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#2 - Top 10 Public Courses in Minnesota

By Mason Savage, A Good Walk Spoiled Contributor

For those of you who missed it, 9 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. As the title states, these are Public Courses, there are 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.

#2 - Highland Golf Course - St. Paul, MN

This Article is about the 18 Hole Championship Course at Highland National - This however is a picture from the 9 Hole Executive Course across the street

The number 2 course on our list, Highland Golf Course, the pride and joy of Minneapolis/St Paul Municipal Golf. I can hear the complaints now and all of the criticism about how the conditions aren’t perfect or whatever irrelevant insults are hurled at the course (or at me) but I will not waiver. Similar to the Braemar article, I hope that you (the reader) take the time out of your day to read this post in its entirety. I hope that I can lay out the argument of what makes this course special and look past the bias that you have been fed by major golf publications (who are paid for rankings) and the disgusting culture of golf that says “everything needs to be lush and green and pristine to be a good golf course”. There is so much more that goes into a golf course that is intangible and we think that the ranking system we have been using evaluates and puts words to these factors.

Culture - 9

The culture at Highland Golf Course is fantastic! Anyone that has ever been to Highland probably noticed this right away. For starters, the Driving Range is massive and always full. Additionally the Golf Course is always full! This is in large part due to the large amount of Golf Passes that the golf course sells that allows for early access tee times and therefore makes getting a tee time rather difficult.

However, this great culture goes beyond just full facilities. Because this is a public course in a large metropolitan area, there are all types of people (race, socioeconomic class, gender, etc) and therefore it is impossible to not feel welcomed and like you do not belong. The communal feel of the course is palpable and one tangible example of that is the Men's League that meets on Saturday mornings.

In addition to these awesome items, other things that Highland National offers is an executive 9 Hole course across the road, a great practice facility and it houses the First Tee (a golf Non-Profit for kids) for the city of Saint Paul.

Highland National is for the people and because of this, it is almost impossible to not feel welcome here. The only reason this course does not have a perfect 10 Score for Culture is because sometimes Golf can feel not even secondary but tertiary to what is happening on the property. There is nothing wrong with that, just a reality of the situation and therefore we deducted one point.

Place - 10

The sense of Place at Highland Golf Course is among the best in the State. If you are new to AGWS or these posts you are probably wondering what does a sense of Place mean? What goes into a sense of Place? Place is the way the course feels unique to its environment. Does it tie into the local landscape, the surrounding topography and what emotions does it stir in regards to the location of the property? Highland National hits all 3 of those items very well and thoroughly.

First, the local landscape. Highland Golf Course is in the heart of Saint Paul proper. A public golf course within the City limits of a major metropolitan area is something that is not super common. In an era of closing muni’s, places like Highland Golf Course are invaluable pieces of property for both the city and the citizens of the community. There is something to be said for a golf course that is a 15 minute (or less) car ride from two Downtown Metro Areas and less than 10 minutes from a major airport. It is impossible to play Highland and feel like you are not in Saint Paul, MN. Whether it is the holes on the front 9 across the road from the local high schools, the back 9 holes that are across the road from residential houses or constantly playing golf in the shadow of the Highland watchtower, the reminders of Saint Paul (your sense of place) are everywhere. Highland is in the heart of the city and that is fantastic for the game of golf!

The Highland Watertowers and Watch Tower are visible from virtually every hole on the course. Your sense of Saint Paul never leaves you!

In regards to the surrounding topography, Highland is perfect. The city of Saint Paul is on the edge of the Mississippi River and the Highland Neighborhood of Saint Paul (the namesake Neighborhood Highland National Resides in) is on the top of the edge of the river valley and has large elevation changes. There is a large hill that is on the west side of the property that impacts the routing of the course and the design on multiple holes.

Finally the emotions a golf course can stir in someone. It is hard to play Highland and feel like you are not on an important piece of property. While the course was renovated back in 2005, this course has been around for generations. Lots of Minnesota (Saint Paul) residents grew up playing this course and it is the “home” course for all of the local schools and universities in Saint Paul. It is impossible to step on the property, survey the landscape and not feel the emotion of importance this course has and will continue to have on the city and the surrounding community.

Quality - 7

While the quality of Highland National may be its worst category score in these rankings, that does not mean the conditioning is horrible. The greens at Highland are always quick and pure which first and foremost, is the most important part when it comes to golf course maintenance. The geographical location of Highland exposes it to some wind that hits the top of the Mississippi River Valley which creates fun and fast conditions out on the course. However, due to the large number of rounds and the limited budget that a municipal golf course can have, there are some rough areas whether it be a portion of a green, a fairway or an unlevel tee box. While these are minor grievances that do not impact play at all, they do need to be brought up.

Price - 7

The price is fair but it has been unfortunately increasing slightly as of late. That is most likely due to the full tee sheet and the large popularity increase in golf as a result of the Covid19 pandemic.

Architecture - 8

An 8 for the architectural score I think might be baffling to a lot of people. A common complaint about Highland National is that there are 3 holes (2, 11 and 13) that are exactly the same. Mid length Par 4s that play directly up the hill. While on the surface that is true, there is more nuance and detail to these 3 holes the more you play them. However, this observation does not just apply to these 3 golf holes but rather it applies to the whole golf course. Everywhere you turn at Highland National, there are strategic and nuanced golf holes designed into this property. One example of nuance is the 3rd hole, a relatively harmless, open Par 4 that is not terribly long. On the surface it appears to be a bland and uninteresting hole. What appears to be the smart play is to hit out to the left because there is infinite landing room for your drive. However, when you are on the left side you quickly realize the trouble you are in. Because of a well placed greenside side bunker and the angle of the green, the shot from the left is not only longer but requires you to carry a bunker and stop it on a shallow green. Inversely, if you take on the risk of the bunker and trees on the right with the tee shot, you are left with a wide open green front and a shorter shot. This is just one example of the many details and intricacies that Highland National offers. A common thread that I have found is people that often complain about or do not like Highland National have played it less than 3 times. Playing it less than 3 times does not allow for the details of the architectural nuance to hit and see the beauty in the design.

The Tee Shot of the Difficult, Par 4, 7th Hole at Highland National

As was covered in the ‘Place’ portion of this review, Highland National occupies a piece of ground with a large west to east slope. This slope provides not only to be an interesting architectural feature that spans numerous holes but also creates different sections of the course. There are holes up on the ridge of the hill, and then holes on the lower levels of the property. The routing that overlays this topography is excellent as it is EXTREMELY walkable and provides a variety of golf holes at fun intersection points. The way that the Front 9 goes out to the hill, up the hill and then weaves back and forth down the ridge back to the clubhouse is a masterclass in how to route a golf course.

We could expound in detail on why the architecture at Highland National is great and underrated but we want to keep these reviews short and concise for our audience. The last note that we will say about the Architecture is the negative. Why is this course not a perfect 10? It is actually the same reason we love it as to why it does not get a great score. The detail and nuance. While yes we think there is good architecture at Highland National, it is unfortunate that you need to play the course a lot to enjoy it and see the details of it. The very thing that makes it good and interesting is also the very reason why some people may not be overly smitten with it and because of that, we need to rate the architecture on the course as so.

Value - 8

When it comes to getting the most out of your money on a greens fee, Highland National has to be one of the bests in the city. Within the city limits of a metropolitan area you have a historic, affordable and fun golf course that flies under a lot of people’s radar.

Overall - 48

While Highland National is not often at the front of mind when it comes to great Public Golf Courses in Minnesota, we hope that you have understood our case for its place and inclusion on this list. To be included on this list is one thing but to be number 2, it may seem weird. However, Highland National has lots of intangibles that absolutely matter when it comes to having a great golf course. Being in the city means it is accessible, having an executive course and a massive driving range means it is open to beginners and yet it still boasts a well designed, well maintained course that is capable of (and has) hosted Minnesota Golf Association events. It feels weird to type this out but we recommend playing Highland National! Usually when one recommends golf courses, it is recommendations of luxury courses, courses that are expensive and courses that have all of the amenities one could think of. You are going to find none of that at Highland National. As has been written in this post numerous times, the beauty of Highland National is in the details and its relationship to the city of Saint Paul and we hope you take the time this summer in 2023 to check it out for yourself.

Thank you for reading the 9th 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 (hyperlink) so you are notified when our next course goes live. If you liked the article check out our other mediums of content. 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.

Thank you again for reading and we look forward to next week when we cap off of this series with our Number 1 Course.


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