots. Overall, I did not consider it to be much of a hole despite a fairly high visual appeal.
7. Par 5 – 569/550/519. This hole plays sharply downhill, perhaps as much as 150 feet. The hole plays as a double dogleg, first right off the tee and then back to the left unless going for the green in two in which case the approach shot will play straight. Tall grass line both sides of the fairway. There is a small pond on the left/fronting the green that has a long bunker on its right side and side closest to the green. This bunker then has a 15 yard “finger” going from the pond to the green before it continues along the front of the green. This finger creates a small bail-out area on the left front of the green for those trying to reach it in two. Once again, there is multiple mounds behind the green to prevent balls from going too far. The green is fairly flat. Other than the visual from the tee of the long view as well as the black sand bracketing the pond, I did not think this was much of a hole.
8. Par 3 – 194/179. This hole plays flat over Burnt Creek which then spins off to the left but has tall grass surrounding it. There are three bunkers on the left that are somewhat deep. The green has a much higher back half plateau. There is also a tall mound on the middle left of the green as well as higher ground surrounding the right and back. I liked this hole due to the challenge of trying to play the wind as well as the green surface.
9. Par 4 – 447/427/382. This hole plays uphill all the way to the green. The fairway is higher on both sides. There are no bunkers on this hole. The green has a defined back half tier and is sloped fairly quickly to its front. This is not much of a hole.
10. Par 5 – 547/529. From an elevated tee one has to avoid the long fairway bunker on the right side. Bigger hitters will easily carry it and likely need to worry more about how the fairway narrows to almost nothing. Burnt Creek then comes into play from the right before crossing the fairway about 40 yards before the green. The fairway turns to the right after the tee shot. The green is slightly elevated with large bunkers fronting it as well as one far right and back left. I liked the green which had a fair amount of subtle movement in it. This is the best par 5 on the course.
11. Par 4 – 356/331. We have gone uphill on nine, downhill on ten, so now it is time to go uphill. This uphill hole all the way has six bunkers placed in front of the green beginning about 60 yards out. The green sits in another bowl representing a blind shot from 140 yards or more if the pin is in the rear. One can miss to all sides of the green and have a decent chance at recovery. The green slopes to the front.
12. Par 4 – 483/430. This hole and the second are the two best par 4’s on the course. We have gone uphill, now it is time to go downhill. This hole offers a generous fairway that turns left as it then goes sharply downhill. What I liked about this hole are the two bunkers that pinch the front of the green to perhaps seven yards wide. This bunkers begin about eight yards before the green and are five feet deep. The green widens considerably at the back. The most disappointing part of the hole is that narrow opening has tall grass all the way to the start of the green. One would have thought short grass would have been better for anyone who was able to thread the needle to find it.
13. Par 3 – 230/204. The wind was howling in my face again so I actually hit driver on this hole. This is a fine par 3 playing over wetlands to an elevated, three-tiered green. There are bunkers down the left side that begins 20 yards prior to the green and goes halfway up the side. A bunker comes into the front left as well. The green has bulges to its left side as well as a narrow back. The green is long and well contoured in addition to the three tiers. The right side and rear of the green have banks to keep a ball from going too far, one reason why I hit driver. It is a nice hole.
14. Par 5 – 540/516. From an elevated tee there is a forced carry of 200-180 yards to a relatively thin fairway. There are two large mounds on the right side at the beginning of the fairway. The fairway gets squeezed a bit as Burnt Creek comes in from the left side for most people’s second shot. Bigger hitters cannot reach the creek on their tee shot and should easily carry it on their second. The green sits well off to the left. There is a grass depression on the left side beginning about 60 yards short of the green but it does not represent any real danger. The green has no bunkers and is large and round with no real character.
15. Par 3 – 203/151. This is a very nice hole from the Falcon tees but fairly mundane from the Hawk tee. One plays over another pond to a green that bulges out left in its middle. There is a tall bank behind the green which moves sharply to the lower front. A single tree hangs off the right middle which can cause some consternation.
16. Par 4 – 326/305. My worst tee shot of the day (or perhaps the cart path is in the wrong spot) occurred here from the elevated tee on this sharp dogleg right with Burnt Creek going down both sides of the fairway. The green is set well off to the left with the creek fronting most of the green. The green is shaped somewhat like a peanut but again with a bank behind it. There are no bunkers on this hole. In addition to the creek, off to the right is tall grass and scattered trees. This is the second most fun hole on the course.
17. Par 3 – 219/160. Much like the thirteenth, this is a good hole from the back tee but nothing special from the Hawk tee. Burnt Creek crosses in front of the green but there is about 25 yards of separation. There is a large central front bunker that the green wraps around creating a bulge in the middle. The green has banks behind it but is one of the more sharply sloped greens on the course.
18. Par 5 – 588/513. The finale climbs and climbs all the way to the green which sits in an amphitheater. The fairway works slightly right before turning left. There is higher ground on the left side but with taller grass while the right side offers a couple of trees early off the tee. A long fairway bunker comes in on the left with another fairway bunker on the right spaced about 50 yards up. The front of the green is protected on the left by a tall mound of at least 18 feet while the right side has a bunker. The green slopes to the front and moves a bit to the right. It is perhaps the third or fourth most fun hole on the course and continues the consistency of having a lot of mounding and going uphill.
Overall I thought Hawktree to be a fun course, reminding me of top-level resort courses in its presentation. Absent wind, one could easily score on this course. The negatives are too many of the green surrounds look the same, with banks to protect against errant shots, or sitting in amphitheaters. The green surfaces are easy to read. The course rarely feels like it is level.
The pluses are the bunkering and the excellent condition of the course.
Hawktree is a pretty cool course. One of the first things you will notice is the black sand bunkers. The first two holes are welcoming par fours. With the 2nd being longer but downhill. You will know you are in for a treat when you get to the downhill par 3 3rd. The front 2/3s of this green is quite narrow and actually plays easier with a back pin. Depending on the wind, it is at least one club less. The 4th is a good risk reward hole. Water all down the left, an aggressive play is to fly the left tree. The safe play is right down the middle, if you are right of center you may run through the fairway. Not sure why the par 5 5th is the number one handicap hole. Off the tee the fairway is huge but funnels in the closer you get to the green. It is uphill but the fairway sits in a depression, so shots that are slightly left or right tend to trundle back to the short grass. Take an extra club on your approach to one of the smallest greens on the course. The par 4 6th is a slight dogleg left. Favor the right side off the tee. The green is long, narrow and two tiered with a BAB left. The par 5 7th is a neat downhill dogleg righ with lots of upside and downside. It is reachable in two, but you will have to carry the water hazard and a huge BAB. For us mortals, playing it as a 3 shotter, aim left of the windmill. The front ends with an uphill par 4. This is the rare hole with no trouble and the green is unprotected.
The back starts with a downhill dogleg right par 5. Big hitters can go for it, but…. The best play is a drive left of the big tree on the right. Your 2nd shot should be a mid to short iron layup. The fairway becomes a de facto peninsula as the creek winds its way around it. This will leave you with a short iron to the green. The 11th is a short uphill par 4. Good birdie oppty, stay right to avoid the six bunkers on the left side. The 12th is a tricky downhill dogleg left blind tee shot par 4. You will probably be confused on the tee box. There appear to be two big trees in the fairway. They are not, believe it or not, they are actually on the right side of the fairway. Aim at them. Hit one less club on your approach. The 13th is a longer par 3 with a narrow redan green protected by a BAB left. The 14th is a reachable par 5. If going for it the miss is right, left is NG. The 15th is allegedly the easiest hole on the course. It is a pretty hole mostly carry over water with a splattering of five bunkers. The par 4 16th is a cool hole. It is driveable, but all carry over gunch and a stream. Safer bet is to play it safe and nestle a flip wedge tight. The 18th is an uphill slight dogleg left par 5. Favor the right off the tee. Take an extra club on your approach to this elevated green.
Fun course, I would pay to play it again.