By Kiel Christianson,
The Mayo Clinic, great restaurants and excellent golf courses like Soldiers Memorial Field Golf Course and Northern Hills are all reasons Rochester, Minnesota is one heck of a place to live.
ROCHESTER, Minn. - A lot of people outside of the upper Midwest may not have heard of Rochester, Minnesota. But nearly everyone has heard of the city's most famous "attraction," the Mayo Clinic.
America's leading hospital is the reason one out of every 58 people in the city is a doctor. It's also the reason why in 2004 Teasley's Ratings ranked Rochester as the seventh-best place in the U.S. "To find a rich, single man."
And from there, the nation-wide rankings on which Rochester finds itself just keep coming:
• "Best Places to Do Business" (Forbes, 2008).
• "Top 100 Places to Live and Launch" (CNNMoney.com, 2008).
• "Top 100 walking Cities in the U.S." (Prevention Magazine, 2008).
• "50 Best Places to Live and Play" (National Geographic Adventure, 2007).
• "#3 Least Stressful Places in the U.S." (Men's Journal, 2007).
• "#2 Quality of Life among U.S. Counties and Independent Cities" (American City Business Journal, 2006).
The lists go on and on, actually.
For golfers unfamiliar with Rochester, the really surprising Rochester ranking might be the No. 5 ranking on the list of Greatest Golf Hometowns by Golf Digest in 2006.
But residents would argue that the combination of the Mayo Clinic and the excellent, affordable golf in the area is one of the key reasons that Rochester lands on many of these lists. After all, golf is a lifetime sport, right? So living longer, with the help of the best doctors in America, means playing longer. And voila!, you have one of the best places for a long, happy life.
Rochester is blessed with an extensive park system, and among the 100-plus parks are four municipal golf courses. Only $26 will get you a round on any of them, and a mere $725 will buy you a year's pass for unlimited play on all of them.
Soldiers Memorial Field Golf Course is the senior member of the group, dating from the mid-1920s. But the small greens are in wonderful shape and their multitudinous small breaks present even big-hitting modern-day players with a real challenge.
Northern Hills Golf Course is a rolling, tree-lined track with a large collection of short par 4s that will take driver out of longer-hitters' hands and level the playing field for all players.
Eastwood Golf Club opened a brand-new back nine just this year, featuring elevated tee boxes and sublime green complexes that would make many a private course proud, much less a muni.
Next season, the new Hadley Creek Golf Learning center will also be fully operational. The center will include extensive practice facilities and an executive nine-hole course comprising par 3s and par 4s. Perfect for the local physicians to squeeze in a quick nine over a long lunch hour.
"We're pretty proud of our facilities," says Leif Erickson, director of golf for the Rochester City Parks District. And well they should be. Rochester's collection of munis would be the envy of countless larger cities.
There are also several privately-owned public golf courses in Rochester, including Willow Creek, Maple Valley and Oak Summit. In addition, the private Country Club of Rochester, designed by A.W. Tillinghast, and Summerby Golf Club, designed by Tom Lehman, are outstanding, if you can get on them.
The surrounding towns also boast some excellent muni and daily-fee tracks. Arguably the best of these is The Jewel Golf Club, an extremely challenging 7,050-yard Hale Irwin design 45 minutes away in Lake City.
Unlike much of the nation during these hard economic times, downtown Rochester is experiencing a sort of a renaissance. This summer, the Peace Plaza opened, serving as a serene, meandering walking path (and lighted "river") from the Mayo Clinic through several blocks of shops, hotels and restaurants. During the warm months, visitors will find abundant outdoor seating for lunch and dinner. Every Thursday in the summer there is a street market along the Peace Plaza with music and art on display.
During the colder months, visitors can wander around through the underground shopping and walking mall that connects the Mayo with the Marriott and Kahler hotels. If you do not happen to be visiting the city specifically for the clinic, you may at first be taken aback by the number of people you see who are connected to it: people in wheelchairs, with gauze bandages on their arms, in scrubs, with stethoscopes slung around their necks. Depending on your viewpoint, this proximity to health care could be either reassuring or nerve-wracking.
Whatever your thoughts on doctors, though, it is apparent that the relatively healthy local economy affords visitors plenty of recreational alternatives. Quarry Hill Nature Center and Silver Lake offer great outdoor diversions, while the Prairie Wall Climbing Gym lets people experience the thrill of rock-climbing without the dangers of climbing real rocks. However, if danger is your gig, then the rugged bluffs lining the nearby Mississippi River are for you.
This corner of Minnesota is considered by many to be the antiquing capitol of the state, where Red Wing Pottery is a large draw for visitors who haunt the many antique malls in the city.
The large influx of medical professionals from abroad is also helping shape and redefine the local dining scene. Over the past decade, several gourmet restaurants have opened up that feature an eclectic selection of ethnic and classic American cuisine.
Twigs, in the Best Western Soldiers Field hotel, is a newly re-designed, trendy lunch and dinner spot that features meals cooked at your table on 650-degree rocks.
Canadian Honker restaurant on 2nd Street is famous for parmesan-encrusted walleye and Bunnies Coconut Cake (they serve over 15,000 slices a year!).
S÷ntÚs is a wine and tapas bar located on 3rd Street in downtown Rochester, perfect for snacks and drinks with a group of friends.
Jaspers, also on 3rd Street, is a bistro featuring, of all things, Alsatian cuisine. Entrees are sophisticated, but not large.
Chester's Kitchen & Bar is newly opened on the far end of the Peace Plaza, and is the perfect place for upscale snacks and drinks after a round on one of the city's courses.
Finally, if all you want is the best burger in town, Newt's, on 1st Avenue, is the place to go.
Few cities in America are so single-mindedly devoted to good health. Combine a healthy atmosphere and great golf with the famed "Minnesota Nice" atmosphere, and Rochester starts to feel like your hometown even if it's your first time here.
For more information on Rochester, see www.rochestercvb.org.
September 22, 2008
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.