Minnesotan Tom Lehman, during his career, won five of the PGA Tour’s most prized tournaments at its most prestigious venues. But I asked him first about his 1998 television exhibition win in Petoskey, Michigan over Phil Mickelson at Boyne’s Bay Harbor Golf Resort.
“You remember that, eh?” Lehman asked, smiling, at the 2023 opening of the golf holes he designed at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake, in Brainerd, Minnesota. “Phil thought he had me because I got off to a slow start. I was four down after the first five holes, but I was playing with a separated shoulder. It was really painful.”
Bay Harbor’s links and quarry holes, designed by Arthur Hills with Boyne’s CEO Stephen Kircher above and along Little Traverse Bay, is no golf course to wobble into wounded. Lehman said he started to play better and chipped away at Mickelson’s lead until he passed him with a birdie on the scenic 17th hole and got the victory. “It was fun because there were a bunch of guys up there involved with a golf course design I was doing in Tampa. Having them there, as partners, as part of the celebration after was a good experience.”
Lehman’s lucrative Tour wins came in England at the British Open; the Tour Championship; and at two invitationals: The Colonial and The Memorial, hosted, respectively, by golf greats Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Lehman’s Phoenix Open victory came at the Tour’s liveliest event with the most fevered fans.
“I seem to play better on the tougher golf courses in tougher conditions,” Lehman shrugged. Moments later a nervous Lehman, standing over the ceremonial tee shot to open the new course bearing his name he designed at Cragun’s Resort, he cracked a deadpan joke to break the ice with the crowd: “No pressure at all.”
Lehman hit the shot in front of the assembled fans; media members; the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gopher alumni band; the resort’s general manager Eric Peterson; and Dutch Cragun, the 91-year-old owner. “I forgot my kazoo!” exclaimed Cragun as he danced on the tee.
Lehman, who grew up a couple-hour drive away, originally met Cragun when he came to watch his son Thomas Lehman compete at the more than 80-year-old family resort. Lehman struck up a conversation with Dutch and ended up with the design job. Ironically, after the opening tee shot, Lehman would spend the rest of the week again watching his son Thomas playing, this time over in Minneapolis, where he would compete in his first PGA Tour event.
“Controlling my nerves while watching Thomas is tougher. I am not a good ‘watcher,’” Lehman, 64, confessed. “There is a lot of name recognition here for my name, so people will see him and say, ‘Wait a minute, that guy is way younger than Tom Lehman.”
Dutch Cragun, at 91, is admired by Lehman for his vision and energy. The excitable patriarch talked with me at sunset one night aboard the resort’s dinner cruise boat as the live band wound down before he did.
“You are the ‘Walt Disney of Cragun’s Resort,” I suggested.
“I think that’s a bit much,” he countered.
But with the vast variety of family-friendly outdoor and indoor lakefront activities and lodging options beyond the eventual 45 holes of golf plus a par-three course, Dutch has himself a kingdom. “Dutch is the king of Brainerd,” said Lehman.
And while the PGA Tour Canada comes to Cragun’s to compete for cash, an ornamental ax and a path to the big time each August, Cragun still wants to travel, too.
“I want to go over and see Mackinac Island. I have never been there,” said the Minnesota tourism titan.
Contact Michael Patrick Shiels at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be found at MiBigShow.com or weekday mornings from 9-noon on WJIM AM 1240