Peter Wong photo

Elgin Golf Club: A trace remains

No abandoned golf course disappears without a trace.

From a physical standpoint, an out-of-commission golf course can be left to revert to nature, almost all signs of its existence dissolving within a decade or less. Or it can be bulldozed off the face of the earth, the starkest example in Minnesota being the old Rich Acres course in Bloomington giving way to Runway 17/35 of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in the spring of 2000.

But in all cases, even if it’s only a wisp in someone’s memory or yellowed scorecard or a two-sentence entry in a newspaper archive, some fragment of the golf course carries on.

There are significant examples in Minnesota of lost courses’ legacies, such as Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr Golf Club,  whose two iterations spawned two classics: The Minikahda Club (1898) and Interlachen Country Club (1910). There was the little, big, remarkable course at Ferndale in Wayzata, where the six golf holes were but a sidebar to the patricians who promoted the game almost 120 years ago. Then there are mostly forgotten lost courses that honestly left no palpable legacies, such as  the recently rediscovered Madelia Golf Club in southwestern Minnesota.

And mostly, there are in-betweens.

One such tweener was Elgin Golf Club, situated three miles south of the Goodhue County city of Elgin but lying just inside of northeastern Olmsted County. The Elgin golf course is inextricably linked to the Richardson families of Elgin and Plainview and had until recently been considered by the family to be “a neighborhood thing … maybe five or six holes carved out of a pasture,” said Scott Richardson of Northfield.

That doesn’t really do justice to Elgin Golf Club — either the golf course or its extended if modest legacy.

Elgin Golf Club was founded in 1931. The Minneapolis Tribune offered one paragraph’s worth of statewide introduction to the grounds with this blurb on April 26, 1931: “Elgin, Minn., April 25 –Six holes on the new golf course south of here have been opened for play and the remaining three holes have been seeded and will be available later in the season.”

The Tribune presumably had summarized a story that ran in the local newspaper, the Elgin Monitor, on April 17, 1931.

“New Golf Course Opened This Week,” read the headline, followed by:

“Altho the new golf course which Bernard Purves and Rodney Richardson and building on their farms three miles south of Elgin, is, of course, far from completion, these young men have done an immense amount of work on it so far this spring and opened six holes for play this week. As a part of the course is on new seeding, the last three holes will not be ready for play until about the middle of June.

“Local fans have been out trying the new course and pronounce the new greens to be very good. …

“Each week shows some change in this transformation of a pasture into a golf course. This week the appearance of some fine new benches at all of the tees added its bit to the scene. These were presented to the club by various business men of the village. A few more trees have been transplanted this spring and these will add much in the appearance.

“The course is conveniently located within a ten minute drive from town. It is 2 1/2 miles south of Elgin on highway No. 42 and turning east at the Johnston corner another half mile brings one to the course which is on the south side of the road.”

Richardson and Purves — alternately spelled Purvis in newspapers and other documents; I will go with “Purvis” for the sake of clarity — were well-known names in early-1900s Elgin. George Purvis and R. Richardson were among the incorporators of Farmers and Merchants State Bank of Elgin in 1914. Thomas Richardson was the bank’s vice president in 1918. H.G. Richardson operated a general store and elevator in Elgin in the late 1800s.

George Purvis was the father of Bernard Purvis, the golf course co-founder. George Purvis died in 1926; Bernard Purvis and M. Milbrandt were listed as owners as part of the golf course property in a 1928 Olmsted County plat map. Richardsons, meanwhile, were everywhere in sight. One Richardson or another was listed as the owner of no fewer than nine plots within about a half-mile of the golf course in 1928, with Rodney Richardson the owner of the golf course land adjacent to that of Purvis and Milbrandt.

1928 plat map of the area south of Elgin on which Elgin Golf Club lay in 1931 and 1932. The golf course was on plots owned by M. Milbrandt and Bernard Purvis, and Rodney Richardson. The north-south highway on the left side of the plat map is Minnesota 42. (Courtesy History Center of Olmsted County)

Undated plat map, part of Richardson family memorabilia, of the same area, with the golf course site marked as No. 4. (Courtesy Scott Richardson)

Enough geneaology. Back to golf.

By late June 1931, a seventh green at Elgin Golf Club had been completed. On July 17, the Elgin Monitor reported on the first tournament held at Elgin Golf Club. It featured 28 players and was a “spirited contest” whose intentions were to “accustom the members to tournament play,” the newspaper reported.

“No brilliant scores were turned in by anyone,” the story read. Robert Holton was low man, with a 43-43–86, while Will Haas’ game needed some fine-tuning, as he anchored the field with a 67-72–139. The area’s next tournament was to be the next Sunday against the Whitewater Golf Club of St. Charles (the Whitewater Valley Golf Course in Whitewater State Park, featured and pictured on the cover of “Fore! Gone.”, was permanently flooded out in 1974).

The Elgin course reopened in 1932, albeit with changes in store. The Monitor reported on April 15 that Rodney Richardson would be taking charge of the course and that he “expects to eliminate the dog-leg holes of the course and provide for two 500-yard holes.” A number of residents of nearby Plainview were expressing interest in joining the club, the newspaper said.

In early June, a tournament had been scheduled for players from Elgin and Plainview, and Richardson’s proposed changes had been executed, the Monitor reported. In mid-June, Elgin defeated Plainview 19-18 in a tournament at Elgin GC; Charlie Duerre of Plainview was medalist with an 83 and was afforded the company of three new golf balls as payoff.

The Monitor reported on June 17, 1932, that more tournaments were scheduled to be played at Elgin Golf Club. Maybe that happened. However, I did not find any subsequent mention of Elgin Golf Club in the Monitor. By 1934, one of the newspaper’s few stories on local golf reported on a tournament at Soldiers Field in Rochester and that “several Elgin players expect to enter the home tournament to be played at Whitewater Park next Sunday.”

Goodbye, Elgin Golf Club. But wait. What about that reference to legacies?

Elgin Golf Club’s legacy lived on in the form of Wallace Richardson, grand-nephew of Rodney Richardson. Wallace Richardson was entering his teen years when Elgin GC took shape a few hundred yards west of his home. Whether it was the new golf course or some other that hooked him on the game, golf resonated with young Wallace Richardson. He became an adept player, participating in the 1937 state junior tournament, and an avid supporter of the game.

Wallace Richardson moved to Plainview in 1947 and lived there until his death on Sept. 3, 2017. He was an insurance agent and banker and, as noted in his Rochester Post-Bulletin obituary, “served on numerous community projects, including … the construction of the Piper Hills Golf Course.”

Piper Hills, on the south side of Plainview, was built in 1968 by Rochester professional Ray Keller and opened for general play in 1969. It was briefly known as Windcrest in the early 1970s but in any event has operated for nearly a half-century, perhaps in some small way as a tribute to Wallace Richardson and his long-ago connection to the lost Elgin Golf Club.

 

Photos: Northwood Country Club, North St. Paul

In October, the North St. Paul Historical Society hosted a presentation on Northwood Country Club in North St. Paul.

Actually, the presentation was on both Northwood Country Clubs: first, the Northwood familiar to longtime area residents as the restaurant and supper club owned and managed by John Heimel, and second, the Northwood familiar to some Minnesota golf history buffs who recognize it as the first Jewish golf club in Minnesota, established in 1915 and abandoned as a golf course in the mid-1940s, probably 1946, with a portion of the membership moving a mile to the southeast and buying Hillcrest Golf Club (also now a lost course, as of fall 2017).

I was not able to attend the presentation but was forwarded a few photos displayed there. They are posted below, courtesy of and thanks to Dan Goodenough, Tony Ducklow and the North St. Paul Historical Society. Click on any of the photos for larger views.

Northwood green, circa 1910s, with Clarence Johnston-designed clubhouse and caddie building in background.

Northwood Country Club (the supper club) burned to the ground on June 1, 1976, never to reopen. From “ForeGoneGolf.com”: “… its address is now occupied by by two homes on a knoll on Northwood Drive. The last-known standing relic from the golf course was its caddie house, which stood in what is now Northwood Park. The caddie house was moved to Colby Hills Park, at the southwest edge of North St. Paul, before being razed in 2009.”

Midway Golf Links, Ivanhoe: Barbed wire and all

Golf course maintenance isn’t rocket science. But it’s close.

Consider a recent story in the magazine Golf Course Management, titled:

“Antimicrobial options for reducing bacterial etiolation on putting greens.”

OK. Sure. Huh?

Then consider golf course maintenance in, let’s say, 1935, when it went like this:

“I remember the dandelions. They took two cars and put barbed wire between them and they’d get the dandelions off, usually on Sundays or before tournaments.”

OK. Sure. Whatever works.

The dandelion — or should it be damned-delion? — quote is offered by Muriel Widmark Dorn of Ivanhoe, a small town in southwestern Minnesota that once was but no longer is home to a nine-hole golf course. The course, named Midway Golf Links, is No. 157 on the ever-growing list of Minnesota’s lost golf courses.

Muriel Widmark Dorn has to be one of the few people alive who remembers Midway, which disappeared from the Lincoln County landscape in the early 1940s. She doesn’t have extensive memories of the golf course, but at age 96 — soon to be 97, she points out — those she does have are salient, maybe in part because Midway Golf Links was family.

Midway, technically not situated within the Ivanhoe city limits but on farmland 4.5 miles west of downtown, was founded in 1933 by Widmark Dorn’s uncle Cliff.

“It was kind of hard — one hill to the next,” Dorn says of the course. On one hole, she recalls, “You had a pond to hit over, so we used to find a lot of golf balls in there.”

Dorn’s other memories of Midway Golf Links include: The course had sand greens. There was a canteen on top of a hill where refreshments — pop and candy — were sold. She passed the course on her 2.5-mile walk home from the district school and often stopped to play nine holes. Golfers played Midway with wooden-shafted clubs. And Cliff Widmark, she recalls, was not an avid golfer when he founded the course but began playing more at that point.

Muriel Widmark Dorn’s first-hand memories of Midway Golf Links are augmented by written history.

“NEW GOLF LINKS WILL BE OPENED SUNDAY, MAY 7th,” read a headline in the May 5, 1933, Ivanhoe Times. The story noted Clifford Widmark’s status as founder of Midway Golf Links and that “local golf bugs are looking forward with interest to this occasion.”

Why the Midway name?

“The links are located at an advantageous point both to Ivanhoe and Hendricks, being five miles west of the former and seven miles southeast of the latter,” the Times reported.

This made good business sense for Widmark. Though golf courses dotted the southwestern Minnesota prairie in the 1920s and ’30s, it’s debatable as to whether Ivanhoe, population 556 in 1930 (and 559 in 2010), or Hendricks, population 702 in 1930 (and 713 in 2010), could have supported a golf course on its own.

Site of Midway Golf Links, more or less midway between Ivanhoe and Hendricks, is represented by red rectangle. Ivanhoe, seat of Lincoln County, is near the right edge of the aerial photo, Hendricks, near the South Dakota border, is near the left edge. John Borchert University of Minnesota Map Library photo.

Also making good business sense for Cliff Widmark: his choice of consulting service.

“Before making preparations to begin work on the ground,” the Times reported, “Mr. Widmark engaged the services of Mr. Brokel, a golf pro of the cities, who visited the premises and gave assurance that they could be developed into a fine course. This gentleman platted the course and laid out the suitable location of nine holes, together with giving information as to how the greens should be built.”

“Brokel” was Frank Brokl of Minneapolis, a state champion golfer in the late 1920s and a notable name in the development of small-town golf in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa. Among Brokl’s other designs was the now-lost course in Lake Benton.

The Ivanhoe Times’ report on Midway’s founding also noted that the greens were 40 feet in diameter (“larger than the average,” the newspaper said); that the course was 2,570 yards long and played to a par of 34, with no par-5s and a shortest hole of 157 and a longest of 365; and that power mowers would be employed to trim the fairways. (That having been written, I have no doubt that Muriel Widmark’s barbed-wire-trimmer recollection also is accurate.)

Midway Golf Links grounds, west of Ivanhoe, Minn., 1938 aerial map from University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The golf course grounds are in the bottom-center portion of the photo. The east-west road is Minnesota Highway 19.

The Times also reported that tournaments would be played at Midway. In 1936, the newspaper reported on an 18-hole team match between Ivanhoe and Marshall golfers. Ivanhoe won the match 655-700, with D.H. Wilson of Marshall recording a low score of 72. For Ivanhoe, M.J. Grodzick and Floyd Muchlinski both shot 76.

Another Ivanhoe Times story reported on a meeting between Widmark and club members over an apparent predicament concerning course condition and flagging patronage. It was reported that 30 members would be needed in order for Midway to continue operating.

On April 18, 1937, the Minneapolis Tribune ran a one-paragraph story headlined “Golf Club Changes Hands.” Datelined Ivanhoe, Minn., the story read, “The Ivanhoe Golf club has decided to take over the Midway golf course, owned by Clifford Widmark, during the coming season. Leo Kruse has been placed in charge of the links.”

Midway Golf Links lasted only a few more years, and issues persisted.

A July 26, 1940, a front-page story in the Ivanhoe Times reported on an impending tournament at Midway. “Reports are that the Ivanhoe course is minus dandelions, overgrown rough, filled sloughs and long-haired fairways. The greens, authentic sources stated, have been relieved of boulders dangerous to good putting.

“Preparations have been made for a large attendance … for gosh don’t disappoint ’em!”

In 2012, the Ivanhoe Times reprinted a story from its April 25, 1941, issue titled “Midway Golf Links will open for 1941 season.”

“It’ll be another season of picking stray golf balls out of neighboring grain and alfalfa fields for local golfers,” the Times had reported. “Another year’s rental has been agreed upon and the Midway Links will again be there this season for those late evening and Sunday sessions.”

The Times indicated that membership was only about 20. “All that remains now is a couple sanding bees to put the greens in shape and a prayer to keep the mowers together. … Next call will be for volunteer workers to sand the greens, pull a few weeds and put kinks in the back muscles. Then its (sic) time for that annual battle for par.”

My best guess is that 1941 was Midway Golf Links’ final season. I could find no further reporting on the course in subsequent years’ issues of the Ivanhoe Times, and with the onset of U.S. involvement in World War II in December 1941, it seems highly likely that area residents turned their attention and service to war efforts and that the course was abandoned.

Muriel Widmark Dorn, however, continued with the game. Though she is no longer an active golfer, she did play for years at Hendricks Golf Club, established in 1969, and proudly reports that a few years ago, she played there in a foursome in which all four women were in their 90s.

Lakato Golf Club: First the La, then the Kato

Scrounging through newspaper archives a couple of months ago, I came across a place I had not heard of.

“Lakato Golf Club Claims ‘Sportiest Links in State,’ ” read the headline the April 29, 1928, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune.

Lakato?

Don’t bother Wiki-Googling it. You won’t get anywhere. In the L’s, Wikipedia’s alphabetical list of Minnesota cities goes like this:

La Crescent … Lake Benton … Lake City …

No Lakato.

The second paragraph of the Tribune story explained Lakato succinctly.

Lakato, the story read, “is situated midway between Lake Crystal and Mankato and its members are drawn of the two cities.”

Well, that clears things up. To a point.

Lakato Golf Club wasn’t so much midway between Lake Crystal and Mankato as it was in Lake Crystal’s back yard and Mankato’s back 40, geographically speaking. The course lay on the banks of Minneopa Creek, 2 miles northeast of downtown Lake Crystal and about 9.5 miles southwest of downtown Mankato. The Tribune story said Minneopa Creek crossed the golf course five times.

The Tribune story went on to describe the course and its topography.

“The peculiar course of the creek, as it placidly moves in and out of the links and the rolling country, with all manner of unusual depressions and hills, makes for plenty of natural hazards. Although the course is less than 4,000 yards long, the natural hazard of the terrain makes Lakato difficult for even crack golfers.”

The presumption is that Lakato was a nine-hole course, which makes the stated yardage of 4,000 a head-scratcher. Small-town golf courses of the 1920s through 1940s in Minnesota generally were in the 2,500- to 3,000-yard range. Perhaps Lakato was very short, measuring under 4,000 for two nine-hole tours of the grounds. I can cast no definitive light on that.

The Tribune story stated that Lakato was “started only a year ago” and featured 100 members. But the stated chronology is misleading.

An inquiry with the Blue Earth County Historical Society revealed that the golf course on the Minneopa Creek grounds actually dated to 1923. That would have made it the second golf course in Blue Earth County, according to my records, which aren’t encyclopedic but are more voluminous than, say, a stack of 20 Post-It Notes. (Mankato Golf Club was established in 1919, according to its web site, which would make it Blue Earth County’s first course.)

The historical society passed along a clip from the Lake Crystal Tribune that mentioned golf being played on the grounds in late November — yes, late November — of 1923.

“Most of the members of the Lake Crystal Golf club,” the Lake Crystal Tribune reported on Nov. 30, 1923, “have been taking advantage of the fine fall weather by chasing the ball around the new course on the John Norman farm, just two miles from town on the Mankato road. With a little more work, Lake Crystal will have one of the snappiest as well as the most beautiful courses in Southern Minnesota. M. M. Meixell, widely known baseball player holds the low score on the Golf sheet.”

In a few years, Lake Crystal Golf Club would become Lakato. How? Welcome, citizens of Mankato.

“Anyone from Mankato wishing to play on the Lake Crystal links may see or correspond with the secretary for instructions,” the Lake Crystal News reported on May 11, 1925.

Within two years, the course had been renamed and its essence redefined.

The May 5, 1927, Lake Crystal Tribune ran a story headlined “Mankato Men Join Lake Crystal in Golf Club.”

“The new club will be limited to a membership of seventy-five; fifty Mankato men and twenty-five Lake Crystal men. …

“The Norman field will be used again this year, but with the addition of members from Mankato many improvements will be made. The members have chosen ‘Lakato Golf Club’ as the title of their organization.”

A month later, the Minneapolis Tribune again wrote about Lakato, in a one-paragraph story with details that didn’t jibe with the Lake Crystal Tribune story. The Minneapolis paper reported that the golf club’s membership was at 100 and, curiously, that “membership is limited to 79 from Mankato and 80 from Lake Crystal.” (Perhaps the membership jumped in the one month between newspaper stories, and perhaps the club in that time established a bylaw that curried favor — very slightly — to Lake Crystal members over Mankato members.)

The next spring, the Tribune ran its “Sportiest Links in State” headline, which a cynic might say is a compliment that has been handed out to no less than about 300 Minnesota golf courses over time, in one manner or another. The story went on to note that Lakato’s greens were being enlarged, new tees were being built, and five “rustic” bridges were being installed to cross the creek.

Plat map from 1916 of the area northeast of Lake Crystal, Minn., from the University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The plots within the red border show land owned by John Norman and that the Lake Crystal/Lakato Golf Club is presumed to have been on. Minneopa Creek cuts through the property, and it cut through the golf course as well. The diagonal highway, now Minnesota 60, led northeast to Mankato, and the north-south County 114, or 523rd Avenue, runs close to the old golf grounds.

The Tribune reported: “Experts have estimated that with its 4,000 yards par should be 39 (another vexing reference to yardage), but the best mark achieved was a 33 by Dr. R. F. Dodds of Lake Crystal. The only ace ever made was by Cullen Dodds, 16-year-old son of Dr. Dodds, who is president of the club.”

Those handful of seasons, 1923 to perhaps about 1930, would constitute the heyday of Lake Crystal/Lakato Golf Club, in my opinion. Newspaper stories about the club and course became hard for me to find in succeeding years. A skimming-through of Lake Crystal Tribune front pages from 1931 revealed no mention of the course, nor did a less-thorough scan of 1931 front pages of the Mankato Free Press.

Note: The next four paragraphs, which were part of the original posting of this story, have been struck through, as they include flawed reporting. Reader Tim Pulis points out, almost certainly correctly, that later Lake Crystal Tribune stories that I claimed pertained to the Lakato course almost certainly actually pertained to Minneopa Golf Club, on the western edge of Mankato and opened in 1929. Based on this, it is likely that Lakato did not last much past 1930, if that long. My apologies.

The golf course did make the 1935 Lake Crystal Tribune. On May 9, the newspaper reported, “J.A. Frank, Freeman Parsons and D.E. Cuppernull drove to the Minneopa course late Monday afternoon and made the round of nine holes in very good form considering it was their first appearance on the links this year. Mr. Frank negotiated the course in a 39, five above par.”

A June 30, 1938, passage implied that Lakato had seen tenuous times in the 1930s. “The golf bug has appeared in Lake Crystal after an absence of several years, and quite a number of business men have been bitten.” Cuppernull was again mentioned in that story.

The last mention of the grounds that I could find came in the May 25, 1940, Lake Crystal Tribune. “Fairly good scores, a few just over par and two below 40, have been made during the past few days by local golfers who play the game at the Minneopa Golf course,” the newspaper reported. Carl Lower, with a 36, had the lowest round mentioned.

I did not scan the Lake Crystal newspaper diligently from that point forward. So many courses in Minnesota, especially small-town layouts in southwestern Minnesota, disappeared at the advent of World War II that it seemed likely that the ultimate demise of Lakato was imminent by about 1940. I found no mentions of the local golf course in the newspaper front pages of 1942 nor, thinking perhaps the course might have been revived after the war, 1946. Also, a handful of inquiries with folks from the Lake Crystal area to try to find someone familiar with the course or the Norman land proved fruitless.

1938 aerial photo, from University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library, showing at least part of the area that the Lakato Golf Club course likely lay on. I’ll admit, this one has me befuddled. My suspicion is that the course lay on or very near the buttonhook curve of Minneopa Creek, but I see no definitive shapes of fairways or routing of holes in this area. Also, the Borchert database includes no aerial photos for the area immediately south of this, which also was owned by John Norman, on whose land the golf course lay. But of Norman’s two lots, the southern lot did not intersect Minneopa Creek. There are a couple of small circles on this photo, one dark and one bright, on either side of the creek (click on photo to enlarge) that might have been sand greens, but I can’t state that definitively. More information from someone who might know is always welcome. … Update: Since the original post, it has become evident that the Lakato layout had been abandoned well before 1938, so this photo is unlikely to show any distinct golf course features. 

Image at top of post via Peter Wong.

 

Milan, and Milan Golf Club: Valkommen to old and new

This was Milan, Minn., circa 1927: Half a thousand residents, plus a few more families’ worth of 10 Norwegians apiece. Here a cornfield, there a cornfield, everywhere a … you know the rest. Nine-hole golf course.

This is Milan, Minn., 2017: A third of a thousand residents, plus a few more families’ worth of five Norwegians and five Micronesians apiece. Still a ton of cornfields, but with niche farms and soybean fields scattered hither and yon. And …

… no golf course.

Milan — named after the city in Italy but pronounced MY-luhn — has changed a lot in the past 90 years. Then again, it hasn’t.

The Norwegian roots in Milan, a Chippewa County municipality 140 miles east of St. Paul, still run deep, 138 years after the city was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1879. “Velkommen Til Milan! Norwegian Capital USA,” reads the title heading on the City of Milan’s web site.

(The web site mentions nothing about a lost golf course, which of course is one of the town’s attractions. Well, to a party of one, anyway.)

But Milan has diversified in the past 90 years, especially the past 10 or so. Today, Milan might be one of Minnesota’s most eclectic very small towns.

The population is now more than half Micronesian, according to a 2016 Star Tribune profile of Milan. Most of the Micronesians who live in the city have settled there in recent years after taking jobs at the Jennie-O Turkey plant 15 miles away in Montevideo.

The city’s web site also touts the town and area’s “progressive diversity.” Regarding agriculture, the web site mentions “the latest technology for grain farmers, small niche vegetable and fruit farming and everything in between.” (They forgot to mention the cornfields. Chippewa County still produces more corn, by far, than any other crop.) The web site also points to Milan’s “flourishing arts community.”

Part of that arts community, and yet a vital part of “old” Milan,  is found on Main Street, where Billy Thompson, a lifelong Milan resident, owns the Arv Hus Museum and Billy Maple Tree’s, a store that plies gifts such as rosemaling (which originated in Norway, no coincidence) and other folk art, plus watercolors, photographs, Norwegian knives, handcrafted pens and much more.

Billy Maple Tree’s, Milan, owned by Billy Thompson (courtesy City of Milan)

Eclectic? You betcha. And there may be no one in Milan who embodies old and new and eclectic like Billy Thompson.

Thompson, in the Star Tribune story, was paraphrased as saying newcomers and old-time Milan residents get along better thanks to the influx of Micronesians. Which sounds great. But I’m more interested in the old than the new when I dial Billy’s phone number.

Billy, I have been told, knows about the lost golf course in Milan.

Billy answers the phone and tells me the course was established in 1922. It was south of Milan, he says. He remembers a relative playing a round of golf there.

“I had an uncle from Benson. He was a good golfer,” Thompson says. “It was a par 32, and he came in and shot a 28.”

Billy says he still has a cup and ball, somewhere, from the time his father won the 13th flight in a tournament in Milan. If the recollection is entirely accurate, one would presume the golf club either had a sturdy membership, attracted a lot of out-of-town players to the tournament or invented the now much-maligned concept of a “participation trophy.”

Whatever. Billy has the floor again.

“I would take my dad’s golf club and I would get up in the rough and set it right on top of the rough” and hit the ball, Thompson says.

Another memory: “They had no one to carry the clubs — in those days, we carried them,” Thompson says of the youth in Milan in the 1930s. “So I made big money on that. I carried around the clubs for nine holes, and they gave me 25 cents.”

A 1938 aerial photo confirms that Thompson is spot on about the golf course’s former location. Milan’s course was three-quarters a mile south and slightly east of downtown Milan, on a parallelogram-shaped plot just west of U.S. Highway 59. The first hole went north, Thompson says, and that appears to coincide with a routing of a hole that proceeded north, toward Milan, and bordered the highway.

1938 aerial photo of Milan Golf Club. U.S. Highway 59 borders the golf course on the east. The city is three-quarters of a mile to the north.

Current aerial photo of Milan and area to the south of the city. Area in red closely coincides with boundaries of the former Milan Golf Club course. (Aerial photos courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library.)

Billy, a bit randomly but not boastfully, reminds us of his eclectic nature — he mentions he was in the flooring business, filmed movies starting in 1945, and has been in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, Japan and Australia, to name a few other locales — and recalls the Milan golf course’s demise.

“It got so bad during the Dust Bowl days,” he says, “the guys left (Milan) and went out west. They had this golf course, and there was a guy by name of Bud Midby, and he took care of this place just before the Second World War. Well, he went off to the war, and that was pretty much the end of this golf course.”

Billy Thompson’s oral, abridged history of Milan’s golf course holds historical water. A handful of old newspaper clips lend support:

— A Minneapolis Tribune story from June 23, 1932, mentioned a “new course” in the Milan area (accepting that date or Thompson’s stated starting date of 1922 is splitting hairs; it’s possible the “new” course was in its second season by 1923).

— A 1932 Tribune story detailed the election of officers at Milan Golf Club — Stanley Haroldson as president — and the club’s intention to remain membership in the Tri-County league.

— The Milan Standard of May 12, 1939, reported that the season’s first matches were set for the “Big Four league comprising Appleton, Dawson, Madison and Milan.” The same story reported that “the Milan course is in good condition.”

But …

… “When the season started, it was feared that it might be necessary to discontinue the golf course here. And although the prospects are none too bright now, it is believed that the association will live another season.” The story also reported that club secretary-treasurer Olav Opjorden (I bet he was Norwegian) had indicated the club had a nearly break-even season in 1938.

— On June 23, 1939, the Standard reported that Milan had defeated Appleton 27-2 in an inter-club match. Babe Veum was low scorer, with a 73. The Standard from Aug. 16, 1940, reported that 40 players had participated in a shortstop tournament, with Glenn Gilbertson the medalist with a 66.

— But that — again coinciding with Billy Thompson’s recollection — was the last mention of golf in Milan that I could find in a newspaper. Wondering if perhaps the golf club had been revived after World War II, I skimmed through Milan Standard editions of 1944-46 and 1948 and noticed very little coverage of local sports, save for baseball.

Ha det, Milan Golf Club.

Image at top of post is a montage from the City of Milan web site, posted courtesy of City of Milan.