Yardage: 6,471 (I played a mix of white and blue tees)
I profess that I have not played a lot of the great courses in the United States. I have studied words and pictures of the greats for sure. However, out of the current Golf Digest top 100 in the United States, I haven’t played any yet. I’ve walked two during professional tournaments (Muirfield Village and Crooked Stick), but haven’t put my own peg in their grounds.
I’ll start my discussion of White Bear Yacht Club with this statement: If there are 100 golf courses in the United States that better than White Bear Yacht Club (according to Golf Digest), we’re very fortunate as golfers.
Seriously. WBYC is as good as it gets for me.
Allegedly the course is designed by Donald Ross. Their web site states as much. However, there is some dispute over that claim in the GCA arena. Some claim that it is in fact Willie Watson who should be credited with the design. Restorative work has been done recently by Tom Doak.
What you will notice right away at WBYC is the rugged land. The fairways are incredibly undulating. If this is the land the founders had at their disposable, they were incredibly lucky. You must be comfortable playing off all sorts of lies, because pretty much the only time you’ll get a level lie is on the tee.
The greens at WBYC are fantastic and very unique. Definitely takes more than one play to know them and know where you can miss and where you can’t.
The first hole will give you a taste of what you’re in store for in terms of not-so-level lies.
Clearly, the miss to the green is right. Of course, I missed short left. I should have got a picture with me down in that mess. Needless to say, I didn’t get up-and-down.
Here’s the look at 2. Each one of these fairways is so fun to look at.
The par 3 selection at WBYC is very good. There are two, possibly three, that I would consider all-world. Number 3 is in that group. It’s not more than a PW for most players. However, the target is tiny and well protected. One of those greens that has to be on a private course; otherwise it would get too much traffic. There are protecting bunkers front and right and a large hillside on the left. Hitting the green is a must.
The 5th hole starts with the scariest tee shot I’ve ever faced. Not from a golf perspective, but from a general life perspective! No way a hole like this gets built today. About 40 yards off the tee is a valley with a road; a pretty busy road. Any topped shot surely finds one of those cars, despite a burn built by the club. Thankfully for me, I hit what ended up being my best tee shot of the day, so it was a non-issue.
A look at 5 fairway.
A hole like 7 really makes me think this course can’t be a Ross. An undulating fairing slopes left to right. The real challenge is at the green, where placing the ball in the right quadrant is necessary for an eagle or birdie. My pictures don’t do it justice.
Here’s what the player deals with at the par 3 8th. Again, with playing partners ahead of me to show perspective.
The wild 9th is one of my favorite par 5’s I’ve played those far. It’s a veritable rollercoaster to the green. The drive area is mostly visible, but the second shot will be completely blind.
Getting a lower lofted club up in time to clear the hill will be a challenge for most players.
The 11th hole is a par 3 that doesn’t seem too special when you’re on the tee. It plays slightly uphill to a green that slopes back to front. It’s when you get to the green that you realize how much the green slopes. The pic below doesn’t do the slope justice.
While the green is fairly big, I would say maybe half of the green is pin-able. The only time the back gets pinned is during the Angry Bear, WBYC’s greenskeeper’s revenge.
One of my friends says the 12th at WBYC is Minnesota’s best hole. It was my favorite hole on the course, for sure. The back tee box is feet from the top of 11 green and has to be the smallest tee box I’ve ever played. If you’re fortunate to play WBYC, you must play from this tee box. Remember that road I talked about at hole 5? Yup, you play across it again. This time, the road is right in front of you.
Across the road is one of the best fairways I’ve ever played. It’s a beautiful downhill shot with a wide open fairway. Favoring the left side is the ideal approach into the green, only having to carry cross-bunkers that shouldn’t be in play for the better player. Bailing out to the right brings a long row of fairway bunkers into play, plus requires the player to play their second over a bunker.
The only way I can describe 13 is a rollercoaster. Above is the tee shot.
My friend found what being to the left of the green can do. I had to take this shot to show the perspective of the land.
14 is an interesting, shorter par 4. It doglegs pretty hard to the right. The safe play will leave the player with a ball-below-feet lie. The more challenging play would be to take on the green and go over the trees. Too far right is dead. The fairway runs out, and has bunkers short and right of the green, which would leave a very awkward long bunker shot for the second.
The green is small and tricky. Par is not guaranteed.
A look down 15, which rises up a ridge then levels out.
16 ends the great set of par 5’s. The drive must fit between a couple of fairway bunkers, narrowing the closer to the bunkers. This is another green that must be hit in the right area of the green, or else you can assure yourself of a three-putt. I tried to capture the slopes in the green, but it’s so hard to do with a point-and-shoot camera.
17 is another fantastic par 3. It’s a long par 3, but give you plenty of options to play the hole. There is plenty of bailout to the left with a huge fairway.
Taking on the green brings OB into play as the ground slopes hard down and right. Any miss to the right is likely pegging another one in the ground.
In my humble opinion, the finisher is a bit of a let down. It’s just a bummer, because pretty much every other hole on the course is outstanding, and that’s the hole you leave with. The tee-shot is completely blind, but I don’t mind that. It’s the approach shot with a small pond guarding the green that just seems completely out of place with everything played before it. I don’t know enough of the history of the course to know if that pond is original or not.
If I had to describe White Bear Yacht Club in one word, it would be: fun. When so many modern courses get built with the “Championship” moniker, having to be at least 7,000 yards, with exceedingly difficult layouts, WBYC is the antithesis. It tips out at 6,471 yards, it has a mix of 5 par 5s and 5 par 3’s, it has a great mix of holes, and tons of natural land movement. It’s a course I could easily play over and over again and not get tired of it. While it lacks the tournament pedigree of MSP courses like Interlachen and Hazeltine, WBYC more than makes up for it with its character.