By Dan Vukelich
If you’re looking for a different sort of late fall golf getaway, Cragun’s Resort on Lake Gull near Minneapolis is a delightful melding of a North Woods experience and championship golf.
In July, Minnesota native and 1996 British Open winner Tom Lehman completed the transformation of the resort’s two overly difficult 1990s-era Robert Trent Jones Jr. courses into enjoyable, yet challenging resort courses.
This rustic lakefront resort, known mainly as a fishing and boating getaway for Minnesotans since it opened in 1940, is intent on building a national reputation as a golf destination.
Cragun’s has hosted two PGA Tour Canada events, and resort officials have been informed by the PGA Tour it will host another in 2024 following the merger of the Canadian and Latino America tours into the PGA Tour Americas.
A key draw for visitors over the years has been the resort’s mile-long sand beach on the 15.5-square-mile Lake Gull. While most of the resort’s 1940s lakefront cabins have been modernized, the interiors of a few retain the 1940s, knotty-pine feel guests who first visited as children say they enjoy.
In 1996, Robert Trent Jones Jr. built two 18-hole golf courses and a par 3 course. Over the years, however, the target golf style of the Jones designs proved too difficult for many guests, resort officials said.
The $15 million renovation by Lehman leaves Cragun’s with two eminently playable 18-hole layouts – the par-72, 7.070-yard Lehman course and the par-70, 7,001-yard Dutch course – built largely on the footprints of the Jones courses – plus the par 3 course that Jones designed. When opened for play in 2025, an extra nine will allow the Dutch course to be played as a 27-hole rotation.
The renovation by Lehman and his design partner, Chris Brands, significantly widened fairways and took out trees that encroached on lines of play. They also eliminated many forced carries from tee boxes and fairways that are especially difficult for high handicappers. Both the Lehman and Dutch layouts are parkland courses that play firmer and faster than those they replaced.
Eric Peterson, general manager of the resort, said resort officials wanted two things from the renovations: some buzz among serious golfers and courses that are more enjoyable for higher handicappers to play.
“We had already made some slight adjustments to [the Trent Jones Jr. courses] to make them a little bit more playable, and improve the enjoyment factor of the golf courses, but they were very difficult golf courses,” Peterson said.
“In the late ’90s when Robert Trent Jones Jr. was designing golf courses, that was the trend – to make golf courses difficult,” Peterson said.
To differentiate the Dutch and Lehman courses, the design team built the Lehman course’s bunker faces with partial simulated sod revetments with clean edges, giving them a linksy feel, while the Dutch Course’s bunkers have strips of unmowed fescue rough, or “eyelashes,” atop their faces.
“Obviously, it’s not links land, but the look of the bunkers is totally different,” Lehman said. “So, I think we have two very distinct-looking golf courses. They play differently and they look different, which is what we were aiming for.”
Cragun’s has four restaurants and two bars. It also offers lunch and dinner cruises on the North Star, a yacht with bar service that plies the waters of Lake Gull from spring through October.
Although the resort is open year-round, its golf season is from April 1 to October 30. Cragun’s offers shoulder-season stay-and-play specials in early May and late October.The resort is a 12-hour drive due north of Tulsa and two hours west of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, which is served by most major airlines. Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, 15 miles from the resort, has limited daily service via Delta Airlines.