Playing Favorites

Playing Favorites

18 avid golfers in the local business community share some of their favorite courses in Minnesota and elsewhere.

In business, golf is the great equalizer, says Matt Nowakowski, director of the MBA program at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It has no equal for blowing off steam and for really getting to know somebody. “It’s a place where you can kind of take off the armor we all wear,” he muses. “If you think about it, golfing is very social. A lot of times you’re eating and you’re doing some kind of physical activity, so afterwards, when you’re at the 19th hole, people are relaxed and they’re more apt to be conversational.”

That’s why Kathy Hedlund, director of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe in Minneapolis, loves to golf with clients. “I think it’s one of the best ways to build or enhance a relationship with someone, because you’re with that person for four hours.”

The fresh air and scenery is a draw, especially for those who spend most of their time in meeting rooms and airport lounges. A lot of business events are structured around golf outings, so it becomes a networking opportunity. And golf is an equal-opportunity sport for young and old, skilled and unskilled.

“Golf is a sport where you can play by yourself, and you can play within yourself,” says Marvin Schenk, founder of Architectural Sales of Minnesota, Inc., in Minneapolis. “You can play with younger fellows because everybody has a handicap. A 2-handicapper can play with a 15-handicapper, and you can have a game. And the nice thing about it is, the golf courses are gorgeous. It’s being outside, walking with friends—that’s what it amounts to.”

Here, 15 Twin Cities businesspeople explain “what it amounts to” for them in particular.


Randy Wallake

President, Securian Financial Group, Inc., St. Paul

How often do you play? “My golf season is probably from May to the middle of September. I probably recorded about 25 or 30 rounds [last] year.”

Handicap: Wallake calls himself a weekend warrior. “I was high single-digit at one time, and now I’m a struggling 15-handicapper.”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “My favorite golf course is the one I belong to, which is White Bear Yacht Club. It’s a Donald Ross course that is beautiful, very rolling and well taken care of. It also has a small membership. We don’t even have tee times; we just walk up, tee up, and go find it.”

Greater Minnesota: Deacon’s Lodge at Grand View Lodge, north of Brainerd. “It’s very beautiful, very up and down. [Arnold] Palmer designs pretty wide-open golf courses so you can hit it about any place, which is good for me. You can’t see any other golfers. Everything is tree lined, and you think you’re the only foursome out there on that particular day.”

U.S. and beyond: Spyglass Hill Golf Course at Pebble Beach Resorts, California. Like Pebble Beach, Spyglass has gorgeous vistas, but Wallake believes it’s a much more challenging course. It has variety, too: While the front nine are oceanside, the back nine could almost be in northern Minnesota.


Jeff Baker

Managing partner, Manchester Companies, Minneapolis

How often do you play? About 35 rounds a year. “Even though I’m managing partner of Manchester Companies, I live in Dallas. We play year-round here.”

Handicap: 9

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “Bearpath [Golf and Country Club in Eden Prairie] was my home course in Minneapolis when I lived there, and it’s probably still my favorite in the Twin Cities. The conditions are always very well maintained there. The only remote complaint about the place is the greens tend to be a little slow. But it’s still some of the best conditions of any course in Minnesota, I think.”

At home in Texas: “I play at a club in Plano called Gleneagles Country Club, which has actually hosted the British Open qualifier the last two years.” Baker calls it one of the toughest, longest courses in the area.

U.S. and beyond: Baker used to live in England, where he belonged to the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club in Surrey, one of the oldest clubs in the London area. He also played in Scotland quite a bit, including the Old Course at St. Andrews. “The climate over there plays a much bigger role in golf than it does here,” he notes. “Both the moisture as well as the thickness of the air play a part. In the summertime, the ground gets very hard, so you have to aim well in front of the green to be able to get the ball on the green. You hit a much lower rolling shot, as opposed to a high stick-it-in-the-middle-of-the-green type of shot.”

Shane Barnes

Associate, Meagher & Geer, PLLP, Minneapolis

How often do you play? Once or twice a week in season. “This past summer, I mostly played in little tournaments around the area, [such as] fundraisers for Hamline Law School, which I went to, or some of the Hennepin County Bar Association tournaments.”

Handicap: Barnes used to play golf professionally and still has a handicap of 1 or 2, but he finds that he is less consistent than he used to be. “When you don’t get to play a lot, it varies,” he says.

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Barnes likes to play on courses with a history of hosting major championships. “It’s always a treat to get out and test my skills on the same courses the best in the world play.”

Greater Minnesota: Last summer he played at the Quarry at Giants Ridge in Biwabik. Barnes says he loved the condition of the course, its layout, its beauty, and its unusual construction. (It’s carved out of an old quarry and boasts significant elevation changes.)

U.S. and beyond: Barnes picks Pebble Beach Golf Links in California for its spectacular views and its special place in the golf world. “I played there probably five years ago, and it lived up to every aspect of its reputation. There’s a huge history there with hosting a PGA tour event every year, but also hosting the U.S. Open and some of the best U.S. Open finishes in the history of major championship golf.”


Russ Plunkett

President Postal Credit Union, Woodbury

How often do you play? I get out about 15 to 20 times a year.”

Handicap: “Actually, I don’t even have a handicap. I am a purely recreational golfer.”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Plunkett prefers scenic courses. “My favorite is Mississippi Dunes Golf Links in Cottage Grove,” he says. “It’s right along the Mississippi River, so you get some fantastic views of the river itself. And it’s got a lot of huge old trees, and there’s lots of wildlife and birds around there. It’s just a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon.”

Greater Minnesota: Mount Frontenac Golf Course in Frontenac, between Lake City and Red Wing. It’s in a ski resort area high in the bluffs, where “you can see forever.”

U.S. and beyond: “There was one in Hawaii on the island of Maui. I can’t remember the name, but the ocean scenery was unbelievable. It would have been fun just to walk around the course.”


Kathy Hedlund

Director of global accounts, HelmsBriscoe, Minneapolis

How often do you play? At least twice a week in season.

Handicap: 28. “I really am not that good of a golfer, but I keep pace,” Hedlund says. “I usually shoot in the upper 90s. My shots are straight down the middle, but without a lot of distance.”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Hedlund’s son works at Interlachen Country Club in Edina, and last fall he brought her and her father in on a Monday, when the course is closed to the public and employees can play. “Interlachen is one of the most prestigious golf courses in Minnesota,” she says. “Being able to play there with my dad and my son was a real treat. Three generations together!”

Her favorite public course in the area—and one she is actually able to play with some regularity—is Legends Golf Club in Prior Lake.

Greater Minnesota: “My home course, the Jewel Golf Club in Lake City,” she says without hesitation. “Professional golfer Hale Irwin designed the course. It is cut into the bluffs and is absolutely gorgeous. I love taking my clients there and do so as often as I can.”

U.S. and beyond: Because she is a meeting planner, Hedlund gets to travel fairly often and has played in many popular U.S. tourist destinations. Her favorites are the Boulders Club and the Troon courses in Scottsdale, Arizona. “They’re very meticulously manicured golf courses,” she says. “The views and the mountains are just spectacular. Also, desert golf is a little bit different than Minnesota golf. It’s a harder surface with sand, and you tend to get a little more distance out of your golf balls because they roll further.”


Keith Norbie

Vice president of sales and vendor management, Nexus Information Systems, Minnetonka

How often do you play? “In the summer, I would say I get out two to three times a week if I can. It kind of goes in spurts.”

Handicap: “I have a horrible handicap, like 15. But I have been improving [and] taking the game a lot more seriously. I have some new clubs and have been getting some video analysis done on my swing.”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Norbie likes the layout, condition, and rolling hills of Troy Burne Golf Club, although he thinks a couple of the holes are unfair. For a challenge, he seeks out Windsong Farm Golf Club, which he calls a “very, very, very tough course.”

Greater Minnesota: “For me, Northland Country Club up in Duluth is outstanding. I grew up and did some caddying there as a kid, so it’s a little bit nostalgic for me.”

He also likes Black Bear Golf Course in Carlton, south of Duluth. “It is one of the most challenging golf courses I have ever played in my life,” he says. “It’s very pretty, but the reason it’s so hard is that most of the fairways are like 20 yards wide, and there’s a forest on each side. So if you’re not straight, you’re going to shoot about 120.”

U.S. and beyond: Torrey Pines in San Diego. It’s not in the greatest shape because it’s a public course, but Norbie likes to test his mettle against the PGA pros who have played there.


Rick Emerson

Founder, Inside Edge Golf, Eden Prairie

How often do you play? “I used to get out about three times a month, but lately not so much,” he says. “I had heart surgery about a year ago. It was just a valve problem that I’ve had since birth. But the surgery had some difficulties. I ended up having a couple of heart attacks after the surgery, and they had to open me back up and do a bypass. That kept me out for a while. But I’ve been able to get back into the swing of things, so to speak.”

Handicap: “My handicap is my driver,” he laughs. But it’s 18, if you’re counting.

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “Definitely the Meadows at Mystic Lake [in Prior Lake]. I really like the layout. If I have a problem, it’s slicing. The Meadows is less woodsy than a lot of courses, so it doesn’t completely punish you if you’re off line. It’s not like some courses, where if you hit it a little bit off line you’re dead and you’ve got to take a drop. It’s a beautiful course, too, and they keep it in beautiful shape.”

Greater Minnesota: Emerson occasionally gets a group together to head up to Giants Ridge and play the Legend and the Quarry. “I guess the cliché is, ‘It’s tough but it’s fair,’” he says. “If you know how to play the course and you hit your ball reasonably where you want to, it can be a lot of fun. But it’ll also get you if you’re not careful. There’s a par-3 on the Legend course where you’re hitting across the lake that’s just gorgeous.”

U.S. and beyond: Emerson’s previous job in market research involved travel, so he’s played in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and several other major metropolitan areas. He particularly likes Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club near Phoenix, for its gorgeous scenery and immaculate condition.

He and a couple of friends are planning a trip to St. Andrews for their 50th birthdays. “That’s the next big thing for me,” he says. “The good thing is, I have it on my simulators [at Inside Edge], so I can practice and be ready!”


Leigh Klasse

IT capability architect, Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Golden Valley

How often do you play? “I play once a week in a nine-hole league, and then I usually play Saturday and Sunday. I’ll play with some of our vendors if the opportunity arises, but usually just with friends.”

Handicap: A golfer since childhood, Klasse first attended a small college, then transferred to the University of Minnesota so she could play golf. She walked on at the U and played two years there. She’s still a serious threat: “I’m a scratch golfer. My handicap is +1 or something like that.”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “I like the old-fashioned ones with the big trees, and I’m a public golfer. So I’ve got to say my favorite course in the Twin Cities is probably Keller Golf Course over in St. Paul. I also like the people there. They’re very friendly, and they have a nice staff and are very open to women golfers.”

Greater Minnesota: Windsong Farm Golf Club in Independence. “It’s still in the metropolitan area, but it’s probably my favorite in the state because I like the layout. It’s a links-style course, so it’s a little bit different from what I normally play. It’s always in great shape, and it’s a real challenge.”

U.S. and beyond: Klasse always tries to qualify for some USGA national amateur tournaments, so she has played in nearly every state in the U.S. Her favorite in the country is Eugene Country Club in Eugene, Oregon, with its smaller greens and towering redwood trees.


Mark Johnson

Co-founder, ArcStone Technologies, Minneapolis

How often do you play? Two to three times a week during the season, mainly after work and on weekends.

Handicap: 18.3

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Braemar Golf Courses in Edina. “It’s close to where I live and is one of the top public facilities in the area,” Johnson says. “It has 27 regulation holes, indoor and outdoor driving ranges, chipping and putting practice areas, and a nine-hole executive course. It’s reasonably priced, well maintained, and has a great staff of people. I am a member of the men’s club and play in leagues.”

Greater Minnesota: Purple Hawk Country Club near Cambridge. “It’s a good layout, well maintained, and is near my hometown of Braham.”

U.S. and beyond: Johnson says he has two worldwide favorites, and they’re both in the U.S. One is the LPGA International Champions course in Daytona Beach, Florida. “It’s a beautiful layout that will challenge players of all levels with five tee locations,” he says. “It has a lot of water and sand traps. I’ve been playing the course periodically since it opened in 1994.”

His second favorite is Northwood Golf Club in Monte Rio, California, an old nine-hole course that was cut through the redwood forest in 1928. He loves the spectacular setting and the relaxed atmosphere. “It’s like playing golf in a National Forest.”

Brian McMurray

Regional business manager, Scribe Software, Shoreview

How often do you play? Once a week in the summer. He also tries to fit in a round when he’s traveling.

Handicap: 12

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Troy Burne Golf Club in Hudson, Wisconsin. “I like the design. It’s a links-style course, and the scenery is just beautiful. I like courses where there’s beauty, not just challenge.”

Greater Minnesota: Both of the Giants Ridge courses—the Quarry and the Legend. “The Legend is cut through the hills and around lakes, and there are some vistas that are unbelievable, especially in the fall,” he says. “We have a condo up there, so we go quite a bit.”

U.S. and beyond: “In the U.S., I’d say my favorite is Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. It’s right along the ocean, and it’s like playing in Ireland or Scotland. I played it in April, so the course was in bloom and it was just beautiful.”


Dermot Rowland

Founder, Timber Lodge Steakhouse, Inc., Board member, Granite City Food & Brewery, Ltd.

How often do you play? As a child, Rowland worked as a caddy at Interlachen, Minnesota Valley Country Club, and Edina Country Club, and he has been playing golf for about 60 years. He still gets out as often as possible all year round, thanks to a winter home in Naples, Florida.

Handicap: “I broke a knee last year, and I have a neck problem, so my handicap right now ranges between about a 10 and a 16. I was always around 10, 11, or 12 without my ailments.”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Minnesota Valley Country Club in Bloomington. “We live right on the course and have been members for 27 years. I also belong to Bearpath.”

Greater Minnesota: Rowland also owns a home on Lake Darling in Alexandria. There, he belongs to the Alexandria Golf Club. “It’s a magnificent 18-hole course,” he says. “We’ve got a phenomenal greens keeper and a great pro. And it’s not a real easy course, either.”

U.S. and beyond: “In Naples, Florida, we play at Bear’s Paw Country Club. It’s one of Jack Nicklaus’s first courses. If you play from the back tees, it’s a very difficult course. I play from the middle tees. The course is in phenomenal shape, and I’ve got a lot of friends there—there are a lot of Minnesota people.”


Jim Morton

Chairman of the board, Fidelity Bank, Edina

How often do you play? About four times a week, all year round. Morton lives in Florida in the wintertime.

Handicap: 21

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “I guess I’d have to say Olympic Hills [Golf Club in Eden Prairie], because that’s where I’ve belonged since 1972. It’s a tough course but a fair course, and when I bring people out there, we all enjoy it. Some people say it’s too tough, so we play the forward tees.”

Greater Minnesota: The Woods Golf Course at the Pines At Grand View Lodge in Nisswa. “Hole after hole, you look out, and it’s ‘Wow.’”

U.S. and beyond: Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, Ireland. It’s built on a jutting peninsula looking out over the ocean. Morton says it’s his favorite spot in the whole world.


Marvin Schenk

Founder, Architectural Sales of Minnesota, Inc., Minneapolis

How often do you play? A couple of times a week.

Handicap: Schenk used to play in the one-digit numbers, but now he’s in the two-digit numbers because of his age (he’ll be 80 in 2011). That doesn’t sound so bad, he says, “but it is if you’ve played well in the past!”

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “I belong to Golden Valley Golf and Country Club, so I believe that one would be my favorite. I think the golf course is second to none. It’s a much different golf course than any other I know: It has six par-five holes, five par-three holes, and seven par-four holes. Most golf courses have four par-threes and four par-fives, and the rest of them are all fours. You really get a good variety.”

He says the Minneapolis Golf Club is another course he really enjoys playing. “It’s a hard course if you don’t play very well, and it’s an easy course if you play very well.”

U.S. and beyond: “I like to play in Florida because it’s so different than Minnesota. In Florida, you have very few hills, and you have a lot of water, so it’s entirely different than here. But really, all courses are different, and they’re all fun to play.”


Jay Abdo

Senior partner, Abdo Eick & Meyers, LLP, Apple Valley

How often do you play? Three or four times a week.

Handicap: He’s a 10.1 USGA handicap and usually shoots in the low to mid-80s.

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: “My favorite course is Minnesota Valley Country Club, where I belong. My favorite course to play as a guest is the Minikahda Club. I love the challenge and the beauty of the course, especially the lake and downtown skyline view from the 18th hole. My favorite public course in the Twin Cities to play is the Legends Golf Club of Prior Lake—I think it’s one of the nicest public courses in the country.”

Greater Minnesota: “I really enjoy the Brainerd lakes area golf courses, but especially Deacon’s Lodge.”

U.S. and beyond: Abdo has played most of the top-10 courses in the country, including Pebble Beach and Cypress Point Club (both in California), but his all-time favorite is Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey, which many golfers believe has more world-class holes than any other course. “It was the most memorable golf experience of my life,” Abdo says.


Matt Nowakowski

MBA program director, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

How often do you play? Once or twice a week during summer and fall. “I also try to work in some rounds if on vacation or traveling.”

Handicap: 11

Favorite Courses

Twin Cities: Nowakowski often takes his St. Mary’s colleagues to Brookview Golf Course in Golden Valley. He likes the long fairways, the well-attended ground, and the relaxing casual atmosphere. “It’s two separate courses,” he explains. “They have an executive par-3 for those who just want to go and play irons, or who don’t have a lot of golfing experience. And then they have the regular full-sized course for those who want to go out and really have at it.”

The Upper Midwest: Grant Park Golf Course in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Nowakowski worked there for four summers during college, and even met his wife there. Besides its sentimental value, Grant Park is a beautiful, historic course overlooking Lake Michigan. It was a lumber mill estate in the 1800s, and the clubhouse is the original homestead.

U.S. and beyond: Gray Plantation Golf Course in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “The walk up the 18th fairway is something right out of a Margaret Mitchell novel. It’s like walking back 200 years. It’s also a very challenging course where you have greens on three different levels.”

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