Clearwater Country Club, Annandale: Another look

Maybe it’s just me.

OK, it’s just me.

But one of the compelling things — to me, just me — about rummaging around for Minnesota’s lost golf courses is occasionally coming across something quite unusual — an old scorecard, an old photo, an old duffer buried and petrified beneath the surface of an ancient pot bunker from which he could not extricate himself (OK, haven’t come across one of those yet).

There is satisfaction, too, in sharing a find with two or three people who might care.

Sometimes as many as four.

The downside is that for every find, there can be more questions raised than answers revealed.

Case in point:

In August 2015, I wrote about the former Clearwater Country Club of Annandale, in central Minnesota’s Wright County. A couple of months ago, a friend who shares an interest in Minnesota golf history alerted me to an eBay auction for an old Clearwater CC postcard.

Old postcards of old golf courses in Minnesota aren’t unusual. There are plenty available from the state’s first course, Town & Country Club of St. Paul. There may be even more available from another early and historic course, Minikahda of Minneapolis. (Maddeningly, close to half of the postcards from the latter course mangle the spelling of the course’s name, going with Minikhada or the even more common ultramangling, Minnekahda.)

But postcards from other lost courses don’t show up every day, and they often offer little more than a dim view of a shoreline or a clubhouse. I was drawn to this Clearwater CC postcard because of the clear view of the terrain and Clearwater Lake in the background, and the clear depiction of a golf course, even if no greens or 22-handicappers are visible nearby.

So I bid on the postcard and was fortunate enough to win it, for something less than the price of a new Callaway driver, which I wouldn’t be able to hit worth a damn anyway. A look at the card, and a long-ago view of Clearwater Country Club, is presented below.

Best guess is that the photo was taken from near the center of the golf course, looking northeast and toward Clearwater Lake. Wright County Highway 24, which was more or less the southern border of the course, would be behind the photographer, as would the clubhouse. There is a better look at the entirety of the golf course in an aerial photo of the course on my original post on Clearwater CC (see link above).

But it seems like I can never come up with one nugget from a lost golf course without more unsolved mysteries arising. So it is with Clearwater CC.

I reported in my original post that Clearwater Country Club “opened before 1942, most likely.” I’m never crazy about being so vague, but is inevitable in this line of work/folly because absolute confirmation of “facts” can be difficult to come by. The postcard above, however, suggested that Clearwater CC was in fact founded well before 1942. The date on the postmark, though partially obscured, appeared to be 1932. Short of trying to contact Mr. Martin Syphrit (spelling?), to whom the postcard was mailed and who presumably has long since ceased to become reachable via a valid postal address in Brookville, Pa., I thought I would try to be more precise with the founding date of Clearwater Country Club.

Browsing through issues of the Annandale Advocate from 1932 held on microfilm at the Minnesota History Center revealed nothing — no mention of a golf course. Across the hall from the History Center’s microfilm room, however, is the Gale Library, with a wonderful collection of books, magazines and other resources. Included among those holdings is an Annandale centennial book, issued in 1988 and titled “Community with Spirit.”

The centennial book cleared up for me the exact date of Clearwater Country Club’s founding. An entry reads:

“1925: Agitation for a golf course. In 1925, Mrs. L. Longfellow was the President of the first golf club in Annandale. The first golf course in the area was located near Clearwater Lake. It was a nine-hole course with sand greens, and has since been platted for lots, and many homes have been built on the land.”

As far as I can tell, a 1925 opening would have made Clearwater Country Club the first golf course in Wright County.

Of course, if I had come across the centennial book in the first place, I never would have had to speculate that Clearwater CC was founded “before 1942.” But you never know in which order you’ll find these little gems, so you do what you can with what you have.

Anyway … it may be small potatoes, but there you have it. A cool, old view of Clearwater Country Club, plus the knowledge that someone first striped a drive there in the year 1925.

 

Dispatch from Augusta: Down Magnolia and Memory Lanes

Author’s note: With the 2017 Masters opening today, it came to me yesterday that this year marks the 20th anniversary of my first trip to Augusta. What follows is the column I wrote for the Duluth News-Tribune of April 10, 1997. 

———————-

AUGUSTA – I did it I did it I did it I did it!

I told you I would. I told you.

I knew that someday, some glorious day before I left God’s occasionally green earth, I would just take off and cover the greatest sporting event of all, the Masters golf tournament.

The day has arrived. The tournament starts today, and I am in Augusta! Can you believe it?

Tell me you don’t envy me. A wife, three kids, a job, a back yard to bail standing water out of … and I just took off for Augusta, unannounced.

Amen Corner, here I come!

How’d I do it? Just jumped in a company car, punched the gas pedal and headed south. Simple as that.

Why’d I do it? Why drop that great office routine — editing NHL roundups, changing times from Eastern to Central on NBA standings, trying to figure out voice mail — and cover a golf tournament 1,300 miles from home?

I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring, that’s why.

Some of you (those who should get a life) may remember my Masters columns of the past two years, Nos. 9 and 10 in an annual series. I tried for interviews with pro golfers, but Phil never called. Fuzzy never called. Lumpy never called. (That’s Mickelson, Zoeller and Herron, for all you surname-challenged readers.)

This year, we’ve got this spanking new computer device called Phone-Disc. It’s supposed to list every phone number known to mankind, but I couldn’t find “Eldrick Woods” or “Fred Couples” in the darn thing. There was a “COUPLES, F” in Kalamazoo, Mich., but I don’t think that’s the one I was looking for.

So if the hotshot pros won’t come to me, I’ll come to them.

Augusta or bust!

On the road

Maybe it was the anticipation of finally getting to Augusta, but the drive didn’t seem that long. The trip to Georgia takes days, but this felt like hours. I was never sleepy, never bored, never tempted to run one of those slowpoke Chevettes off the passing lane.

Now … it’s too good to be true … I’ve reached my destination.

The road sign announcing “Augusta” is a deep, lush green, the same blazing hue I’ve seen on my TV screen each and every April. There are no billboards blaring “HOME OF THE MASTERS” or roadside vendors selling green golf balls, which is exactly as I’d expected. The genteel folks running the tournament would never allow something so crass.

And maybe all that anticipation wasn’t good, because, frankly, Augusta isn’t what I expected. The town isn’t bustling, the azaleas aren’t blooming, the breeze isn’t warm and gentle and … can it be?? … the grass isn’t green? It feels like March in the Midwest, not April in Augusta.

This being a spur-of-the-moment decision, I didn’t prepare well for the trip. I don’t know where anything is in Augusta. But I do know I’m hungry. I’ll eat lunch on Lincoln Street, Augusta’s main drag, and find out how to get to Augusta National.

Searching, searching …

The Road Haus Cafe is painted dark green, darker even than the color of Augusta National’s wavy 16th green. The menu, though, is somewhat disappointing. I wanted to order a pimento cheese sandwich, the staple at Augusta National during Masters week, but the cafe isn’t in the Masters spirit. It doesn’t serve pimento cheese sandwiches. There’s cheese everywhere — cheeseburger, cottage cheese, cheese curds — but no pimento cheese.

Lunch is filling, and it’s time to go to work. I turn to the waitress.

“Can you tell me where the golf course is?”

She is puzzled. “Golf course? In town? Linda, is there a golf course in town?”

Linda, hauling hash in the other aisle, says no. I guess they’re not golf fans, but how can they not know about the Masters?

Minutes laker, walking across the street, I see a well-groomed, middle-aged man in an antique shop wearing a green jacket. Masters champions wear green jackets. Could this be … Charles Coody, the 1971 Masters champ?

I approach.

“Excuse me, sir, are you a golfer?”

“I have golfed.”

“Can you tell me where the golf course is?”

“In Augusta? There’s no golf course here.”

Very strange. If that really was Mr. Coody, he’s been out in the Augusta sun too long.

Across the street again. What luck! A man wearing a sweatshirt with the word “GOLF” etched across its back is sitting in a local bar.

He must know where The Shark and Gentle Ben and The Golden Bear are this week. I enter Country Dave’s Saloon.

“Excuse me. Are you a golfer?”

“Sometimes.”

“Can you tell me where the golf course is?”

“What course?”

“Augusta National.”

(Thin smile.) “There is none.”

“There is none?”

“There is none. Not here. Not in this Augusta.”

It hits me. In the words of Roberto de Vicenzo, who lost the 1968 Masters after signing an incorrect scorecard, “What a stupid I am.”

I am ashamed and embarrassed. I am in Augusta, Wisconsin, not Augusta, Georgia!

The other Augusta

I’m not kidding. While looking to hook up with the freeway out of Eau Claire, I’ve taken a wrong turn down U.S. Highway 12 and ended up in the wrong Augusta — a quiet little town of 1,500 smack-dab in the middle of Dairyland.

What a stupid I am.

Well, as long as I’m here, I can still do some reporting.

Dennis Frank is the fellow in Country Dave’s. He’s from Fall Creek, the town up the road from Augusta, and is both a golfer and a golf fan, as his sweatshirt suggests.

“Yeah, I’ll watch some,” he says of the Masters TV coverage. “Hey, I’ve gotta see if Tiger Woods is going to win. Him or Nick Faldo.”

It turns out Augusta, Wis., isn’t much of a golf town. There’s no Augusta National here, not even an Augusta National Bank. The nearest golf course is in Osseo, 10 miles to the south. Frank and some others built a couple of holes on flat land out behind the high school and hoped to build more, but the idea never took off.

Augusta National North? Alister Mackenzie, who designed the real thing back in 1932, would not have approved.

The big event in Augusta, Wis., isn’t a golf tournament. It is, according to city clerk and treasurer Sandy Boettcher, Bean and Bacon Days, held on 4th of July weekend and featuring packed streets and a 300-unit parade. The event is named in honor of Bush’s Best Beans, which as a plant in Augusta and is the town’s largest employer.

The town’s notable sporting accomplishments come from the Augusta Beavers, who won the 1989 Wisconsin Division 6 high school football championship, and the Augusta Athletics town baseball team, which won the 1994 state championship.

Boettcher says Augustans are proud of their town. “It’s a nice little town; people come here to retire,” she says. She laughs and says City Hall occasionally gets calls from people wondering about the Masters — seriously.

Well, I can’t promise I’ll be back, now that I’ve looked at the map and know how to get to that other Augusta.

Guess I’ll just turn around, head back to the frozen north, and sit in front of the TV all weekend.

What a stupid I am.

—————–

Postscripts, nigh upon 20 years:

— I seriously did write a pre-Masters column for 10 consecutive years for the News-Tribune. One year, I stumbled across the phone number for 1959 Masters champion Art Wall, who was gracious and engaging in granting an interview. Wall died in 2010.

— If I’m not mistaken, this was my last byline and certainly my last column for the News-Tribune. I had by this time committed to taking a position at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and I remember vacillating about whether to invest a workday and then some on a lame-duck folly such as this. I did, and I’ve never regretted it, even though one of my closest Duluth golfing friends, who preferred his journalism direct and sober, told me post-publication that he was not amused.

— Within hours of publication, 21-year-old Tiger Woods had stolen my thunder with a 30 on the back nine at Augusta National — the one in Georgia — en route to a spectacular 12-shot victory over runner-up Tom Kite for his first of 14 major championships. I wonder where Tiger is today. …

— I have been back to the Augusta in Wisconsin once since 1997. Sadly, I have never been to the Augusta in Georgia.

Silver Creek Golf Club, Rochester: Pioneering and vanishing act

Of the 135 verified lost golf courses in Minnesota, seven very early renditions share a common, significant characteristic.

No, the correct answer is not “failure.”

I suppose that is technically an accurate answer for almost any lost golf course, but let’s keep the tone a little more upbeat, huh? Dock yourself two strokes for smart-aleckry and move on.

These seven courses, all of them shuttered by 1918 — well, those that had clubhouse doors or windows to shutter — shared this commonality: All bore seeds that were whisked away after the course’s demise and sprouted one or 10 or 100 miles away, helping give rise to the game of golf in Minnesota.

The histories of six of these seven clubs are fairly clear matters of record, for those who might care to bury their noses in dimly lit microfilm for an hour or 50. None of the six lasted long — 21 years was the max, eight the average — but each left an impression beyond its physical footprint.

To wit:

Winona Golf Club was the state’s first lost golf course, a sliver of light that flickered for mere months in 1897. WGC led the next year to the establishment of Winona’s Meadow-Brook Golf Club, which in 1901 was host of the first Minnesota State Amateur tournament. Bryn Mawr Golf Club (1898-1910) in western Minneapolis was the Halley’s Comet of early lost courses, shining brightly before famously spawning first Minikahda GC in 1899 and then Interlachen CC in 1910 (the same year Bryn Mawr shut down and Halley’s made a particularly spectacular celestial appearance). Roadside Golf Club (1897-1902) in St. Paul was Minnesota’s most female-friendly early course. In Wayzata, the six-hole, flash-in-the-pan practice course in the Ferndale neighborhood (1899) hosted a pantheon of stars of Minnesota golf and commerce. Merriam Park (1900-1906) was, like Meadow-Brook and Bryn Mawr, a charter member of the Minnesota Golf Association.

The other member of the lost-course septet similarly left its mark on Minnesota golf at the turn of the 20th century before dissolving in the year … well, danged if I know.

So much for historical precision. Onward …

The first known mention (by that, I mean known by me) of golf in the southeastern Minnesota city of Rochester was made by the Rochester Post and Record of May 11, 1900: “There is no reason why Rochester should not have a golf club,” the newspaper story began, and reported that a group of 12 people had begun efforts to organize one.  Membership was to cost “$10 for a gentleman alone or $15 for lady and gentleman together.”

The newspaper story speculated that a grounds would be established on land owned by F.R. Van Dusen southwest of the city, in a pasture straddling the Zumbro River. Judging by later stories, however, it appears the Van Dusen grounds never were used for Rochester’s first course. Coincidentally, judging by an 1896 plat map, that site appears to be near the current Soldiers Field Golf Course grounds.

By late June 1900, the organization of Rochester’s first golf club was imminent. “The game of golf grows greater in popularity with an increasing number of Rochester people,” the Olmsted County Democrat reported on June 29. “The golf links between the State Hospital and St. John’s cemetery have seen more people in the last three weeks than at any other period in known history. … Golf is a most healthful form of exercise and is much enjoyed by all who have the leisure to play.”

A week later, a group of 23 people met at the home of milling company owner John A. Cole and organized the city’s first golf club. On July 6, 1900, the Post and Record and the Olmsted County Democrat both reported on the organization of the first golf club in Rochester.

“The ‘Silver Creek Golf Club’ is now firmly established in this city,” the Post and Record reported. “The foundation stone has been laid, and the nucleus is formed from which a flourishing and prosperous club will grow.

“The present links are situated about a mile from the city (remember, this is 1900 Rochester, population 6,843, not the current sprawl of 100,000-plus), just north of the Northwestern railroad tracks, and this side of the State hospital. At present, there are only five holes laid out, but owing to the constantly increasing membership, the club finds it necessary to lay out two or three more holes. …

“Never was a golf club formed under more favorable circumstances; never were members more enthusiastic and persevering. If this counts for any thing, as we know it does, then who can doubt the bright future of ‘The Silver Creek Golf club.’ ”

The club was so named because of its proximity to Silver Creek, which runs from east of Rochester into the city before emptying into the Zumbro River near Silver Lake. The course’s grounds are presumed to have lain near what is now 5th Street Northeast and 15th and 17th Avenues Northeast — east of Calvary Cemetery, which went by the name St. John’s Cemetery (see five paragraphs previous) until 1940.

1896 plat map of Rochester, Minn., courtesy of John Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota. Area inside red rectangle at right shows presumed approximate grounds of Silver Creek Golf Club. At the upper-left corner is downtown Rochester.

The first set of Silver Creek club officers made for a distinguished foursome in Rochester business and professional society. Cole was the founding president. Arthur F. Kilbourne, the club’s vice president, was superintendent of the Rochester State Hospital. Secretary John H. Kahler was a prominent Rochester hotelier; one of the businesses his family started still operates in downtown Rochester as The Grand Kahler Hotel. Treasurer George J. Stevens owned a carpet and window-hanging business.

Though the club’s founding members were well-to-do, its golf grounds were modest. “This pasture was maintained by a herd of sheep and a few goats with the greens given more attention by hand mowing,” wrote local golf historian James Gardner, the former longtime greens superintendent at Rochester Golf & Country Club, in 1988. It is likely the course “expanded” from five holes to six at some point.

Modesty aside, in its second season of operation, Silver Creek Golf Club helped make Minnesota golf history. On Aug. 29, 1901, representatives of seven golf clubs met in Winona and formed the Minnesota Golf Association. The seven founding clubs were Bryn Mawr and Minikahda of Minneapolis, Town & Country and Merriam Park of St. Paul, Tatepaha of Faribault, Meadow-Brook of Winona …

… and Silver Creek.

Silver Creek was referred to as Rochester Golf Club in Winona newspaper stories documenting the formation of the MGA and as “Rochester Club” in the minutes of the MGA meeting. But as sure as Jordan Spieth can putt, the Rochester club that was a founding MGA member had its grounds on the Silver Creek site. The club is referred to as Silver Creek in a St. Paul Globe story of Aug. 30, 1901, that reported on the formation of the MGA, and the newspaper reported that “Cole” — presumably John A. Cole — was elected an MGA director. The minutes of the MGA meeting list “Ireland and Terry” as delegates of “Rochester Club” — and H.J. (Harry) Terry and W.W. Ireland also were listed as Silver Creek members in Rochester newspaper stories from 1900.

And then, poof. Almost as soon as Silver Creek Golf Course came onto the scene, it disappeared.

Or didn’t. Take your pick.

There may be more musty records in a vault somewhere, but advancing past 1901, I could not find a shred of firm evidence that Silver Creek Golf Club saw the dawn of 1902. An archivist’s search at the Olmsted County Historical Society revealed no mention of Silver Creek golf from 1902-15. I contacted three authors, including Gardner, who had mentioned Silver Creek in writing about the origins of Rochester Golf & Country Club, and none could confirm that the course existed during that 1902-15 “dead period.”

Although Silver Creek is a nondescript stream as it runs through the eastern part of Rochester today, it once lay alongside Rochester’s first golf course. (November 2016 photo)

The years 1915-17 marked a pivotal period in the development of Rochester golf. There are slightly different versions of stories afoot, but the essence is that Rochester Golf Club was formed, and play began on the club’s current site two miles west of downtown, known today as Rochester Golf & Country Club. Harry Turpie, professional at Red Wing Country Club, designed the original nine holes at the current site, and famed golf-course architect A.W. Tillinghast designed an expansion to 18 holes in the late 1920s. Today, RG&CC is one of Minnesota’s preeminent courses, having hosted the MGA State Amateur Championship five times.

And what of the Rochesterians who in 1900 pumped drives into Silver Creek or fanned mid-mashies into the cemetery? Those people were not one-year golf wonders. As with other golfers at early Minnesota lost courses, many took up the game at new venues, and some became promoters and pioneers of the game.

Gardner confirmed that Silver Creek members Kilbourne, Ireland and Terry also were early Rochester Golf & Country Club members. Harold J. Richardson, a University of Minnesota law student in 1900 who “suffered a ‘swipe’ in the face with a golf stick” at Silver Creek, according to the Olmsted County Democrat, recovered to become a prominent attorney, moved to St. Paul, and had memberships at Town & Country Club, Minikahda, Somerset and White Bear Yacht Club.

Certainly, there were other Silver Creek members whose games emigrated to other courses. And so, Silver Creek joins the group of seven Minnesota lost golf courses that are gone but should not be forgotten.


POSTSCRIPT

Since my original posting, I have come across a few more references. Unfortunately, they make the history of early Rochester golf as crystal-clear as a dank day in London.

In order, with commentary and amateur analysis:

— The Minneapolis Tribune of Aug. 30, 1901, reported on the forming of the MGA in very similar fashion to the St. Paul Globe of the same date, and also referred to the Rochester Club as Silver Creek.

— The Minneapolis Journal of May 6, 1901, confuses the issue. “The local golf club, which has just been organized, has laid out its links in the southwestern part of the city, and the game promises to be a very popular one this summer.” The geographical reference is befuddling. Silver Creek was/is decidedly in the eastern part of Rochester. Unless Rochester’s first golfers abandoned the Silver Creek layout after the 1900 season and reorganized in 1901 in another location, perhaps on the Van Dusen land southwest of the city, there is a geographical contradiction at play here. And the “just been organized” reference also is confusing, because there was a Rochester club the year before, and the club still was referred to as Silver Creek later in 1901, when the MGA organized. Why would there be “Silver Creek” references in 1901 if the club had relocated?

— I was wrong about references to golf in Rochester vanishing in late 1901. Despite going through many issues of two Rochester newspapers from 1902 and 1903 to no avail, I did find a Minneapolis Journal story reporting on the 1903 MGA state tournament that reads in part, “Two new golf clubs, those of Rochester and St. Cloud, have been added to the state association during the last year.” There was no mention of Silver Creek in the Journal story.

— Yet that story seems to contradict an early document. In 1920, the MGA compiled a list of all member clubs, current and former. “Rochester Golf Club, Aug. 29, 1901,” the document reads, referencing its founding date as an MGA member. “Resigned 1902.”

Resigned. That’s a good word. I do believe I am resigned to not understanding what in the name of Francis Ouimet Rochester were doing with their club or clubs and its name or names from 1901 to 1903, not to mention beyond. Further information would, of course, be most welcome.

Seven founding MGA members – and one left by the roadside

Minnesota golf history: On the evening of Aug. 29,1901, seven clubs became charter members of the Minnesota Golf Association when the organization convened in Winona for the first time.

Should have been eight.

Roadside got snubbed.

You might not know about Roadside Golf Club. But to channel Rumack to Elaine Dickinson in “Airplane!” — “Roadside, what is it?!” — that’s not important right now.

What is important — well, in a trivial sense, which of course makes no sense at all — is that, at 8 p.m. on that 1901 evening, seven clubs came together to form the MGA: Bryn Mawr of Minneapolis, Meadow-Brook of Winona, Town & Country Club and Merriam Park of St. Paul, Minikahda of Minneapolis, Tatepaha of Faribault (also spelled in some historical entries as Tapeta) and Rochester/Silver Creek (more on that course in a post coming soon).

One more club should have been invited to the party but never was. The St. Paul Globe of Aug. 30, 1901, explained:

“The Roadside club, of St. Paul, was not invited through misunderstanding,” the newspaper reported, “and the secretary was directed to notify that club of the action taken tonight.”

There is no indication from MGA records that Roadside ever joined the organization, and by 1903, the golf course was gone.

I suppose, almost 116 years later, this piece of clerical oversight is entirely inconsequential. But when I came across the Globe entry recently, I just found it curious, so I thought I would waste five minutes of your life that you’ll never get back with the revelation.

As you were.

P.S. 1: In case you’re truly interested in Roadside, Ms. Dickinson, a little bit about the place:

Roadside Golf Club, situated off Summit Avenue in what is now St. Paul’s Merriam Park East neighborhood,  was formed in May 1897 by members of St. Paul’s Town & Country Club, Minnesota’s first golf course. As the T&CC members decided to branch out and put another club on the map, they established Roadside 2.5 miles to the east. Its clubhouse address was listed as being on the 1100 block of Summit Avenue. The image below, an inset from an 1898 plat map of Hennepin and Ramsey County and held by the John Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota, shows the approximate location of Roadside Golf Club within the red boundary.

Though exact starting dates of Minnesota’s earliest golf courses (as opposed to golf clubs) can be debated, Roadside appears to have been among the first five courses established in the state. It was a 12-hole layout that prominently featured play from Town & CC’s female membership, and it lasted until 1903, when residential St. Paul expansion squeezed it out of existence.

P.S. 2: Below is a copy of the first page of the minutes of the first meeting of the Minnesota Golf Association, as held by the MGA. The minutes likely were not transcribed directly at the meeting but were re-recorded before 1910. Thanks to the MGA and Warren Ryan for permission to use.

 

 

 

Elk River Golf Club, Part II: This-a-way? Or that-a-way?

Here it is, in black and white:

 

Map of the grounds of Elk River Golf Club and Bailey's Point. Imagine it rotated 90 degrees clockwise to make it geographically correct. South is to the right, west at the bottom, etc. (Courtesy of City of Elk River and Joni Astrup, Elk River Star News)

What is it? Map of a golf course, now abandoned. The map is neatly and professionally produced, holes ordered and marked with yardage annotated, nearby streets and grounds designated, finely detailed right down to the word “pump” at midcourse.

Who would argue with it?

Sorry. I feel like arguing.

This map of “Elk River Golf Course” — every other reference I’ve seen to the place, which operated in southeastern Sherburne County from 1924-42, is to Elk River Golf Club, but that’s not what I’m here to argue about — has been in reasonably common circulation in and around town, for those who are interested in such a thing. It appears 100 percent, surefire, incontrovertibly credible.

Appears.

In my previous post on Elk River Golf Club, I published a scan of the map. That post also includes a prominent asterisk (if you saw the post and missed the asterisk, someone must have poked your eyes out when you got to that paragraph). Well, as I composed that post, I was all set to hit the “publish” button, sans asterisk, when I decided to phone a longtime Elk River resident just to verify the source of an old ERGC photograph.

Charlie Brown answered his phone, and opened up one big, slippery can of worms.

Thanks, Charlie.

Brown, who lives less than a hundred yards from the old Elk River Golf Club site, on what is now Bailey Point Nature Preserve, near the confluence of the Mississippi and Elk rivers, not only confirmed the source of the photos, he passed along an old scorecard from the golf course:

ElkRiverCard1

ElkRiverCard2

Cool. I loved it. I always enjoy publishing tangible evidence of lost golf courses, such as old scorecards. This one looked to me to be from the 1920s or ’30s, strictly guessing.

Then I looked closer at the scorecard. And the map. And then the scorecard again. And the map. Repeat, a few dozen times, scratching head.

The map and the scorecard were mismatched.

On the map, hole No. 1 was 255 yards. On the scorecard, it was 206 yards. No. 2 on the map was 204 yards, On the scorecard, 122. No. 3 map, 250. Scorecard, 248. (OK, that was close.) No. 4 map, 183. Scorecard, 311. The mismatches continued through all nine holes, map and scorecard. Many of the yardages were highly similar, and one was identical — the 122 yards of the fifth hole on the map matched the 122 yards of the second hole of the scorecard — but still, there also were significant variations.

An explanation seemed simple and logical — and no, it had nothing to do with possible seismic shifting in southern Sherburne County 80 years ago having moved the earth here and there and everywhere. At some point, the folks running Elk River Golf Club must have re-routed the course, changing the order in which the holes were played, perhaps re-measuring yardages. It wasn’t, and isn’t, an uncommon practice in golf-course design.

Wait just a minute, Gerardus Mercator. (He was a famous mapmaker. I had to look it up, but now you know something about cartography.) Explaining away the difference between Elk River Golf Club, map version, and ERGC, scorecard version, was easy enough if you just say “It was re-routed,” but much more complicated upon looking closely.

After comparing yardages this way and that, looking at the routing on the map, and trying to imagine possible re-routings, I ran my thoughts past Brown. He agreed that a re-routing, or at least a remeasuring or changing of a couple of holes, was almost certain. We traded at least a dozen emails on possibilities, and then I ran our thoughts past the person who knew more about the property than anyone — Elk River resident Steve Shoemaker, who had had his boots on the ground there for more than a year, using a metal detector to dig up cups from the sand greens that remained buried on the property more than 70 years after the golf course had closed.

I felt sheepish about it, because Shoemaker’s discovery had been so remarkable, and he had identified each cup he dug up based on the map, and I felt a bit like I was throwing cold water upon everything. But I wanted to be historically accurate, and thankfully, Shoemaker bought in. I traded a few dozen more messages with both Brown and Shoemaker, and we came to form this consensus:

That map of Elk River Golf Club depicted a course routing that almost certainly never was used.

Without going into minute detail about how we reached this conclusion, the short story is that we believe that the scorecard represented the actual routing and sequence of holes from the course’s inception as a nine-hole layout in 1926 through most of the course’s life span, except for periods in which three holes lying mostly across the Elk River were shut down and the course was a six-holer. And we believe that the map probably was drawn up very late during Elk River Golf Club’s existence, probably within a year either side of 1940, as the club dealt with financial difficulties and consistent flooding on the grounds.

And we believe that the map most likely was just a proposal of a re-routing that never came to be.

For what it’s worth, it’s almost certain that the golf course didn’t start at the north end of the grounds, as shown on the map, but rather near the southeast corner, near the end of a road that ran to the former Elk River Tourist Camp. The routing, in general terms, then took golfers west and then north, then across the Elk River for three holes, including an 82-yard par 3 that crossed the river, concluding with three long-ish holes on the north, central and eastern parts of Bailey’s Point.

Current photo of the edge of what was the fourth hole on Elk River Golf Club, which ran parallel to the Elk River.

Current photo of the edge of what was the fourth hole on Elk River Golf Club, which ran parallel to the Elk River.

Near the old third and seventh holes at ERGC, now part of Bailey Point Nature Preserve.

Near the old third and seventh holes at ERGC, now part of Bailey Point Nature Preserve.

After Brown, Shoemaker and I traded dozens of suspicions on the routing, Brown then came up with a document all but confirming that the “scorecard” routing was indeed used at least at some point. Brown passed along a second map, hand-drawn and shown below, that he had received via Elk River’s Tod Roskaft (click on it for a closer look).

ergcmap-drawn

Maybe this was just a long, convoluted exercise in picking at nits, but it did have at least one concrete (or more accurately, metal) benefit: Through the old aerial photos of the grounds and the hand-drawn map, Shoemaker altered his search for the cup from hole No. 4 (labeled hole No. 7 on the more formal map), taking into account that the yardage on the scorecard, 311 yards, was significantly greater than the yardage on the formal map, 199 yards, probably representative of plans the club made, but probably never implemented, in about 1940 to shorten the hole from a par 4 to a par 3. Shoemaker extended his search deeper into what are now relatively thick woods, and voila:

ergc4thcupThat’s the old fourth cup from Elk River Golf Club, discovered in early November by Shoemaker on the portion of the old golf-club grounds that lay west of the Elk River. It had been a challenge for Shoemaker to find the cup, but the notion that the layout corresponded with the scorecard/hand-drawn map and not with the formal map set him on the correct path. He now is missing only two of the nine cups from ERGC, and assuming they still are out there and buried beneath, I have little doubt he’ll turn them up in time.

Efforts to find someone still living who might remember the routing of Elk River Golf Club have, sadly been fruitless to this point. Anyone who fits the description would almost certainly be in their 90s. If you know of anyone who knows and would like to talk about it, I’d love to pursue.

Also for what it’s worth, the quest to determine whether the ERGC layout ever corresponded with the formal map required some digging — not the kind Shoemaker does — into whens and wheres of the golf club’s history, which evolved into the following timeline:

ELK RIVER GOLF CLUB TIMELINE

Sources in parentheses

1924: Golf course founded on Bailey point (Brook Sullivan booklet), presumably with six holes. Improvements were underway at the adjacent Elk River Tourist Camp, south of the golf course at the confluence of the Elk and Mississippi rivers (Charlie Brown).

1925: Alternate opening year of six-hole course, as implied in 1926 Sherburne County Star News story.

1926: Course expanded to nine holes (Star News), with three additional holes wholly or partially across the Elk River to the west, on a plot known as the Houlton farm.

1927: Course apparently had reverted to its original layout, as Robert Hastings and Joe Flaherty tied for low score of 26 in the Fourth of July picnic event “for the six hole course” (Star News).

1928: “The local club now numbers about 25 members.” (Star News)

1938: Heavy rains in late March May caused severe flooding along the rivers, raising them to their highest levels in 23 years (Brown; Elk River library). Footbridge leading to the ERGC grounds “across the river” was washed out. A June 9 story in the Star News notes the washed-out footbridge and flooded course. The fourth, fifth and sixth holes, lying wholly or partially across the Elk River, were not in play during 1938 (Brown).

1939: “A  lengthy  discussion regarding the cost of repairing the bridge and getting the holes on the other side of the river in shape.” (Minutes from ERGC meeting, via Brown, via Tod Roskaft)

1942: Course reverts to its six-hole routing, as club decides to take the grounds across the Elk River out of operation (Star News).

1943: Golf grounds “completely flooded” (Star News, April 8.) Also flooded was the “Wilson tourist camp,” as labeled by the Star News, which by then had been closed for nearly two years.

1943 and beyond: No further mention of Elk River Golf Club is found in searching through various years of Star News archives, into the 1950s.

1960: A new Elk River Golf Club is established in the northwestern part of the city. It continues to operate today.

Note: Charlie Brown entries based on research he conducted at Elk River’s Great River Regional Library.