On the shores of White Bear Lake, twenty miles northeast of St. Paul, nestles one of the best but least well-known classical golf courses in the USA.
The White Bear Yacht Club dates back to 1889 and according to club records, William Watson added a 9-hole golf course to the club's recreational portfolio in 1912. Three years later, Donald Ross was commissioned to construct a second nine and to redesign the original layout.
The club has a rich and interesting history: Walter Hagen held the White Bear course record for years and Tom Vardon, younger brother of six-time British Open champion Harry, was the club professional. In 1929 White Bear member Harrison Johnston won the US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach. Defending champion, Bobby Jones was the favourite to win the 1929 US Amateur, making it three-in-a-row but he was knocked out in the first round. More recently, Tom Doak declared that the course at White Bear Yacht Club comprises some of the best Donald Ross designed holes he has ever seen.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf
Courses, Doak commented as follows: “Our favorite course in the Twin
Cities, White Bear Yacht Club is one of the last hidden gems in America – a great
course that hardly anyone mentions. Likely part of the reason for its anonymity
is that from the big par-4 1st hole to the blind tee shot on the 18th, it is a
walk on the wild side, with fairway undulations that would require a small
craft advisory, and greens that would make Perry Maxwell blush.”
With modest length, White Bear requires accuracy rather than length from the tee. If you suffer from a lack of balance, White Bear might not be the course for you as you will seldom get a flat stance.
This is the most underrated and under-appreciated Donald Ross course in the country. The most distinctive feature of this course is the dramatically rumpled fairways. I can’t even imagine how this course was built a century ago; it’s just a testament to the mastermind who signed off on the layout. Fabulous undulation throughout the property makes for a terrific golfing experience.
There aren’t too many courses in the whole world that offer a rippling piece of land like this, Durban Country Club and Highlands Links come to mind. It’s common to associate blind shots with the links courses that dominate the British and Irish coastlines; however, it was tremendous fun hitting blind shots around this course knowing that the ocean was thousands of miles away.
The heaving land has peaks and troughs that resonate around the property and the Ross greens were crowned and undulating at their best.
My few bashful gripes with the course were that a few bunkers didn’t look like Ross creations at all and felt immediately out of place with many other characteristic hazards on the course. We noted a few that were just a couple of inches deep and looked like a rug you’d put under your dining room table.
Furthermore, the 18th hole is also disappointing, which is a shame as it a short par 4 that just walks you back to the clubhouse. The challenge here is that the routing of the course doesn’t allow the 18th hole to be anywhere else.
Lastly, the position of a few tee boxes have been moved, which has been to the detriment of a number of visuals from the teeing grounds. For example, the current 9th tee is below the fairway and doesn’t have the same appeal as the legacy 9th tee which sits above the fairway offering a splendid rolling view up the hole to the clubhouse. Views like this should be taken advantage of.
Overall, we were massively impressed with the course and were confident to see this course appearing in the rankings going forward.