Minnesota’s Native Son Returns to Design Lehman 18
By Tim Cotroneo
Cragun’s Resort entrepreneur Dutch Cragun patiently clung to his 350-acres of prime Brainerd Lakes real estate in the hopes of finding the right golf course designer. That is until he was introduced to Tom Lehman, who was enjoying lunch at his Cragun’s Resort in July of 2020.
Nearly everyone in Minnesota knows Lehman as the best golfer to come out of the Land of 10,000 Lakes since Patty Berg. When Cragun approached the 1996 winner of The Open and former PGA Player of the Year, he did so without knowing that Lehman had added golf architecture to his resume.
During the two decades that the 88-year-old Cragun owned his treasured real estate parcel, he had already said no to three design proposals. Towards the end of this chance lunch encounter, Cragun inquired, “Do you design golf courses? Perhaps you’d like to take a look at my plans and the land I’d like to develop?”
A Golf Course Under Your Pillow
Cragun’s Resort already had two world-class golf courses on their 800-acres which also features 4500-feet of Gull Lake shoreline. The Dutch Legacy and Bobby Legacy layouts were designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. back in the late 90s. The long-time resort owner intimated to Lehman that renovating the existing courses may also be on the table.
Cragun suggested that Lehman should slip his golf development plans under his pillow and sleep on the new course design idea. Lehman is an early riser, and his follow up to Cragun’s suggestion included a 4 am wakeup call for yoga, followed by walking the untouched land, all before meeting Dutch for a late breakfast just before noon.
Prior to his meeting with Cragun, the Scottsdale, AZ-based Lehman Design Group had either designed, renovated, or collaborated on two dozen projects nationally. After his sunrise walk-through, Lehman was excited about the potential generated by Cragun’s spacious parcel of woods, wetlands, elevation changes, and dramatic vistas.
Go Big or Go Home
Lehman presented Cragun with three distinct ideas which he could potentially pursue if handed the reins of the resort owner’s pet project. The last, and what Lehman felt was the best option, he fondly referred to as “the bagel.”
The bagel was a new golf course, renovating the two existing layouts, and also designing nine additional golf holes. Ultimately, Cragun’s would be the site of 27 Dutch Legacy golf holes, 18 Lehman golf holes, and the nine reversable Par 3 golf holes. That’s 54 golf holes for those of you who are counting at home.
Cragun agreed to Lehman’s all-encompassing proposal, and Minnesota’s favorite golfer went to work two months later. In September of 2020 the Lehman Design Group moved forward on Cragun’s $15 million-dollar golf expansion.
A Focus on Playability
When Lehman takes on a project, he likes to go all in on one client. If he personally wasn’t on site at Cragun’s, his business partner, Chris Brand was very visible. “Chris spent two entire summers overseeing the process here in Brainerd,” Lehman said.
The signature focus of the Lehman 18 was on playability. “The bones of this property were excellent, the land is beautiful, and the Cragun’s team was 100 percent supportive. Our goal was to offer golfers spacious landing areas and overall resort course playability,” Lehman said.
The humble 35-time winner on the PGA, Champions, and European Tours needed some arm twisting when he learned the course would bear his name. Cragun’s General Manager Eric Peterson explained, “During the construction process, we kept referring to the new layout as the Lehman 18. The name just stuck.”
The Vision Becomes Reality
Dutch Cragun’s vision of adding a new 18-hole golf course for his resort guests came to fruition in July of 2023. The Lehman 18 features grand fairways, Australian-styled white sand bunkers, a beautiful mix of woodlands meets wetlands, and a wondrous look at Stephens Lake.
Cragun’s Golf Superintendent Matt McKinnon worked tirelessly to make this 7400-yard-track look, feel, and play like a Minnesota golf dream come true. Time was of the essence, because the PGA Tour Canada’s CRMC Championship will be held at Cragun’s on August 28 – September 3.
Golfers booking Cragun’s tee times now have the enviable task of choosing the award-winning Dutch Legacy course, the brand-new Lehman 18, or both. Golf Sales Manager Tim Bauman is on hand to customize a golf package that’s just right for you.
Lehman 18 – No Pressure
A tanned and fit Tom Lehman strode up to the Lehman 18, Par 4, 430-yard, 1st tee box as a dozen musicians played the University of Minnesota Rouser fight song to inspire this famed alum. When the music died down, Lehman addressed his golf ball as the crowd surrounding the first tee grew silent. Before taking the first swing inaugurating Cragun’s newest golf course, Lehman looked up, smiled, and said, “No pressure.” He then bombed a 270-yard draw down the middle.
A now 91-year-old Dutch Cragun watched the festivities with an ear-to-ear grin. Did the fact that Lehman, like Dutch, was a University of Minnesota graduate, help with the entrepreneur’s decision to go with “the bagel” pitch? We’ll never know.
If you’ve never been to the golf mecca that is the Brainerd Lakes area, you’d be wise add it to your bucket list. While you’re there, if you see Dutch Cragun and Tom Lehman eating lunch, there’s a good chance Minnesota’s favorite golf son may end up studying another new set of plans long before the sun rises. https://www.craguns.com/golf/