First there was Rich Beem, the free-spirited long shot, winning the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club outside Minneapolis-St. Paul last summer. Now the speck-on-the-map town of Shakopee, located a short drive southwest of the Twin Cities, is the latest underdog to make itself known. With convenient access to a handful of superb public courses, Shakopee is the Beemer of the Midwest, thriving despite the cities around it with bigger tourism budgets and many more courses. But Shakopee has all any golfer could want on a long weekend in the Midwest, both on and off the course. Which proves that you can compete with the big boys even if you're not one of them -- if you've got the goods.
Arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Drive 20 minutes west to Stonebrooke Golf Club , a semiprivate spread with a classic Minnesota palette of gently rolling terrain, stands of mature trees, and nearly enough water to fill 10,000 lakes. Meandering streams, marshy wetlands, and several ponds come into play on 13 holes of this relatively short (6,611 yards, par 71) but challenging track. There's even a ferry ride across O'Dowd Lake on the par-4 8th hole. Settle bets on Waters Edge, Stonebrooke's sporty 9-hole, par-30 executive course; or check in to your hotel.
Dine at Stonebrooke's new clubhouse restaurant, featuring an expansive terrace and waterfall-side seating, or at supper club Dangerfield's, a local favorite.
Breakfast at the hotel, followed by golf at Ridges at Sand Creek , a brilliant 3-year-old layout by native Joel Goldstrand. Eleven holes on this 7,136-yard spread are laid into thick woods below a ridge. The rest, on higher, more open terrain, are links-style creations. Sand Creek itself winds through several holes, with wetlands and well-placed bunkers in play.
Have lunch on the outdoor deck of Ridges Grill (good Buffalo wings, very good walleye sandwich). The weekday green fee of $32 applies on weekends after 2 p.m. At this price, play twice.
Got kids? Skip the afternoon round and head for Valleyfair, the Midwest's largest family amusement park -- 90 acres of rides, entertainment, and food (try a corn dog). If you like to play the ponies, Canterbury Park features Thoroughbred racing through September 2.
End the day in nearby Prior Lake at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel: upscale dining at Ribbons, casual fare at Minnehaha Cafe, or the far-as-the-eye-can-see Four Seasons Buffet.
Rise and shine. This is the day to tame The Wilds Golf Club , a Tom Weiskopf-Jay Morrish gem regarded as one of the top public-access courses in the Gopher State. From the tips at 7,025 yards (74.2 Course Rating, 147 Slope), The Wilds is a beast, but forward tees give everyone a chance to marvel at the broad, rolling fairways and wavy-edged bunkers filled with the same bright-white sand used at Augusta National. Several holes flank scenic Mystic Lake and a 40-acre marsh studded with old stumps. The skybox tee at the par-4 18th serves up a stellar view of the Twin Cities skyline.
Break for a great Sunday brunch buffet on the patio of The Wilds Pub overlooking the 18th green.
In no rush to get home? The replay rate drops to $50 roughly four hours before sunset. But for those traveling with shopaholics, your fate is decided. Make a beeline for nearby Bloomington, home to the Mall of America, the world's largest enclosed mall -- it's the size of 88 football fields. In all, it boasts more than 500 stores as well as Camp Snoopy, a large amusement park.
Leave before credit card meltdown.
The Deal [As of July 2003]
Mystic Lake Casino Hotel is a bustling 416-room hotel that offers casino gambling, a health club, day care, and other extras. Through September 15, a two-night package, including accommodations as well as green fees with cart on all three courses and range balls, is $313 per person, double occupancy. Taxes and gratuities are extra. The rate drops to $262 from September 16 to October 31. 800-813-7349; www.mysticlake.com.
Country Inn & Suites , a 63-room property, offers a two-night package at $304 per person, double occupancy, through September 15, with the same golf options as above. The rate drops to $250 from September 16 to October 31. 952-445-0200; www.countryinns.com.
For more information on the region and its golf programs, contact the Shakopee Convention & Visitors Bureau: 800-574-2150; www.shakopee.org.