Golf: The Ponds at Battle Creek 'a hidden gem'
With jewels like Prestwick Golf Club and Eagle Valley in Woodbury, Mississippi Dunes and River Oaks in Cottage Grove, Oak Marsh in Oakdale and StoneRidge Golf Club in Stillwater, area golfers certainly don't have a shortage of local options when looking to tee it up.
However, on the outskirts of Woodbury and Cottage Grove, The Ponds at Battle Creek Golf Course provides a unique experience all level of golfers seem to enjoy.
Just built in 2004, Battle Creek is unique because it's a 9-hole course, but it's not an executive or par-3 course. It's like a normal 18-hole public course, but half the size.
Battle Creek Assistant PGA Professional Mark Makens said he doesn't know of many other courses quite like it, especially in the Twin Cities.
"It's a good way to get nine holes in. Our course conditions are equal to those other courses, maybe even better in some cases. We're up at their level," said Makens, who has worked at the course for six years. "I just don't think many people know we're here."
The courses brevity makes it possible for golfers to play multiple rounds in a given day - which many take advantage of.
"We have guys that come in on Saturday mornings and will go around three or four times and have a little social thing between each round," Makens said.
A par-35 course, Battle Creek has five sets of tees to accommodate all skill levels. It boasts three par-5s, three par-4s and three par-3s. Seven of the nine holes incorporate water hazards and most holes have several bunkers and elevations to challenge skilled players.
"It's usually in well-kept condition," said Mike "Peach" Larson of Maplewood, "This course is solid right now and offers a good challenge. There's some tough holes out here, but there are different tees you can play from."
Larson, 48, said he's played roughly 60 rounds of golf so far this year.
"This is just a hidden gem of a course," Larson said. "If it had 18-holes, it'd be much busier and I wouldn't get to play here as much as I do. I can play a round in 45 minutes if nobody is here."
Makens said many golfers that play Battle Creek come from the neighboring cities of Woodbury, Cottage Grove, Oakdale and Maplewood. But, he said he's constantly surprised to find that people living right around the course don't even know it exists.
Not helping matters, Battle Creek suffered a crisis of sorts, when one big snow storm back in February took down most of the poles and nets on one side of the course's popular driving range, meaning there's no day or night driving this summer as the course awaits remanufacturing and reinstallation of those poles and nets.
However, in an age when free time is at a premium, the ability to whip through a quick, but challenging, nine holes at a reasonable rate has been attractive to some area golfers.
Led by Head Golf Pro Brad Behnke, Battle Creek has a Wednesday night men's league with more than 90 golfers taking part. It also has a popular women's league on Tuesdays and a couples' league on Thursdays. Some golfers even choose to buy a season pass for the course for $695 or for $550 for those 62 or older.
David Jensen, who was brought in at Battle Creek as a sales and marketing consultant this past year, said he's learned the clientele at Battle Creek make it a "club-like" atmosphere, with lots of socialization after weekly leagues, happy-hours, featuring 2-for-1 drinks, and events like wine tastings and vendor spotlights.
"Because we have the bar and food, people like to hang out and have a lot of fun," Jensen said. "There really is a club-like atmosphere. At some courses, people don't hang out as much. They play their round and take off. Here people socialize and have fun."
Jensen and Makens said the course also appeals to families. July is family fun month at Battle Creek. Kids will be able to golf free with their parents on evenings and weekends.
They said Battle Creek's junior schools, camps and league programs are also very popular. Battle Creek's main instructors are Behnke, Makens and David "Cal" Colarusso, a much-loved and respected PGA teaching pro.
The junior league includes nine holes each Wednesday that include free instruction and tips prior to every round.
"The junior program is very popular and well-known," Jensen said. "Mark (Makens) does a great job running that. He makes it a lot of fun. He's really good with the kids."