Free travel guides are prepared by many states for distribution to visiting tourists. They typically highlight the state’s attractions. We picked up a brochure in North Dakota and began to read it as we drove toward our destination. I had not given much thought to the number of golf courses in the state, but it is easy to conclude it must be a limited number after considering the northern climate combined with a total population of 672,591. The guide helped put it perspective by listing all of the cities that contain 18-hole courses - - - all 19 of them. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the guide also listed all 88 cities with 9-hole golf courses, and the only city in the state with a 27-hole course.
We departed Dickinson in the morning with 100-miles remaining on our journey to Bismarck. The traffic along I90 provided a vivid reminder that we were traveling through wheat country at the tail end of the custom combining season. Along the road we passed a caravan driving to their next job. I always like to see good John Deere customers.
Semi-tractor pulling a trailer with a JD combine and a grain truck
Semi-tractor pulling a trailer with a JD tractor and a grain cart
Pick-up truck pulling trailer with a JD cutting platform
Pick-up truck pulling their living quarters
Semi-tractor pulling a grain truck
Semi-tractor pulling a trailer with a JD combine followed by a 2nd trailer loaded with a JD cutting platform
As the 2nd largest city in the state, Bismarck does have an 18-hole course. The Hawktree Golf Club is ranked by Golf Digest as the best course in North Dakota. Designed by James J. Engh, the course opened for play in 1999.
Location: Bismarck, ND
Golf Digest Best-In-State Rank: #1
Date: 12 Aug, tee off at 1:10 PM
Conditions: partly cloudy, 2 MPH wind, 69 degrees
Lost balls: 1
Score: 86 on a par 72
Sometimes it appears as if a hidden force is working against me. The pro shop was expecting me to show up with a foursome, not a single player. We must experienced a Cool Hand Luke type of “failure to communicate” during the phone call when I requested a tee time. After checking their reservation sheet I was thrown into a three-some 20-minutes later than my expected tee off. Warming up on the practice range provided an AFV moment when two cock pheasants decided to strut across the range - - - in the midst of a hailstorm of golf balls. (AFV: America’s Funniest Home Videos)
I pulled up in front of the clubhouse after the warm-up to kill some time before teeing off. Another golfer commented to me as he walked by that we would be facing some elevation changes on the course today. His infectious smile was an open invitation to strike up a conversation, which lead to tee off earlier in a two-some by joining his family on the round. I accepted the invitation.
The West family was on a 10-day family vacation. They left their rural home 30-minutes south of South Bend, Indiana on Thursday evening. The men played golf near the House on the Rock in Wisconsin before arriving at Hawktree on Sunday afternoon for their 2nd round of play. Mike works in the shipping warehouse for Bendix, a supplier of air brake and filtration systems heavy-duty commercial vehicles located in Huntington, Indiana. Mike’s wife, Laurie, and their daughter, Joni, were riding along on the golf carts while he played golf with their son, Chad. Laurie works as a supervisor for Fox Products in South Whitley, Indiana. Having spent most of my career at John Deere closely associated with manufacturing, it was very interesting to meet someone involved in the manufacture of bassoons, English horns, and oboes. All of their products undergo a final inspection by a person who plays the instrument to insure it produces the proper sounds. I could only imagine the “training” process one must go through to become qualified as an inspector at Fox Products.
The family has a propensity for shipping operations. Joni works in a shipping warehouse where she fills orders for work apparel. Chad works in the shipping warehouse for Midwest Poultry, a supplier of chicken eggs to Kroger Foods. The warehouse handles the daily output from 1.5 million laying hens, who average 1-egg/day. Midwest Poultry is still in the construction phase of their plans to enlarge the facility to 3.5 million hens by late November. That is a lot of chicken feed . . . and eggs . . . and chicken shit (literally) to deal with every day.
The West Family: Mike, Laurie, Chad, & Joni
The course did challenge us with elevation changes, the most dramatic example was hole #3 were all three of us managed to hit the green and 2-putt for par. It was my first par of the day, on the heels of a triple bogey on hole #2.
442-yard par 4 hole #2 (how could I not take this picture of the green???)
148-yard par 3 hole #3 (that is the green in the distant looking valley)
371-yard par 4 hole #4
512-yard par 5 hole #5 (view from the green looking back up the fairway)
Once in a while you hit a shot that is worth remembering. One of those moments came along on the 7th hole. After a decent tee shot I succumbed to the temptation of going for the green on the par 5 hole with my 2nd shot. It did not work as planned. I muffed the shot and landed in the fairway bunker. Only a stroke of luck kept my ball from plopping into the adjacent pond. My 150-yard shot-of-the-day out of the trap over the water landed on the green. A 2-putt allowed me to make the first of 3 pars in a row to finish the front nine at 43.
519-yard par 5 hole #7
Hole #7 (view of 2nd shot from the fairway)
Hole #7 (view of 3rd shot from the fairway bunker)
Hole #7 (view from the green looking back up the fairway)
179-yard par 3 hole #8
Joni was acting as the family’s travel agent while we were playing. She was making arrangements on her cell phone for a dinner theatre show that evening, the timing of which meant they left the course after completing 14-holes of play. I twice volunteered to introduce the single 27-year old Joni a group of young men playing just ahead of us. Although slow play had created opportunities for us to catch the group on two different tee boxes, Joni declined my offer to act as her match-maker. She was thinking that a girl from Indiana did not want to meet a guy who lived in the far-away and cold Bismarck, North Dakota. It turns out not all of the boys live in North Dakota.
529-yard par 5 hole #10
331-yard par 4 hole #11 (view from the green looking back up the fairway)
208-yard par 3 hole #13
Hole #13 (view from the green looking back toward the tee box)
I played hole #15 by myself after the West family departed. After making a quick par I caught up to the boys and they invited me to join them for the final 3-holes. Jon Schaeffer is a television reporter and part-time news anchor for KXMB in Bismarck. He grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. He met his two playing partners & college buddies at the University of North Dakota. Landon had recently quit his job working for John Deere at the Valley City, North Dakota operations. He was taking a break to play golf before beginning his search for a different line of employment. Matt was working odd jobs in Cincinnati, Ohio while waiting for an opening in his chosen field as an air traffic controller.
151-yard par 3 hole #15
Hole #15 (view from the green looking back toward the tee box)
The boys: Matt, Jon & Landon
I had been playing fairly well on the back nine until hitting into the sand trap on hole #17. The sand traps at Hawktree contained black slag, the same material I missed getting any experience with at the Old Works course in Montana. While my first opportunity to hit from a trap provided me with a shot-of-the-day on hole #7, the trap on hole #17 provided a polar opposite outcome (triple bogey). I was not the only person who hit into a trap. Jon’s competition with Landon ended with a long-ball driving challenge on the hole #18 tee box. After Jon’s drive landed in a fairway bunker Landon could not resist the temptation to record the moment for his buddy. Landon walked away with honors from the match after shooting a 3-over par 75.
Landon catching a picture of Jon hitting from the hole #18 fairway bunker
513-yard par 5 hole #18 (view of 2nd shot from the rough)
Hole #18 (view from the green looking back up the fairway)
Sometimes you walk away from a round of golf thinking about missed opportunities. The game of golf parallels life’s experiences. So Joni - if you are reading this blog it is still not too late to not miss the opportunity of taking me up on the matchmaker offer. After 3-holes of golf with the boys, I know how to make it happen. Cincinnati is not too far from South Bend, and definitely much warmer than Bismarck in the winter!
Joni preparing to hit a ball into the wheat fields while we waited on the hole #7 tee box
She landed close to her targeted straw bale!