- Agar, South Dakota
- Graham Marsh (new course built in 2012)
- 70th best Modern USA (Golfweek)
In a world with seclusion at a premium for private golf getaways, Sutton Bay might be the most remote. You’re just over 3 hours to Bismarck, North Dakota, just shy of 4 hours to Rapid City, South Dakota, and 4 hours on the nose to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Those aren’t exactly heavy-hitting cities, either.
But Sutton Bay is a fantastic place, and one that I assume will fly under the radar for awhile thanks to its location. It’s not the architecture or the vibe, or even the food, which was also world class, that’ll keep it from the spotlight; anyone who goes here falls in love with the place.
The story of Sutton Bay makes the golf course even more interesting. The current course you play isn’t the original. Built in 2003 on the shores of Lake Oahe (which in turn is also the Missouri River), the Graham Marsh design slid into the lake, giving Sutton Bay quite the dilemma. But the membership liked the golf course enough that they brought Graham Marsh back and he completed the second course up the hill on the plateau overlooking Lake Oahe in 2012.
We’ll start with a quick summary of the par 3 course. There isn’t too much to know, but it’s nice to see! It’s a lot of fun with 150 yards being the longest shot you’ll hit.
Hole 1 is 115 yards playing to a shelf green.
As you can see below, the greens on this par 3 course are meant to test your accuracy as a nice warmup.
Hole 2 is 75 yards, playing to a very difficult green with a ton of slope.
Hole 3 is slightly longer, coming close to 150 yards downhill. The green has a spine dividing the left two-thirds with the right one third.
Hole 4 is 120 or so yards, playing severely downhill. For reference, I hit it 100 yards and ended up pin high.
Don’t miss right:
Hole 5 is about 120 yards again, playing slightly uphill to a bit of an easier green.
Hole 6 was my favorite hole here, playing 130 or so yards downhill to a two-tiered green over a small sand dune.
Hole 7 is about 155 yards playing slightly uphill, but usually downhill to a three-tiered green all sloping to the front. If you’re above the hole here you’ll likely make 5.
A view of the green complex:
Hole 8 is about 140 yards. I don’t remember the exact yardage but I pulled pitching wedge which is around 140-150 depending on the wind. The green funnels in from the left.
And finally, the 9th is a 100 yard par 3 up the hill with a very harsh collection area left.
The opening hole at Sutton Bay’s championship course is a mid length par 4 at about 425 yards. There’s some trouble off the tee in the middle of the fairway that’s tough to tell what it is on the first go. Lucky for anyone who plays here: it’s a mandatory caddie, so they’ll help you out.
The first green is a double green with hole 8. Neither come into play with each other however, so it’s not really a worry. The approach is quite good to a green sloping pretty hard to the left, with a nice view of the bunkering style at Sutton Bay & views of Lake Oahe.
A lot of Sutton Bay’s greens steal the show with their movement and contours.
The start is actually quite forgiving, especially for a 7300 yard golf course, with the second continuing the easy opening stretch. A 370 yard or so par 4, this hole is a layup in front of the massive blowout bunker you can see at about 285 yards.
The green is over the bunker complex to an all-world complex. It has three fingers long-left, right and short, creating a throwing-star shape of sorts with an incredible amount of movement.
The 3rd goes up the hill, and at 550 yards with the firm and fast conditions, is quite gettable. Three bunkers look pretty deadly from the tee, so the ideal play is to hit it at the third one from the left.
This is another double green with hole 6, and acts as almost one huge green. With only 30 people playing per day (busy being 50 people), it’s not a huge deal. On a public golf course with more rounds this green complex could get quite messy with a reachable par 5 on one end and a long par 4 on the other.
In the layup, however, is a massive bunker that’s incredible.
Again, the green has some really intense green movement.
You can see how close the two greens play to each other once you’re on the green complex.
The 4th moves slightly up the hill, playing as a drivable par 4 close to 350 yards. Hit one hard here as it’s wide, but don’t go over the green!
If you choose to layup, you’re greeted with a nice, simple wedge shot.
The 5th is the final of an easy starting five hole stretch, playing 150 yards or so. It’s a well-guarded green that requires a good shot in.
After the easy 5 hole opening stretch, you turn the corner and make your way back to the snack shack/practice area with a very demanding 3 hole stretch, starting with the 490 yard par 4, 6th.
This green is attached with the par 5, 6th, and plays over a bunker short. The play is to land it about 10 yards over the bunker on the right and let it run out. Par here is a great score.
Speaking of par is a great score, the 268 yard (!) par 3 7th plays back into the wind–like six did as well.
As you can see, it’s well guarded around the green, making this easily the hardest hole, in my opinion.
Going from the longest par 4 on the course, to the longest par 3, so why wouldn’t we go to the longest par 5? The 8th is a 600 yard par 5 swooping to the right around bunker in the driving area, 230 or so yards to carry.
The layup is pretty normal, nothing too crazy. The key is setting yourself up with a nice yardage.
A very well defended green complex awaits the player into the wind.
The 9th was one of my favorite tee shots on the golf course. Two bunkers down the middle at about 270 yards to carry are the key here. Either hitting it over, or going to the right is ideal. For those who are insane, left is also a route, although that is a very difficult tee shot.
The green here is quite good, and at only 420 or so yards from the very back tees, most players will have a short to mid iron in, but it falls off dramatically on the right, and demands your focus.
Starting off the back nine is another mid-length to longer par 4 at 450 yards. Bunkering up the right, you have a ton of room left to hit one hard into the wind.
The green is defined mostly by its wild contouring, but a bunker short right is also to be (obviously avoided).
Left of the green is a pretty aggressive collection area, hidden by some of the natural fescue.
The 11th is the second drivable par 4 on the golf course, but a tad longer at about 360 yards. It plays a few yards downhill, and a cross wind off Lake Oahe pushes the ball off your left shoulder. To fly all the fescue it’s 280 yards, so step up and rip one.
This is a brilliant hole because the father you layup left (a completely reasonable response to a tough tee shot visually), the more you have to deal with the bunker on the left side of the green. Keeping it right is ideal and the key to getting it close on very firm greens.
The 12th is a great hole as well, playing to a split fairway separated by a few bunkers up the middle. At only 411 yards, you have a few options, but up the right is a longer carry at about 250 yards.
If the pin is on the left, like it was the day I played, you need to keep it on the right fairway, but the pin is on the left, you need to play to the left side of the fairway. A beautiful hole defined by where the flag is.
You can see the width of the green from where you park your carts.
Another good hole, the par 3, 13th is a meaty 220 yards back into the wind. The left side of the green all falls off to the left collection area that’s death, while the right side is flanked by bunkering.
The 14th is my least favorite hole at Sutton Bay, mostly because the 552 yard par 5 feels forced with the duel-fairway. It’s the only hole, in my opinion, that doesn’t fit seamlessly with the landscape.
In the middle is a weird wash of some sorts akin to the desert.
Going up the right gives you a bit of a better angle. I assume up the left gives you a shorter yardage in, but we didn’t go over there.
Navigating the bunker short of the green is the least of the worries with another intense green complex.
The 15th is another monster, and the final really long hole of the day. 476 yards, this hole gives you a ton of room to hit it really, really hard.
Staying right off the tee gives you a better angle into the green, which is angled to the left around two bunkers. Another green complex with some great movement continues to be the bright part of Sutton Bay’s stellar design.
The 16th is the final par 4 of the golf course at 433 yards. Another wide tee shot, this is a fun one to hit hard and get a shorter yardage in.
The only bunker-less green complex on the golf course, I quite enjoyed it because it was refreshing. It relies solely on the undulations, which yet again there is quite a bit of movement.
At 200 yards, the penultimate hole is not a pushover. It features a beautiful infinity green looking at Lake Oahe, and left is absolute death. This to me felt like a “hit or miss” style hole, with double in play if you miss anywhere.
The final tee shot of the day is downwind and downhill on a 580 yard par 5, encouraging everyone to take a big rip. The more left you can keep it the better as some of the native grasses come in play up the right.
The hole then tumbles down towards the green complex, letting the player have a good chance at eagle or (more likely) birdie.
There is some pretty aggressive movement in the green contouring to the back edge.
So there’s Sutton Bay. It’s a fantastic golf course that I would return to in a heartbeat. The only problem: when the heck am I going to find myself in Agar, South Dakota again? It’s so far out of the way of anything that you could truly have to make it into the trip, not just stop along the way.
But Graham Marsh did a fantastic job here, and I suggest anyone who has a connection here or the ability to play here should do it as soon as possible. I’m glad I got out to play, because it’s one of my favorite spots I’ve been to!
Bonus: here’s some pictures of the putting course, which is worth the play!