The Golf Border Battle – Too Close To Call

Minnesota and Wisconsin have some great, tightly-contested sports rivalries.  Consider the more than century-old Badger-Gopher football rivalry.  Going into the 2019 game, the series was tied at 60 wins apiece with 8 ties.  Wisconsin’s victory gave it a slim edge heading into the 2020s… time will tell if PJ Fleck and his ‘elite’ squad can turn the tide.

I grew up as a Cheesehead and then migrated across the border as a young adult, so I’ve had a front row seat for this good-natured(?) rivalry. It got me wondering how the two states stack up in the great Golf Border Battle, so we dug into our GroupLooper database to pull some stats that might fuel the debate.

Here’s a comparison of the golfing riches available to denizens of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  In the chart below, the numbers reflect courses that are ready to get the 2020 season off and running as soon as the coast is clear… the numbers in parentheses represent the ranking relative to all states.

Minnesota                  Wisconsin
Population (2010 census)    5,303,925 (21)          5,686,986 (20)
# of Golf Facilities                 446 (11)                     468 (10)
# of Golf Courses                   482 (11)                     503 (10)
# of Golf Holes                       7,002 (11)                  7,677 (10)
Miles of Golf                           1,307 (12)                  1,441 (10)
Population/Course               11,004 (10)                11,306 (12)

Wow, that’s close!  The slight edge that Wisconsin holds in many categories appears to be correlated with its slightly larger population.

Both states clearly punch well above their weight in the national rankings.  Any golfer living in either state has got to feel good about the quantity of golfing opportunities, particularly considering our relatively short playing season.

Now let’s focus on the top tier of the market based on rankings and price.

Golf Digest Rankings             Minnesota                  Wisconsin
USA Top 100                          2                                  4
Public Top 100                       3                                  10

# of Private Clubs                  47 (30)                       59 (26)

Premium Public
Public Courses > $200          0                                  7
Public Courses $100-$199   10                                9

Wisconsin seems to have an edge in super premium golf.  With destinations like Whistling Straits, Sand Valley, Blackwolf Run and Erin Hills, and the moneyed gentry from Chicago relatively nearby, there is a healthy market for $200+ rounds of golf in southeastern Wisconsin.

But as a Twin Cities resident, I certainly don’t feel deprived of top tier public golf and one could even argue that the value is a little better on this side of the border… that’s a debate that could rage for years.

Both states have recently hosted Majors (Hazeltine’s Ryder Cup, Erin Hills’ US Open and Whistling Straits’ PGA Championship)… and Minnesota is now home to a regular PGA Tour event.

While both states have produced talented golfers, it does seem that our short season may put a ceiling on the number of PGA Tour quality players that we produce.  Minnesota’s Tom Lehman and Wisconsin’s Steve Stricker did somehow break through to rise to the heights of the golf world.

Lehman achieved the World #1 ranking, won a British Open and 5 total Tour events, and for many years was considered to be one of the world’s most elite golf talents.  Very few golfers have ever matched the precision Lehman displayed with his iron play during his prime.

Stricker won more than twice as many PGA Tour events (12), but a major championship has eluded him and he never quite made it to the top spot in the rankings, topping out at #2 in 2009.  In his prime, Stricker’s putting was probably more deadly than any of his peers except for that guy in the Sunday red shirt.

We could go on with these comparisons, but I’ll leave that to you and your 19th hole conversations… let the debate rage as to whether Minnesota or Wisconsin has the edge in the great golf border battle.

In the meantime, let’s hope courses in both states can be open soon so we can get this 2020 season off and running.


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