Will The USGA Love North Dakota?
By Torleif Sorenson on 5/20/14

Part of the Fargo Country Club course plays alongside the picturesque Red River of the North.
Occasional river flooding is an issue 1996 Open champion Tom Lehman plans to address in a redesign.


Each year, the United States Golf Association conducts 13 national championships for individual golfers, along with five team championships. And even though events like the Boys' and Girls' Junior championships are not seen on television, they are still prestigious enough that public courses and private clubs go to extraordinary lengths to be awarded one.

In the last 15 years, the USGA has had tremendous success in the midwestern United States — especially in non-major league cities. Now, the golf-crazy men and women of North Dakota are undertaking an effort to bring a USGA championship to Fargo Country Club — and already, the Fargo-Moorhead Athletic Commission and the Convention & Visitors Bureau are pitching in. It is a big enough story that even USA Today took notice.

Ironically, this all started in 1998, when the famous Riviera Country Club was awarded the U.S. Senior Open. Even though the Los Angeles metropolitan area has over 12.8 million residents, the USGA and Riviera only managed to sell about 10,000 tickets — a disaster. The very next year, the U.S. Senior Open went to Des Moines Golf & Country Club. Not only was the tournament sold out, but even the practice rounds sold out — a total of 250,000 tickets for the entire week. As a direct result, the Des Moines area now has an annual event on the Champions Tour — and DMGCC will host the 2015 Solheim Cup matches.

Since 1999, the USGA has also brought the men's Senior Open and the Women's Open at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kansas. Last summer, the Senior Open went to Omaha Country Club and drew the second-largest attendance in Senior Open history.

Some F-M area people want to see a U.S. Senior Open, while others prefer a U.S. Women's Open — in no small part to cheer on North Dakota native and 2009 U.S. Girls' Junior champion Amy Anderson, who now plays on the LPGA Tour.

Whatever event Fargo CC might earn, efforts and plans for a redesign of the course are already in the works. Minnesota native Tom Lehman, the 1996 Open Championship winner and burgeoning architect, has already submitted blueprints for a redesign that would include flood-proofing the course. Flooding affects the course every few years, most dramatically in 1997 and in 2009. Fargo CC head professional Mark Johnson says that, between a possible redesign by a big-name golfer like Lehman, a booming local economy, and the ridiculously high percentage of golfers in North Dakota, the effort could be worth it:
"Certainly, to have Tom Lehman's name attached to a facility, that validates a golf course and gives it instant credibility.

"Is it possible to have a world-class caliber golf course here on this site, and the answer so far is yes. Now, do we want to do something with the renovation? That's still up in the air."
Johnson expects that the club will need to prove to the USGA that the course will be guaranteed dry at tournament time. But the club has already hosted a USGA Boys' Junior Championship, while the course is ranked fifth-best overall in the state — and the best private course. A redesign is only likely to boost Fargo CC's reputation and ranking.

The Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area has more than 223,000 residents and at least 54 hotels, while Hector International Airport has undergone several terminal expansions in the last few years, along with a 9,000-foot runway capable of accommodating Boeing 747s. Clearly, enough infrastructure and a strong regional corporate base exists that the USGA may well be compelled to consider Fargo-Moorhead for one of their national championships.

No doubt, North Dakotans (and nearby Minnesotans) want this very much; it will be very interesting to see if they can make that happen.


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Image via WDAY-TV


[ comments ]
joe jones says:
I shudder at the thought that they will have a weather day like the opening scene to the movie Fargo. Not possible of course but with the bad weather luck that haunts the PGA who knows. Perhaps our Bryan K, a Fargo native can comment. Bryan. Are you still out there somewhere?
5/20/14
 
Bryan K says:
Very interesting, indeed. The Fargo Country Club is the only Fargo course (or any course within 100 miles of Fargo) that I've never played. That said, there are several factors here that play into Fargo's favor. Most importantly, Fargo supports events very, very well. The Fargo Marathon is a huge draw, and the NDSU Bison sell out every home game. Even more interesting is the local minor league baseball team, the FM Redhawks. They sell out in some of the most horrible weather imaginable. And that brings up the dilemma. The weather in Fargo is so unpredictable. We have had a company golf tournament the last eight years, and it has been cancelled due to weather twice over that span. Now keep in mind that we Fargoans play golf in 60 mph winds and steady rains. It takes lightning, tornadoes, or snow to keep us off the course. Fargo definitely has the infrastructure and support to make such an endeavor work. It's all about mother nature from that point on.
5/20/14
 
Bryan K says:
Also thought I'd point out that the courses in FArgo, even the municipal ones, are very nice. The Roger Maris Open at Edgewood and the Pine to Palm at the Detroit Country Club are the two most prestigious tournaments held in the area, and the courses in tournament shape are among the nicest I've ever played.
5/20/14
 
Torleif Sorenson says:
Bryan K: It has been a couple of decades since I've played both. If my schedule allows, Edgewood, DCC, and Wildflower are on my agenda for this summer. I also really want to play King's Walk in Grand Forks.
5/21/14
 
Bryan K says:
Edgewood was always my favorite because it was in town, and the trees helped shelter the wind. It's not the same course it was when I was a kid, though. It was destroyed by floods more than once over the last 20 years, and they have spent a ton of money changing some of the holes to try to mitigate that. My favorite hole was always the par 5 number 2 hole that is no longer in existence. They reworked the three holes around that end (holes 2, 3, and 4) to make them more flood resistant.

Wildflower is also an awesome course. I always made it a point to play there once per year. We played out there one year where it was so windy, I tried to lay up on a par 3 that was hitting into the wind. We're talking 50 mph gusts. No way I'm hitting that green. I walked away with a bogey, the best score in our foursome.
5/21/14
 
Bryan K says:
Also thought I'd point out that if it's been a couple of decades since you played Edgewood, the front nine and back nine have probably been switched.
5/21/14
 
Torleif Sorenson says:
Bryan K: Have you played King's Walk in GFK?
5/21/14
 
Bryan K says:
A few years ago, when I was still re-picking the game up, I went there in the early Spring when the course had just opened for the season. It's really hard to get a good idea of how the course plays from an experience like that, though. It was cold, windy, muddy, and wet. It was a links style course, which I typically like, but the extreme wind that day made it an extremely difficult excursion. Personally, I think the nicest courses in North Dakota are out west. Bully Pulpit in Medora, the Links at Ray (formerly known as Red Mike), and Hawktree in Bismarck are routinely rated the top three courses in the state, and they deserve it.
5/22/14
 
Torleif Sorenson says:
Bryan, all three of those courses you mentioned are on my "golf bucket list," in fact; their reputation quite nicely precedes them.
5/23/14
 
Bryan K says:
This is true, but I can't resist putting a plug in for my home state from time to time. If there was one course in the Red River Valley that even remotely compared to them, it would be Wildflower.
5/25/14
 
Bryan K says:
Though I have to add that after playing in the Phoenix area for a couple of years, the municipals in the F-M area (The Meadows, Village Green, Edgewood, Rose Creek, and my favorite executive course Osgood) compare quite nicely with the more expensive courses down here.
5/25/14
 
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