BRAINERD, Minn. -- Two top-100-caliber golf courses -- Deacon's Lodge and The Classic at Madden's -- anchor this rugged lake region three hour's north of the Twin Cities. Multiple family friendly resorts -- Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake, Grand View Lodge and Madden's on Gull Lake (all in Brainerd), and Breezy Point Resort in Breezy Point -- awaken from their winter slumbers, transforming into hotbeds of activity.
Lake destinations in the upper Midwest only have a short window of wonderful weather every summer, so beating higher green fees for an affordable getaway takes some planning. The good news is that three days of golf for less than $200 in green fees can probably even include a top-100 pick on the itinerary for those who can play during the week or don't mind last call.
Playing both The Classic ($105 weekdays/$119 weekends) and Deacon's Lodge ($99 weekdays/$109 weekends) can be done with some concessions, but that's risking twilight battles with mosquitoes and maybe not finishing the round. Twilight rounds after 3 p.m. at each will add up to $150 ($80 at the Classic, $70 at Deacon's). That leaves enough money for a $50 twilight round at one of the fine courses at Grand View Lodge, The Pines in Nisswa or The Preserve in Pequot Lakes. I slightly prefer The Pines simply because of its location right at the resort.
Another way to keep greens fees down is by walking.
That's not possible at Deacon's Lodge, a water-logged target test designed by Arnold Palmer 45 minutes from Brainerd. It's the preferred way to play, though, at The Classic. Madden's is promoting walking this summer by offering a much lower $85 walking fee during the week, a savings of $30 per round. Adding another walking round on one of its other courses -- Pine Beach East ($45) and Pine Beach West ($28) -- will bring some serious value into the equation, opening up the option of a coveted morning round.
An ideal schedule would be a morning walking round on the Pine Beach East to warm up the first day, followed by an afternoon living the lake life, maybe boating or swimming with family and friends.
Get up early the next morning for some fishing. That afternoon would be spent playing Bobby's Legacy at Cragun's . A great Dinner and Golf Special after 2 p.m. costing $79 will feed your belly and craving for birdies. (Afternoon tee times from 2-4 p.m. normally cost $70. Count the extra $9 against your food budget.)
The grand finale will be a relaxing weekday walk on The Classic ($85). Scott Hoffman, who is still the course superintendent, routed the only design he's ever done through towering oaks, which provides a natural, tranquil, traditional golf experience. Several covered wooden bridges that span the marshes add some real character.
Or, if you don't like that schedule, how about twilight times at The Pines ($50) and The Preserve ($50) on back-to-back days, followed by a golf and dinner special on the Dutch Course at Cragun's ($79)?
The combinations of courses are endless around Brainerd, but sadly, the summer season isn't. Better get cracking on those plans.