Sunday in Minnesota was as beautiful as Saturday. My day started with another act of kindness by my Minnesota Nice hosts. Saturday had been a physical struggle for me. My back had given me problems during my round at Interlachen. I experienced muscle spasms that caused severe pain. As I left Jim and Kathy’s on Saturday evening, they informed me that they had arranged for me to get a massage at their wellness center at The Marsh.
My morning began with a visit to The Marsh. The peaceful tranquil setting of the Marsh alone is enough to quieten the soul and relax the body and mind. I checked in and was introduced to my massage therapist. After I described what I was experiencing she informed me that it was likely my psoas muscle. Until this was pointed out to me, I didn’t know what a psoas muscle was, let alone that I had one.
My massage therapist told me that this muscle was deep within my back and basically connected my lower vertebrae to my hip. She said straining that muscle was a typical golf injury. She said it was very tight but if she spent the entire hour working on it, she could probably work out the knots and get it to relax. It worked, I felt 100 percent better after she had completed her work. I was now ready to take on my second top 100 course in Minnesota without being encumbered by back pain.
While Interlachen was in a quiet bedroom community, Spring Hills is a more rural area on the outskirts of Minneapolis. Our host for the day was Chris. After checking in at the Pro Shop, I met Chris and his wife in the club dining room. Chris and I then joined Jim and a college friend of Chris’, Danny on the driving range to warm up for our round.
After completing our warm up we headed to the first tee. The good news is that the massage had worked wonders for my back. There was no pain and I could make a full turn during my swing. The bad news was that my caddie insisted on changing out my golf bag for one that he was more comfortable carrying. I purchased new light weight golf bags for both sets of clubs that I use on my Top 100 Tour so that caddies would be comfortable making the loops with them. In this case it wasn’t the weight that concerned Blake, it was the way the straps fell across his shoulders. I reluctantly agreed to allow him to change out my bag, but I am a creature of habit, so the absence of my bag during the round felt a little odd. I guess I can be a temperamental bloke at times!
It was evident from the first tee that Spring Hills was a beautiful golf course. It reminded me a little of Kinloch and Flint Hills National. Like those courses, it was pure golf not encumbered by Country Club amenities. This was a golfer’s golf course. It seemed to blend in with its natural setting rather than disturb it and on this beautiful Sunday morning in Wayzata, Minnesota it was not crowded. Chris commented that the membership is restricted and that this was a golf club that was formed to get away from the clubs with slow play. The golf season in Minnesota is a short one, so you would expect that on beautiful September days like this one, the course would be crowded. That was not the case. We were able to play a very leisurely round without waiting on anyone or being pushed by anyone. We could enjoy the golf and the beautiful setting.
We decide to play from the blue tees, they measured just over 6300 yards with a 71.1 rating and a 144 slope. The slope was one of the highest of the courses I’d played so far.
The first hole is a short 320 yard par four with a sharp dogleg of almost 90 degrees to the left. The fairway is lined with trees and widens as it approaches the dogleg. There is a bunker on the inside of the dogleg and one on the outside of the dogleg. A shot of about 200 yards leaves a straight approach shot of about 120 yards. I hit my three hybrid off the tee to the left side of the fairway, just right of the fairway bunker as the fairway makes its dogleg. This left an approach shot of 100 yards to a front left pin that was tucked behind the only bunker protecting the green.
I caught my sand wedge flush and flew the green with my approach shot. The green sloped from back to front. I flubbed my first chip and then chipped to six feet. I made the putt for an opening hole bogey.
The second hole is the number 1 handicapped hole on the course. It plays 420 yards from the blue tees. The hole is straight but requires a short carry over native vegetation to reach the fairway. There is one fairway bunker along the left side. There is a slight glimpse of the adjacent fairway on the right, but otherwise it is a solitary hole. I hit my drive 230 yards to the middle of the fairway leaving an approach shot of 175 yards to a front middle pin position, just beyond the typical Tom Fazio false front. The shot was playing 185 yards into the wind.
I hit my approach shot right on line with the flag. The ball inflight was a beautiful thing until the wind just knocked the ball straight down just short of the green.
I took dead aim at the flag with my chip. The ball landed short of the pin and rolled in for a rare chip in birdie.
The third hole is a 500 yard par five. The hole appears straight forward but has a hidden feature. There is one fairway bunker on the right and one on the left, neither is hidden. I encountered the hidden figure on my second shot. I hit my drive to the left rough leaving 270 yards to the middle of the green. There were trees blocking my view to the green. The fairway also dropped off just past the trees. I hit what I thought was an excellent shot, only to find out that there was a hazard along my line of flight. I took a drop and hit my fourth shot into the left green side bunker.
I hit my sand shot out of the bunker but not onto the green. I chipped on and one putted for my first double bogey of the round.
I recovered from the double bogey with a par on the par three fourth hole. The hole measured 170 yards but was playing just 160 yards. The hole, while very scenic was unremarkable in its challenge. There was no hazard nor was there water to carry. There was only one bunker on the left side of the green with a right middle pin position. I hit my tee shot to 12 feet past and to the right of the flag.
I left my birdie putt shot, but made a short hard breaking left to right putt for par.
The fifth hole is the second of the par fives on the front nine. It is a gorgeous hole. The tee box is elevated and looks down upon a very narrow fairway that was lined with trees adorned in their fall colors. The hole has one fairway bunker that is just short of a small pond on the left. Both are very much in play from the tee. The pond is also in play on the second shot. I hit my drive to the trees on the right. I had to pitch out sideways. The ball ran across the fairway to the left rough leaving 235 yards to the green.
I hit my third shot to the right of the green. I pitched over the bunkers onto the green. The ball ran across the green just into the rough. I chipped on and two putted for a bogey.
The sixth hole is a short but difficult par four. The hole plays a mere 315 yards, but has a narrow fairway with water and bunkers on the left and trees on the right. The green has bunkers on the left and the right and a bunker short of the green on the left. I hit a five wood off the tee to the right rough just off the fairway. This left 100 yards to the green with tall trees blocking the green, but trees that could be easily cleared with a sand wedge.
Unfortunately, I pulled my approach shot with my sand wedge into the right green side bunker. It took two shots to get out of the bunker. I then two putted for a double bogey on this short hole.
The seventh hole plays 350 yards. It is another beautiful hole with a narrow fairway. It also has a long carry and high fescue with bunkers just on the right once the fescue is cleared and the fairway begins. There are also two bunkers short of the green on the left and one bunker on the right front of the green. I hit a three wood off the tee that cleared the fescue and the bunkers on the right. The ball landed just off the fairway in the right rough leaving just over 100 yards to the flag.
I hit a sand wedge to the front of the green. The ball spun and rolled back off the green. I putted on to within a foot of the cup and tapped in for a par.
I bogeyed the final two holes on the front nine. The eight hole is a 170 yard par three. The green is cut into the trees and guarded by bunkers on the left and right sides of the green. I hit my tee shot a little fat. The ball hung out to the left and landed in the rough short of the green. I pitched on and two putted for the bogey.
The ninth hole is just a splendidly beautiful hole. The fairway flows from right to left through the trees. The green has a marsh in the backdrop. The hole is wrought with peril but is so beautiful that the peril is masked by the peaceful tranquil feeling that overtakes you as you take in its beauty. I hit a three wood to the left side of the fairway.
The flag was in the dead middle of the green. There were native grasses and a bunker to the left and a bunker to the right. My approach shot caused a little butt cheek tightening as I pulled the ball slightly and wasn’t sure whether I’d land short of the bunker in the native grass, clear the bunker, or land in the bunker. The ball landed in the rough at the top of the bunker and held. I chipped on to 15 feet. My par putt was on line but stopped six inches short of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey to finish the front nine with a 43.
The back nine opens with a short par four. The hole plays 340 yards, but like the other short holes is very challenging. There is carry over native vegetation and a very small fairway. One that is both short and narrow. There is a fairway bunker on the left side of this small fairway. There is also native vegetation between that small fairway and the green. The green has bunkers on both the left and right front. I hit a three wood to the left, short of the fairway bunker.
I hit my 120 yard approach shot to just off the left side of the green. I chipped on and two putted for a bogey.
The 11th hole is a 150 yard par three. Like the eighth hole, the green is carved in the trees and there is carry over the native grasses and wet lands to reach the green. If the green is to be missed, it must be missed on the right. There are treacherous bunkers lining the left side of the green.
I missed the green short and to the right. I chipped on to 8 feet of the cup, but missed my par putt and made a bogey.
I made a bogey on the very narrow 410 yard par four twelfth hole. The other holes that I called narrow, were very generous compared to this hole. The fairway gets even more narrow on the approach shot to the green. I hit my drive into the trees on the right. I pitched out to the middle of the fairway, but still had 180 yards through a narrow chute to the green.
My third shot landed short and just off the left of the green. I chipped on and made the putt for a bogey.
The 13th hole is the longest and I would say the most difficult of par fives on the course. It is ranked as the third most difficult of the par fives, but I didn’t see it that way. The fairway is very narrow. There is high grass and bunkers lining the right side of a snaking fairway and trees along the left side. There is also a famous tree midway on the hole. A tornado came across the marsh on the right and headed directly for the fairway. The tornado took a sudden turn just as it approached the tree.
The tree is dead, but it is left in place as a tribute to the golf gods for diverting the tornado.
I hit my drive to the right rough. There was a small tree directly in front of me. I decided to hit my driver out of the rough and under the tree. The shot came off just as I had envisioned it. The ball started down the right middle side of the fairway and faded to the right side of the fairway. It then rolled just into the rough and came to rest 120 yards from the flag.
I shanked my approach shot into the hazard on the right. I took a drop, pitched onto the green and two putted for my first double bogey on the back nine.
I followed the double bogey on the thirteenth hole with one on the fourteenth hole. This after hitting my drive into the fairway. That was about the only thing that went right on this 410 yard par four hole.
We climbed the hill to play the fifteenth hole from the green tees. From the green tees we looked down upon a forced carry over native vegetation toward a very narrow fairway. There is a fairway bunker on the left and one a little further down the fairway on the right. There is one small bunker off the right front of the green. The hole plays 415 yards from the green tees, but downhill. I hit my drive to the middle of the fairway, 135 yards from the flag.
My approach shot landed pin high but rolled down the slop away from the pin to about 35 feet. I hit my birdie putt five feet past the hole. I made the comeback putt for my only par on the back nine.
The par five sixteenth hole is short and beautiful. We took a picture of our foursome with the fairway as the backdrop. A carry over native vegetation is required to reach the fairway. The fairway ends abruptly at about 100 yards from the green. The abruptness is in the form of rough and several bunkers. The fairway picks up again about 30 yards further albeit shifted to the right. I hit my drive to the left rough, 250 yards out from the green.
I laid up to 135 yards, but the approach to the green was steeply uphill. I missed the green slightly to the left with my approach shot.
I chipped on to 8 feet, but missed my par putt.
The seventeenth hole is a short par three with a carry over native vegetation and two front bunkers guarding the green. There are also bunkers along the left side of the green. I pulled my approach shot and missed the green to the left. I pitched onto the green but way short of the hole. I missed the long par putt, but made the bogey putt.
The 18th hole has a narrow chute to the first half of the fairway. The trees on the right seemed very close. The fairway makes a slight dogleg left before turning back to the right as it approached the green. There is a bunker along the left side of the fairway just as it makes the dogleg. With the trees on the right appearing so close, I wanted to make sure I hit a fade. My drive started out on the line I wanted, but it turned to the right too much. My ball ended up in the rough on the right, 175 yards from the flag.
This was problematic with the fairway bending back to the right as it approached the green. I needed to hit a fade to get to the green. After overcooking the ball on my drive, I decided to not set up for a fade and just make a regular swing with the expectation that the ball flight would be a fade. NOT! I hit the dreaded straight ball and missed the green way left.
I left my pitch shot short of the green, chipped on and two putted to end my round with a 47 on the back nine and a total score of 90.
Following our round, we gathered for drinks and chatted. I asked Jim and Chris if they knew what happened to all the Northwest Airlines folks after the merger with Delta. They said that most went to work for United Health. I was about to tell them about a story from almost 20 years ago when I probably experienced “Minnesota Nice” for the first time, but didn’t know that was what it was.
It happened when my wife and I were returning from Portland after spending Christmas with her mother. Our flight out of Portland was delayed which caused us to arrive late into Minneapolis for our connection. I don’t remember the exact concourse where our plane parked, but I do remember it being as far as a gate could be from our connecting flight gate. We dashed through the airport, I was young then, so I could dash, and got to the connecting gate just as they had closed the door to the plane. They refused to open the door and allow us to get on the plane. I was furious and demanded to see someone in upper management. Mind you, this wasn’t going to get us on the plane because it was leavig, but it was going to allow me to vent and lament about the lack of concern for the customer.
This was late on a Sunday night. The only senior manager that was on site was the head of operations for the airline. They called him, and he made his way to the gate. I describe what happened. He apologized and stated that he was sorry that we had been so inconvenienced. He then gave me his card and said that if I ever had another problem when flying Northwest Airlines, to just give him a call. He was courteous, calm and came across as sincere. It left a lasting impression on me. So much that almost 20 years later I was about to tell the story to my Minnesota hosts, but we got distracted by something and moved on to a different conversation.
As we continued to talk a man walked in that looked like one of my former work colleagues. I mentioned to the other guys that I knew the guy’s doppelganger. Later as I was in the locker room taking off my shoes, that same guy walked into the locker room. As he passed me, I told him that I knew his doppelganger. He said “really, there’s some unlucky guy that looks just like me, huh?” He then introduced himself. When he said his name, I recognized it. He was the senior manager from Northwest Airlines that gave me his card almost 20 years before!
I’d like to thank Jim again for arranging for my rounds in Minnesota. It was a great weekend that created memories that will last for the rest of my life. And I will forever rave about Minnesota Nice!