Northeast Minnesota combines great golf with unspoiled natural beauty

The coastal town of Lutsen, Minn., is a four-hour drive and a world away from the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Set hard against Lake Superior, intersected by historic MN-61, it’s a year-round resort destination and the perfect place for a group of women looking to break away from the city for a few days of golf and other activities. 

Why Lutsen? In part because it’s Minnesota’s closest meeting of golf land, water and mountainous terrain, and in part because it’s just a lovely town to spend a few days. 

Sunrise on Lake Superior from Lutsen area. Every morning seems to be different on the big lake.

Lutsen is home to Superior National Golf Course, the best place to savor the pure physical beauty of Northeast Minnesota – the lake, the highlands, the raging river. You’ll find it all here. It’s a 27-hole public course with A1 views of Lake Superior and repeated interactions with the Poplar River during your round.

You’ll first want to play the River 9 and Canyon 9, both of which underwent a $4.6 million facelift by architect Jeff Brauer – remember that name – within the past decade. The course is bracketed by the lake to the east and the Sawtooth Mountains to the west, so there isn’t a bad view on the course.  

“Very few golf courses are as blessed with nature as Superior National,” Brauer said when he was doing the renovations. “You’ve got the views of the lake, you’ve got the views of the mountains, you’ve got one of the prettiest rivers in the world running right through the golf course.”

Superior National Golf Course in Lutsen

After your round at Superior National, make the short drive to North Shore Winery, which was founded in 2013 but feels like it’s been there for multiple decades. When was the last time you visited a winery that had a sauna? Well, welcome to the good life in Minnesota, along Lake Superior. The winery often has live acoustic entertainment in the barrel room, which guests can enjoy with a glass of Syrah or a Bluefin Bay blend.

Speaking of which, the Bluefin Bay family of resorts, located just south of Lutsen, offers three lodging options that share the same key trait: to-die-for views of Lake Superior, which in some cases are just a short putt away from your balcony. Take your pick: single rooms, homes or log cabins, depending on what fits your group’s needs. Bluefin Bay’s Waves of Superior Spa, which also has a lap pool and fitness center, offers everything you could want in terms of exercise or relaxation.

Bluefin Bay also offers several convenient dining options. The Bluefin Grille combines a relaxed yet elegant lakeside setting with a menu ranging from casual lunchtime fare to classic Minnesota dinner entrees such as pan-fried walleye. The Waves Café patio overlooking the lake is a great spot for breakfast or lunch, and Coho Café & Bakery is open throughout the day for indoor/outdoor dining or takeout. The cozy Coho Café has an eclectic menu offering something for everyone, from breakfast staples and sweets to some of the best pizza in the North. Coho Café is also just across the highway from Clearview General Store if you need to pick up any necessities during your vacation. 

At this point, it’s easy to imagine enjoying a long weekend in and around Lutsen. You could take the Summit Express gondola up Lutsen Mountain to savor the views of the coastline while having lunch on the deck of the Summit Chalet

However, if you want to explore the best Minnesota golf has to offer, consider making the two-hour drive east to the Iron Range. 

Don’t rush – take a travel day and stop first at Tettegouche State Park, just south of Lutsen. The park sits on one mile of lakefront, with rocky cliffs and the Baptism River waterfall. 

From there, turn east through the Superior National Forest, three million acres of true wilderness, on your way to the Lodge at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. 

Giants Ridge unquestionably is the best two-course public facility in Minnesota and among the best in the nation. It’s unlikely you’ll find any other resort in the country that has sister courses as different as the options at this resort – the Quarry and Legend courses. Interestingly, both were designed by Brauer, who has shaped much of the golf ground in this part of the state.

The Quarry at Giants Ridge

Brauer once described the Legend course, which opened in 1997, as “the most natural” course he’d ever designed. Ranked No. 5 in the state and sometimes referred to as “the Gentle Giant,” it’s everything one would expect from golf in Northeast Minnesota – rolling fairways framed by dense stands of birch trees, punctuated by memorable lakeside holes. 

The 17th, a par 3 played across Sabin Lake, might be the best-known hole in the region. At roughly 125 yards from the forward tees, it’s a lovely respite on the way to 18, not unlike the par-3 11th, which evokes the iconic 12th at Augusta National. From the back tees, however, the 17th is a 226-yard, all-carry brute. 

The Quarry, ranked No. 1 in the state, opened in 2003 and is a true destination course for those who want to test themselves against one of the toughest tracks in the North. The Z-shaped par 5 might remind some of one of Brauer’s architectural influences, the late Larry Packard. 

Variety is a consistent theme at the Quarry, making it difficult yet fascinating for players of all skill levels. Consider the short par-4 eighth hole, where long hitters can take a direct route to the green – so long as they can clear the pond guarding the dogleg – or take the conservative route to the right. From the elevated tee at the brilliant 13th, players have at least five targets for their drives. There’s also a wonderful sense of place, as when players reach the fairway on difficult 18, having to carry the edge of the Embarrass Mine Pit.

If time allows, consider making the 20-mile drive north to Fortune Bay Resort Casino in Tower. For some, the main attraction is the casino, but for golfers, it’s the chance to play The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, another Brauer design that Golfweek ranks No. 3 in the state. 

Like his other designs, Brauer made creative use of the natural terrain – for example, using the rock outcroppings at the first, fourth and 16th holes to build split fairways that allow for more strategic options. Perhaps the best stretch of The Wilderness comes at the par-3 12th, played across water to a peninsula green, and the 13th, which wraps around Lake Vermillion. 

Post-round, grab a table on the patio at The Wilderness Grill and enjoy lunch while watching players finish their rounds on the closing hole. 

To start planning your trip, find travel guides, itineraries and more at Follow Explore Minnesota on Instagram, TikTok, Threads, Facebook, and YouTube.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek