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#10 - Top 10 Public Courses in Minnesota

By Mason Savage, A Good Walk Spoiled contributor

For those of you who missed it, two weeks ago, we at A Good Walk Spoiled released "The Completely Unbiased 100% Scientific Golf Course Ranking System." The point of the system is to create a ranking system that was geared to the Everyday Golf. If you missed that post, please check it out in the link below so that you can understand how these rankings work and what each category represents in the system.

Before we dig into the Review/Ranking, these are the Top 10 Public Courses in Minnesota so a couple of notes. 1. These are Public Courses (as the name implies), there is no Private Courses on this list so please do not ask why courses like Interlachen are not on this list. 2. These are courses that we at A Good Walk Spoiled have played. If there is a good public course that is not on this list, that means we do not think it is in the top 10 or we have not played it. 3. Most important note, this is the Top 10 so all of these courses are GREAT and we would recommend any of them to out of town travelers. That said, we are critical when it comes to analyzing Golf Courses so any negative comments or points of critique in these Blog Posts come from a place of Love and wanting the courses to better themselves.

Now let's get into the top 10 and start with Number 10.

#10 - Royal Golf Club - Lake Elmo, MN

The Fifth Green at Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, Minnesota

The first course on the A Good Walk Spoiled Completely Unbiased, 100% Scientific Ranking of Minnesota Public Golf Courses is Royal Club located in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. This course was designed in collaboration with Annika Sorenstam (The front 9) and Arnold Palmer (The back 9) and Opened in 2018. This is the last course that Arnold Palmer designed before passing away in 2016 so in that regard, it is and will grow to be a very cool piece of Golf History. The course was formerly a 27 hole course called Tartan Golf Course and some of the original holes exist but feature some improvements (or down grades) from the original holes and layouts.

Culture - 7

The culture of Royal Golf Club definitely caters to the big hitters and big golfers. The facilities are nice and clean, the name of Arnold Palmer lures in unexpecting patrons and the conditioning of the course/practice facilities is fantastic. This “big hitters” culture can be awesome because you know that everyone there is a good player and it affirms the status of the course you are at. However, left unchecked, It can come across as unwelcoming to lesser players or beginning players. A saving grace of this small potential underlying unwelcoming feeling is the short course. This awesome 6 hole loop is free for Juniors with a recommended donation for players over the age of 18. This is a concept that many public courses should implement as it grows the game and makes golf accessible to juniors. Royal Golf Club deserves praise for this short course!

Place - 5

As is typical of every one of these course reviews, the sense of “place” that a course evokes is difficult to put into words. But since this is a written medium, I will always try my best to try and describe the sense of place.

If you recall, this course used to be a course Called Tartan Park and it just opened in 2018 so there is no history to lean upon. That said, history is not mandatory for a since of place but this course seems to lean on the Identity of Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam to find its sense of place. Therefore, since these two golf legends do not have close personal ties to the community or frequent the course, there is a hallow and empty feeling of place at Royal Golf Club. Not only is their identity found in two Golf greats (nothing related to the course and the property), you lose a sense of place with all of the houses that are up around the exterior of the course. Again, not that houses on a course eliminate a sense of place, but with the lack of feeling of “place” on property and the identity of the course being in two people not directly involved with the day to day operations, this course at times feels like any golf course constructed from the late 90s to the late 2000s. - In other words, there is not a lot of “place” here. Nothing in its existence really separates it out from other courses in the area.

Quality - 8

As was mentioned in the Culture section, this place is a “big hitters” course so it is no surprise that the quality of Royal Golf Club is immaculate. The greens are consistent, the fairways and turf are healthy and the bunkers and tee boxes are well manicured. The only reason there are a couple of points docked off is because of some renovations that the club has been doing (15th Hole and 7th Green) so we expect this number to be higher in future ratings of the course. The maintenance crew of Royal Golf Club should be proud of themselves!

Even on a frosty, Fall, Minnesota Morning the Quality of The Royal Golf Club is evident. - The conditioning is incredible

Price - 6

As was mentioned in the first piece explaining the ranking system, the price is a hard score dictated by the weekend walking rate. Royal Golf Club is $84 (pretax) to walk on the weekend.

Architecture - 6

Architecture is something that you will learn that I am passionate about. In terms of the architecture at The Royal, it was designed by Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam. There are tons of holes that remain relatively the same out at The Royal from when it was Tartan Park. However, that is not the biggest concern, the big concern is that there are a couple of really bad holes out there. But before we dig into the negative holes, I want to take the time to highlight the awesome holes and aspects out at Royal Golf Club.

Good: The green complexes are very interesting. There are lots of green complexes that feature awesome slopes. Some slopes help get to certain portions of the green and some slopes reject errant shots. One of the best examples of these slopes is the 13th Green.

The 13th Green at The Royal Golf Club - Very cool Green Complex

The sweet green complexes at the Royal are unlike most greens that you can get in public golf in Minnesota and because of that, the course should be applauded. In addition to the great green complexes that are littered throughout the property, there are some awesome holes. One underrated hole (in my opinion) out there is the 14th hole which uses a simple hill on the front left side of the green to dictate the strategy of the entire hole. If you are left off of the tee, the hill blinds you for your second shot. The solution is to favor the Right side of the hole to have line of sight to the pin. This is simple and yet, great golf course architecture.

Bad: There are some stinky holes out there. The common theme between all of these holes is the architect’s lack of reward for taking on risk in their shot selection. The first two holes at The Royal is maybe the worst start in the Minnesota Public Golf scene. Right off the bat, you get a cold welcome from the first hole. There is water all down the left side, a bunker right in the landing zone choking down the fairway and despite looking safe for a bail out right, right is also dead. Missing the fairway right (assuming you can find your ball) leaves you blind as a tree next to the aforementioned fairway bunker cuts off the angle to the hole. You are one wayward drive away from opening your round up with a double bogey or worse. However, the even worse hole is the second hole.

The First Hole at The Royal Golf Club - Here you can see the narrow landing zone and the lack of space off the tee. This has to be considered for one of the hardest opening holes in Minnesota.

The second hole is a 520 yard Par 5 that features water down the right side and a green that perches up on top of a steep hill that begins at the end of the water. The small flat portion of ground past the water is where an old green complex at Tartan Park (the old Golf Course before the Royal) used to exist meaning the old hole design was a Par 4. The main problem with this hole is that there is no reward for taking on any risk. For the old design of the hole, you could take a risky shot and aim closer to the water. The pay out was that you had a short wedge shot into the green. Inversely, you could avoid the water, stay safe on the left and then you have a longer shot into the green. The old iteration of the hole rewarded risk.

The view from the Tee Box on the Second Hole at The Royal Golf Club - Hopefully this image is supplementary to the description written in the article.

In its current form this risk reward factor is no longer relevant. If you take on the water, you have a shorter Iron to lay up. You can technically go for the green but you need to be a long hitter to get on top of the ridge (where the new green on the second hole resides) meaning the reward is low. If you avoid the water and hit your tee ball left, you need to lay up but you still have the high risk shot (just to lay up). Once you are where the old green is, the shot up to the new green complex is completely blind. I am a big fan of blind shots because blind shots are technically only blind once (the first time you hit the shot) but there are flaws in this blind approach shot. To belabor listing all of the negatives of this shot, I will harp on the one that is specific to golf course architecture. The design flaw is the cart path is WAY too close to the green. Cart paths (and carts in general) are a whole blog post on their own but one of the main problem with Cart Paths is they make targets smaller. The Cart Path adds portions of the ground that are not receptive to balls. They create large bounces or allow for longer than normal roll outs. As was previously mentioned, the second green is perched upon a hill, this includes going long as well. As you can see in the aerial of the green, the cart path is less than 3 yards off of the green which will severely punish a shot that was not that bad.

The Second Green at The Royal Golf Club - In this image you can see a couple of things such as the proximity of the green to the cart path, the severity of the hill and on the right side of the image, you can see where the green used to be when this was a Par 4.

The final negative portion of the architecture is the remodeling of the 15th hole. Prior to its renovation, it was easily a Top 5 hole in Minnesota. It was a perfect short Par 4 that had all of the right elements of Risk and Reward. Due to homeowner complaints, the hole has since been modified. Huge lose for the the Minnesota Golf Community.

Value - 7

The value of the Royal Golf Club is overall, very good. It is not everyday that a course with insanely good conditioning, cool greens and challenging holes is available to the general public. For that, the Royal should be celebrated! As was mentioned earlier, the price is a bit steep for the “Everyday Golfer” and that hurts the value score a little bit.

Overall - 39

When it comes to conditions, Royal Golf Club will be one of the best on this list and Ranking from A Good Walk Spoiled. With the course conditioning, greens that are excellent and the upscale environment around the club house, the Royal creates a feel that I have felt at some private clubs. That is a cool thing to be able to replicate at a Public Golf Course.

This ranking was done completely by our numbers and has no personal input to the ranking. That said, I (Mason) want to interject and provide some personal insights on Royal Golf Club in the conclusion of this article. I personally LOVE the course, more than I think the average Minnesotan does. As an above average golfer, I personally love the "Big Hitter" vibe and the challenge that the course can present. There are not many places where I can have a challenging round, on great conditioned course and stay within the "94 Circle" of the Metro area. That said, I see its flaws and I think this is a great golf course that has the potential to become an Elite Golf Course. The exact reason I love it, is why some newer players may not love it. It can be a challenge and you can feel like an outsider if you are not a great golfer. While a couple of the other flaws such as some poorly designed holes and price are changeable, the culture and difficulty of the golf course cannot be easily changed. Because of this, The Royal might not be for everyone and that is ok. At the end of the day, it is a great golf course that I love and I am glad to see it make our Top 10 List at A Good Walk Spoiled because I believe it deserves the recognition.

I also want to give a shoutout to Brandon Sigette, the Marketing Director and Director of Instruction out at The Royal. Great guy and he does a fantastic job growing the game of golf through his lessons, Junior Camps and content creation for Royal Golf Club. Check out his stuff here.

The 12th Hole at The Royal Golf Club - This is considered by many to be the last hole that Arnold Palmer designed prior to passing away in 2016. It is an awesome little Par 3.

Thank you for reading the first post in our Top 10 Public Golf Courses in Minnesota. To stay up to date as we continue posting the list, be sure to Subscribe here so you are notified when our next course ranking goes live. If you liked the content, consider checking out our other mediums. Over on instagram, we post great photos of golf courses, post engaging instagram stories and post Short Form video content. On our YouTube page, we have many videos that highlight certain golf courses. Personally I am a fan of our video we made about Aiken Golf Club and you can check that out here.

Thank you again for reading and thank you for supporting A Good Walk Spoiled.


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