CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The new NFC North Division stands for everything that is right about professional football. The frozen tundra of Lambeau field in Green Bay, the classic uniform and helmet of the Chicago Bears, the maniacal fans of Minnesota, and the Thanksgiving Day comfort of the Detroit Lions.
When it comes to the links, however, it's hard to say that the cities of the NFC North are golfing "hotbeds." Green Bay, Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul are snowed in five months out of the year. And the frigid wind blowing off Lake Michigan in Chicago is enough to make any diehard duffer take up bowling. Suffice to say, the hearty folk of this region consider the game a seasonal treat, at best.
Never fear, though, loyal football fan, as absence makes the heart grow fonder. Plenty of good golf is there for the taking in these shining metropolises of the Midwest, serving as a much needed diversion before the onset of the grueling regular season. From the traditional trappings of Cog Hill to the modern nuisances of Whistling Straits, there's no reason in the world not to grab a fat braut at the turn and make a run at 36 holes a day from now until kickoff.
Here's how the gridiron meccas of Americas' breadbasket stack up for the traveling golfer.
Da Bears and da daily fee golf scene are to be respected once again this season. We all know about Chicagoland's private golf sanctuaries (Medinah, Chicago Golf Club) and its classic semiprivate venues (Cog Hill), but affordable public access golf abounds around the Windy City. Pine Meadow Golf Course is a traditional, well-known facility in Mundelein about half a hour north of the city, and White Deer Run is just a 5-iron away in Vernon Hills.
West of the city is Heritage Bluffs Public Golf Course in Channahon, about one hour's drive from downtown. The TPC at Deer Run, the new home course for the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, is a fantastic layout designed by D.A. Weibring located about two and half hours west of the downtown (but worth the drive). Northwest of town sits Kemper Lakes Golf Club, home of the 1989 PGA Championship and one of the finest daily fee facilities in the region.
If you want to find quality golf around Green Bay, you need to be willing to make like a defensive back and cover some serious ground. Head south and west young man, to one of America's finest golf resorts, the American Club at Kohler. The "AC" is home to two of the Midwest's most highly touted golf courses: the Pete Dye designed tandem of Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits, and a new Dye layout, the Creeks.
Cheeseheads will also find the new Robert Trent Jones II designed University Ridge in Verona worth the road trip, while RTJII's Sentryworld is so centrally (smack dab in the middle of the state) located it's hard to pass up. If the "big" city of Milwaukee is more of your bag, then check out the Bog in Saukville. The Bog was co-designed by the King and Ed Seay, and is considered the top public play around the town that beer built. An hour outside of the city is the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa, home of the Brute and Highland courses.
Turns out, one of the best new tracks you can play in the Twin Cities area is actually in Wisconsin. The St. Croix River Valley, to be more specific, and the Troy Burne Golf Club to be precise. Minnesota native, PGA Tour veteran, and UM alum Tom Lehman teamed with the environmentally savvy team of Michael Hurdzan and Dana Frye to craft a full-on test of golf worthy of a Tour stop.
Unless you're keen on sitting around town and watching the upstart Twins beat up on another A.L. Central opponent, jump in the wagon and head 130 miles north to the Brainerd Lakes region. Once known for its fishing and home cooking, Brainerd has blossomed into a first-rate golf destination chalked full of both bass and birdies.
You'll have to drive one or two hours outside of the city unless you plan on sparking 3-irons off the concrete. Once you grab the keys and motor out of Motor City, you'll find a smattering of courses waiting on you like a middle linebacker on a blown counter play. The Gails Course at Lakewood Shores Resort is a good place to start, with its reasonable green fee and links style design.
Arcadia Bluffs, a relatively new Rick Smith design track in Arcadia is an excellent (and pricey) place to finish. Treetops, located in scenic Gaylord is the Mac Daddy resort of the state, but it is a good four-hour drive from the Silverdome.
1. Green Bay - Favre healthy, ready for encore to last year's 12-4 finish and suited up with new targets in Terry Glenn and rookie Javon Walker (Florida State)
2. Chicago - Urlacher ten pounds heavier and faster? Yikes. Ball control and defense are good things, but they can only get you so far. Plus, playing away from home this season won't help the Bear's cause.
3. Minnesota - Culpepper and Moss are two of the best talents in the league, but will Moss shut up long enough to develop the "intangibles" needed to make a run deep into the playoffs?
4. Detroit - The sound coming from the Motor City is that of rebuilding, but it is a long way to the top in one of the league's most competitive new divisions.
July 30, 2002