Spring Bloom

Renovations, restorations, black sand bunkers and brand-new courses are blossoming this coming season.

April 30, 2024 | 4 min.
By Joseph Oberle

In an era when new course openings are as rare (and prized) as an albatross, Minnesota golf boasts several new course openings to supplement its annual renovations this spring.

Windsong Farm’s New Acres
The headliner in local golf course development this season is Windsong Farm, which added an 18-hole championship course. The “North Course” joins the original to become the only Minnesota private club with two 18-hole tracks. 

Architect John Fought (who co-created the “South Course” and renovated it in 2015) says the design gives members a completely new golfing experience. “We are very excited about the golf course,” Fought says. “It is absolutely the opposite of the other course.”

The original Windsong Farm course is a brawny 7,600 yards, while the tighter North Course, located on a smaller parcel across the road, winds around Fox Lake and is a 6,600-yard par 70.

“I have never built anything like several of the holes; it’s the culmination of all these wonderful courses I’ve had the opportunity to see and play in my lifetime,” Fought says.

Fought refers to six par 3s, which feature different historic green styles to charm and challenge golfers. The second hole is an Eden green fashioned after No. 11 at St. Andrews, and the eighth green was inspired by the Dell hole at Lahinch. There is a Seth Raynor-like redan and a double green. Plus, the fourth’s Biarritz green measures 73 yards long with a dip in the middle.

“It will probably have more variety than any green on the golf course,” Fought says. “With the tee and pin forward, the hole can play 135 yards; put them back, it’ll play 235 yards.”

The course broke ground May 8 of last year and with good weather could see some play in early fall, and the membership is eager to tee it up.

“People are going to be fascinated; you’ll have to think your way around this course,” Fought says.

Reimagining a Legacy
In 2020, pro golfer Tom Lehman traveled to Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake to watch his son play a tournament. Lehman’s architect eye took over, and he studied where the players hit their balls. Later, at dinner with course owner Dutch Cragun, the two U of M alums discussed the course renovation and the pair soon got to work reimagining Cragun’s two championship courses.

They turned the former Bobby’s Legacy and Dutch’s Legacy courses into the Lehman 18 and the Dutch 27, respectively. (Nine holes of the Dutch 27 will be finished this fall.) Lehman and crew renovated 31 holes, built 14 new ones and reduced the bunker square footage by 60%—but adorned some with gnarly fescue ridges strictly to be avoided. 

He opened up the courses and made them visibly challenging with distinctive bunkering.

“We have two very distinct-looking golf courses,” Lehman says. “They play differently and look differently.”

Lehman designed the courses to be challenging for better players, yet kept playability for all golfers top of mind.

“The course was lacking width. There were a lot of unplayable areas for the mishit shot,” Lehman says. “We expanded the playable area by moving cart paths [and] removing trees and underbrush.”

The excavation opened up numerous vistas on the beautiful Brainerd property—a desire of the owner. 

“It started with a vision that Dutch and the team around him had,” Lehman says. “I’m very motivated to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned ... to see this place recognized as one of the great places to play golf in the region, if not the country.”

How About a Quick 23.5?
While Cragun’s courses were under construction, curious golfers took the short drive to the 13-hole Gravel Pit Golf Course that opened in 2022. The following year, increased numbers convinced co-owner Chuck Klecatsky (former director of golf at Cragun’s) to add a second 10.5 holes.

The Gravel Pit’s second course (designed, like the original, by The Classic at Madden’s architect, Scott Hoffmann) offers a unique twist. 
“The last hole runs directly back to our clubhouse and has a great downhill slope to it,” Klecatsky says. “We made it putting-only, so you putt from the top of this ridge down 60 yards to a putting green.”

The new course (open this spring) features several dramatic elevation changes, making for great views, challenging shots and friendly competition. Since the courses only take a couple hours to play, the Gravel Pit allows sixsomes, for large groups coming over from the bigger courses wanting to play together.

“We’re about fun,” Klecatsky says. “I really enjoy people having a good time together.”

If a Tree Falls on a Golf Course. . .
In 2020, a large cottonwood tree fell along the left side of the ninth fairway at Golden Valley Country Club, dramatically altering the strategy of the hole. Club members brought in Kevin Norby of Norby Golf Course Design to look at the near-100-year-old A.W. Tillinghast design.

“We added a second bunker on the left side,” Norby says. “I told the members [that] Tillinghast always took his fairways right into his bunkers.”

The members saw the rebuilt bunkers on the hole—with no rough between the fairway and sand—and soon requested more. In 2023, a course bunker renovation commenced that included steepening bunker faces to prevent hanging lies and raising the floors for better access.

The membership then asked about greens, resulting in a course renovation featuring regrassed fairways, rebuilt greens, 17 new bunkers, and tee leveling and realignment.

Norby, who termed the project a “sympathetic restoration,” brought in two Tillinghast experts to get it right and worked diligently to make Tillinghast’s design fun, playable and strategic for today’s golfer: “My goal was to modernize the golf course in a manner consistent with A.W. Tillinghast’s philosophy.” 

Minnesota Valley Makeover
In 2017, Minnesota Valley Country Club (MVCC) began an overdue bunker renovation, and the bunkers became the impetus for a larger project at the 1924-era course. With the help of course members on research and planning committees, MVCC put together a two-phase renovation that was completed last July—in time for the club’s centennial celebration.

“About 100 members worked on it for seven years, all volunteering their time,” general manager Steve Gilles says. “They’re very enthusiastic.”

The project broadened from the bunkers to a renovation of the course with every type of MVCC player in mind. The project included constructing five sets of tees (stretching the course to over 7,000 yards), widening several fairway corridors to open up vistas and enlarging the putting surface of seven greens. Most significantly, MVCC rebuilt three greens, including a redan and a punchbowl green in honor of their original design.

Work on the clubhouse finished this past winter and is ready to celebrate the club’s centennial—highlighted by hosting the 121st MGA Amateur in July. According to Gilles, the project was a huge success: “We wanted to modernize the infrastructure at the club, significantly upgrade our bunkers and magnify Seth Raynor’s fun features—making the course more playable and fun for everyone.”

Black Magic Sand
Last summer, Forest Hills Golf Course in Detroit Lakes replaced old, hardened bunker sand with shiny black coal slag. Already popular in North Dakota and Montana, slag-filled bunkers crossed Minnesota’s border, and Forest Hills is the first course in this state to use the product.

“It started with Hawktree GC in Bismark,” Forest Hills manager Greyson Thomas says. “There are now 20 golf courses using it. We called Hawktree for feedback, and they have no regrets. They love it.”

Forest Hills superintendent Nate Holmstrom dug out his 15 bunkers, fixed some drain tiles and filled them with the slag—a byproduct from cleaning coal plant chimneys at Abrasives Inc. in Glen Ullin, North Dakota. Abrasives calls the slag “Black Magic” and grinds it to the desired coarseness.

Holmstrom praises the product for its cost (mid-range), maintenance (the heavier slag is stable in windy locales, drains well and requires little weed management), look (the sun sparkles off the bunkers) and playability.

In The Loop
Its arrival long-awaited, The Loop has scheduled a grand opening for May 5. The former Chaska Par 30 site was completely rebuilt to feature a nine-hole course and the “Minnalayas” putting course, each designed for all players—including adapted golfers.

Delays due to pandemic-influenced clubhouse construction costs and supply chain issues pushed back the opening, but with a decent grow-in last season, the course is ready to roll. 

Former Balmoral Golf Course owner John Young came on board as pro in early February, donated funding was secured for two high-end adapted golf carts, and, according to Chaska Town Course pro John Kellin, juniors, seniors and women’s leagues opened for registration in March (while plans for adaptive, couples and putting programming are in the works).

“People are going to be really excited once they come out here and play,” Kellin says. “We want everyone to feel welcome.” 


On April 2, Golden Valley CC unveiled a new club logo and changed its name to The Club at Golden Valley as part of a rebranding.

Joseph Oberle

Joe Oberle is an award-winning author, sportswriter, and has been the managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine since 2002. He’s covered the Minnesota Vikings, the NFL, Minnesota Twins and spent six seasons as publications manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he co-authored “Unstoppable: The Story of George Mikan.”

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