Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play 2020: North Dakota

Golfweek’s Jay Blasi, who is a golf architect, wrote in August about the commonalities among the best courses in the world, as judged by the Golfweek’s Best national panel of course raters.

Along with many top courses being built alongside large bodies of water and creating a sense of place, one strong commonality is wide-open views of the surrounding scenery. Thirteen of the top 15 Classic courses built before 1960 in the U.S. feature such long views.

“Open sites may have trees but don’t isolate the holes, meaning there are long views across the property,” Blasi wrote. “Open sites allow the wind to play a role, and the designs often have more width and offer more strategic options.”

Such is certainly the case for the best courses in North Dakota. The top three layouts on the 2020 Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list for public-access tracks in the state feature wide Western vistas that are as good as the golf.

Hawktree Golf Club, No. 2 in North Dakota on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list in 2020 (Courtesy of Hawktree Golf Club)

Golfweek ranks courses by compiling the average ratings – on a points basis of 1 to 10 – of its more than 750 raters to create several industry-leading lists of courses, including the popular Best Courses You Can Play list for facilities that allow non-member tee times. These generally are defined as courses accessible to resort guests or regular daily-fee players.

The Links of North Dakota – opened in 1995 near Ray – is No. 1 on that list in North Dakota and certainly fits the billing as a site with long views. Built by Stephen Kay on bluffs above Lake Sakakawea, which is part of the Missouri River, the Links of North Dakota features panoramic scenery that includes the river valley and rolling hillsides.

Hawktree Golf Club in Bismarck, which ranks No. 2 in the state among public-access courses, features similar long views and elevation changes plus one unique feature: North Dakota native Jim Engh designed the course with black sand in the bunkers. The material is actually coal slag, a recycled product from coal-burning power plants, and its use is intended to help prevent the bunkers being swept clean by the frequently strong winds of the Midwest.

Both those courses also receive prominent Golfweek’s Best accolades beyond the state borders – each is also ranked among the top 100 Best Courses You Can Play in the United States. The Links of North Dakota comes in at No. 35 on that prestigious list, and Hawktree is No. 60.

Bully Pulpit, No. 3 in North Dakota on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list in 2020 (Courtesy of Bully Pulpit)

Bully Pulpit in Medora is No. 3 among North Dakota’s Best Courses You Can Play, and the Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry layout is another example of stellar long views across the property.

The municipal Riverwood Golf Course in Bismarck is No. 4 in the state on Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play list, and Vardon Golf Club in Minot is No. 5.

All in all, they make for what might be a surprisingly strong golf scene in North Dakota. This year Golfweek averaged the ratings of the top five public-access courses each state to compare elite-level golf across the country, and North Dakota finished at No. 25 in the county. Oregon is No. 1 on that list. North Dakota’s neighbors vary in rank: Minnesota is No.16, Montana is No. 39 and South Dakota is No. 44.

Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in North Dakota

1. Links of North Dakota

Ray (m)

2. Hawktree

Bismarck (m)

3. Bully Pulpit

Medora (m)

4. Riverwood

Bismarck (m)

5. Vardon

Minot (c)

Golfweek’s Best Private Courses 2020 in North Dakota

1. Fargo CC

Fargo (c)

2. *Apple Creek

Bismarck (m)

3. Grand Forks CC

Grand Forks (m)

(m): modern; (c): classic
* New or returning to the list

Golfweek’s Best 2020

How we rate them

The members of our course-ratings panel continually evaluate courses and rate them based on our 10 criteria. They also file a single, overall rating on each course. Those overall ratings on each course are averaged together to produce a final rating for each course. Then each course is ranked against other courses in its state, or nationally, to produce the final rankings.

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