Golf might not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing North Dakota, but don’t tell that to the state’s two most accomplished players – Mike Podolak, 66, of Oakes, and Amy Olson, 27, of Oxbow – who may be separated by nearly four decades but share many similarities in addition to their ties to The Peace Garden State.
They are both USGA champions, with Podolak’s victory coming in the 1984 U.S. Mid-Amateur and Olson’s in the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior. They also both represented the United States in international team competitions. Podolak went undefeated (1-0-1) on the victorious 1985 Walker Cup Team and Olson won two points (2-2-0) in a 2012 Curtis Cup defeat.
They also both honed their games at Oxbow Country Club, located in the small town of 305 (according to the latest U.S. Census) just south of Fargo.
Podolak credits longtime Oxbow C.C. professional John Dahl for taking the time to polish his game.
“He’s a big reason why I won the national Mid-Amateur down in Atlanta,” Podolak said.
Despite playing a full schedule on the LPGA Tour, Olson still lives in North Dakota with her husband, Grant, who was hired as the linebackers coach at North Dakota State University in Fargo in early 2019. They continue to enjoy the small-town vibe of eastern North Dakota.
“No gas station, no grocery story, nothing too glamorous,” Olson said of what it was like growing up there. “I’m a country girl. I don’t like big cities.”
The two also share one other trait: they both hold records that are unlikely to be broken anytime soon. After playing collegiate golf with Payne Stewart at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Podolak returned home and won 23 North Dakota State Amateurs, while Olson won 20 tournaments during her four years at North Dakota State, breaking Juli Inkster’s NCAA record for victories in a college career.
But perhaps their success in golf shouldn’t be that surprising in a state that is better known for ice hockey.
While North Dakota’s 116 golf courses don’t rank in the top half of states in terms of total number of facilities, it is more than 11 states, including Hawaii, Nevada and West Virginia. And if you don’t like waiting for a tee time, North Dakota might be the place for you. It has more golf courses per capita than any other state, one course for every 6,552 people.
The state’s accessibility to the game makes it even more welcoming. Ninety-five percent of the golf facilities in North Dakota are open to the public, including the entirety of the Lewis and Clark Golf Trail, a 19-course journey through one of America’s more historically noteworthy and distinctive regions.
North Dakota has also been on the cutting edge in some cases. One of its facilities, King's Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks, is the first golf course in the country to use drones for food deliveries on the course. Using a smart phone app, golfers can get food and drinks delivered by drones that fly more than 200 feet above the ground to them while out on the course.
The state has also made major strides in terms of making the game friendlier to young golfers. Since the 1995 U.S. Junior Amateur was played at Fargo C.C. (the state’s lone USGA championship), a qualifier for that championship has been held in the state each subsequent year. Additionally, North Dakota welcomed the popular “Youth on Course” program last year, giving juniors ages 6-18 access to play participating courses for just $5.
Hopefully the focus on junior golf initiatives in North Dakota will have another outcome – developing the next generation of Mike Podolaks and Amy Olsons, who will challenge the records of the state icons.
Mike Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.