The Wilderness at Fortune Bay is a world class golf course perched atop high granite ridge in northern Minnesota. The panoramic views of the undisturbed wilderness and magnificent Lake Vermilion have changed little since since discovered in the 1700s. The Jeff Brauer design is a major part of one of Northern Minnesota’s premiere vacation destination, Fortune Bay Resort Casino.
The Wilderness, the third Brauer course in the area, has demanded the equal praises of its sister courses at Giants Ridge. The Wilderness is, in this writer’s estimation the prettiest of the three siblings. Absolutely no dollars were spared building this masterpiece on some of the greatest property in the world.
Lake Vermillion lakeshore, some of the most desired in Outstate Minnesota, demands huge prices per foot of lakeshore. The thirteenth hole, with Lake Vermillion running the entire length of the par 4, would have a retail value of over $10,000,000 if sold as lots. The spectacular course has received recognition from many national golf publications. Golf Magazine named The Wilderness as one of the “Best New Courses to Play.” Travel & Leisure Golf recognized The Wilderness as a “2004 Best New Public/Resort Courses.” And more recently GolfWeek listed The Wilderness to its Top 40 list. This year The Wilderness has received the following accolades: GolfWorld 2010 Reader’s Choice – Best Resort Course in the Nation #23 / #3 in Overall Value. Top 10 Best Casino Course in the Nation – LINKS Magazine. NGF Highest Customer Loyalty Score – Runner Up. Best Resort Courses – Golfweek 2010 (#35). Best Courses You Can Play – Golfweek 2010 (#1 in Minnesota).
With all the hype and promotion about the casino and the golf course it is hard to believe that you can actually miss your turn off Highway 169 on County Road 77 that leads to the Casino and Golf Course. Keep a sharp eye out for the only sign that points the way at the intersection of Highway 169 and County Road 77.
Allow me to give you the reasons why seeing this golf marvel and playing it should be at the top of your must do list.
THE RESORT FACILITY
Fortune Bay Casino and Resort has combined the very best in lodging, food and beverage, entertainment, full-service marina, rustic RV park, complete conference and banquet center, and award-winning heritage center.
Lodging – The hotel is new and each room has large bathroom with hair dryer and comes equipped with an iron and ironing board. All rooms come with cable TV with a variety of entertainment options and each room has a mini refrigerator. Most rooms have a very private balcony.
Food & Beverage – The hotel has a full menu restaurant that also has a buffet option seven days per week. The food is good and tasty and the prices are very fair. Example: 6oz filet plus 5oz lobster tail with salad or soup, fresh hot bread, potato and vegetables for $24.95. You can add the desert buffet for $2.95 and a half a craft of wine for $5.95. In addition the Casino has a deli, and the grill at The Wilderness has a very good but limited menu. The views from The Wilderness Grill are great and it opens at 5:30 AM for those with an early tee time.
THE GOLF COURSE
The Wilderness measures approximately 7,207 yards from the back tees and is a long hitter’s dream. With extremely wide fairways and elevated tees, where you can see exactly what each hole gives you, there is no guess work while playing the course, even for the first time. With five sets of tees, the course is enjoyable for golfers of all skill levels. The Wilderness has equipped each of the carts in their fleet with a new state-of-the-art GPS system that not only lets you know how far you have, but also talks to you and tells you how the smart players plays the hole. As you keep an eye on the GPS, you can watch your progress through each hole with a picture of your cart advancing to the green. For the everyday player, who plays at his local muni, this alone is worth the very modest green fee of $84 charged to guests at the casino hotel.
The Wilderness practice area brings every element into a learning, practice or warm-up environment. Using only the finest balls with a massive bentgrass teeing area, the practice area was developed for golfers from single-digit handicappers, to those beginning to learn the game. At the practice center, you’ll have the opportunity to practice every shot required on any golf course all within the idyllic surroundings of Fortune Bay Resort. The driving range is 300 yards wide with a bentgrass fairway and target greens, allowing you to hit every club in your bag. A 13,000 square foot practice putting green offers you every imaginable putt you will find on the course, and a practice bunker contains sand identical to the sand on the course.
Each hole at The Wilderness is names for an animal or tree native to the area. The Wilderness management thought this only fitting since The Wilderness is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. These sanctuaries are private and public properties that complement preserved lands. Granite out-croppings with untouched natural grasses are a prominent feature through out the course and add a unique flavor. It is impossible to describe each hole on this beauty, but I will attempt to give you a flavor of the course with some of my personal favorites.
The first hole, White Pine, is like the first chapter in an exciting action thriller. Once you start it, it is hard to put it down. White Pine is a huge hole with more acres fairway than many 9-hole courses have total. Your first look at size of White Pine, playing 649 yards, from the Gold Tee, has dual fairways and will take your breath away.
It is like meeting Shaquille O’Neal up close for the first time. With its twin fairways, each fairway is very wide, separated by a massive granite wall (about 25′ high and 150 yards long) the hole seems to go on forever. The left side fairway is only visible from the Golf Tee, but when the pin is cut in the left side of the 10,000 square foot multi-tiered green, it is the most desirable route. Your subconscious mind says, “What could be next?”
The third hole, named Walleye, is a slightly downhill par 3 that gives you a panoramic view of the vast north woods wilderness. The two-tiered green, with a pond in front, is cut into the hillside and looks like much like a drive-in theater screen from the old days.
The eighth hole, Timber Wolf, is my favorite type of par 5. With a wide fairway and reachable in two with a big drive, the risk-reward feature of this hole will leave you second guessing yourself about half the time. The slightly elevated tee gives you a perfect target, a granite rock directly in the middle of the fairway. A shot over this obstacle will give you a go at the green in two, but a ball to the right of the rock will more than likely end up in the water that guards the right of the fairway and the front of the green. Left is safe and a simple par, but the Lord hates a coward.
The series of really nice and challenging holes brings you to the stunning, aptly named thirteenth, Muskellunge, the sought after trophy fish for which Lake Vermillion is known. This 340 yard par 4 can be driven by a “big hitter” by taking his ball over the clear waters of Vermillion the entire route. Most balls never find land! Before you hit your tee shot on this $10,000,000 hole, walk out to the Gold Tee, it’s cut on a small rock ledge that juts into the lake with a single pine tree, and take a look at golf design at its finest. Tee-up an old one and give it a try! Years from now you will tell your grand kids about it…. if your ball stays dry.
The round concludes with the interesting split fairway, the par 5 sixteenth and the visually perfect eighteenth with the club house in the background. Reading one novel by a great author, you want to read another. Playing this golf course for the second time or the tenth time will be like reading another novel. It is so big you will never experience every element of this awesome track.
The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa spared no expense in building The Wilderness or in the daily maintenance of this no-blade-of-grass-out-of-place course, strictly for your enjoyment. If you see Vince Dodge, superintendent, or members of his staff while on the course, let them know how much you enjoy playing something that is PERFECT!