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Mississippi Memory: McNair plays his 1,000th different course at Mississippi Dunes

Dave McNair strikes a putt at Mississippi Dunes Golf Links on Saturday. It was the 1,000th different course McNair had ever played. (Submitted photo)1 / 2
Dave McNair chose the Mississippi Dunes as his 1,000th course so he could celebrate the milestone with nearby family. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

Golf was a family function when Dave McNair picked up the game as an 8-year-old as his dad bought him his first set of clubs.

And 50 years after taking his first swing, McNair said it was “easy” thinking of his favorite memories of the sport. They were still when he was young and he and his father would wake up at 6 a.m. and head down to the city pool his father managed in Columbus, Neb. to turn on the water. It would take the large pool and the small ones around it a couple of hours to fill, plenty of time for the two to head to the local nine-hole course and play a quick round, as they did on a daily basis. McNair’s father passed away 10 years after giving his son his first set of clubs, but the recollections from those nine-hole rounds are still vivid.

“We did that every morning in the summer,” McNair said. “It’s a great memory.”

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 50 years after picking up the game, as McNair, 58, was set to play his 1,000th different golf course, his main concern when picking the milestone course was finding a location convenient for his family to gather, so they could enjoy the achievement together.

And with Tucker, one of his four sons, living in St. Paul and Tyler, another son, and Tyler’s wife Christina living in Cottage Grove, Dave, still a Nebraska resident, thought it would be easiest to come up to the Twin Cities for the milestone event.

He tasked Tyler with selecting the course in the area to play and Mississippi Dunes was the suggested destination.

“The rest is history,” Dave said. “We checked it out and really liked what we saw and thought it’d be a great course to play No. 1,000 at.”

He wasn’t disappointed. Dave McNair played a round at the Cottage Grove course, the 1,000th different course he’s ever played, last Saturday, with Tyler, Tucker, his wife Cindy and another son, also named Dave, in attendance. He carded an 80, and relished every stroke of it.

He said he enjoyed the scenery and the designs Mississippi Dunes had to offer with some of the bunkers accompanied by railroad ties and trees plotted within fairways. He enjoyed the different risk-reward shot options the course had to offer and how landing shots on the green required just the right approach. McNair compared the Dunes to a few of the courses he’d played at Pinehurst.

“I really loved the course,” he said. “It was a fun round.”

It was far from the first course McNair, who’s played on every course in the state of Nebraska, had played in Minnesota. It was stop No. 32 in the land of 10,000 lakes and quite a few golf courses. Previous stops for McNair in the Twin Cities area included Eagle Valley in Woodbury, Logger’s Trail and Stoneridge in Stillwater and the Les Bolstad Golf Course at the University of Minnesota, among countless others.

When picking his favorite courses, McNair looks at three primary factors -- the scenery, the architecture and the course’s history.

The latter appears to have some added importance to McNair, a former high school history teacher, who still plays the game with the classic knickers and old wooden clubs -- customs which date back to the game’s roots.

“I’ve always had a love of history,” he said. “So I like courses that have that.”

Of the 1,000, his favorite is Pebble Beach in California, with Sand Hills in Nebraska and Oakmont in Pennsylvania trailing closely behind.

But what sets Pebble Beach is that, to him, it’s the total package.

“It’s all of those different aspects,” McNair said. “It’s a great design, just beautiful. Every hole is scenic. And then you think about all of the historic shots and tournaments that have taken place there, it definitely would be No. 1.”

The funny thing about McNair is, he never even played on his high school golf team. He actually ran track, instead. It doesn’t seem to be about the competition of the sport for him, he simply loves to go out and play.

McNair went on and on about the sport he loves with a passion. He cited the game’s integrity, with players so willing to point out their own infractions, the ability for even him compete on golf’s grandest stages such as Pebble Beach and Oakmont and how every course, every shot is different, as to why he loves golf.

Of course, the sport also has one more well-known bonus.

“It’s the one sport we can play forever,” McNair said. “We can’t do those other sports for very long.”

McNair said he only thought of reaching course No. 1,000 after he played No. 900. As of Sunday he didn’t even know what course No. 1,001 to enter into his Microsoft Excel spreadsheet where he records all of his courses played would be.

He knows he’ll be playing in North Carolina in October, as his fourth son Jake will be getting married, though it’s likely he’ll have played a few courses between now and then.

McNair’s 1,000 course journey seriously got started in 1996, when he and some friends celebrated their 40th birthdays by heading out to Arizona to play at a few courses. They all had fun and many wanted to return to do it again shortly, but Dave told Cindy that wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do.

“I said ‘you know, it was fun, but I’d rather go someplace other than there and I’d rather go someplace with you,’” he told his wife.

From that point forward the couple started picking out different states and courses to travel to and they developed a routine. In the mornings Dave would play a round at a new course while Cindy accompanied him and took pictures, and then they spent the rest of the day doing whatever Cindy had planned for the couple. That led to visits to the Botanical Gardens and numerous stops at different museums and light houses.

After about 10 different trips, the couple decided they wanted to try to reach all 50 states, something they accomplished together in 2010.

Nowadays the couple looks for different areas of states to explore and new courses for Dave to tee up at.

McNair currently has no ultimate number he hopes to reach -- he never really has had one. All he knows is he wants to keep playing, keep traveling with his wife, as long as he can.

“It’s been a fabulous journey,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful country and there’s so much to see.”

So many courses to play.