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.”
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.