Following Frank Lloyd Wright’s trail on a Wisconsin and Minnesota golfing fly-drive
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While the likes of New England, California,
Florida, Arizona and Nevada are popular fly-drive destinations, Great Lakes states
Wisconsin and Minnesota remain relatively undiscovered by the British.
Yet the northern Midwest offers the perfect
antidote to today’s ever-more frantic society for those who prefer life in the
slow lane – and even more so for golfers who enjoy playing top courses on their
Landing at gateway Minneapolis-St Paul, I
set off on a circular trip that takes me from the Mississippi River right
across Wisconsin to Lake Michigan and up into Minnesota’s own lake district.
Famed for its dairy farms and cheeses,
Wisconsin is also the home state of Frank Lloyd Wright, regarded as America’s
greatest architect. More than 40 of his creations still adorn the state, from
affordable American System-Built homes to grand commercial and public structures.
To mark the 150th anniversary of his birth, a Frank Lloyd Wright
Trail was created in 2017 to link nine publicly-accessible buildings along
a 200-mile, self-drive route in Wisconsin.
My trip allows me to take in several iconic
trail edifices. I pay homage to the great man at Taliesin, the beautiful home
he built on a bluff overlooking his 800-acre estate in Spring Green and named
in honour of his Welsh grandparents. Managed by Taliesin Preservation, daily
guided tours run from the nearby Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Centre. Close by,
the cemetery of the tiny Unity Chapel contains his grave. However, his remains
were removed in 1985 and cremated, his ashes reburied at Taliesin West in
Arizona and mixed with those of his third wife.
I also pass by several other trail
buildings: Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Centre, three miles from
Taliesin; the ornate AD German Warehouse in Wright’s home town, Richland
Centre; Madison’s First Unitarian Society Meeting House, where he was a member
of the congregation; and the curved Monona Terrace civic centre, also in Madison,
which finally opened in 1994 – 35 years after his death.
My first overnight in Wisconsin is in
Milwaukee, staying at the towering Potawatomi
Hotel & Casino – Wisconsin’s largest gaming facility. What made Milwaukee
famous, as Rod Stewart sang, was its beer. Once the beer capital of the world
and home to America’s four largest brewers, just one – Miller – remains and is
open for tours. Today, Milwaukee has a vibrant craft beer and microbrewery
industry, the Lakefront Brewery on Lake Michigan offering a huge beer hall and
Its other claim to fame is as the home of
American icon Harley-Davidson, and I soak up a century of motorcycling history
at the Harley-Davidson
South-east Wisconsin is golf nirvana with
75 golf courses, 15 of them in Milwaukee. The magnificent Erin Hills, host of the 2017 US Open, is just
36 miles from downtown. Unusually for an American course, walking is not only
allowed, it is the only way you can play it. Even trolleys are banned. You hire
a caddie or, as I do, carry your own bag.
An hour north of Milwaukee, Kohler
is my next stop. A purpose-built village created a century ago by industrialist
Walter J Kohler for immigrant workers at its new factory, it was modelled on
two English templates: Port Sunlight, built by Lever Brothers for its soap
factory workers; and Letchworth, the world’s first garden city. The American
Club, Kohler’s stately Tudor-style, five-star resort hotel that was once a
dormitory for immigrant employees, is my home for the night. The nearby
Carriage House is now the hotel’s spa while the Kohler Design Centre a few
steps away displays contemporary bathroom, toilet and plumbing fixtures.
Whistling Straits is one of four
Destination Kohler golf courses and is draped over dunes edging Lake Michigan. A
Pete Dye-designed masterpiece that opened in 2000, it is both a beauty and a
beast, having already staged three US PGA Championships and set to host the
Ryder Cup in 2020. Walking the course, I partner a charming American couple, my
amiable caddie AJ – whose uncle, Calvin Peete, was the most successful black
golfer before Tiger Woods – helping me navigate the hazards. As we play, a bald
eagle soars overhead on a fishing foray while sheep resident on the course jostle
for the titbits AJ has brought them.
Driving leisurely through lakeside
communities and then heading inland, I pass countless farms with quaint red
barns, many with pumpkins for sale outside. I stop off for a couple of nights at
newly-opened Sand Valley Golf
Resort in central Wisconsin, close to the 'Cranberry Capital of the World',
Wisconsin Rapids. Laid out over pine-covered sand hills, it boasts two
magnificent courses with fairways bisected by gaping sand tracts: Bill Coore
and Ben Crenshaw’s Sand Valley course; and Mammoth Dunes, by David McLay Kidd,
open fully from spring 2018. Both are stunning, but Mammoth blows me away with
its sheer grandeur.
One hundred miles south, my final Wisconsin
night is in state capital Madison. Named America’s greenest city for its
profusion of parks, lakes and hiking and cycling paths it’s also a city of
elegant architecture that includes the granite-domed Wisconsin State Capitol
and Classical Revival-style Governor’s Mansion. At delightfully-named
restaurant A Pig in a Fur Coat, I
pig out on a selection of meat dishes at a table made from a butcher’s block
(its slogan is good food, good people, good farms, dead animals), then
retire to my spacious room at chic boutique hotel HotelRED, with its floors and walls of
En route back to Minneapolis, I skirt the
ridge-lined Upper Mississippi River that forms part of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border.
Parking my rental Toyota 4Runner 4x4 alongside Pontoon Slough in Wisconsin’s Upper Mississippi
River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, I watch two anglers slowly paddle
their canoe past me in the dying rays of the setting sun, rippling the still
waters to make the reflected trees, cloaked in autumn hues, shimmer like gold.
I could stay here for hours but I need to
hit the road again.
My Great Lakes driving adventure begins and
ends in Minnesota’s twin cities: its largest metropolis, Minneapolis, and state
capital St Paul. These one-time flour-milling centres on the Upper Mississippi –
the river rises in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota, continuing for 650
miles through the state – are now cultural hubs with museums and art
institutions, a great foodie scene, a fascinating historic quarter and the
193-acre Minnehaha Falls Park with walking and biking trails and a waterfall
half-way between both downtowns.
Just minutes from Minneapolis-St Paul
Airport is the city of Bloomington’s Mall
of America, America’s largest shopping mall which celebrated its 25th
anniversary in 2017. It is far more than just a mall, incorporating 50
restaurants, the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium and the Nickelodeon Universe theme
park with its FlyOver America ride, five roller coasters and the Hard Rock Cafe
featuring a 1,200-capacity live music stage, where I watch Prince tribute act
Chase & Ovation (Minneapolis was Prince’s home town) – quite apart from its
520 stores. A bonus for shoppers is that there is no sales tax on clothing or
shoes. The mall is bookended by the Radisson Blu Mall
of America and JW
Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America hotels.
I start my trip with a stay at the Radisson
Blu, a stylish luxury hotel with 500 fashion-inspired rooms and striking public
areas that has a glass Skybridge linking it to the mall, and finish at the
swanky JW Marriott. They make a great base for visiting the twin cities, with
the Mall of America having direct connections to them and the international
airport on the Metro light rail system.
Taking in my first American football game,
I watch home NFL team the Minnesota Vikings play arch rivals the Detroit Lions
at the magnificent US Bank Stadium, venue for the 2018 Super Bowl. Beforehand,
I experience a tailgate party, an NFL tradition, drinking beer and shots served
from giant coolers on the back of a pick-up truck. The car park is full of
partygoers, many wearing Vikings football shirts and some in fancy dress, and
the place is rocking.
Minnesota has 500 golf courses, 90% of
which are open to the public. Courses a short drive from the twin cities
include Tom Weiskopf-designed The Wilds
Golf Club and Rush Creek Golf Club,
where a Scots piper greets visiting golfers. Twenty minutes from Bloomington is
2016 Ryder Cup venue Hazeltine
National Golf Club, where the USA’s golf stars won the cup back from
Europe. Although a private club with limited public access to the course, the
clubhouse has a Heritage Collection room the public can visit by appointment,
featuring Ryder Cup memorabilia and historic golf artefacts. I don’t play
Hazeltine but I visit the heritage room and try out its indoor learning centre
with its contoured putting green and golf simulator.
Although Mother Nature’s annual autumn
foliage display is not yet in full swing, I do get tantalising glimpses of the
region’s kaleidoscope of colours in central Minnesota’s Brainerd Lakes, a
popular domestic holiday area encompassing 500 lakes and waterways two hours
upstate from the twin cities.
Pockets of vibrant reds and yellows along
the perimeter of Gull Lake herald the promised mass transformation when I take
a sunset cruise aboard Destiny Cruises’
elegant motor yacht, North Star, setting sail from a dock at the century-old,
family-friendly resort Grand View Lodge,
where I spend two nights in a wooden cabin amidst the trees. The vessel
operates public cruises from May to mid-October and docks by fine-dining
restaurant Bar Harbor Supper Club,
where I enjoy cocktails and steak after viewing the captivating private
historic car and wooden boat collection of Bar Harbor owner and entrepreneur
John Allen in a barn he calls Fort Mahogany.
Brainerd is also home to the Midwest’s
largest racetrack, Brainerd International
Raceway, where you can watch high-octane dragsters and muscle car races or
take the wheel of a racing car yourself.
This area is awash with excellent golf and
Grand View Lodge has two 18-hole golf courses on-site as well as a nine-hole
family-friendly course with kids’ tees and wider cups to make putting easier. I
test my game on two of the area’s finest facilities – Grand View Lodge’s The
Preserve and The Classic Golf Club at Madden’s
on Gull Lake, rated one of Minnesota’s top public golf courses. They serve
up as enjoyable a test of golf as you will find anywhere, without the crowded
fairways or big-ticket price tags.
Like Wisconsin, nature abounds in
Minnesota. The state has six national parks, monuments and recreation areas, a
further 70 state and local parks and recreation areas as well as 1,400 wildlife
areas. The largest population of timber wolves in America’s lower 48 states can
be found in the US Forest Service-managed Boundary
Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior
Nicknamed the 'Land of 10,000 Lakes', Minnesota
actually has almost 12,000 lakes measuring more than 10 acres and incorporates
189 miles of shoreline on Lake Superior, stretching from Duluth, at the lake’s
far south-western tip, up to Canadian province Ontario. Wisconsin, by
comparison, is flanked by Lake Michigan to the east and Lake Superior to its
north, with 820 miles of lakeshores besides vast swathes of forest.
Take a driving tour of both states and you
will be venturing onto roads less travelled by other transatlantic visitors.
Just remember to pack your golf clubs.
For more information about Minnesota and
Wisconsin, visit www.travelwisconsin.com
Tour operator America As You Like
IT offers a fly-drive tour of both states, with golf. Peter Ellegard’s
Advantage Rent A Car vehicle was provided by Your Car Hire. Book through your local
Photos Copyright © Peter Ellegard
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