What defines a great course? Is it its greens, where you likely take a third or more of your shots? How about the fairways, where the majority of a round is spent? Hard to say. First, most architects don’t build great greens. Second, sites blessed with interesting land well-suited for golf are few and far between. Third, even on an ideal site, the architect must route consecutive holes so that the landforms are captured in a meaningful manner. On the rare occasion when these hurdles are overcome, you are in the presence of a truly remarkable course. Welcome to White Bear Yacht Club.
Elegantly sited on the crest of Dellwood Avenue of White Bear Lake Minnesota, United States of America. On the shores of White Bear Lake, twenty miles northeast of St. Paul, nestles one of the best but least well-known classical golf courses in the USA.
Founded in 1889, sailing was the main activity at the WBYC until the early 1900s. As its history goes, golf was added to club entertainments in 1912 with nine holes designed by a Scottish architect William Watson. Golf was in its infancy in this country at the turn of the century, but gaining in popularity at the yacht club, which added a second nine holes in 1915 by well-known course architect Donald Ross.
The Club runs the full gamut from small to large greens, sloped front to back and back to front, wild interior contours and greens with more tilt than contour. The third green is of the small variety with a deceptive cant from front right to back left. It sits perfectly atop a ridge. While prudence suggests hitting for the middle of the green and putting out to perimeter hole locations, the hole’s diminutive length prompts greed.
Ranked among the top 100 classic courses in the United States and among 150 in the whole, the yacht Club course has changed over the years with deleterious effect. Too many trees were planted to create shade and drainage issues made it tough to keep the turf manicured. The General Manager and Golf Director of the Club, Chris Nathlich said in a press interview in August that the decision was made to allocate $750,000 to restore the course to its original state as part of the Sunlight Expansion Project. He added that the Club’s management have been working with a consultant, Jim Urbina to develop the golf course to its “former glory.”
White Bear Yacht Club has an overwhelming and interesting history. The American first Golf superstar, Walter Charles Hagen held the Club’s course record for years and Tom Vardon, younger brother of six-time British Open champion Harry, was the Club professional. In 1929 White Bear member Harrison Johnston won the US Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach. Defending champion, Bobby Jones was the favorite to win the 1929 US Amateur, making it three-in-a-row but he was knocked out in the first round. More recently, Tom Doak declared that the course at White Bear Yacht Club comprises some of the best Donald Ross designed holes he has ever seen.
In November 2016, Tom Doak wrote in an American magazine, The Confidential Guide, that White Bear Yacht Club is one of America’s hidden gems. Doak commented that, “Our favorite course in the Twin Cities, White Bear Yacht Club is one of the last hidden gems in America – a great course that hardly anyone mentions. Likely part of the reason for its anonymity is that from the big par-4 1st hole to the blind tee shot on the 18th, it is a walk on the wild side, with fairway undulations that would require a small craft advisory, and greens that would make Perry Maxwell blush.
“With modest length, White Bear requires accuracy rather than length from the tee. If you suffer from a lack of balance, White Bear might not be the course for you as you will seldom get a flat stance,” he submitted.
Writing about magnificent land movement of White Bear Yacht Club, an American online newspaper, Golf Club Atlas in January this year, likened the Club to many other great Clubs in the country such as Pine Valley, Augusta National, amongst others. According to the newspaper, the word ‘Yacht’ in White Bear Yacht Club, portends a romance that comes from a large body of water. “As you wind your way toward the clubhouse, glimpses of White Bear Lake are afforded through the trees. Yet, the road is flat and the golfer’s expectations are held in check”
“As you arrive, the main clubhouse becomes visible, high on a hillock to the right with the lake below. The first-time golfer is impressed but there is no sense as to where the golf is until he learns that the building on the other side of the road is the Golf House and that the land around it is luscious and heaving”.
Recently, the 133- year-old main dining room and pub of the Club got major makeover of a new architectural design awarded to James Dayton architectural firm. The $2.4 million infusion into the White Bear Yacht Club and its renowned golf course was completed in August, 2022.
Much of the remodel centered on the clubhouse dining area, which still offers an atmosphere of elegance with a come-as-you-are area for hungry members who just came off the tennis court.
Chris Nathlich said the clubhouse was dated and the management of the club decided to create a space where members are comfortable.
“We agreed last year to pay an assessment for the redesign, which also includes significant improvements to the Par 72 golf course. It is still classy, but more casual,” he said.
White Bear Yacht Club membership is strictly limited to preserve an integrity-driven membership.
With its storied history and reputation as one of the premier private Clubs in Minnesota, White Bear Yacht Club has much to offer its members and the community it has cultivated. The Club has a rich culture of providing an exceptional social, dining and recreational experience, such as Donald Ross designed golf course with no tee times, newly renovated clubhouse and golf house members enjoy each time they come to the Club.
This exclusive membership process involves an application, a letter of recommendation, member sponsorship and board approval. A limited number of memberships ensure members always enjoy the advantages and hospitality of a traditional Club.
The Club’s Membership and Marketing Director, Laura Lewis said membership remains steady. She noted that demography is noticeably trending towards families with young children.
“As a member at White Bear Yacht Club, you’ll have the freedom to enjoy it all time-honored traditions, a vibrant and cultured community, your golf game, the surroundings, your family and friends, and so much more. Let the Club be your retreat from the frantic pace of modern life,” she maintained.
Going further, she revealed that Proprietary Membership is for those interested in full access to WBYC. Members can have the full access to golf, tennis, 3 unique dining facilities and more.
“Sailing Member. To qualify as a Sailing Member, an individual must have sailed competitively for at least five years after reaching the age of 25 years old.
“A new option for the yacht club is the lakeside membership, that provides access to everything on the lake side of the club, including clay tennis courts, pool and dining, but no golf. There is also a sailing membership”.
To join White Bear Yacht Club, initiation fees range from $20,000 for the proprietary membership (40 years and older), $10,000 for associate (under 39) and $8,000 for the lakeside membership. Monthly dues range from $960 to $374.
Whichever package members choose, the General Manager, Chris Nathlich believes the lake is part of the appeal. “The yacht club offers a change of pace from urban living. It has that feel of an escape to the lake, a weekend getaway for families who don’t have a cabin up north,” he stated.