By Dan Vukelich

They were pulling record walleye out of the lakes around Brainerd, Minn., long before Henry Ford’s first Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908. So it should come as no surprise the area blossomed into a vacation destination once families starting hitting the road in Ford’s tin lizzies.

By the late 920s, Brainerd’s thriving lake resorts – already offering fishing, boating, swimming and horseback riding — began building golf courses. Now, the four largest resorts operate 10 courses among them. All are tightly clustered around Brainerd’s lakes. All are within 30 minutes of one another, and all offer exceptional value.

Three Brainerd resort courses are ranked among Minnesota’s of best public-access courses, and one resort’s recently renovated courses will likely be ranked in the next update.

One could argue the Brainerd Lakes region, two hours northwest of Minneapolis, is among the most golf-rich vacation destinations in the U.S. outside of Arizona, Palm Springs or Myrtle Beach.

The resorts – all family-owned and family-oriented – offer a dizzying array of non-golf activities. A by-no-means-complete list includes: swimming, boating, water skiing, fishing, paddleboarding, kayaking, tennis, pickleball, ziplining, mountain biking, trapshooting and axe throwing. There are tie-dye t-shirt making classes for kids, and yoga, afternoon brewpub art classes and lake cocktail and dinner cruises for adults.

“With all the lakes in the area –there’s just a ton of lakes – it’s always been a fishing and water-skiing and swimming summertime destination,” said Greg Wires, publisher of Golf Minnnesota, a statewide golf guide.

The Brainerd area is pocked by more than 450 lakes, most leftovers from the Superior Lobe of the Labrador Ice sheet of the last Ice Age. Similar to the kettle moraines of the Wisconsin Dells, Brainerd’s lakes were gouged by glaciers that left behind a wrinkled landscape of hardwood forests and a sandy soil that golf architects absolutely love. More