Teeing off on the Wilderness at Fortune Bay’s par-5, 649-yard first hole, called the White Pine, one might be excused for taking a moment to marvel at the setting. Magnificent red and white pines surround the hole, an exposed ledge rock divides the upper and lower fairway and an active osprey nest is situated in the nearby trees, offering golfers a chance to see the majestic birds flying overhead.
The Wilderness, in Tower, Minnesota, is owned by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa. The Bois Forte Reservation is located about 45 miles south of the Canadian border and is divided into three sections—Nett Lake, Vermilion and Deer Creek. The Wilderness at Fortune Bay is located on the Vermilion grounds.
The Wilderness was recently included in Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses list, ranking at number 40, the first year it has been included in the magazine’s venerable 45-year-old ranking. The Wilderness added another accolade this year, it was number 43 in Golfweek’s Best Resort Courses rankings.
What makes the Wilderness so special? First, the course is situated in a stunning landscape that may make it somewhat understandable why Minnesota residents brave those brutal winters. Situated near the spectacular Lake Vermilion, the course sits atop high granite ridges and amid the red and white pines and evergreens of the Minnesota woodlands. If golf truly is a “good walk spoiled,” you might as well spoil a nice walk here, a course that is spread out among the stunning, verdant woodlands, with the lake and the wetlands beyond it visible from many of the course’s holes. The Wilderness is as glorious to see and stroll through as it is challenging to play.
The course was designed by Jeffrey D. Brauer and measures 7,207 yards from the back tees. The Wilderness website calls the course a “long hitter’s dream,” but caters to golfers of all skill levels by offering four tees boxes on each hole (the aforementioned first hole, The White Pine, plays either 649, 587, 562, or 470 yards, depending on where you choose to drive from.) The golf carts are outfitted with GPS to “maintain a sufficient pace of play and enhance the experience of those playing the course for the first time.” If you manage to get a hole in one, you’ll live on in a collection of your fellow golfers on the Wilderness’s “Hole in One Club” on their site, with a painting of the hole you mastered for a moment in time. All the holes are named after the state’s indigenous flora and fauna, from the ninth hole’s par-4 “The Beaver” to the 15th hole’s par-5 “The Red Pine.”
The Wilderness at Fortune Bay offers “Play and Stay” rates throughout the summer. The Fortune Bay Resort Casino has various accommodations, which range from deluxe hotel rooms to whirlpool or fireplace suites overlooking the lake. The rates for the summer start at $86 per person for golf and $56 per person for a standard room ($76 for a premium room).
The Wilderness Grill and the Fortune Bay Resort Casino are good places to unwind after a long day of cheating on your golf scorecard. There are also local attractions for any members of your party who aren’t into golf. The newly opened Boise Forte Heritage Center, located on the grounds of the Resort Casino, showcases the heritage of the Bois Forte Ojibwe, including myriad art displays, a birch bark dwelling and tipi on the grounds, and a path that takes visitors to the remains of an 1866 gold mine.
There are also boat rentals available at the Fortune Bay Marina, a rail card ride underground into the Soudan Underground Mine, and the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary where visitors can spot wild black bears in their natural habitat. For more information, visit GolfTheWilderness.com or call 800-992-4680.
Talking Stick Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona - Owned and operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the North and South course offer radically different characteristics. TalkingStickGolfClub.com.
Turning Stone Resort, Verona, New York - Owned and operated by the Oneida Nation, three of their five scenic resort courses were named in Golfweek's 2011 Best Courses You Can Play issue. TurningStone.com/golf.
Journey at Pechanga, Temecula, California - Owned and operated by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians, this 7,219 yard par-72 championship course was also included in Golfweek's 2011 Best Courses You Can Play issue. JourneyAtPechunga.com.