Devastating floods destroyed the course at Minot Country Club in 2011 so members decided to relocate, hiring architect Jim Engh to create a brand new 18-layout in another part of town. This new track opened to much acclaim in 2015.
The original layout, built in 1928 by Tom Vardon, was virtually wiped out when the Souris River flooded, leaving the club with virtually no choice other than to move to pastures new in higher ground, bringing in OB Sports Golf Management for pre-opening consultation then ongoing management of the club.
Incredibly, a number of club diehards decided to rebuild the old course and it eventually reopened as a semi-private facility called Vardon Golf Club, with a Federal Emergency Management Agency dike protection program in place to protect the property.
Most of Minot’s financing for what became a $12.5 million project was raised from the local business community, five banks, two foundations and a number of private donors. Not only that, two hundred members continued to pay their monthly subscriptions despite not having a club or course to play for nearly four years.
“It was a leap of faith,” said club president Mark Hildahl. “We escrowed the money. They knew we were going to knock this out. Meanwhile, most of us would drive to Bismarck and pay to play Hawktree.”
Minot's new course, which officially opened in June 2015, has been described as “an ocular feast defined by idiosyncratic bounces, pot bunkers and quirky greens with surrounds that can both feed and defend a putting surface” but fairways have been kept wide, with mounded shoulders representing the little earthmoving that was undertaken.
The layout sits on extreme terrain which allows the wild topographic slopes to lend themselves to blind shots, uneven lies and difficult stances – at the same time providing the opportunity to hit booming drives from elevated tees and putt creatively on highly contoured greens.
Speaking to KX News, course architect Jim Engh said: “It’s a very unique and different kind of golf course. It’s more of an emotional experience, more of a ride, more of a fun element of the day rather than just going out and knocking a ball around a park.
We really liked what we had with the lay of the land. There are many key shots that you hit from above to the green down below. And because of that famous North Dakota wind, we made most of the fairways very, very large.”
I have only played one other course designed by Jim Engh, which is The Creek Club at Reynolds Plantation in Georgia. I could see some similarities with Minot Country Club in that often there is too much that one has to consider and calculate.
I would describe Minot as both odd and quirky, even more so than The Creek Club.
Jim Engh hails from North Dakota, where much of the state is flat until one gets to the western part of the state. Minot is a small city built on hills and valleys, which come quickly after hundreds of miles of nearly flat landscape. The city’s terrain came as a shock to me after driving from Bismarck to Fargo to Grand Forks and then to Minot. Minot Country Club sits within ravines and canyons from higher ground surrounding it. While sometimes these ravines create a compelling hole, often the surrounding hills create a hole that is odd. The quirkiness comes from sometimes a strange placement of a bunker, an overly shaped green, and weird yardages for many of the holes.
I give Mr. Engh credit for routing a course on land that is primarily unsuitable for a golf course. I wondered if he did the design as a favor, for the fee, or because it appealed to his like of difficult land where he could do whatever he wanted to fit his “out-of-the-box” inclinations. In addition to the many hills, a stream that sits at the bottom and snakes its way back and forth, changing directions constantly, also had to be incorporated into the design. The result is that the stream is in play on ten of the eighteen holes, often multiple times on the same hole as it has to be either crossed or avoided off the tee, but then comes back again in front of the green.
The routing leads to a course that is both odd and quirky due to the land. His final routing has five par 5’s and five par 3’s. There are back-to-back par 3’s once and back-to-back par 5’s twice. The course measures only 6870 from the Black tees, with much of that coming from two long par 3’s at 268 yards (7), 230 yards (10), and two par 5’s at 646 yards (17) and 594 yards (18). The par 4’s are short with the longest being only 409 yards. There are semi-blind shots off several tees, there are banks to bring one’s ball back to the fairway or green (or even all the way across if you catch a bank too high), and two greens with steep 6 feet sharp rises at the front third of the green (7 and 18). There are somewhat hidden streams and wetlands to carry or avoid, although not an issue to someone who regularly plays the course. Finally, there are three holes that serve basically as connector holes as they sit on land that is unsuitable for a golf hole.
I also give Mr. Engh credit for likely not having a big enough budget to create an even better course. It is impressive what the members of the club did as well as the local community to build this course after the previous location suffered from flooding. They raised an impressive amount of money but it was not quite enough to fix the flaws of the course which come where the course’s hills intrude too much on a hole and dictate one’s strategy instead of providing options.
The course has mainly generous fairways with the exception of two holes. The greens are good but several are overly done. The bunkering is primarily good greenside, but not quite as strong off the tee or on the fairway. The condition of the course was poor for many of the teeing areas and several spots on the fairways or just off the greens. The grounds crew was busy on the day I played so perhaps this is due to a lack of rain.
The result is a course that can be fun to play but could be even better. As of now, it is the clubhouse’s bar and restaurant that overshadow the course as it has both great views and an atmosphere of fun.
The course measures 6870 yards from the Black tee, par 72, rated 72.8/130. From the Orange tee (a combination of Black and Blue) the yardage is 6333 yards, rated 71.3/127. There are three sets of lesser tees and two additional combinations. I played mainly the Black tees trying to get the overall yardage to 6500.
1. Par 4 – 357 From an elevated tee, there is a forced carry strongly downhill over a stream/wetlands of about 200 yards. The stream angles back again from the left at about 240 yards so the safe play is both straight or favor the right although a hill and rough are there. I liked the green which sits above you at the base of a hill with a center front bunker and a slight bowl on the left. A ball hit short will not go onto the green. The green is fairly quick on the left back to front. It is a difficult driving hole for the first tee shot of the day.
2. Par 5 – 540. The combination tees had this playing at 450 so I played up high on the Black tees. This tee is nearly as big of a drop as the first hole, likely 60 feet or more. The fairway is angled to the right but a hill and stream go down the right to give pause to the longer hitters who are trying not to hit it into the pond on the left. The fairway is very generous for the second shot. The green sits up on a plateau about 15 feet high resulting in an additional club. There is a large bunker on the right front corner. A ball landing short will not make the green but should also not roll back down the slope. The green is relatively large and flat.
3. Par 5 – 537. From another elevated tee the left side has trees and high grass on the side of the hill. Yet one has to favor the left side of the fairway as the land slopes steeply to the right. A stream comes in from the right about halfway down the hole crossing the fairway about 100 yards from the green and then turning back again in front of the flat green. There is about eight yards of room between the stream and the green. This hole is all about the tee shot as there is no reason for shorter players to try to cross the stream the first time.
4. Par 4 – 389. This hole plays as a dogleg right. There is a large hill on the right and left. Bigger hitters will carry the hill on the right and gain a lot of yardage. I likely could have taken on more of the hole as the line I chose left me with 195 yards uphill, playing likely 215 as it is very uphill. The green has a very sizeable false front and fall-off to the right. There are two bunkers short of the green on the left side. This hole reminded me of the second at Gullane #2 the way the hills pinch the fairway, although the green complexes are completely different.
5. Par 3 – 160. After a relatively long cart ride slightly downhill to the tee, one still has further downhill to go, perhaps 75 yards of decline. The green has banks on the back half, although it also has fall-offs to all sides. I hit the bank on the left and the ball went well right towards the flag. This is one of the holes that felt like a connector hole, but not as much as the sixth.
6. Par 4 – 321. This hole goes straight uphill, perhaps as much as 100 feet. The stream on the left needs to be carried off the tee about 200 yards out as the ground is rising. The right side has scrubby trees and tall grass falling sharply downhill in a ravine. It appears that people hitting into these trees do not try to retrieve their ball well down the slope in “thicket” as I saw well over a dozen balls in there. After the tee shot, one has a semi-blind shot unless they are within 50 yards of the green. The green has banks on both sides and the rear and is sloped back to front. This land is really unsuitable for a golf hole but does get you to the seventh.
7. Par 3 – 268/208. I opted not to take on the 268 yards although I walked and had a look. It actually plays even longer as the green sits uphill. There are seven bunkers scattered left and right before the green. The green sits below a bank on the left that will send balls onto the green, most likely to a small neck at the front. This small neck sits six feet below the higher 60% of the green behind it creating a huge second tier. I had to putt up this steep bank, but my side of the green was in poor shape and basically dirt which stopped my ball at the crest. At least it did not roll back down. The green also falls-off sharply to the right. I think this hole is overly difficult and the green is too contrived.
8. Par 4 – 409/349. From the Black tee I could not tell which way the fairway was going so I moved up. The fairway is wide but I hit to the middle only to find my ball on the left side about 100 yards from the green. As the land is falling away to the hole, bigger hitters can likely come close to driving this hole from the Black tees. There is a central bunker about 15 yards in front of the thin, but long green which has short fall-offs to the sides. There is a nice view of the clubhouse from the back of the green.
9. Par 4 – 399. Another high elevated tee finishes off the front nine. The stream again needs to be carried as it cuts across the fairway but is also somewhat hidden as it snakes up the left side. Bigger hitters need to avoid two bunkers on the left which is the best line to the green. The green sits as high as the tee, so the second shot is strongly uphill perhaps as much as 75 feet. There is a long bunker on the left front and the green has good internal movement, likely the best green on the front nine.
10. Par 3 – 230/205. I started my round on the back nine. This is a weird hole playing down across lower ground to a green perched on a shelf with a sharp bank on the left. The green is wide at the front but thinner at the back half. It has two bunkers short right. The ground sharply falls away on the front, right and back of the green. I hit what I thought was a safe shot to the left bank and watched the ball go across the green. I thought it was hanging on the edge but when I arrived I had a 25 feet semi-blind pitch as the ball had made it all the way across the green. This green should have been built to the right lessening the influence of that left side.
11. Par 3 – 181. This hole plays across another valley to a green placed between two banks although the left bank cannot be missed to the left whereas the right bank has some forgiveness. The bank continues behind the green that is shaped like a beaker with a very thin back half. There is a fronting central bunker. I choose to use the right bank which pushed my ball onto the green leaving a slightly uphill putt. I liked this hole more than the first although the back half of the green needs to be widened.
12. Par 4 – 389. I nearly played this hole twice, thinking this was the ninth hole. The tee shot is very elevated playing to a steeply sloped hill right to left. There is an unnecessary early center-line bunker but perhaps it is there to serve as a guide to hit to the right of it. The fairway bulges way left towards the stream. Bigger hitters will have to worry about two bunkers placed at the bottom of the slope about 230-260 yards out as well as worrying about running through the fairway. The green sits well uphill perhaps 50 feet and leaves a blind shot. There are no bunkers at the green whereas I would have thought a rear bunker to be useful.
13. Par 3 – 156. I felt this to be the best par 3 on the course playing slightly uphill with a false front, a bunker placed short left and then three bunkers across the front of the green. The green appears to be shallow from the tee but actually has decent depth. There are small fall-offs on all sides.
14. Par 5 – 546. From an elevated tee this hole plays to a fairway that is sloped right to left for the tee shot. There are ripples early in the fairway as well as two bunkers on the left that bigger hitters can likely carry. My ball landed short of them. There is a tree on the left side of the fairway that very much comes into play. I decided to go under the limbs and also managed to avoid a bunker placed inside the fairway on the right side about 150 yards from the green. Well up there is another fairway bunker placed equivalent to the front of the green. I could not imagine anyone being in it but because the stream is snaking down the left side and then crosses in front of the green, perhaps this is a good placement of a bunker for the longer hitter. The green is built on a slight rise above the stream and has three bunkers at the front. The green has a bit of a slope back to front and a slight bowl in the middle. Behind the green is a substantial hill.
15. Par 4 – 361. From an elevated tee the shorter hitter has a narrower landing zone due to vegetation coming in from the left side. If one can navigate the tee shot, they are rewarded with a simple shot to a lima-bean shaped green that sits behind the stream and four bunkers. Longer hitters have a generous fairway. There are banks on the left and rear of the green that will allow a ball to stop. I thought this was a fun hole but I wish it was both longer with more of the vegetation cleared out on the right for the tee shot.
16. Par 4 – 387/325. The Black tee is elevated but basically plays level across a plain to a narrow-looking landing zone due to the vegetation, wetlands, stream and hill on the left as well as a hill on the right. The fairway looks like a sliver from the tee. The green sits uphill and has a long bunker on its left side, and a sizeable fall-off of the right side. I felt the fairway should have been made wider by about 25 yards at its beginning.
17. Par 5 – 646/553. I do not think I could manage the forced carry over the high grass and stream to reach the fairway from the Black tee. As it was I only managed to clear it from the Blue tee by about 15 yards. There are two central bunkers here which seem very inappropriate given the challenge already with the tee shot. Another bunker is placed inside the fairway another 100 yards up. The stream cuts across the fairway about 190 yards from the green, which forced me to lay up leaving an approach shot of 210 yards to a fairway that narrows before turning left. There is another bunker inside the fairway on the right about 75 yards from the green. Finally, the stream cuts back inside the fairway opposite this bunker and continues down the left side of the green. At the green there is a right side bunker and a left side bunker to a green that has good internal movement. This is a hole that is very difficult to par although it can be an easy bogey. For me, it felt as if this hole had too much going on in favor of hazards.
18. Par 5 – 594/551. After getting beat up on the previous hole, I moved up again to the Blue tee. This hole plays as a sharp dogleg left going around the hill to its left. The fairway is narrow for the first fifty yards with the stream on the right. One needs to handle a forced carry of 200 yards from the Blue tees and 240 from the Black tees. There are no fairway bunkers until a central bunker 15 yards in front of the green. The green sits about 15 feet higher and the green, much like the seventh, has a sizeable 6 feet tier in it that is sharp. Any ball that nearly crests this tier but does not make it will come all the way off the green about 12-15 feet. If one makes the crest of the second tier, their reward is a relatively simple, flat putt.
I am glad I played Minot Country Club. There are parts of it that I marveled over such as how often Mr. Engh had to consider that stream since he likely had no ability to re-route it. He also had to work around, in-between and over hills. However, there is a redundancy to the course in that most of the tee shots are elevated (1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17), and sometimes similar tricks are used such as the six-feet tiers on the greens of seven and eighteen, or the banks that can send a ball all away across a green. Some of the holes tilt too much in favor of difficulty (5, 7, 17, 18) and the par 4’s have similar yardages. Still, if one finds themselves in this part of the state, the greens and the vistas are often compelling.
I played here last year. Great new addition to courses in North Dakota.
If you have four days play Bully Pulpit, Links of ND, Minot Country Club and Hawktree. I do not think you can find four courses any better.
Great routing. Architect used every piece of land he had available. Great elevation changes. Green on some holes have the bowl effect. back to back par 5's on both sides. 2 and 3 on front and 17 and 18 on back. All of them are great holes water comes into play on all of them. Then lets not forgot 14 is another great Par 5.
If you like par threes, then the start of the back nine is up your alley. 3 of first 4 are par 3's. 7 and 10 play over 200 yards.
Has some great Par 4's Hole 1 is great hole to start down hill over water and back up hill. Hole 4 is up hill par 4.
Hole 8 is down hill Par 4 and then on 9 up hill towards clubhouse.
It is great use of the land. When you finish playing you will rank this as one of your favorites if not favorite.