Izatys Resort – Much More Than A Golf Resort
By R.J. Smiley
Since 1921 Izatys Resort has entertained fishermen and their families from the breathtaking shores of beautiful Lake Mille Lacs.
From its humble beginning as a mom and pop fishing resort with a few cabins, row boats and fish houses, Izatys has morphed into a 21st century resort with more recreational options than there are days in the week. Today, Izatys has something to entertain every member of the family any time of year.
For the past 45 years various owners have invested a large amount of hard cash into the resort attempting to compete with its Gull Lake neighbors north of Brainerd. The various ownership groups failed to make their updated resort a financial success, but left the property with an improved infrastructure and a constantly growing variety of amenities.
Over the past few years, Izatys has found its sweet spot on the shores of the big lake. Finding their niche was a combination of luck, savvy management and the changing habitat of the grand lake.
The luck part occurred when the MN DOT improved U.S. Highway 169 into a four lane divided highway. With the construction of a bypass around the small towns, that once created a traffic nightmare bottlenecks, there is now only one traffic light between Elk River and Izatys. From the northern suburbs, guests at Izatys can be fishing, having a cocktail by the pool, or playing golf in less than 90 minutes.
The second bit of luck occurred when the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwa created Grand Casino Mille Lacs. This 24/7 gaming Mecca offers Vegas style entertainment only minutes from Izatys. For guests who need more excitement than the laid-back atmosphere on the Izatys’ lakeshore, Grand Casino fills that need.
The management team that now runs Izatys like a well-oiled machine has taken advantage of Lake Mille Lacs’ changing seasons. They have found a group of repeat customers who enjoy each of the kaleidoscope of seasons. Guests come for the outdoor seasonal recreation, but love the homey feel of a variety of accommodations, and the great food.
Management at Izatys offers each seasonal guest the opportunity to enjoy every toy (for both adults and their kids), during any season. Rental fees for snowmobiles, jet skis, cross country skis, sail and powerboats are reasonable and the quality of the toys is topnotch. Understanding what people want, then giving them exactly what they want is key to Izatys’ operation.
The final chapter in this Izatys’ success story is the changing of the habitat of the big lake itself. When the lake was invaded by the hated Zebra Mussels, area businessmen and resort owners thought they were experiencing fishing Armageddon. Since the European immigrants first found Lake Mille Lacs, it was known as the best walleye lake in North America. Don’t be fooled by all the DNR reports about the lack of walleye in Mille Lacs; there are still plenty of walleye to be taken – the problem is, anglers can harvest only one fish in a certain slot size and only at certain times of the year.
The walleye population on Mille Lacs is simply out of balance – too many large fish that cannibalize their young. With tough regulations the DNR feels that there will be a success story similar to Red Lake.
Trophy Bass And Muskies!!
The walleye numbers have shrunk as the smallmouth bass and muskies population have prospered. As the water in Mille Lacs has cleared (due to the constant filtering of the water by millions of Zebra Mussels), the habitat has become vastly improved for huge Smallmouth Bass and Muskies. In fact the bass fishing on Mille Lacs is so good that Bassmaster Magazine has held their annual Champions Tournament on the big lake. “We have never seen a lake with so many 5 pound plus smallies,” responded most of the championship fishermen.
The MN DNR believes that the next state record Muskie will come from Mille Lacs. There was a fish that was 57” long with a 30” girth caught and released recently. Izatys has fishing guides that will put their customers on the fish.
Golf at Izatys ranges from casual golf to championship golf with a driving range to sharpen those out of practice skills.
Izatys had the first golf course on Mille Lacs. In the early days it was a poorly maintained 9-hole layout. During golf’s golden era, a developer from the Twin Cities purchased the property and built 36 holes of championship golf as an amenity for the meeting rooms and townhouses for corporate retreats. He brought John Harbottle to design and build two golf courses. Blackbrook was the more difficult while the Sanctuary course was built more for the recreational golfer.
Harbottle learned his trade working for legendary golf architect Pete Dye. When golfers first experience Blackbrook they get a taste of Pete Dye magic set to music by John Harbottle. The early owners found that their ideas were great, but not the right fit for Mille Lacs.
Today casual golf is free for resort guests. The casual golf experience is a great place for families, especially kids and raw beginners to play a few holes of real golf on the few remaining holes on the old Sanctuary Course.
Blackbrook Golf Course winds through the marshy wetlands that abut Mille Lacs. Blackbrook has the low country feel of courses on Hilton Head Island, but has a pedigree that is all Mille Lacs.
Golfers new to Izatys often ask, “What is the signature hole at Blackbrook?” The immediate answer is always the spectacular 14th. The shortish par-3 offers a photo op of Mille Lacs that changes each day. When the north wind is howling across all 22 miles of water, golfers have gotten sprayed when giant waves collide with the elephant sized boulders that naturally line the hole.
This writer has witnessed many round-ending conversations as golfers review their rounds. Each has a unique story to tell about the litter of special holes that Harbottle and Mother Nature spawned. The par-3 holes at Blackbrook are as challenging as they are spectacular; each could be an award winner. The par-5 holes are to be played with caution (at least the first time around) as they offer scoring opportunities. Strength and fitness are required to effectively score on the wide variety of par-4 holes. Remember to make a wager about the number of putts required to hole out on #18.
The best thing about a round at Blackbrook is playing a great course at a public golf course price. Replays are a true bargain. Check the Izatys.com website for Play and Stay package deals.
Tee Times is a golf magazine, but it is our duty to keep our readers fully informed. If you are planning on a golf trip to Izatys allow your foursome a half day to experience what else Mille Lacs has to offer – less than two hours away from anywhere in the Twin Cities.