Fore! Not gone.

Reports of their demise were not premature, because one of these Minnesota golf courses was indeed shuttered and the other was set to be. But, having been one of those who reported that these two courses were permanently closed, I am compelled and pleased to re-report that they now are open again:

  Mississippi National, Red Wing: After having lain fallow during the 2013 season, all 36 holes — both the Highlands and Lowlands courses – have reopened for 2014.

The course, which opened in 1990, shut down after the expiration in autumn 2012 of a lease between the City of Red Wing, which owned the land, and Wendell Pittenger Operations, the longtime manager of the golf course. But a group of Mississippi National players was determined to not let the course die. They organized as Red Wing Municipal Golf Corporation and pursued reopening the course. The city required the group to raise $400,00, according to new MNGC pro Nathan Gale, which the group did, as well as forming a new business plan. The city accepted, and the course reopened this spring, with a five-year operating lease for Red Wing Municipal Golf Corporation.

The course remains as it did before closing. Renovations are being made to the clubhouse, among other infrastructure changes. Longtime course superintendent Randy Juliar has returned. Gale is the new pro; he most recently worked for the First Tee program of Minneapolis and before that for Trump International in Florida.

One change to the fee structure is the addition of a resident rate, $25 for Red Wing residents. The course’s website is http://golfredwing.com.

  Sundance: Google “Sundance Golf Bowl,” and every indication is that the course in Dayton (north of Rogers, northwest of Anoka) has been closed. That was the expectation through much of this winter, but the Allen family, which owns the course, reconsidered and reopened.

That is no doubt a popular decision in the northwest metro. Though there is little chance Sundance will ever bid to host, say, a Ryder Cup, the nine-hole, public layout is popular with league players and those of beginning to intermediate skills. The course, opened in the 1960s, “was established for that blue-collar worker,” said Todd Anderson, the new general manager at Sundance.

Rates will remain the same as in 2013, Anderson said, adding that a senior rate has been established. Mark Wittig is the new pro at Sundance. The course will have a new website, sundancegolfbanquet.com, Anderson said. (At last check, that website was not active, though Anderson indicated it would be soon.)

Masters form chart

There are a thousand statistics that could be extracted and a hundred thousand permutations that could be configured in compiling a “form chart” for the 2014 Masters, or any other pro tournament. Without (much) editorial comment, what follows are key players and some of the key stats, in my mind, five days before Adam Scott grabs a green jacket by the shoulders and holds it up for the new Masters champion to slip into, assuming he isn’t slipping it on again himself.

A few notes, first:

– Odds given are those as quoted late last week by Glantz & Culver

– Top-10 finishes combine those on the PGA Tour and European Tour (PGA Tour top 10s are taken from the “Results Overview” chart on each player’s web page on PGATour.com).

– I’ll apologize in advance for what very well could be a chart that doesn’t display well on some computer screens. I tried for almost two hours Sunday to stumble across coding for charts like this so that it would look good, but everything was way beyond my feeble technological capabilities. So it is what it is.

– My brief picks for the tournament follow at the end of the chart.

PLAYER           Odds          Masters    Best        Average     World         2014

                                                  played   finish        finish           rank         top 10s

Rory McIlroy     7-1                   5              15                  34                  9                  5

Adam Scott       9-1                 12              1                   25                   2                  3

Phil Mickelson 14-1              21      1 (3 times)         14                   5                  1

Jason Day         16-1              3                 2                      2                   4                   2

Dustin Johnson 18-1           4               13                    30                 11                 5

Henrik Stenson  22-1          8               17                    47                   3                  1

Bubba Watson   22-1          5                1                     30                   12                5

Matt Kuchar        25-1          7                3                     28                   7                  6

Justin Rose         25-1          8                5                     21                    8                 3

Zach Johnson   28-1          9                1                     39                    10                 4

Sergio Garcia    30-1         14               4                     34                     6                  6

Brandt Snedeker 35-1      6                3                     26                   19                  1

Keegan Bradley 40-1        2              27                     40                   18                  2

Charl Schwartzel 40-1     4                1                      26                   17                  3

Jordan Spieth     40-1       0               –                       –                    13                  4

Hunter Mahan   45-1        7                8                       36                 32                   4

What’s it all mean? It means the same thing form charts usually mean — they might offer a hint of who’s likely to play well, but it’s still all a crapshoot. In any event, maybe based on the form chart and maybe not, here are my three picks for players to watch this week:

1. Rickie Fowler: Yeah, I can see that he’s not even given consideration by the oddsmakers. And that his world ranking isn’t overly impressive (39th). And that his FedEx Cup ranking is even lower (46th). And that his best Masters finish is T27. And that none of his individual statistical rankings are very impressive, and that he has only one PGA Tour win, and that he has been style as much as substance in five-plus years on Tour. But he is coming off a top-10 finish at Houston, and it seems like he should be about ready to break through. So why not this week …

2. Sergio Garcia: He is in fine form, he is heading into his 15th Masters so should know the course front and back and dip and swale, and he faces the likelihood of less external pressure (i.e. fewer catcalls) than he will in the other two majors on U.S. soil. So I like his chances.

1. Dustin Johnson: My pick to win. Picking a power player to win at Augusta National always makes sense, and Johnson is eminently powerful, averaging a herniated disk for most of us off the tee (translated, that’s 310.8 yards). At 29 years old (30 next month), it seems like a prime time to win a major. I look for him to play the par 5s in about 11 under and parlay that into an invitation to the Butler Cabin on Sunday evening.

Say hello to Stillwater Oaks

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Here’s a Minnesota golf course you probably haven’t heard of: Stillwater Oaks.

Here’s one you probably have heard of: Sawmill.

Sawmill, however, is no more. As the 2014 golf season nears opening day in Minnesota, the former Sawmill Golf Course will heretofore be known as Stillwater Oaks Golf Course.

The northeast metro course is under new management. It is now operated by Northco Golf & Hospitality, a St. Louis Park firm, under a five-year management contract with the Nicholson family of Stillwater, which owns the land that Sawmill-nee-Stillwater Oaks is on. Company President Frank Jermusek confirmed to me via phone today that the course has been renamed Stillwater Oaks and said much of the course’s new direction was finalized last week.

The changes are so new that I couldn’t even find a reference to them today when I Googled “Stillwater Oaks” and golf.

Last fall, there were rumors and even reports last fall that Sawmill was set to close permanently. I heard the rumors as recently as last month at the Minnesota Golf Show. They are untrue. They were an outgrowth of last year’s split between the Nicholson family of Stillwater, which owns the Sawmill land, and Sawmill Golf Club Inc., a group led by Dan Pohl which had leased and operated Sawmill Golf Course on a 30-year lease. The lease expired on Oct. 31, 2013, and the Nicholson family chose to hire new management. Pohl’s group will continue to operate the nearly adjacent Logger’s Trail Golf Course (both courses have Stillwater mailing addresses but actually are in the city of Grant, which is more or less halfway between Stillwater and White Bear Lake, north of Minnesota Highway 36).

The course will have new staff this season, and Jermusek indicated there will be changes to the clubhouse. He also allowed that green fees will rise, though he said rates will be priced “very, very reasonably.” It should be noted that in recent years, Sawmill’s green fees have been among the lowest in the Twin Cities metro area among full-length, 18-hole courses, edging as low as $18 for 18 holes.

A fee rate provided by Jermusek lists Stillwater Oaks’ 2014 rates:

18 holes, Monday-Friday: $23

18 holes, weekends and holidays: $30

18 holes, seniors (over 60) and juniors, Monday-Friday: $18

Cart fees are extra. One-season membership for a single golfer will cost $795.

A couple of asides:

– Another rumor I heard last week of a similar nature also is untrue. I was told French Lake Open Golf Course, a nine-hole, par-29 course in Dayton, was among the growing number of recently closed courses around the metro (joining the likes of Parkview in Eagan, Hudson (Wis.) Golf Club, Red Oak and Lakeview in Mound, and Sundance in Dayton, among others). Not true, not true, not true. Course owner Mark Regan told me by phone that French Lake will in fact be open in 2014, albeit with some changes in ownership/management. At $13 and well under two hours for nine holes, French Lake and similar par-3 and executive courses (I’m partial to Gem Lake Hills in Gem Lake because I live only a couple of miles away) are every bit as integral to the game of golf as the bigwigs like Hazeltine and Interlachen. The French Lakes of the world are the courses where people learn the game at their own pace and without the prospect of being intimidated by being around more accomplished players. I can’t state strongly enough how much I respect those who continue to operate such courses (as well as those who have tried but have found it just too burdensome in the past 10 years).

– Sadly, there are two more entries on the roll of Minnesota’s lost golf courses as 2014 opens, in addition to those mentioned parenthetically in the previous paragraph. News reports confirm that the Fred Richards executive course in Edina has closed permanently, as has KateHaven in the southeastern corner of Blaine. Adding those two to the list, my rough count of lost golf courses in Minnesota since 2000 now stands at 28.

– I will not go into detail on this subject, but after my brief conversation with Jermusek, who I admit is biased, I am in agreement on two things: A) regardless of all of the closings, golf is not “dying,” as ill-informed commenters are wont to post any time another course is abandoned; and B) this rash of closings still is a residual effect of overbuilding and overinvesting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and what’s happening now is a market correction as much as anything. No doubt there still are tough times ahead for many course owners, maybe even for the next 10 years, but at some point, and not to diminish the carnage incurred so far, the market will sort itself out.

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(Photo above is Stillwater Oaks, March 2014)

Presenting Minnesota’s lost golf courses

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I’m offering a free and unique (that word is misused so often that it makes me flinch, but this really is unique) opportunity to any Twin Cities-area golf league, golf course, civic organization or community group:

Want to find out where Roadside Golf Club was? What made Mudcura Golf Club so unusual? How Bunker Hills came to be a golf course in Mendota Heights before anyone ever considered putting a Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids? Why Westwood Hills was the king of all Minnesota lost golf courses?

I am offering an opportunity to make a presentation on Minnesota’s lost golf courses, more than 80 of them, to any Twin Cities-area group, large or small, at no charge. I have put together a PowerPoint presentation with photos old and new, and I can tell you all about the old Matoska course in Gem Lake, the Minnetonka Club in Deephaven, Hilltop in Columbia Heights, or any of dozens of others of courses you group may or may not have ever heard of. I can tailor the presentation to courses that were near the area you live in, and I might even be able to elicit a chuckle or two with stories: the one about the golfers who’d get their bearings mixed up and end up on the wrong course, or the one about the monkey who frequented one course, or the one about fellow who nearly died (everything turned out OK, but the story is humorous) under a pile of dirt more than a century ago at still another course.

With golf leagues about to organize for the season, I’m just thinking this might be a nice diversion for a portion of the organizational meeting. Again, there would be no charge. My only request would be the opportunity to sell or promote my new book, “Fore! Gone. Minnesota’ Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999,” after making my presentation.

If you’re interested, contact me at bissenjoe@gmail.com or through this website. Thanks for your consideration, and have a great golf season!

Joe Bissen

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What are they now?

I get this one a lot.

In fact, this is the question I get more than any other (except, maybe, why don’t you start doing a little more around the house, dear?):

Those lost golf courses — what are they now?

At least a half-dozen people asked me that, or a variation thereof, last weekend at the Minnesota Golf Show.  In fact, it’s the most-asked question I get from people who know I wrote a book about Minnesota’s lost golf courses.

The question is not so much about where the lost courses are now as what they are.

My answers have been general up to now — Minnesota’s lost golf courses are now parking lots, pastures, pavements. But, OK, allow me to be specific.

I took a run through my book this afternoon and came up with these numbers on what the lost courses are today.  I divided the results into two categories — primary use or uses of the modern-day site, and secondary use or uses.

Here they are (some lost courses weren’t counted because I don’t know their exact current site uses):

Primary modern-day use of lost-course sites

Residential development: 22 courses
Farm/rural: 16
Parkland (state parks, nature centers, etc.): 6
Undeveloped urban or suburban land: 6
Business: 4
Athletic fields: 1
Lodge / resort: 2
Rural or semi-rural housing: 1
Airport runway: 1
Prison grounds: 1

Seconday modern-day use of lost-course sites

School grounds: 7
Business: 5
Residential development: 4
Highway: 3
Senior housing / care: 2
Undeveloped urban or suburban land: 1

For the most part, these modern-day sites could hardly be less glamorous, such as the current undeveloped site of the old Joyner’s / Brooklyn Park Golf Course, shown below:

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Some of the residential sites have their appeal, such as that on the old Bryn Mawr Golf Club in Minneapolis, below:

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Only two sites, though, stand out: the former Nopeming pitch-and-putt course on the grounds of the former Joyce Estate on Trout Lake north of Grand Rapids:

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and the former Whitewater Valley Golf Course, in Whitewater State Park, near St. Charles in southeastern Minnesota (the golf course grounds is that area of green grass between the bluffland):

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