The Links of North Dakota is where the xenophobes go to experience the thrill of British and Irish links golf. The course is routed across sandy ground on Lake Sakakawea – this huge body of water was created when part of the Missouri River was dammed. The Links of North Dakota truly represents an authentic flavour of links-like golf in the US homeland.
Stephen Kay designed the course and it turned into a labour love, which came to a near perfect conclusion thanks to expert shaper Marvin Schlaugh. Writing in the excellent Secrets of the Great Golf Course Architects by Michael Patrick Shiels, Stephen Kay commented, “The topography was something you’d see in Ireland; sandy soil all over the site, several feet deep without a rock in it! The entire state of North Dakota is clay and horrible soil – except for this one little 250-acre hill with sandy loam soil. It was perfect for a golf course… I looked around and realised that the Good Lord was about to let me build my first Top 100 golf course.”
Completing the authenticity, the Links of North Dakota is completely devoid of water but plenty of bunkers, undulating fairways and fickle winds will interfere with proceedings. Five tee boxes provide plenty of options for golfers of all abilities so playing the Links of North Dakota need not be a torrid experience.“The entire construction process, for eighteen holes, required us to move only 7,000 yards of dirt.” Said Kay. But most importantly for the world of golf, the Links of North Dakota is open to visiting golfers for a relatively modest green fee of around 60 bucks.
I salute golfers who make the trek to this remote layout. Architect Stephen Kay did a fine job in bringing to life a number of holes -- but the first third of the layout is really forgetful -- the holes really do not stand apart in any noticeable way. Things do pick up when you reach the par-5 7th. The par-3 8th is also quite good as the putting surface is well-protected by bunkers and internal contours.
While the course highlights the "links" dimension the fairways do not provide the kind of rollout one would naturally expect. The greens are nicely done but far too often the contours created lean more towards the pedestrian and predictable side of things.
The strongest element of the courser comes over the final six holes. The combination is well done and the demands are clearly a few notches beyond what's been encountered earlier in the round.
I really liked the par-3 17th. Just under 240 yards from the tips -- the downhill hole can play much shorter because of the elevation but Kay has smartly defended the hole to repel anything but a stellar execution. The closing par-5 18th can also allow for major swing changes -- especially when helped by a westerly wind.
There's little question the costs to play are quite reasonable but then again when you do travel to such a remote area one would hope the final costs to play would be set low enough to attract golfers. Anyone coming to the Links of North Dakota had best realize it's not in the same category with the likes of Wild Horse in Nebraska or Red Rock in South Dakota or superior to the likes of Hawktree and Bully Pulpit -- both in North Dakota. There are quality holes for sure but far too often they are counterbalanced by ones that serve only as an anchor to weigh the course down.
by M. James Ward