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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

Braemar Golf Course Holes #13 - #18

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

Hole #13 - "Top of the World" - Par 3: 204 - 189 - 178 - 151 - 144 - 133

"Vertical Elevation's Effect on Distance"

Demanding on walkers, yes, but the view is too good to pass up. Rarely does such elevation change (more than eighty feet downhill) present itself on a site that isn’t found in the mountains. Yet as such a dramatic view of the Twin Cities as this hole affords, the green still presents a challenge in the form of a series of high points scattered randomly from back to front and side to side. Three sand bunkers frame both sides of the green. A short tee shot must be followed up with a recovery shot played over a mound/ridge complex onto the putting surface.

“The original Braemar layout had a par-three in this same spot that played downhill to a similar green location. It was a favorite memory of the locals and if I was ever to use this land myself, the only solution was to be a tee on the hillside playing down to a green. Given all the restrictions, there was no other option to utilize the hill and I certainly wasn’t going to just cut the hill down.

Of course, when opportunity presents itself to utilize such a special landform, with such elevation change, it is almost my duty to take full advantage of it, right? That means a tough walk further up the hill in making this par three even more memorable. I was a bit torn with the plight of the walking golfer, but again, rarely does one get the chance work with 83 feet of elevation change on a par-three unless one is in the mountains. Besides, on busy days management will limit the use of the top tee for pace of play.

The views of surrounding holes four, five, six tees, fourteen, and fifteen are worth the trip as is the distant Minnesota landscape. From a design standpoint, the three-club difference from back tee to green tempers the long climb. The putting surface is broken into five separate pin placements set almost in a pinwheel fashion around the center point, some of which are separated by ridges and others by swales.”


Hole #14 - "Dune" - Par 4: 448 - 421 - 394 - 340 - 327 - 295

"Natural Ridge"

The uphill fairway for number fourteen is bisected by a natural ridge along the left side. This dogleg-left par four begs the golfer to cut the corner of that ridge, challenging a trio of bunkers cut into the ridge face. The farther one cuts the corner, the more penal each bunker in the ridge becomes. But the reward not only is a shorter approach, but a visible shot as well, with a clearer path to the putting surface the more you bite off. Another reason to take the shorter route is that the putting green is much more receptive to an approach from that side. The only drawbacks playing to that side are a large hollow waiting to swallow up any short approaches and a swift fall-off back-right.

The farther right (and conservative) one plays, the more blind the green becomes. To further challenge the safe play, a bunker encroaches upon the right side of the green more and more the farther right one plays off the tee. The higher right side of the putting surface will deflect any approach from the right side of the fairway.

“To me, if ever there was a landform screaming for a trio of sand bunkers cut into it, the natural ridge that cuts across the fourteenth fairway is it. The ability to create a dogleg left, uphill, with the riskiest route also being the most rewarding, fell into place perfectly as part of the new Braemar routing. A grouping of mature oaks to the left of the bunkers creates a great photographic composition as well.

A heady tee shot of almost 295 yards off the back tee or 257 yards from the regular tees cuts the corner the most. This tee shot will find a natural flat area to approach the green from without any interference from the sand bunker guarding the front right side of the green. What makes this hole really special to me is this natural flat above the ridge which doubles as an alternative landing area. So there are actually two natural landforms acting in concert with each other to create a great strategic golf hole. That’s hard to beat.

If one can’t challenge the upper fairway, a completely different strategy must be undertaken to ensure visibility of the putting surface from the lower landing area. Whereas the left side is the choice for the gambler, the conservative must make sure one plays far enough to the right to see the green. Any tee shot short of the fairway bunkers left will lead to a blind approach, but with a way to run their shot onto the green. Full visibility is provided along the right side of the fairway but the trade-off is a longer approach and the need to work around that greenside bunker.”


Hole #15 - "Laich" - Par 4: 421 - 396 - 373 - 362 - 318 - 272

"Low Profile"

This straight par four begins high on a perch with choices to be made as the golfer encounters a pair of fairway bunkers hugging the left side of the centerline of the hole. With more landing area available to the right, the natural inclination is to play to that side. The drawback is the approach shot from that side which will need to negotiate a bunker guarding the front right side of the putting surface.

The play to the left off the tee is more of a gamble as tee shots spraying too far left may just find a small pond. But the hole opens up from that side of the fairway, making an approach a much more comfortable proposition. The green, much like the rest of the hole, is low-profile with a putting surface that subtly extends out of the fairway but drops off steeply into hollows behind. The back left quadrant of the putting surface rolls down to a tier on the front right, guarded by a shallow, yet confining, pot bunker.

“The lowest part of the property is where the fifteenth hole sits. It is prone to flooding regularly so the main focus was to raise the fairway. It was practically dead-flat, maybe 3% from left to right. Raising such a vast area in one broad stroke can easily go in two directions and both are usually bad. Either there is too much artificiality with humps and bumps and awkward mounding or a wholesale fill leading to awkward, steep slopes trying to tie into existing grade along the edges. Both options are what I try to avoid at all costs.

Shaping here was crucial but my man Marc Burger knocked it out of the park with subtle, functional rolls from the foot of the tees all the way to the green complex. The model for most of the contour shaping for Braemar came from my favorite golf course, White Bear Yacht Club, which I discovered while re-doing Keller Golf Course in St. Paul. Although the White Bear site is more dramatic than Braemar, the take-home is a lesson in proper scale of large-scale landforms. Broad brush-strokes of strong slopes and waves where the bottoms are broader than the tops were the result on this fairway, always keeping enough surface flow in mind.

Hole #12 at White Bear Yacht Club

The green on the 15th hole at Braemar is one of my favorites on the course and is also a good example of “low-profile.” It is a plateau with subtle mounding in back and shallow bunkers front left and right. I would best characterize the front-right bunker a “splash” bunker, as it is almost a pot bunker with flat sand, requiring a “splash” out of the sand. The green is large enough that it includes a few broad ridges that require putts from either side to rise and then gently fall on the other side.”


Hole #16 - "Crossing" - Par 5: 577 - 557 - 494 - 478 - 402 - 349

"Infinite Strategic Variety"

The final one of Braemar’s par-fives is also the grandest in width, whose form is a direct function of the infinite variety of options from tee to green. The hole is a seamless blend between the strategic and heroic schools of design. A lake hugs the entire left side of the fairway, eventually narrowing down to a creek crossing in front of an elevated green. For those bold enough to go for the green in two, a tee shot as close to the water as possible is the play. Yet a few specimen trees may inhibit a route or two along those lines.

The strategic school is open for those who still want to take a shorter route but away from the pond, courtesy of a large mound complex that bisects the first landing area. Those taking the longer route to the right of the mounding will have a better angle along the breadth of the fairway for the next shot. The left route is more direct, but will necessitate an awkward line of flight going straight at a pair of fairway bunkers bisecting the second landing area into lower and upper fairways providing little depth from that angle.

Playing an approach from the right side will have the best angle into a deep, rectangular green that has little room for error from left to right. The right side of the green extends out of a tall hillside. Any approaches leaking to the left may roll into the water fifteen below. The green cascades down from back to a very accessible front, with a lone sand bunker cut into the right hillside.

“I have been waiting a while to see this hole in play. To me, it is the epitome of strategic design. It reminds me of the famous plan of the fourteenth at the Old Course showing four different routes to take from tee to green. Plenty of width allows for strategic and heroic options, though, with water running down the entire left side of the fairway and crossing in front of the green complex so I love the blending of modern and links strategy.

I originally began with a principal’s nose idea with a trio of bunkers cut into a large mound in the middle of the first landing area but decided to move the sand further down the hole I did keep the mound, which is tall enough to obscure the second landing area just a bit. As we started to shape the second landing area and a split fairway emerged, it was clear to me that a pair of bunkers cut into the slope could present even more options for the golfer’s second shot.

To me, this hole has infinite possibilities thanks to the width of the corridor. Traditionally, it is just like a vast links hole off the tee but also has that heroic option all the way down the left side. Golfers of all abilities can play as close to the edge of the fairway as they want all day long until they find the best carry distance for them. For some, it may be on the second shot. For others, it may be the third or even fourth shot. Nonetheless, this hole is a great example of providing a large playing field and letting the golfers find their way.”


Hole #17 - "Redan" - Par 3: 158 - 150 - 135 - 125 - 106 - 96

"Golden Age Bunkering"

This downhill par-three runs along a ridgeline to a greens complex set on a ledge jutting out from the right side of the ridge. A low-profile sand bunker fronts the right front side of the green and is visually-balanced by a second bunker flanking the left side of the green. Mounds back left and back right serve as a backdrop to a putting surface that flashes hard up onto the ridge along the right. The green falls off sharply behind into an Oak Savanna.

“This hole fits quite well in the landscape with natural highs serving both the tee and the green. Seventeen is routed high point to high point playing over a swale that runs from the eleventh hole on the right to ponds on the other side. From a routing standpoint, the highs were exactly where I needed them to be in order to transition from the rather isolated sixteenth green location all the way to the intended eighteenth tee (a necessity in order to return to the clubhouse). Drop-offs to the left and behind the green provide just the right amount of challenge for the end of a round with not too taxing of a recovery.

The hole has a bit of a reverse Redan look and feel to it with the bunkering, yet the dominant slope of the green plays more like the original Redan from front-right to back-left. Nonetheless, the bunkers naturally fit into the front and side slopes of the green which creates a strong visual statement. The bunkering is reminiscent of golden-age bunkering one would see applied to George Thomas’s work at La Cumbre, for example. It is not nearly as dramatic as simple noses at Braemar take the place of Thomas’s fingers. Nor is there any sand wrapped around mounded peninsulas. Rather it is the placement of the central axis of each bunker and how each one cascades down from one side to the other along those axes.

The bunker locations allow for accessible pin placements (front left) and much more challenging, “Sunday” pin placements such as the front-right quadrant. When the pin is front right, the aggressive golfer must spin the ball back off a spine that runs out of the ridge running along the right to a very shallow target tucked hard behind the sand. Yet the less-inclined can run the ball up the opening between both bunkers. This bunker placement is a good example of providing strategic options for low or high handicap golfers.”


Hole #18 - "Hero" - Par 4: 422 - 359 - 348 - 311 - 280 - 142

"Heroic Finale"

This dogleg-right final hole is a textbook example of heroic risk-reward strategy. An even match coming down to eighteen will most likely end in victory for those who take the more aggressive route off the tee. That direction requires a drive over a fairway bunker in the corner of the dogleg and a pond flanking that side as well. The benefits are great with a tremendous distance advantage over the more conservative approach to the left. Although a shorter approach will be the reward, that shot must then carry a greenside bunker protecting a front right pin placement.

On the opposite side, for those who tend to shy away from the water, playing too conservatively may end up with a blind approach and a three or four club difference.

“This is a hole where existing ponds worked favorably to drop a dramatic heroic finale in my lap. The shape and orientation of the pond between tee and fairway afforded the opportunity to develop a risk-reward left to right tee shot. It is the essence of the heroic school of design, biting off as much as one can chew.

I am not one who believes the last hole should be the toughest hole. Instead, I would allow the topography to develop the hole’s character and based on the lay of the land, the last hole at Braemar will be more of a scorer’s challenge than a lengthy brute. Yet just because the hole is short doesn’t mean it is an automatic birdie. One still has to hit it close and make a putt. For everyone else, the hole will leave them with a good feeling, ready to return. In the Robert Trent Jones vernacular, it is an easy bogey. Probably a simple par as well, but it isn’t an easy birdie.

Following up on the parallel relationship to the twelfth hole, the best tee shot here is to the right, directing the golfer away from twelve (the best tee shot on that hole is to the left). Similar to twelve, visibility becomes a problem depending on which side of the fairway one plays toward and how the large ridge separating the fairways affects the approach. Whereas the tee shot on twelve discourages the shorter route from the right, playing away from that same ridge demands a more aggressive play toward the right on eighteen.”

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