Sunday, October 07, 2007

Course Review: Hidden Creek Golf Club

Hidden Creek Golf Club
Owatonna, MN

NOTE: From time to time, I visit courses in my area and give my impressions. I am not compensated to give these reviews.
View bottom of posting for rating categories.

In the midst of Minnesota corn fields is a little bit of Scotland. Hidden Creek Golf Club, a links style golf course, boasts four sets of tee boxes and a very lengthy 7,000 yards from the tips. The course is located just south of Owatonna, and the city is only 35 miles south of the Twin Cities and home to Wenger, Owatonna Tool Company (SPX) and Federated Mutual. Hidden Creek is the only bent grass course in the area. No bermuda grass for these guys.

Started twelve years ago by former Minnesota politico Dean Hardle and 36 private investors, the course is one of only a handful of links style courses in Minnesota and plays a lot harder than it looks. To the uninitiated, a links courses looks like it has no more challenge in it than a cow pasture. Not so. Hidden Creek requires that you know which club to pull out of your bag at the right time. Do you lay up or cut the dogleg and drive the green? Decisions.

A links course is atypical in a state like Minnesota. Often created from former farm fields, a links course takes advantage of land contours and tries to trick you into pulling out the wrong club or think your skills are better than they are. These types of courses don’t have an attitude problem or a big ego. They accept their limitations and try to compensate with well-placed swales, native grasses and deep bunkers. Water only plays a small part of a links course’s thinking because if there were a lot of water it would have been turned into a resort course.

During its lifetime, Hidden Creek has had a checkered past. Poorly managed until recently, the course had less than seventy paying members and was badly floundering. In 2006 management was taken over by John Jensen, an original investor and Carol Kuntz. Under their tutelage they have lowered prices, increased membership to 130 members and started to turn around the course. If you get the chance to meet him, John looks surprisingly similar to Nick Faldo; a convenient advantage when running a golf course.

Annual memberships are only $595 (yes, less than $600), and local players have started taking to the course in a big way. Hidden Creek has tried to add value by offering reciprocal agreements with area courses. For those wanting to work on their game, it is the only course in the area with driving, chipping and putting practice areas.

When you visit Hidden Creek, you will find a large clubhouse that has a full bar and kitchen. Current cuisine is pretty weak, but they have the potential for more. Sidling up to the long wood paneled bar is like hanging out at the local watering hole. The staff is friendly, the bar is full and the costs are quite reasonable.

The course's event area can accommodate up to 150 people and has become popular for weddings and charity tournaments. Four tee boxes await your first drive. Most golfers will choose the 6220 length challenge of the blue tees, but if you are ready to play from the tips, you'll have to stop in one spot to wash your ball and a second spot to tee off; a bit inconvenient if you are persnickety about your golf ball’s cleanliness.

Another area that needs work are the out-of-bounds and hazards. A golfer unfamiliar with the course might get confused as to which direction to hit because the greens are set close together. Course maintenance needs some work. Not the fairways and greens, which were in fine shape, but the carts paths, signage and bridges. The course sometimes crosses narrow water hazards, thus the name Hidden Creek, but in spots the rickety old bridges are hazards themselves. I'm sure as the course strengthens itself financially, these will be updated.

Rates are a very big draw. You can find a round with cart for only $30 and often a $25 round can be snagged. If you asked nicely, managers John and Carol will be happy to let you play so they can show off their course and talk about their future plans. For beginners, seniors, juniors and ladies, Hidden Creek is a fine challenge for those just taking to golf. For those who like lots of trouble spots like deep rough, large bodies of water or highly manicure fairways, then Hidden Creek isn't the right course for you.

Location: 6
Friendliness: 6
Value: 6
Layout: 5
Playability: 8

The Hacker Rating of this course is based on the golfing experience for the average golfer. The course was rated on the following categories: Location -- easy access, easy to find, what’s nearby; Friendliness -- good service, cart girl, clubhouse, food choices; Value -- cost, what you get for your money; Layout -- length, bunkers, traps, difficulty, course style; Playability -- good for beginners, seniors, etc.
The rating is based on scale of 1 to 10 in each category with a total possible rating score of 10.0 .

Hidden Creek Golf Club
Owatonna, MN