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Area Golf: Whitefish sitting strong after 50 years

The par 3 12th hole at Whitefish Golf Club near Pequot Lakes is a short approach shot over water to a large green with bunkers surrounding it. 1 / 2
The par 4 ninth hole of Whitefish Golf Club saw new tee boxes installed for the upcoming golf season.2 / 2

A half-century of stories, traditions and connections can be felt walking the fairways of Whitefish Golf Club.

If, and when, this year's golf season approaches, the 18-hole golf course and its golfing community will celebrate 50 years of creating memories on lush fairways and greens surrounded by mature, established trees.

If those trees could talk, they would start in 1968 when a group of people created the Ideal Development Co. and designed a nine-hole track with one green—the ninth—in the shape of the state of Minnesota.

That green shape is gone, but in its place is 18 holes spread out through 6,470 yards of northwoods seclusion. Coupled with the impressive layout is a clubhouse featuring a pro shop and a restaurant. In that pro shop is Steve Bengtson, head PGA professional at Whitefish for 23 years. He's seen his share of history at the course north of Pequot Lakes on County Highway 16.

"The success of this place is because of the people," Bengtson said. "It sounds kind of overused, but it's true. I think all golf courses have their core base of people that they serve. Our shareholder base, those 900 people who some are members and some are just shareholders, but that's always kind of formed that nucleus of people.

"Other than the product itself, which kind of goes without saying, I think that drives everything. If you have that nucleus of people that are happy to be there, who enjoy the facility and you have programs for them, you keep improving the product, that's what keeps the wheel rolling."

Despite a large number of shareholders and members, Whitefish has always been a public course. Bengtson said his members are the best salespeople for bringing in non-member play. Either through inviting people or talking up the course, public play is a large component to Whitefish's success.

"People around here like something a little more personalized," Bengtson said. "It's having a product people enjoy playing is No. 1. Having a culture by having good service and staff members that are attuned to service, is another big reason.

"I hope guests get the same experience our members get, but if you're out here on a decent day and the course is usually in good shape where people will go, 'Wow, this is kind of fun.' It's quiet, secluded and I think it can also surprise a person."

Whitefish grew to 18 holes in 1985 but constant improvements keep the course fresh and interesting. New greens, refurbished cart paths, enhanced bunkers and tee boxes are constant items on the course's to-do list.

Included in those improvements is making sure Whitefish is a test, but also a unique experience for all levels and more importantly sexes. Whitefish boasts one of the more active women's leagues in the area.

"I think that's because our membership, in general, is made up of couples," Bengtson said. "We have a lot of couples, but that has a lot to do with the golf course. It's playable for a wide range of people.

"It allows people to walk. Couples can play it together and both enjoy it, which I do think is a differentiator."

The forward tees cover 5,110 yards with the white tees stretching to 5,733, and the blue tees cover 6,128 yards with the tips stretching to the 6,470.

To celebrate everyone's hard work in making Whitefish one of the top stand-alone golf properties in the area, this season will feature a number of promotions and activities.

"We have something called 50 days, 50 prizes where we are giving away prizes over a 50-day period with three grand prizes sprinkled into that," Bengtson said. "That starts May 27 and runs through July 15 where we are going to have an event on that day. We'll have a customer appreciation day for a week in June.

"We have some other stuff that's going on for guests who come out on the weekend—they'll get a little tee prize. It's just a thank you and a welcoming thing for people."

Plans are in place to make sure Whitefish maintains its status in the golf area for the next 50 years.

"We're just going to keep chipping away at making the product better and better," Bengtson said.

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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