The Takeaway: Easily the best golf course in the Dakotas, Sutton Bay is found in one of the most serene and remote locations in the country. With nothing but nature and the Missouri River looking on, there is little to prevent you from enjoying this challenging layout. Grade A-
Designer: Graham Marsh in 2003; renovation 2013
Phone Number: (605) 264-5530
Course Website: Official Website - Visit Sutton Bay's official website by clicking on the link provided.
Directions: Get here! - 28950 Sutton Bay Trail, Agar, South Dakota 57520 – UNITED STATES
What to Expect: Located just north of the dead center of South Dakota, Sutton Bay is the premier course found in either Dakota and the most compelling reason to head to that part of the country to tee it up. Designed by Graham Marsh, the original course started eroding and falling into the Missouri River. The shoreline course was a stunning offering with views that at times was reminiscent of what you might experience at Whistling Straits. As tragic as it was to lose the original, Marsh was brought back to design a new course on the higher ground away from the river which provided a less dramatic, but more stable setting. Despite the change in location, the Missouri River is still in view for the entire front nine and players come closest to the water on the stunning 17th and 18th holes; though it is far from being in play. To get to the course requires a solid 10 minute golf cart drive from the clubhouse and lodging portion of the property down to where the golf holes are laid out. The required forecaddie will accompany you to ensure you get to all the right places and successfully navigate the routing. The hole designs have a nice variety of lengths and strategy, however the routing features an overload of holes that run northwest and southeast which can get monotonous on a windy day. The lack of trees on the course allow for maximum sun exposure and an opportunity for the turf to thrive; especially with the relatively low number of rounds the course experiences. As such, the course is in very good shape and the greens roll true and feature some compelling complexes to contend with. Perhaps the biggest frustration is how several of the landing areas are not in view from the back tees due to the lack of elevation in the terrain in relation to the amount of foliage growth between the tees are fairways. On a side note, visitors to Sutton Bay are required to stay in the onsite lodging for at least one night where the rooms are themed after famous golfers. Being totally isolated from civilization, there are several other activities to enjoy at the club including hunting. In the end, Sutton Bay is a great course and easily the best experience found in the Dakotas, western Minnesota, eastern Montana, or eastern Wyoming. It is just too bad there aren't enough other compelling courses in the area to build a trip around.
By the Numbers
Individual Hole Analysis
Signature Hole: 17th Hole – 199 Yard Par 3 – The final one-shotter at Sutton Bay is also its prettiest with a setting on a bluff above the Missouri River. Tipping out three feet under 200 yards, the scene on the 17th features a combination of fescue, rolling hills, and the glistening river to stimulate player's senses while a lone bunker at the front right of the green creates a level of challenge to consider. The green is slightly raised from the perspective of the back tee and boasts slopes on the edges that tend to repel shots more than invite them in. It's a beautiful hole that is even more impressive from the drone's view.
Best Par 3: 5th Hole – 145 Yards – The first par three at Sutton Bay is this short offering at the northwest corner of the routing. Playing mostly towards the north, it is common for this hole to play into the wind which can make controlling the distance difficult given the amount of loft on the club you'll likely select. However, you'll also be able to get the ball to sit soft, so if you can calculate the windage correctly then this can be a good birdie opportunity. With a bunker right in front and right in back of the green, the sand gets plenty of action, but it is the undulated putting surface that will require you to be on spot with your short game. With the surrounding fescue, natural shaping of the bunkers, and distant views of nothing but natural landscape, this hole is reminiscent of something you'd see at Sand Hills.
Best Par 4: 12th Hole – 411 Yards – The 12th hole offers a virtual split fairway scenario with four bunkers going down the centerline and encouraging players to play to the left or right of them. Thankfully the strategy changes each day depending on the pin placement with flags on the left being best attacked from the right, and pins on the right preferably attacked from the left. When the flag is in the center of the green you can hit your drive to whatever fairway you feel most comfortable hitting to and then can be more aggressive attacking the green. A trio of bunkers necklace across the front of the green with a fourth pit being found well short and right of the target. The green slopes off each side with the center of the putting surface creating a high point and a distinct spot to read putts from, but putting from the back to the front of the green can pose the biggest challenge with balls often sliding off into the fringe.
Best Par 5: 18th Hole – 577 Yards – A beautiful hole running parallel to the Columbia River, the finisher at Sutton Bay is a quality offering to go out on. A great line is at the halfway house in the distance and you can swing with confidence since there aren't any fairway bunkers to contend with. The 16th fairway runs parallel to the 18th with a row of fescue separating the two, so if you are going to miss right, miss hard and keep yourself on the short grass to attack on your second shot. If you are going to layup then you need to consider how to navigate the bunker 100 yards short of the green, with the ideal play being short and left of it as it will allow for your third shot to go back into the hill where you can control your distance more easily. It's a serene setting on the 18th green as you find yourself in a beautifully remote setting and walking off the best golf course in the Dakotas.
Birdie Time: 4th Hole – 341 Yard Par 4 – Running parallel to the 6th hole, the short 4th offers an opportunity for players to pump a drive as far towards the green as possible in an effort to leave a flip wedge into the putting surface. A trio of bunkers sits on the left side of the fairway in the driving zone while a single sand pit sits on the right side and begs players to be straight with their tee ball. The ideal play is to aim up the right side and hit a draw towards the green, but if the ball never turns over, the neighboring 4th fairway is there to bail you out. While the ideal view into the green is from the left side with its more forgiving angle, your second shot should be short enough that you can go flag hunting from any angle as long as you are in the short grass with your tee shot. So be aggressive here and go get yourself a birdie.
Bogey Beware: 7th Hole – 268 Yard Par 3 – The par threes certainly stand as a highlight at Sutton Bay, but at the 7th hole you better have your 'A' game ready. Tipping out at an astonishing 268 yards, pull the headcover off the fairway wood, or driver, you need to order to get your tee ball to flag depth. If the length wasn't difficult enough, a trio of bunkers protect the short side of the green where most player's balls are likely to end up if the perfect strike is not executed. The tiering in the green makes sure that your short game doesn't get let out of the test, even if you can manage to find this green in regulation. Bogey is a good score here, par is fantastic, and birdies are virtually unheard of.