EAST GULL LAKE -- The first time golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Cragun's Resort owner Dutch Cragun met it was anything but love at first sight.
"Our first conversation was in the wilderness when we got stuck on the ice," said Jones, who has built more than 200 courses in 35 countries. "He thought that was pretty funny, but I was thinking, 'Does this guy know what he's doing?'"
Cragun's first impression of Jones wasn't much better. Before the two met, Cragun did some investigating on how the renowned golf course designer was to work with.
"We heard that he was persnickety and a difficult guy to deal with," Cragun said. "He had held up construction on a number of courses until they changed the greens around. The understanding that we have with him is that we have to be within one degree of his drawing. ... we had to be within one degree of their drawing or they wouldn't sign up for it."
Despite the early turmoil one thing brought the men together to form an unusual bond. Before Jones left that day, Cragun asked him one question.
"I asked him, 'Why are you still doing this? Why are you sleeping in the plane, and talking to people all over the world?' and he said, 'Because I want to leave a Legacy behind' and I said that's the name of the course."
And so it began, back in 1998, the beginning of what was to become the Legacy Courses at Cragun's, two championship 18-hole courses carved out of the lakes area with flair and a panoramic view. Along with the championship course is the unique reversible 9-hole course that surrounds the practice facility.
Jones was at Cragun's Resort Tuesday for the grand opening of the final nine holes. Instead of the original three 9-hole layouts, the Legacy Courses at Cragun's will feature Dutch's Legacy and Bobby's Legacy, Bobby of course being Robert Trent Jones Jr.
"It's been five years since we started the dream," said Cragun. "Five years ago we had 160 acres that was purchased by my wife. Yet that wasn't good enough for a good 18-hole golf course. So the decision to go with a course was made and we had to start buying more property. Basically, you start buying property and the prices go up and the neighbors start getting all excited. That's what we went through the first year.
"We assured everyone the land was going to be left as a golf course with green space and environmentally protected, and not a housing project. People fear change and The Brainerd Dispatch reported a number of instances where the city and planning commission had its doubts about what we were going to be doing. But now it's really exciting because the city itself is now supporting the course. I think there's a general pride in the neighborhood because this course is here."
The final nine began construction early last year, but inclement growing weather and a poor spring delayed the opening until this week. Members of the media played the first rounds on the course Monday and Tuesday. Although only six of the new nine holes were played, those six holes displayed a chilling effect.
One of Jones' themes when building the Legacy was risk-reward golf and the final nine definitely has it. With 250-yard carries and parallel fairways that entice golfers to bite off more than they can chew, the new nine separates the men and women from the boys and girls, not just on the scorecard, but how they play the course.
Famed golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. (left), talked with Cragun's owner Dutch Cragun at the opening of the Legacy's newest course. The opening of the new nine holes gives the Legacy two 18-hole championship courses. (Dispatch Photos by Nels Norquist)
"I think golf is outdoor chess," said Jones. "You have to think about your moves because as soon as you make a move the course is going to make a move. We like to engage people in the thought process. In the situation of the Legacy, we have a number of holes, because of the preservation of the marsh areas and the lake, that you can bite off as much as you want. On any given day you may choose a safer line because you're not sure. That's what we're doing here. We're trying to make people think as well as strike the ball."
Like the other holes at the Legacy, located on Cass County Road 77 in East Gull Lake, the new nine offers golfers numerous tee boxes. The final hole alone has eight different tee boxes.
"Variety is very important to me" said Jones. "A lot of golf courses are built by very competent people, but maybe they don't have as much imagination. They tend to repeat themselves. We don't. There are 37 different experiences out there on the course. We want the multiple tees, the large greens, so we can put the pin in different sections of the greens. All of that keeps interesting conversation."
More important for Jones and Cragun is the fact the Legacy will be lasting remembrances of the two men. Cragun has no children and is hoping that instead of his name, people will remember him for his vision and intuitive nature in landing one of the top-name designers in the Brainerd lakes area.
"I keep reminding myself that it's just not today," said Cragun. "Five hundred years from now, although this building (the Legacy Clubhouse) may decay and have crashed and been rebuilt, but 500 years from now someone will be tending to this golf course. This will not disappear. This will be manicured and picked over and maybe changed a little bit. But it will still be cared for because there will still be golfers who will come from around the world and play this course."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.