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Hawktree Golf Club: Engh's Portfolio Lists Prairie Prize in North Dakota

By David R. Holland, Contributor

BISMARCK, N.D. - On a bluff overlooking the wind-swept prairie of North Dakota and Hawktree Golf Club, native son Jim Engh will challenge you to tell him which of the 18 holes are anywhere close to similar.

If you take the challenge, gazing out on this boundless horizon and the tawny-colored waving prairie grass, you will lose this bet.

"I'm very proud of the way Hawktree plays," said Engh, a young golf architect with a rising, award-winning portfolio. "It's an exciting layout that will make you think. Every time I play it I have to fight being brain tired after 13 holes and I have to focus and get myself started again to finish the final holes playing well."

Golf Digest thought so much of Hawktree Golf Club that it was named "runner-up" this year on its 2000 list of The Best New Affordable Public Courses in America. Engh's Red Hawk Ridge in Castle Rock, CO, was named to the same list in 1999.

Only a New Mexico fledgling, Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club in Sandia Park, N.M. ranked above Hawktree. The list includes new layouts with green fees of $50 or less.

In the March 19 Golfweek, Engh's The Sanctuary was ranked No. 56 and Hawktree was listed as No. 71 in a special "America's Best Courses" edition. The magazine ranked the Top 100 modern courses (post-1960).

GolfWeek's latest ranking makes Hawktree the No. 1 golf course in North Dakota, pushing it head of another heralded prairie-links daily-fee layout, The Links of North Dakota.

North Dakota golf? Admit it, if you have never been here you are going to envision flat and uninteresting land. But Hawktree's location is on rolling high-plains prairie with entertaining elevation changes and a tributary from the mighty Missouri River, Burnt Creek, flowing throughout.

The defining characteristic of Hawktree is the black coal slag in the bunkers. This recycled ingredient is fine-grained and plays much like regular sand, although it's a challenge for good players to get a lot of spin out of it. Elsewhere you will face the penalty of tall native grass in the rough and spacious greens surrounded by massive mounds.

Benj Stoick of Mobridge, S.D. couldn't wait to play Hawktree when it opened in April 2000: "Three friends and I flew into Bismarck to play Hawktree, a new course we'd been hearing about. Upon our return, we found it difficult to paint with words the incredible golf experience we'd just shared. Hawktree is as exciting as any course you've ever seen on television - with a little bit of Fort Wilderness thrown in! Regardless of where you live, this incredible course is well worth the trip."

Hawktree Golf Club was a homecoming for Engh, who also designed the ultra-exclusive Sanctuary in Sedalia, CO, and lives next door in Castle Rock, CO. Golf Digest named Sanctuary its Best New Private Course in 1997.

Engh grew up in nearby Dickinson, N.D. and would probably have been an outstanding all-around competitive athlete if it hadn't been for a childhood golf-cart turnover accident that left him with only one kidney.

"I never knew how serious the accident was until I saw the medical records years later," Engh said. "At the time I was too young to understand that I was in bad shape. What I really regret about the accident was that I was unable to play other competitive sports like football and basketball because it was just too risky."

So Engh turned his energies and focus to golf. "My dad was the local John Deere dealer," Engh said. "When he and a group of friends decided to layout and construct their own nine-hole grass-greens golf course, my dad contributed time and machinery to the project."

Little did Engh know at the time that a seed was planted for a future livelihood.

He developed his own golf-course design style through years of study and work experience. In 1980, Engh was working as a draftsman in an engineering firm, when he called Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Dick Phelps, designer of more than 30 golf courses in Colorado, for some advice.

"Phelps said I needed to get a landscape architecture degree first of all and spend my summers building golf courses," Engh said.

Engh formed his own company in the basement of his home in Highlands Ranch, then opened his Castle Rock office in 1991.

Alister MacKenzie, Donald Ross and Perry Maxwell have all influenced Engh's style.

"If Ross was alive today, I think he would be doing the same kind of stuff we are doing, especially with the technical ability we have for construction," Engh said. "The minimalist designer of yesterday would be pushing the envelope today, just like we are.

"My style is a mix of what I've seen new and old. You see things you like, like long flowing lines and strong points of visual accents," Engh said.

"A golf course should include a variety of interesting golf shots in addition to being a visually and aesthetically pleasing experience," Engh said. "It should be a place of emotional enjoyment and it is the responsibility of the golf-course designer to ensure that the golfer has that experience."

Although Engh likes to "push the envelope" he knows where the roots of golf are. He goes back to Scotland and Ireland when he can for the sheer enjoyment of playing the classics. And that's where he realizes even the newest trends were rooted in golf's birthplace.

"I think Sanctuary has lots of classic lines, but the property is so spectacular and unique," Engh said. "Perhaps the trends of golf architecture became less exciting at one point, but my hope for golf in the future is that people will look at something different with an open mind and appreciate it as a new golf experience. I think golf in Colorado is the most exciting in the world. You are hitting shots you can't hit any place else."

Sanctuary is one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world. Dave and Gail Liniger, RE/MAX co-founders, are the only members. Play is by invitation only, with about 20 golfers on the course each day. But Sanctuary does host charity events in which your green fee will be about $1,500 to $2,000.

Current Engh Projects

Engh has high hopes for another beauty, Redlands Mesa Golf Club which will open in 2001. It's located near Grand Junction, CO, next door to the Colorado National Monument.

"When I first viewed this location I had that same excitement that I did at Sanctuary," said Engh, listed as one of "The 25 Hottest Architects of the Year" in the October 15, 1999 issue of GolfWorld Magazine.

"I considered Sanctuary a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Redlands Mesa is my second chance at the same kind of opportunity," said Engh. 'It's a great site with boulders the size of houses. Every time I visit this location I shake my head - it's kind of a moonscape on rolling terrain with large mesas and valleys."

The Colorado National Monument includes semi-arid terrain with piñon pines and Utah junipers, ravens and jays, desert bighorns and coyotes. Not far from the golf club site you can find spectacular views from highland trails and Rim Rock Drive. Here you will see sheer-walled canyons and interesting rock sculptures in the Monument down to the Colorado River Valley, and then north to the gray-purple Bookcliffs and east to a huge flat-topped mountain called the Grand Mesa.

Another Engh design, Tullymore Golf Club in Stanwood, MI, will also be opening in late June 2001. It's his first course east of the Mississippi River.

"Tullymore was constructed on a site that consisted of 65-percent wetlands within a wonderfully mature forest of oak, ash and pine trees," Engh said. "We avoided disturbance of all wetlands, yet were able to bring these beautiful areas into play on 14 of the holes. I'm really excited about this golf course."

Tullymore Golf Club will have more than 2,000 feet of boardwalks to transport golfers above these protected natural areas. Wildlife abounds and golfers must share the course with whitetail deer and wild turkeys.

Hawktree Golf Club

3800 Burnt Creek Loop
Bismarck, ND 58501
Telephone: 701-355-0995 or 888-465-HAWK (4295)
Internet: www.hawktree.com.

Green Fees: Opens in April. $42, half cart, $12. $25 for nine holes, walking is allowed. Range, $3 for 50 balls.

Jim Engh: James J. Engh, Golf Design Group, Inc. - http://www.enghgolf.com.

Directions: From Bismarck, go North on Highway 83. At blinking light (Highway 1804) turn left. Travel 2.8 miles (West). Make a right turn (North on gravel road). At Dead End turn left (West - .2 Mile). Then make a right (North) at gate.

Where to Stay

Listing of nearby hotels: www.hawktree.com/ClubInfo/Motels.htm.

Check out Hawktree's Unique Yardage System:

Other Engh Honors

Jim Engh was named to the elite list of "The 25 Hottest Architects of the Year" in the Golf World Magazine. Engh's Red Hawk Ridge, in Castle Rock, CO, was named one of the Top 10 Best New Affordable Golf Courses in America in 1999 by Golf Digest. Red Hawk Ridge was named one of the Top 30 Municipal Courses in the USA by GolfWeek in 1999. Sanctuary in Sedalia, CO, was named Best New Private Course in America, 1997, by Golf Digest. Sanctuary's No. 1, a downhill 604-yard par-5 was also named as No. 28 on Golf Digest's" America's Greatest Par 5s". Golf Digest also listed Sanctuary in its America's 100 Greatest Courses in 1999.

Redlands Mesa Golf Club

www.redlandsmesa.com/index.htm, 1-877-501-MESA (6372)

David R. HollandDavid R. Holland, Contributor

David R. Holland is an award-winning former sportswriter for The Dallas Morning News, football magazine publisher, and author of The Colorado Golf Bible. Before launching a career as a travel/golf writer, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force reserve, serving during the Vietnam and Desert Storm eras. Follow Dave on Twitter @David_R_Holland.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • An Extraordinary Ride - Walking Allowed

    Joe Buege wrote on: Feb 5, 2006

    This article does not do Hawktree justice. I have been fortunate enough to golf some very dramatic courses, Whistling Straits, Wolf Creek, Royal County Down, Carne, Ballybunion. While I would not say Hawktree is world class, it's shot values and WOW factor are wwwwaaaaayyyyy up there.
    The clubhouse is perched 150 feet above most of the course which explores the ravines and watershed of a sprawling North Dakota landscape. Each hole is unique, each Par 3 it's own Signature hole.
    In spite of some grueling elevation changes, the course is walkable. My boys, 12 and 13, and I walked it in 4 hours. Recently ranked as 17th best Course you can play it could also qualify higher at fifty bucks or less. We paid less as part of the Lewis and Clark Trail promotion which included Links of North Dakota and Bully Pulpit.
    If there was a reason to go to Bismarck, this is it!


    • RE: An Extraordinary Ride - Walking Allowed

      Jake wrote on: Jun 24, 2010

      Excellent story, I'm not sure what Joe Bugger is talking about. I thought you described it perfectly. I could see the course through your descriptions. I thought it was an excellent course, but I certainly would not venture more than once to play it.