In the perfectly pristine setting of an upstate Minnesota summer, we left the real world behind for the magic of Madden’s on Gull Lake.
Disclosure: We were the guests of Madden’s on Gull Lake as part of a press trip with Explore Minnesota Tourism, in conjunction with Explore Brainerd Lakes.
After you turn off highway 371, the upstate Minnesota landscape unfolds as part of a shimmering promise. And that promise is: in the space of the few minutes, you’ll leave your real world somewhere back behind you, obscured and protected from intrusion by the perfection only this part of the world can bring. Here is a paradise wrought in a hundred shades of green, in the call of a red-winged blackbird or the glimpse of a firefly. It’s a world of misty sunrises and lingering summer twilight, of sandy beach and sparkling water. Gosh, you say to yourself, it’s so beautiful up here. Such is the magic of Madden’s on Gull Lake.
Visitors have been coming to Madden’s on Gull Lake for almost ninety years. They’ve brought their children and grandchildren, and now those children and grandchildren are bringing theirs. Madden’s can hold more than 600 guests at a time in a variety of accommodations: hotel rooms, villas, cottages, and entire houses. “Our philosophy,” says Ben Thuringer, of the third generation to run the resort, “is simply to provide the best that Minnesota has to offer.”
To be sure, there are beautiful vistas in other parts of the world; they’re showy and exalted, written and sung about, haughty and prominent. But part of the charm in these parts – north Minnesota lake country – is quiet modesty. “Yes,” this region whispers, with a wink and a conspiratorial smile. “it’s gorgeous here. But shhhhh. Let others make outrageous claims and show off. We know who we are.”
Mention Madden’s on Gull Lake and the first thing you hear will be about the golf. Rated in the Top 100 and 5-Stars by Golf Digest, The Classic at Maddens bills itself as Minnesota’s “Signature Course.” Check out the video from our recent visit (click here if you’re in a reader):
Other on-site courses – Pine Beach West and Pine Beach East (Minnesota’s first 18 hole course, dating from the 1920s), as well as the shorter Social 9 – bring the total number of holes at Madden’s on Gull Lake up to 63. No matter your skill level, there will be a fit. Looking to improve your game? Check out the two driving ranges, three pro shops, or arrange for lessons tailored to your needs.
With 1000 acres to enjoy at Madden’s, there’s more than golf to experience. Vacationers can do just about anything, or soak the woodsy lakeside atmosphere all in by doing as little as possible, if that’s their wish. Guests can get on the water in kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, rowing sculls, SUP boards, pontoons, speedboats, a 12-person “banana boat” tube, and old-school fishing boats with 15hp motors.
Land sports include tennis and croquet, trapshooting, ball courts, traditional horseshoes and shuffleboard, lawn bowling, cycling, and an Adventure Club just for kids. Learn to waterski or hire a fishing guide. Nearby off-site excursions include mountain biking, river canoeing, horseback riding and ziplining.
Dining at Madden’s ranges from five-star to casual cafe. On our recent visit, we enjoyed a fantastic meal at the comfortably elegant Classic Grill. Featuring a large patio at which thirsty foursomes could relax with liquid refreshment and a sandwich, the Grill’s dining room overlooks The Classic Course. We started with cocktails and a salmon appetizer and then indulged with tasty steaks. The dessert menu was tempting, but we wisely refrained, contenting ourselves with glimpses of what other diners were enjoying.
Breakfast the following morning was equally enjoyable, with the nicest server ever!
Our room at Madden’s on Gull Lake was brand, spankin’ new, located in the rebuilt Voyageur buildings, in the west end of the resort. A year prior to our visit, a super storm with straight-line winds had blown in, knocking out 85 guest rooms and meeting spaces, one of the golf courses, and the resort’s all-important wedding venue. With typical Minnesota understatement, Marketing Director Kathy Reichenbach, told us, “We viewed it as an opportunity to refurbish.”
And refurbish they did. Our spacious king room was designed to take advantage of the breezes and a serene view of Gull Lake’s Wilson Bay. Even though the last thing a visitor might want to be is connected to a digital device while on vacation, we appreciated the fast internet speed, convenient desk and counter space, as well as the handy wet bar with coffee, microwave and refrigerator. Our sparkling ensuite bathroom was outfitted with quality toiletries and fluffy, oversize towels. We fell asleep like babies to the sounds of lapping waves and singing frogs, on one of the most comfortable mattresses we’ve ever experienced.
Adjacent as our room was to the Spa at Madden’s, we regretted we did not have time to choose something from the full complement of stress-reduction services offered for women and men: massage, facials, wraps, waxing and nail services are available a la carte and in packages suitable for couples and group getaways. This spa is the only one located right Gull Lake. Girls’ weekend away, anyone?
Other amenities at Madden’s on Gull Lake include 4 swimming pools (3 indoor and 1 outdoor), a full-service marina, 5 restaurants and 2 lounges, a coffee bar and gift shop, and an art gallery featuring painting classes.
Madden’s on Gull Lake offers a variety of package rates based upon your interests and favorite activities. In addition, special events such as holiday weekend getaways, a renowned Food & Wine Event, and seasonal opening and closing parties enable you to choose a memorable way to play and stay.
Romance and reunion packages can include spa services and group lodging options. Golf packages range from classic to deluxe.
Tips and Practicalities: Madden’s is located on Gull Lake, outside Brainerd, Minnesota, between two and three hours northwest of the Twin Cities. Open seasonally between April and October. Rated 53rd Best Resort in the World and Top 10 Resort in the Midwest by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.