Long gone, two miles from Hazeltine and the Ryder Cup: Mudcura

Mudcura Sanitarium

Author’s note: When the 1,500 or so wingnut golf fans — and I use that term with all due respect — take their seats in the first-tee bleachers Friday through Sunday at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National, they will stare almost directly southwest as the players fire their opening salvos down the first fairway.

Were they able to peer an additional two miles down literally the same line — a line that goes from Hazeltine’s first tee box, through the greenside bunker to the right of No. 1 green and southwest almost to Flying Cloud Drive — they would be looking upon the site of what used to be another Carver County golf course. It is unidentifiable today and long since overgrown, but it’s there.

I wrote about the site in Chapter 20 of my 2014 book, “Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999.” ($19.95, Five Star Publishing.) The chapter is repeated below, with the author’s permission (I asked. I promise.). The book is available on Amazon.com.

20. Not so much the golf course …

Mudcura Golf Club
City: Chanhassen
County: Carver
Years: 1926-1940s

The oddest confluence of modern-day Minnesota golf courses and their lost counterparts lies in and around the Carver County cities of Chaska and Chanhassen.

First, the former:

Three modern-day courses in this area boast indisputable stature: Chaska Town Course, designed by Arthur Hills, regarded by many as the best city-owned course in the state; Bearpath, just across the Carver County line in the Hennepin County city of Eden Prairie, designed by Jack Nicklaus and home to some of the state’s most affluent residents; and Hazeltine National in Chaska, designed by Robert Trent Jones and reworked by his son Rees, host club for two U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships and two U.S. Women’s Opens, and host-in-waiting for the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Now, the latter:

Wedged in among all that eminence are two old courses that are, frankly, about as revered as liver spots.

Tracy D. Swanson, president of the Chaska Historical Society, summarized two Carver County lost golf courses in an email:

“In the Chaska history book ‘Chaska, A Minnesota River City,’ golf was referred to by Chaskans as ‘cow pasture pool’ because a primitive course was carved out of a community pasture in Chaska in the 1930s.

“Another course just east of Chaska was located behind the old Mudcura Sanitarium, but the same soothing springs that gave cause for Mudcura’s existence also contributed to a poor golf course.”

Yikes. Don’t save a spot for these two in the pantheon of great layouts in Minnesota history.

Lost Course A — let’s call it Meadows Golf and Droppings Club — shall be allowed to fade into oblivion. As for Mudcura, there is further peculiarity — not from the golf course so much as from its next-door neighbor.

Mudcura Sanitarium was just north of what is now Flying Cloud Drive and west of Bluff Creek Drive, in southwestern Chanhassen. Its cause was noble. A Chaska Herald story reported that the sanitarium, which was said to have opened in 1909, “offered mud baths and respite for those suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, asthma and a variety of skin, kidney and nervous diseases.” It also was said to have been an early alcohol abuse treatment facility.

Even before the place opened, however, and certainly afterward, there was oddness.

A detailed history of Mudcura Sanitarium written by Joseph Huber, Michael Huber and Patricia Huber noted that the grounds were situated on 120 acres, half of them mud, that construction on the main building began in 1908, and that by December of that year, “with only the foundation completed, they were calling the facility the Swastika Sulphur Springs Sanitorium. … When finished it was called Mudcura, even though they still had a decorative Swastika in the main office.”

In fairness, it should be noted that the swastika symbol did not come to have negative connotations until it was adopted by the Nazi party in Germany in the 1920s and incorporated into the state flag of Germany after Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party gained power in 1933.

During the decades Mudcura Sanitarium operated, there was mud everywhere – and a few dark moments, according to the Hubers’ history. A man receiving treatments at Mudcura was nabbed after stealing a $600 diamond in 1921. A June 1925 tornado did $25,000 worth of damage to the property, and sanitarium founder Dr. Henry P. Fischer and his assistant Larry Hunter both received broken arms trying to close a second-floor door during the storm. Later that year, a patient’s body was found on the grounds; he had presumably slit his own throat with a pocketknife.

Mudcura was sold in 1951 to, according to the Hubers’ history, “the Black Franciscans, Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Our Lady of Consolation Provience, Louisville, Kentucky.” The place later became known as Assumption Seminary, a seminary college and dairy farm operating in association with the colleges of St. Catherine and St. Thomas from the 1950s to 1970.

After the seminary closed, the grounds lay dormant. The main building did not age gracefully, apparently becoming something of a haven for partiers and curiosity seekers, some with a bent for the paranormal.

And eventually, Mudcura Sanitarium was labeled these things:

– Creepy.

– Haunted.

– Hell House.

Yes, Hell House. That appellation was spray-painted on the front of the building, and there are reports of satanic graffiti having been applied liberally to other parts of the abandoned building. There are multiple reports of the building’s caretaker chasing interlopers off the property with a shotgun and one report of the caretaker painting over the satanic graffiti with biblical phrases.

“Just thinking about that place gives me the heebie jeebies up my back,” wrote one person on an Internet message board.

At least three websites feature prominent entries on what became the gloomier side of Mudcura. All can be easily accessed through a simple Internet search. Details will not be provided here, so as to spare the faint of heart from a possible case of the heebies, or jeebies, or both.

The Mudcura Sanitarium building burned to the ground in 1997 in a spectacular blaze. The Hubers’ history reported that the Chanhassen Fire Department burned the dormitory down as a practice exercise, but others have suspected a more nefarious cause: arson.

Two people who posted about Mudcura on Internet sites graciously offered more information on their visits to the Mudcura grounds vie email but declined requests to be interviewed on the record.

“When it burned down, I nearly cried. It was like I lost an old friend,” wrote one, a frequent Mudcura visitor.

“It was definitely creepy,” wrote the other.

And this: “My great-grandfather was one of the foremen during its last renovation before being abandoned. He kept extensive journals from his life, and included a strange comment about the building that said, ‘it will be too soon the next time I return to this place.’ Also he said many of the workers had very unusual experiences while working on the project. He didn’t note in any detail. … On the night the building burned down, one of my aunts committed herself into religious asylum for protection (which she never explained to anyone) and my other aunt decided to burn my great-grandfather’s journals.”

The burned-out building stood for a time before it was reduced to rubble, and the rubble was hauled away.

The first mention of Mudcura Golf Course in Carver County Historical Society archives is from an Aug. 19, 1926, story in the Weekly Valley Herald of Chaska. The newspaper reported on a match at the course between players from Shakopee and Chaska. Shakopee won the match, 727 strokes to 731. E.G. Darsow had the lowest 18-hole score, an 85. Six of the 17 competitors were doctors. All players had dinner at the sanitarium, and the club was offering memberships for the balance of the season for $5.00 for “Gentlemen” and $2.50 for “Ladies.”

A Weekly Herald story from April 19, 1928, reported on a meeting at which a membership limit of 85 had been established. “The club is composed of members from Chaska and Shakopee, who are very enthusiastic about their little course which is described by many golf fans as being one of the most sporty in this section.”

Mudcura-C Mudcura-D

Scorecards courtesy of Phil Kostolnik

An old, undated scorecard says Mudcura was a par-33 course. The scorecard lists nine holes out and nine holes in, as would any traditional scorecard for a nine- or 18-hole course. But here’s where it gets curiouser and curiouser, as if so much about Mudcura weren’t curious enough:

All indications are that Mudcura was a six-hole course.

On the scorecard, the yardages for holes 1 through 6 are identical to those of holes 7 through 12, and then again for holes 13 through 18. The golfers who filled out the scorecard marked only the first six holes, a logical ending point on a six-hole course. What’s more, a 1937 aerial photograph of the area distinctly shows six — no more, no less — small, white circles, identical in appearance to sand greens seen on other aerial photos from the same era. The circles are distinct enough to suggest the course was still active.

The aerial photo contradicts the notion that the golf course was “behind” the sanitarium. Two greens were, but the rest of the course appears to be west of the sanitarium, on both sides of the creek, almost as far south as Flying Cloud Drive.

Mudcura Sanitarium. The road in front of the sanitarium is what is now Flying Cloud Drive. The oval-shaped feature near the left edge of the photo and close to the edge of the sanitarium was almost certainly a green on Mudcura Golf Club.

Mudcura Sanitarium, from a postcard dated Dec. 29, 1943. The road in front of the sanitarium is what is now Flying Cloud Drive. Reverse side of postcard includes the notation “near golf course,” and just to the left of the building is an oval shape that is presumed to be a green.

The creek came into play on two holes, according to the scorecard, and the second hole, a 338-yard par 4 and the No. 1 handicap hole, must have been a beast: Someone named “HHP” took an 11, with no scores higher than 6 on the rest of the card.

The scorecard included this notation: “Drop your cards in box at west entrance of sanitarium.”

The likely resting place of part of the former Mudcura Golf Club grounds can be viewed from the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, by walking about a half-mile west on the trail where it intersects Bluff Creek Drive. The site is nothing more than farmland and marshland, with no evidence of golf ever having been played there. “If you like nature, it’s worth it just for the view,” one of the website posters wrote.

Beyond the newspaper stories and the scorecard, Mudcura Golf Club is barely a footnote in county history. On this author’s visit to the Chaska-Chanhassen area, six people were asked about it. Three had heard of the sanitarium, two others of the seminary. None had heard of the golf course.

Today, all that remains of Mudcura Sanitarium are portions of the driveway, angled and leading to a circular slab of concrete that served as a parking area, judging by old aerial photos. Just to the west, in a thicket, is another slab of old concrete, about a foot square and a foot high. And that is it.


The surrounding area, however, is not without modern-day significance. It is the site of Seminary Fen. A fen is a lowland, and Seminary Fen is a calcareous fen, considered one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. A 2008 Minneapolis Star Tribune story covering the dedication of Seminary Fen described this area of the Minnesota River Valley:

“Environmentalists say that only about 500 calcareous fens exist worldwide, with Minnesota home to about 200 of them. … The fens thrive in cold groundwater at the bottom of a slope or bluff enriched with calcium and magnesium.”

Limited public access is permitted on 73 acres of Seminary Fen, which is under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

You’re welcome to walk around in much of the fen. You might discover the scant remains of Mudcura Sanitarium. Maybe, if you’re paranormally plugged in, you’ll sense the old “Hell House” aura. But Mudcura Golf Club is history. Very little history, actually, but history nonetheless.

Nugget: Though the Mudcura grounds are closer to the downtowns of both Chaska and Shakopee, they are within the Chanhassen City limits. Two public courses are within 1 1/2 miles of Mudcura: Bluff Creek and Halla Greens.

Ferndale Part II: Whereabouts

Funny thing about lost golf courses. Just saying there once was a golf course in Bryn Mawr or Mendota Heights or North St. Paul or, as I did last week, Wayzata’s Ferndale neighborhood, is fine — as far as it goes. But evidence to back a claim goes a long way — otherwise, people will look at you like you told them Elvis is still alive and belting out “Kentucky Rain” weekdays in a Golden Valley rest home.

Pretty sure he isn’t, though I’ll bet you could find someone there with pipes enough to sing a resounding version of “Amazing Grace.”

But I digress, chordially speaking. The thing is, with lost golf courses, it helps to have supporting detail before you say there was a golf course here or there or wherever.

So, since it has been revealed that there once — in the 1899 golf season only — was a little practice course in Wayzata’s toney Ferndale neighborhood, it seems incumbent on the revealer to do a bit more revealing.

Where exactly was this course? Follow along.

“The first teeing ground,” the Minneapolis social magazine The Courant reported on July 27, 1899, of the six-hole Ferndale practice course, “is on Mr. F.H. Peavey’s land near the farm house, and the balance of the course is on Mr. C.A. Bovey’s and Mr. Dean’s ground. The sixth hole lies in front of Mr. Rand’s house.”

Well, there you go. Easy Peavey. Dust off the old plat maps, synch up property lines and it should take, oh, 15 minutes to figure out where the little, old, six-holer lay. …

… Um, not so fast.

The starting point of the Ferndale practice course is clear, even if “Mr. Peavey’s land” is an understated reference to something pretty much palatial. The estate of Minneapolis grain magnate Frank Hutchinson Peavey, named Highcroft, occupied 111 acres on high ground away from the Lake Minnetonka shores of southwest Wayzata. It featured a 30-room mansion off a private drive (that path is now Highcroft Road). The estate was designed by the famed Warren Manning; the mansion was designed by the famed William Channing Whitney. (The former Highcroft estate and some surrounding land technically is not part of modern-day Ferndale; it is in the Highcroft neighborhod. The neighborhoods’ histories, however, are inextricably intertwined, and for the purposes of trying to keep a spider web of history as simple as possible, we’re pretty much calling the entire shootin’ match Ferndale.)


Historic aerial photo of the Highcroft estate founded by grain magnate F.H. Peavey in Wayzata. Photo courtesy Keith Schafer. I believe the relatively open area at the top of the photo is part of Woodhill Country Club. The open area near the mansion is the south side of Highcroft, with farm buildings to the left (west). The Ferndale practice golf course likely had its first tee near the right or bottom-right part of the photo.
Historic aerial photo of the Highcroft estate founded by grain magnate F.H. Peavey in Wayzata. Courtesy Keith Schafer. I believe the open area at the top of the photo is part of Woodhill Country Club. The open area near the mansion is the south side of Highcroft, with farm buildings to the left (west/southwest). The Ferndale practice golf course likely had its first tee near the right or bottom-right part of the photo. The Highcroft mansion was demolished in 1953.

On the southwest side of the Highcroft estate were a half-dozen secondary structures, some used in operation of a dairy farm. South of the mansion was a large, lush garden.

Near all of that, there was, briefly, a first tee.

Best guess is that the Ferndale golf course opened just to the northwest of the intersection of what is now Ferndale and Highcroft Roads. It headed south, onto Charles Argalis Bovey’s property, judging by an 1898 Hennepin County plat map. From there, the course must have continued further south onto “Mr. Dean’s ground,” marked “Cordelia R. Dean” on the plat map.

And then what?

What of “Mr. Rand’s house”?

That reference threw for a loop at least a dozen people I interviewed — including Wayzata historical experts, a Rand family member and a former Highcroft estate resident. There is no parcel on the 1898 plat map assigned to “Rand.” A 1913 plat map shows “A.T. Rand” as the owner of a parcel that coincides with what likely was part of the golf course, but no readily available maps show Alonzo T. Rand owning that parcel before the 20th century.


1898 plat map of Wayzata's Ferndale neighborhood, courtesy Minneapolis Central Library. The properties marked F.H. Peavey, C.A. Bovey, Cordelia Dean and one other -- read the rest of this entry to figure it out -- were the ones on which the former Ferndale golf practice course lay.

1898 plat map of Wayzata’s Ferndale neighborhood, courtesy Minneapolis Central Library. The properties marked F.H. Peavey, C.A. Bovey, Cordelia Dean and one other — read the rest of this entry to figure it out – were the ones on which the former Ferndale golf practice course lay.

Internet searches and book references at first only lent confusion to Alonzo Rand’s 1899 whereabouts. The common theme that comes up in researching Rand is that his Ferndale residence was an estate named Beltres — but on the 1898 plat map, Beltres, along the Wayzata Bay shoreline, is owned by F.B. Semple and not within a well-struck midiron of where the Ferndale golf course lay.

If all of this is more convoluted than Jim Furyk’s swing plane, Thelma Jones’ 1957 Lake Minnetonka history book “Once Upon a Lake” offers an excuse. Wrote Jones: “To move cottages, to exchange them, to incorporate them into larger edifices was as much a part of the Ferndale ethic as it was to do the same with businesses.”

Back to the harder-than-Hades task of trying to determine Alonzo T. Rand’s 1899 Ferndale residence. A clue:

In 1905, Rand, then a widower, married one Anne Semple — the recently widowed wife of Frank B. Semple, who died in 1904 and who at the time owned the Beltres estate. On July 1, 1906, the Minneapolis Journal reported that “Mr. and Mrs. A.T. Rand and their family, who have been occupying the A.T. Rand house on the hill at Ferndale, moved into the Semple house last week.”

The “Semple house” was Beltres.

That clears up the abundant references linking Rand and Beltres but still doesn’t pinpoint Rand’s 1899 Ferndale whereabouts. That was finally done via the 2016 re-emergence of the historic Minneapolis Tribune digital archives.

On Oct. 15, 1899, the Tribune reported:

“The Bovey residence, which A. T. Rand purchased in the spring and which occupies one of the most beautiful heights around the lower lake, has been extensively improved by alterations and additions.”

At last, confirmation that Rand in 1899 owned a house coinciding with the location of the Ferndale golf course. The Rand house presumably lay on the western half of the property marked “C.A. Bovey” on the plat map. And the final hole of the Ferndale practice course lay nearby.

Rand, as well as the Deans, Boveys and Peaveys, endured flying gutta-percha across their properties for a matter of mere months. On May 2, 1900, the Minneapolis Tribune reported the demise of the Ferndale golf grounds.

“The Ferndale links, which were used last season by the cottagers of the vicinity, have been given up,” the newspaper reported. “They were not of the best, and occupied so much private property in their course that they could not have been put in condition without heavy expenditures. The new course on the Lafayette club grounds will be the resort of the golfers who spend their summer at the lake.”

So the Ferndale gang packed up their hickory shafts and reconnoitered. The big hitters of Minnesota golf’s fledgling days continued to “grow the game” a century before that term became popular. They returned to their home courses, particularly Minikahda, played the new Lafayette club course, which officially opened in 1900, or branched out to new playing fields, quite likely spreading the word about their wonderful — and often infernal — new hobby.



Postscript: Many decades later, in the 1970s, Phil Reith, golf professional at Wayzata’s Woodhill Country Club, was enlisted by one James Ford Bell Jr. to slip on down to his Ferndale property to offer swing tips. Bell was an accomplished man — waterfowler, conservationist, philanthropist, chairman and CEO of Red Owl Stores — and played golf at Woodhill and Florida’s noted Seminole course, among others, though Reith implied in a telephone interview that Bell’s golf game perhaps wasn’t Jason Day-esque and that some friendly advice was indeed in order.

To aid his game, Bell had set up a two-hole practice course on his property — the same property his grandfather had bought from the Dean family in 1906.

“He had two greens and a sand trap and a ball washer,” said Bell’s son Ford Bell, who still lives on part of the property. “He used to be out there every day … night after night.”

The younger Bell says he still can see the outline of one of the practice greens, on the high ground of Ferndale, almost squarely in the middle of the peninsula — and almost directly in the path of the old Ferndale practice course, as it made its way northwest, through Cordelia Dean’s property and back across Charles Argalis Bovey’s property on its way to Alonzo T. Rand’s front yard.


The most notable feature of modern-day Ferndale, besides the massive, multimillion-dollar homes lining the lakefront, is Harrington Farms Gate, at Harrington Road and Ferndale Road. The granite gate was built in 1915, after the Ferndale practice golf course had disappeared, but it stands only a couple of hundred yards northwest of the likely terminus of the course. (Andy Bissen photo)

The most notable feature of modern-day Ferndale, besides the massive, multimillion-dollar homes lining the lakefront, is Harrington Farms Gate, at Harrington Road and Ferndale Road. The granite gate was built in 1915, after the Ferndale practice golf course had disappeared, but it stands only a couple of hundred yards northwest of the likely terminus of the course. (Andy Bissen photo)


The little, big, remarkable course at Ferndale

Small golf course. Big, big, big hitters.

That would be a diminutive and three superlatives. And still, they hardly go far enough in describing the diametric nature of the lost golf course at Ferndale.

There is no lost course in Minnesota more incongruous than this one. Not by a long shot. And a short shot.

Exhibit A: Its Smallness.

Go back a century, plus 17 years. You’re standing within the borders of the city of Wayzata, a stone’s throw — about three fairly healthy stone’s throws, to be precise — of the Lake Minnetonka shoreline. There it is, spread before you in all of its glory. Or lack thereof.

A golf course so small, a Lilliputian would have found it Lilliputian.

Western Wayzata and the Ferndale peninsula (bottom), 1898 plat map (courtesy John Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Western Wayzata and the Ferndale peninsula (bottom), 1898 plat map (courtesy John Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

This “golf course” — although it really wasn’t a full-fledged course at all and never was billed as such — occupied about the same acreage as a farmer’s back 40, divided by four. It was only six holes “long,” and from first whack to final tap-in, it was a jaunt of only 1,135 yards — the modern-day equivalent of a long par-5, a long par-4 and a flip-wedge par 3.

The course’s meager physical imprint was matched by its wisp of a chronological footprint. Its life span was exactly one Minnesota golf season — a mere half a year’s worth of spoons, cleeks and mashies.

On the other hand …

Exhibit B, Its Bigness:

Did someone say big hitters? This golf grounds and the surrounding neighborhood featured some of the biggest in the state. Ever. In any walk of life, sporting or otherwise.

In other words: Business magnates. Millionaires. Socialites. Philanthropists. Politicians. Movers. Shakers.

And one particularly notable golf bigwig.


The first golf grounds in Wayzata — and one of the first in all of Minnesota — was introduced to the public in a one-paragraph entry in an “On the Golf Links” column published in the Minneapolis Tribune of June 25, 1899:

“The new links at Ferndale, Lake Minnetonka, were completed for use last evening and there was a little play over them to try the ground. The course is laid out in six holes, averaging 200 yards, which gives a very satisfactory game.”

Next notice came in the July 27, 1899, issue of The Courant, a newly minted Minneapolis social magazine. Page 9 included this:

“The residents in Ferndale, Lake Minnetonka, where are grouped so many of the elegant summer homes, have a practice course for golf on which there is much playing in anticipation of the Minikahda links in town or the new Minnetonka club course when it is completed. …”

The Ferndale practice course was among the first 10 golf grounds in Minnesota, preceded only by Town & Country Club and Roadside Golf Club (St. Paul), Winona Golf Club (already defunct by 1899), Meadow-Brook in Winona, Bryn Mawr in Minneapolis, and Hazen and Ward Burton’s three-hole layout, later expanded to nine holes, on their Chimo estate in Deephaven. (Northland Country Club in Duluth and the courses at Minikahda and Camden Park, both in Minneapolis, also debuted in 1899. The “Minnetonka club,” referred to in the previous paragraph, was the Lafayette Club, whose golf course didn’t officially open until 1900.)

A little about the bigness of Ferndale:

Ferndale is a neighborhood just southwest of downtown Wayzata occupying a triangular peninsula along the north shore of Lake Minnetonka. Wayzata Bay lies to the east, Browns Bay to the west. The peninsula then and now has been home to some of Minnesota’s wealthiest, most prominent and influential citizens.

In the late 19th century and early 20th, Ferndale, with its mansions and cottages lining the shore and rising from the higher ground nearby, was a veritable Minnesota version of The Hamptons. Much of Ferndale’s exclusive, millionaire class spent summers vacationing alongside Lake Minnetonka while maintaining large, primary homes in Minneapolis, where they conducted business. Still, many of the summer abodes at Ferndale were stately enough to have had names bestowed upon them: Bonsyde, Cloverley, Beltres, The Arbors et al.

“Ferndale,” wrote Thelma Jones in her 1957 book “Once Upon a Lake, “flowed with milk and honey … the honey was the gold that stuck to these men’s thumbs.”

Green thumbs, they were. Legal-tender green.


Back to golf, and the Courant article on the Ferndale practice course:

“Messrs. F.B. Wells, C.C. Bovey, George Peavey and A.T. Rand were primarily interested in starting the course,” read one passage.

Well, that would be quite the foursome of big hitters.

Frederick Brown Wells was a vice president of grain giant F.H. Peavey & Company and a board member with two prominent Minneapolis banks. Charles Cranston Bovey was export manager and later chairman of the Washburn Crosby Milling Corporation, later known as General Mills. George Wright Peavey was the son of Frank Hutchison Peavey, who founded F.H. Peavey & Company and was known as “Grain Elevator King of the World.” Alonzo Turner Rand was vice president of the Minneapolis Gas Light Company, which illuminated Minnesota’s largest city in the late 1800s.

At least a dozen other Ferndale residents, prominent Minnesotans all, had connections to the peninsula’s little golf course.

And then there was Lucia.

The Courant article continued: “Mrs. Howard Mansfield, of New York, Mrs. Frank T. Heffelfinger, Mrs. George Chase Christian are among the women players seen oftenest on the course.”

Lucia (pronounced “Loosha”) Louise Peavey was the daughter of Frank Peavey and a sister to George Peavey. Born in 1873, she married another man named Frank — Frank Totton Heffelfinger — in 1895. The couple lived at Ferndale, on the Highcroft estate. On Jan. 23, 1899. a few months before winter dissolved and Ferndale’s practice course debuted, Lucia gave birth to her second son.

The son’s name: Totton Peavey Heffelfinger.

If you are a golfer, the name might ring a bell.

Totton P. Heffelfinger was among a handful of the most important figures in Minnesota golf history. He was a prominent member at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, became president of the Minnesota Golf Association in 1932 and served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1952 and 1953.

In 1960, about 10 miles south of his Ferndale birthplace, Totton Heffelfinger founded a golf club that built a course in the western Twin Cities suburb of Chaska.

That name might ring a bell, too: Hazeltine National Golf Club.

All of which adds up to a rich slice of serendipity. It is entirely possible that the first golf hole ever seen, albeit through 6-month-old eyes that wouldn’t have known a dogleg from a dog biscuit, by Totton P. Heffelfinger, founder of the broad-shouldered Hazeltine National Golf Club course that has hosted six major championships and this fall will host the 41st Ryder Cup matches, was one of the six little practice holes at Ferndale.

A leap of logic? Maybe not. Though Heffelfinger’s father, Frank Totton Heffelfinger, undoubtedly weaned young “Tot” largely on Minikahda and Town & Country Club, two city courses to which he held membership, the newborn son likely spent his first months in the company of his mother, perhaps close to home. And perhaps close to — or on — the Ferndale layout.

That speculation was presented to a modern-day Heffelfinger who found it plausible. After being apprised in mid-2015 for the first time of the Ferndale layout and the Courant story, Tom Heffelfinger, a grandson of Totton P. and a former U.S. attorney who lives in Edina, soon surmised that when his grandmother Lucia played the Ferndale course, “it was either with him (Totton P.) in tow or as a break from mothering her son.”

Lucia Peavey Heffelfinger, rear, holds her son, future Hazeltine National Golf Club founder Totton Peavey Heffelfinger, while her grandmother Mary holds Lucia's son Frank P. Also pictured is Lucia's father, Frank H. Peavey. The photo is dated 'about 1899,' which is the year Totton was born and the one year of existence of the six-hole practice golf course at Ferndale which was played by Lucia.  Photo courtesy of Justin Peavey.

Lucia Peavey Heffelfinger, rear, holds her son, future Hazeltine National Golf Club founder Totton Peavey Heffelfinger, while her grandmother Mary holds Lucia’s son Frank P. Also pictured is Lucia’s father, Frank H. Peavey. The photo is dated “about 1899,” which is the year Totton was born and the one year of existence of the six-hole practice golf course at Ferndale which was played by Lucia Heffelfinger. Photo courtesy of Justin Peavey.

The Heffelfingers seemed to be not entirely of the same ilk as their immediate neighbors. In “Once Upon a Lake,” Jones wrote that the Heffelfingers “broke the (Ferndale) rule about no fraternization” with the rest of Wayzata. Young Tot apparently matured with similar egalitarian inclinations, as he insisted that Hazeltine membership “be available to anyone, regardless of religious background or gender,” former Hazeltine president Reed Mackenzie was quoted as saying in Rick Shefchik’s “From Fields to Fairways” book about Minnesota’s classic golf courses.

That digression aside, back to name-dropping. Turn-of-the-20th century Ferndale teemed with luminaries of Minnesota business and society. It also teemed, probably not coincidentally, with the first aficionados, disciples and apostles of Minnesota golf. They might not have learned the game on the Ferndale peninsula, but the 1899 practice course was in play, or at least in sight.

If the following Ferndale-and-golf connections make your head spin, apologies …

Ferndale resident Alonzo T. Rand was president of Town & Country Club in St. Paul, Minnesota’s first golf course. He also was a founding governor of Minikahda, and a Minneapolis Tribune story from 1898 labeled him one of the better players at Bryn Mawr.

His father, Alonzo C. Rand, was head of the Minneapolis Gas & Light Company and a former Minneapolis mayor who died along with nine others in the locally notorious swamping of the Minnie Cook off Ferndale’s Lookout Point in 1885.

George Chase Christian, husband of the aforementioned Ferndale golfer Caroline Knight Christian, was on the T&CC golf committee in 1899. His family and the Hardenbergh family owned the southern tip of Ferndale, including Lookout Point and Spirit Island. George S. Christian’s father, George H., was manager of the Washburn-Crosby Company (later General Mills). At least three members of the Christian family were Minikahda members.

There is no readily available evidence that F.H. Peavey, the grain magnate, dabbled in golf, but he was a founding Bryn Mawr member as well as the first president of the Lafayette Club, which was organized in 1899 and in 1900 opened a nine-hole course in Minnetonka Beach.

Ferndale’s Franklin B. Semple was a founding board member at Minikahda and Lafayette.

E.J. Phelps, a real estate developer, was on the Minneapolis parks board for two decades, was president from 1912-14, and he promoted creation of a golf course by the park board, according to Minneapolis parks historian David C. Smith. In 1916, Glenwood (later renamed Theodore Wirth) opened as Minneapolis’ first public course. Phelps and fellow Ferndale resident William Bovey were on the parks board at the time of Glenwood’s birth.

The Boveys were another influential Ferndale-and-golf family. They owned multiple plots at various times in Ferndale. Charles Cranston Bovey, the Ferndale course regular, was the son-in-law of Judge Martin Buren Koon, who on July 15, 1899, struck the first shot ever at the new Minikahda Club. Charles C.’s twin brother, William, served 20 years on the Minneapolis park board and was on the board in 1919, when the Columbia course in northeast Minneapolis was opened.

In 1915, one mile northwest of the by-then-abandoned Ferndale layout, Woodhill Country Club was established. Frank Totton Heffelfinger was an original board member and the longest-serving club president (1922-34). The Boveys were similarly integral to Woodhill. Charles C. Bovey was a founder of the club, and William was an original board member. According to a Woodhill history, Charles C. Bovey once authored a memorandum on the founding of the club that included this passage: “For some years the residents of Ferndale had been thinking of a country club. Our children were young. We wanted a family club, free from temptations of drink.”

Frederick B. Wells was the first Woodhill vice president; he also held memberships at Town & Country Club, Minikahda and Lafayette. He was F.H. Peavey’s son-in-law and at one time a Peavey Company vice president.

Then there were the Pillsburys. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, as well. John Sargent Pillsbury II and Charles Stinson Pillsbury, twin sons of flour industrialist and Pillsbury Company co-founder Charles Alfred Pillsbury, were co-owners in 1913 of a plot of land in Ferndale just south of Highcroft, perhaps on the edge of the former Ferndale golf grounds. The Pillsburys long owned land at Ferndale from the late 1800s into the 1900s. John S. Pillsbury was an original Woodhill board member and bought the land upon which that golf course was established. Charles S. also was an original Woodhill board member, as was their cousin, art collector Alfred Fisk Pillsbury, who had a villa built on the Wayzata Bay shoreline at Ferndale in 1905. A.F. Pillsbury was a Minikahda member, a Minneapolis park board member and was described as an “eager golfer” in journalist Lori Sturdevant’s 2011 book “The Pillsburys of Minnesota.” His father was John Sargent Pillsbury (not to be confused with John Sargent Pillsbury II), the eighth governor of Minnesota.

George W. Porter, founder of the Minnetonka Elevator Company, owned property between Pillsbury and Semple property on Wayzata Bay. He was a founding member at Minikahda.

The aforementioned Warren Manning, who landscaped the Highcroft estate, appears to also have been an early proponent of golf in Minnesota. Smith, the Minneapolis parks historian, reported in a blog entry that Manning, in about 1900, proposed that land just south of downtown that had been donated to the park board by Thomas Lowry include a golf course. That land became Parade Park.


Beyond all of those Ferndale property owners, the most prominent figure of all, in a golfing sense, was an outlier. Quoting from The Courant article:

“Mr. William Watson, keeper of the greens for the Minikahda Club, visits the Ferndale course one or two days a week to give instruction.”

William Watson was arguably the most important person in the employ of the game of golf as the game got off the ground in Minnesota. (Former Town & CC professional Robert Foulis could stake a claim to that title, as well, but that is a debate for another day.) Watson was a Scotsman, born in 1860. He grew up near St. Andrews and played that historic course at the same time that Old Tom Morris was the club’s greenskeeper and professional. Watson moved to Minneapolis in late 1898, hired for $2,500 by Koon and other Minneapolis businessmen to design the new Minikahda Club course. He and Foulis crafted a nine-hole layout, opened in mid-1899, years later expanded to 18 and then redesigned by the famed Donald Ross — who, like Watson and Foulis, was a former Old Tom Morris apprentice at St. Andrews.

In 1899, Watson spent mornings teaching on the Bryn Mawr course in western Minneapolis, which had opened the year before, then shut down as the bulk of its membership established Minikahda. Watson redesigned Bryn Mawr in 1899 and 1901, according to Watson historian Dennis “Marty” Joy II, head professional at the Watson-designed Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix, Mich. In 1901, Watson’s brother Martin was hired as Minikahda’s golf instructor; he later worked at the Lafayette Club and Northland CC in Duluth.

William Watson, meanwhile, went on to become a noted course architect, with more than 100 layouts to his credit. He had a hand in the design of the original nine-hole White Bear Yacht Club course in 1915, though Ross and WB professional Tom Vardon also are presumed to have played roles. Watson’s designs largely were in California; his Midwestern designs included Interlachen (1909), La Crosse Country Club (1912), Fargo CC (1914), Winona CC (1917) and Ridgeview CC in Duluth (1921). Most of those original layouts were redesigned, some by the likes of Ross, Vardon and A.W. Tillinghast. Watson also is named as the designer of the Ferndale course in a list compiled by Joy.

Next, in Part II: Ferndale where. Pinning down the hole locations, in a manner of speaking.

Shor-Tee, Part II: Punch it 58 yards, UNDER the tree

Shor-Tee scorecard. Sam Terrell said the card is provided courtesy of Mike Thomas, general manager and PGA professional at North Links Golf Course in Mankato. Thomas, Terrell said, used to play the course when he went to visit his mother in Waseca, Minn. Thomas said the scorecard was from a round he played with his father at age 12.

Shor-Tee scorecard. Sam Terrell said the card is provided courtesy of Mike Thomas, general manager and PGA professional at North Links Golf Course in Mankato. Thomas, Terrell said, used to play the course when he went to visit his grandmother in Waseca, Minn. Thomas said the scorecard was from a round he played with his father at age 12.


Gotta love people like Sam Terrell.

After I posted last week about the old Shor-Tee Golf Course alongside Tetonka Lake in Waterville, at least a dozen people recounted good memories of the course on the “You Know You’re From Waterville,…” Facebook page.

Then Terrell, who grew up in nearby Elysian, emailed me a detailed account of Shor-Tee and the course’s owner and founder, Bill Sautbine, complete with a few cool old photos and a photo of the scorecard. The text of Terrell’s email follows, with photos at the bottom.

Here are Sam Terrell’s recollections:

“The course had all par threes and was a very short course. If I remember correctly, the  shortest hole was 58 yards and the longest was 116 yards. You could play the course with 2 clubs and a putter. I learned to play golf at Shor–Tee and also learned from Bill that you do when you hit a ball that may hit someone. I was teeing off on number 3 and hit one right over Bill’s head as he was teeing off on hole 4. He came rushing over and said, “When you think you are going to hit someone you holler ‘fore!’ real loud”. Needless to say I had many opportunities to holler ‘fore’ on such a small course when I was younger.

“I got my only hole-in-one on that course. It was on the 72 yard 7th hole. I played 27 holes that day. The first nine I hit the pin on hole 7 and thought that would be the closest I would ever get to a hole-in-one. The second time around, I hit a ball on 7 that hit the green and went in the hole on the second bounce. I was really excited and when I finished the second nine and was getting ready to go the third nine, I went into the clubhouse and told Bill I got a hole-in-one! His reaction was “oh, that’s nice”. It must have happened often because he did not get very excited about it.

“Back then, my future brother-in-law, Bob Preuss, lived on a farm west of the course and worked for Bill mowing the greens. He had to walk across a couple of fields to get to the course. Bill would make him change shoes because he didn’t want him getting mud on the greens.

“I talked to Bill years ago and he said he had intended to make the course into an 18 hole course but felt the community support was not good enough. He said he was a little disappointed because the community learned to golf on his small course but then went to Waseca and other courses where they could play longer holes and Shor – Tee was forgotten.

Terrell’s course description

Hole #1) The hole went up a steep incline starting at the clubhouse going north. Bill and June’s house sat just to the right of the green.

Hole #2) This hole was a short 58 yard hole on top of the hill that went east from behind hole 1. It had a big oak tree before the green so you could not hit a high shot. You had to punch a low shot under the tree to get to the green.

Hole #3) This was a hole that was 107 yards on top of the hill that went straight west with trees all along the right side all the way to the green.

Hole #4) This was a 80 yard hole that went south and was straight downhill. I like this one because if you drubbed the shot it could still roll down the hill and make it to the green.

Hole #5) This hole was 70 yards and went west towards the inlet off Tetonka. There was a small pond between the tee box and green.

Hole #6) This was 65 yards and came back east. Again you had to hit over the small pond.

Hole #7) This was a 72 yard hole that went towards the inlet.

Hole #8) This was the longest hole at 116 yards. It went east back towards the club house. When you finished the hole you had to walk west to get to the 9th tee box. There was a screen behind the 9th tee box to protect you from someone that may shank their tee shot to number 8.

Hole #9) This hole was 104 yards and ran parallel to number 8 and the road, going east towards the lake.

Terrell: "Me teeing off on number 7, the 6th green and clubhouse is behind me."

Sam Terrell: “Me teeing off on number 7, the 6th green and clubhouse is behind me.”

Terrell: "Me putting on the 6th green."

Terrell: “Me putting on the 6th green.”

From Sam Terrell: "My wife Rhonda with the 4th green in the background."

Terrell: “My wife Rhonda with the 4th green in the background.”





Golf in Waterville: A mostly true story

Waterville1WATERVILLE, Minn. — Yes, indeed. Greetings from Waterville.

This is the scene the postcard paints: warm, sunny, friendly, inviting Waterville.

The postcard lies.

Don’t misinterpret. The lie doesn’t reflect poorly on Waterville. There are many pleasant truths about this small town in south-central Minnesota. Waterville is home to the Buccaneers of Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School, the reigning Class A state volleyball champions. It is host of citywide garage sales in mid-May and Bullhead Days in early June, where festival offerings include fireworks, bingo, food and carnival rides and where Miss Waterville kisses the prize catch in the kids fishing contest. And it is adorned by two big, beautiful and usually peaceful lakes, Tetonka to the west and Sakatah to the east.

Sakatah Bay, near downtown Waterville.

Sakatah Bay, near downtown Waterville.

Tetonka Lake, at Waterville Municipal Beach.

Tetonka Lake, at Waterville Municipal Beach.

Beyond those truths, there is this opinion: Waterville, population 1,868, is among the more appealing under-2,000-population towns I have visited in more than five decades of tooling around Minnesota. “World class fishing, scenic beauty and a progressive atmosphere,” the city’s website boasts, and the municipal chest-thumping doesn’t come across as overblown.

Here is how I got to Waterville:

In early April, while rummaging through eBay in a search for trinkets on lost Minnesota golf courses, I came across this listing: “Waterville Minnesota-Greetings From A Golf Course-1950s PC.” (The “PC” stands for “postcard.” The 1950s notation seemed unlikely to me; the golfers’ attire looked like what I wore on the course in the mid-1970s, except that my shorts were, I’m horrified to say, shorter and whiter and tighter than those on the woman at the left of the postcard.) Nonetheless, I hacked into my wife’s bank account for the required $6.40, bought the card (shown at the top of this post) and began Googling golf in Waterville.

Oh — If you similarly Googled “Waterville” and “golf” and wound up here while trying to land a reservation at the renowned links in Ireland, all I can say is “tough Irish luck.”

After a handful of search variations, Google revealed Shor-Tee Golf Course in Waterville, Minn. Maybe I should have known about the place, but I always said when I started digging up Minnesota’s lost courses that there was no way I would find every one. A few more clicks and a half-dozen phone calls revealed only smidges of information about Shor-Tee, all of which added up to the inevitable conclusion:

Road trip. I gotta see me that lost course.

Waterville is in southeastern Le Sueur County, approximately halfway between Faribault and Mankato and an hour south of Minneapolis. I had been told I might find archived material on Shor-Tee at the newspaper office, so that’s where I was headed first.

The door to Lake Region Life was closed. It was after office hours on a Friday afternoon, but the door was unlocked, so I barged in, as any big-city reporter worth his ill-mannered salt would. Jay Schneider, the newspaper’s editor and manager, couldn’t have been more accommodating. He not only invited me to go through the newspaper’s back issues, he spent at least an hour helping me look and/or telephoning one local after another to dig up the history of Shor-Tee. There was an element of doggedly digging for the truth at play, even for a subject as trivial as a little old golf course, which perhaps helps explain why Schneider and his staff won awards for their coverage of the devastating Waterville floods of 2014.

At this point, a few more truths about Shor-Tee Golf Course can be revealed. The course was owned by Willis Sautbine, who operated it with his wife, June. The Sautbines were teachers at Waterville High School. (June died in 2001 and Willis in 2011, and they had no children, so firsthand information on Shor-Tee from direct family members was impossible to gather.) Shor-Tee was situated two miles west of downtown Waterville, on the southern shore of Lake Tetonka, near a finger of land known as Willow Point.

Shor-Tee was a short course — a veritable walk to the end of the block and back. It was a par-3 layout, nine holes. A handful of Waterville residents said almost all of the holes were less than 100 yards long, with one saying the longest was about 110 yards.

“It was a 9-iron course and putter. You could get through the whole course with that,” said Waterville resident Scott Pullen, and evidence in the Lake Region Life office bore him out.

The Shor-Tee version of the golf bag: functional, lightweight, not overly stylish.

The Shor-Tee version of the golf bag: functional, lightweight, not overly stylish.

Schneider reached to a top shelf and pulled down a makeshift “golf bag” that came from Shor-Tee — a set of three plastic golf-bag tubes, held together by two old Schell’s beer cans.

At this point, the lines between truth and half-truth, hyperbole and well-intentioned but fuzzy memory began to blur. It most certainly wasn’t a Waterville thing; it is part and parcel of researching lost golf courses. One person tells you Lost Course X was 18 holes, on the south side of the county highway and tantamount to a Donald Ross design; the other says it was nine holes, alongside a dusty dirt road and was a dog track.

Willis Sautbine enjoyed various avocations. “Dabbler” might be an appropriate label. Besides opening a golf course, he performed karaoke at area bars. One Waterville resident doubted he was much good; another rebutted with “No, I think he was quite the crooner.”

Sautbine’s name comes up in a U.S. patent search. In 1972, he was awarded Patent No. 3699913, for something called a self-righting marker: “An upright marker for use in designating a selected spot on a floor or ground surface and having a weighted base with a rounded bottom to automatically return the marker to its uprights (sic) condition when knocked or blown over.”

Perhaps not all of his dabbling, however, was performed with precision. One person said Sautbine once set out to build an airplane, buying parts and assembling them in his garage. One little hang-up: The garage doors, the person said, weren’t wide enough to accommodate the exit of a fully assembled aircraft.
That anecdote aside, Sautbine’s golf course apparently was successful. At a minimum, it had staying power. At least two Waterville residents said the course was built in the 1950s, and two said it opened as a three-hole layout, although an entry penned by Minnesota State Mankato alum Sautbine on a university website purports that he built the course and strongly suggested its origin dated to the 1960s. (Sautbine called the course “Shor-TEE” in the piece, as opposed to the “Shor-Tee” in most other references.) He closed the course in 1994, with at least close to three decades of operation of a golf course of less than 1,000 yards in a town of less than 2,000 residents in the books. That in itself is remarkable.
Economy must have had something to do with Shor-Tee’s durability. Waterville resident Edgar Eggers, 99, recalled that annual membership cost $25. A 1990 roundup of golf courses that ran in the Rochester Post-Bulletin mentioned 58 courses in the region; the lowest greens fee of all was the $3.50 at Shor-Tee.
Criticism of Bill Sautbine’s operation could not be found in modern-day Waterville. At least a half-dozen people complimented Shor-Tee. “It used to be a cool place; it really was,” offered Pullen. Sautbine’s niece, Pat Hansen of Valley City, N.D., recalled spending summer weeks along the Sautbines’ Lake Tetonka shoreline, where houseboat and cottage rentals were available. A public beach was nearby, as well.

Willis Sautbine (used with permission of Minnesota State University Theatre & Dance)

Willis Sautbine (used with permission of Minnesota State University Theatre & Dance)

Thursdays were men’s nights at Shor-Tee, and the potlucks included hand-picked vegetables from June Sautbine’s garden. “June was the one that made that place go,” Eggers said of the high school phy ed teacher. “She taught all the kids how to play golf. … It was really a well-run golf course.”

With truth, fiction and opinion now reasonably sorted out, only The Big Lie remains , and it concerns the “Greetings From Waterville, Minn.” postcard.

My original intent in visiting Waterville included trying to ascertain the identity of the gentleman pictured at the center of the postcard. I was hoping to salute him, even if posthumously, for the high finish and excellent balance in his swing, and in the event he were still alive I would ask him if he had ever won a U.S. Open championship.

Not gonna happen.

Though it’s impossible to say for sure, it strongly appears the gentleman is swinging a wood, as are three others on the tee box. A mite too much club, I would say, by about eight clubs, for a likely low-handicap player negotiating a hole of 110 yards or less. And the golf course grounds appears relatively expansive, certainly not economy-sized like Shor-Tee was.

Schneider, a visitor to his newspaper office and Eggers all doubted that the postcard was from Shor-Tee. Waterville’s Jack Luther, 85, who played the course often and once had a hole in one there, unequivocally said the postcard absolutely did not depict Shor-Tee.

The back of the postcard is unmarked, so there are no hints as to the actual site of the picture on the front of the card. Maybe it was a photo from a nearby golf course — the nearest to Waterville are Prairie Ridge of Janesville, but that didn’t open until 1995, and Lakeside Club of Waseca.

Or maybe Tichnor Bros. Inc. of Boston 15, Mass., which issued the postcard, merely reached into its file of stock photos of golf courses and decided to imply to the unwashed masses that “Greetings From Waterville, Minn.” meant “Greetings From Waterville, Minn., Where The Golf Course That’s Really There Isn’t The One You’re Viewing On This Postcard.”

But that would have taken up a lot of real estate on the 3.5-by-5.5-inch field. Besides, a half-century later, this exercise in truth-finding was more fun anyway.

Looking north on Tetonka Lake from the Minnesota DNR boat launch, toward Willow Point. Area in the background was part of Willis Sautbine's property, sold in 1998 to Tim Schmidtke, who said his basement lies where the No. 2 green on Shor-Tees once lay.

Looking north on Tetonka Lake from the Minnesota DNR boat launch, toward Willow Point. Area in the background was part of Willis Sautbine’s property, sold in 1998 to Tim Schmidtke, who said his basement lies where the No. 2 green on Shor-Tees once lay.




The question of Shor-Tee’s date of opening appears to have been answered. Sam Terrell, an Elysian native who played at Shor-Tee’s, forwards the clip above from Jay Schneider’s Lake Region Life, published just after my visit. Thank you, Sam and Jay.