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Nemadji Golf Course

Ascent of Souptown

By Kevin Turnquist

Minnesota golfers sometimes find secret sadistic pleasure in imagining what it would be like to play in places not blessed with our abundance of fine public courses. Apocryphal tales of "the average Japanese golfer" who plays each and every shot of his career on matted driving ranges or opulent Saudi princes sweating over three-footers on oil soaked sand greens offer particular delight. Few pleasures compare with the smug knowledge that we do, indeed, have it better than the other guy.

The recent inrush of new, superpremium public courses in our beloved Northland now finds us in the unaccustomed position of being a Golf Destination for golfers from less fortunate parts of the country. A few hours in an SUV allows us to play outstanding courses, stay in plush surroundings, and be treated in a manner we gentlefolk deserve.

Even in God's Country there is, of course, always a catch. A brief golfing holiday in the Gull Lake Area or other of our fine resort locales can cost as much as what many publinx players spend on their entire season of green fees. Not every wife has developed a taste for the course or its questionable fashions. A few golfers actually hanker for more night life than is typically provided by the 19th hole. For these outliers another, often overlooked, golfing paradise beckons.

Imagine a place where tee times are inexpensive and easy to arrange. A place where you can take the minivan to the course without leaving the wife and kids bored and irritable. A place with a host of lodging and restaurant options, most in a price range you can tolerate. A place offering a wide range of pleasures-for unfettered males as well as those saddled with family. Any place coming to mind yet? Imagine a place with a lift bridge and big boats. Anything?

The Twin Ports of Duluth/Superior offer all of these things and more. Depending on the number of cretins driving all the way up Highway 35 in the passing lane it is usually possible to be in Duluth within two hours of leaving The Cities, but the area feels more exotic than that. The big lake has an enormous effect on the weather-as well as the general tone of the place. The long sandy beaches of Park Point are reminiscent of those on our coasts. Canal Park is becoming a miniature version of Fisherman's Wharf or Faneuil Hall. Good restaurants and taverns abound. All of the locals and most repeat visitors have their favorites. Ours include Bellisio's and Norman's.

Bellisio's is a comfortable Italian restaurant located near the lift bridge. The food is sublime, prices reasonable, and the outdoor tables provide great people watching. One meal here and the attraction is obvious. Norman's, on the other hand, is harder to explain. A mildly seedy bar on First Street a block or so from the Holiday Inn it has nothing to distinguish it from dozens of other bars except for the fact that it has been undergoing renovation continually for the past decade. Yet we return there year after year like swallows to Capistrano, just as we do with the venerable Club Saratoga (Girls Girls Girls).

Nemadji Golf Course is another local favorite and one which can easily stand as the centerpiece of any Twin Ports Golfing Holiday. It's located just east of downtown Superior, out Tower Avenue, a few minutes past the curiously named "Bong Airport". Set among thick birch and pine forests, this is a scenic old course that has been around since the 1930's. Interested readers, should they actually exist, are referred to the exhaustive review set down by colleague Rob Levine in June of "98". As usual, following an observer of Mr.Levine's stature leaves one only with the choice of which correct assessment to voice agreement with.

The earlier review was accurate but typically understated in it's depiction of Nemadji as a place where one can score well. Golfers in search of lifetime best rounds view Nemadji in a manner similar to the way those in search of land speed records have come to see The Bonneville Salt Flats. There is just something about this course that can bring out the hidden golfer in any of us. We have all heard of Mr. Levine's legendary 37. Another of our group has played three 18 hole rounds at Nemadji-two on North/South and one on East/West and equaled or bettered his personal best score each time. The two courses here differ significantly in terms of slope and rating ( 115/66.9 vs.127/69.8 ) but, as every golfer knows, these indicators do not always accurately predict how the course will fit a given person's game.

Part of Nemadji's appeal to some of us is certainly it's forgivingness off the tee. Some fortunates can routinely sight down the left side of the fairway, confident that their gentle fade will bring the ball back down the middle by flight's end. Even fewer can reliably do the same thing going down the right with a controlled draw. Nemadji (which is roughly translated as "left-handed" ) is a course for we who always aim down the middle because we are never sure whether the drive will fade, draw, hook or slice. Here-especially on North/South- if you can hit the ball a long ways you can usually get a decent shot into the green regardless of the misdirection.

Even when rewarded with good chances for hitting greens in regulation, it is still hard to score if the greens don't hold your approach shots. The greens at Nemadji are another part of it's mysterious equation. Big, undulating things they hold very well- occasionally even yielding the much sought after back up ball. For a municipal course they were quite fast but consistently so. Some members of our expedition commented that they had never had so many birdie puts yet made so few. At our level the tap-in par is not regarded as catastrophic however.

Mr.Levine's review was curious for it's inattention to the quality of the sand here. The obvious conclusion is that his super straight game rarely results in sand play. One of the most enjoyable parts of playing the superpremium courses is the ease with which one can escape greenside bunkers. This lends yearlong support to our belief that our lousy sand play at the Hiawathas and Meadowbrooks of the world is due to the quality of their traps. Nemadji doesn't have the fancy, imported "sugar sand" of some of our pricier favorites but it's bunkers were fluffy and well maintained. For some of us the absense of hard or muddy traps is another essential prerequisite to the assault on our own personal Everests.

All sorts of little things can impact on the golf score. More for some of us than others. A quick temper, coupled with adequate provacation, can cause more rounds to explode than any on-course variables. A recent round at an unnamed metro course which hosts an unnamed Senior Tour event proved that one snotty comment from a ranger can cause an entire foursome's game to detonate simultaneously. It's hard to swing relaxed when you feel like wringing some smartasses neck. Nemadji has always been noteable for helping us to maintain our fragile self confidence. Service here is relaxed and easy going. Part of this seems related to the fact that it is clearly a course that is frequented and treasured by a community of regulars. This does get played out in some endearing ways. During a recent round it dawned on us that nearly everything on the course had some sort of marker or memorial attached to it. Hole markers, benches, ballwashers, you name it. They all implored us to remember some departed golfer or do business at local establishments. Sort of like a combination of reading headstones and the yellow pages at once. When you're paying $20 per round ( $30/day for unlimited play ) it's hard to see this as a significant negative.

When trying to understand why those elusive scores seem to crop up at this course the clubhouse must also be considered. Stumbling out of bed with four hours sleep into 101 degree heat as we did, being able to eat a good sausage, eggs,and hashbrowns breakfast before playing might have helped a bit. More clubs should offer genuine breakfasts on site for those of us who routinely leave for the course in a chaotic hurry. The post- round fluid replenishment here has always proven enjoyable as well. Nemadji's clubhouse is a casual and well air conditioned spot that invites lingering.

Revised: 09/18/2012 - Article Viewed 31,733 Times - View Course Profile

About: Kevin Turnquist

Kevin Turnquist Kevin Turnquist MD is a practicing psychiatrist who takes care of some of Minnesota's most severely mentally ill people. He feels that this serves him well in his interactions with the golfing public.

A seven handicapper, he is a member of Indian Hills G.C. in Stillwater, Minnesota, but loves playing the State's fine public coursesl.

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