Murray / Slayton Golf Club: Valiant effort

The lost golf courses of southwestern Minnesota — and there might be 50 of them, for all I know, the way they keep sprouting up on me like cornstalks in the June sunshine — by and large conform neatly to a template.

I have detailed the template ad nauseam in my book and on this web site, but, hey, let’s take that dead horse and boot it one more time.

Scores of golf courses sprang up across the small and medium-sized Minnesota towns in the 1920s, thanks to a robust economy and access to transportation affording folks enough spare time and spare change to take up the game. (Usually they were townfolk, bankers and doctors and businessmen, while farmers, busy with milking and haying, golfed far less frequently but sometimes offered up their pastures via lease to the newly organized golf clubs.) Then, between effects of the Great Depression and World War II, dozens of courses were abandoned in the 1930s and ’40s.

Among them were many in the “Silos and Flagsticks” lost-course heartland of southwestern Minnesota. I have written about 14 of them and have a handful of new-found ones on my to-do list.

One such lost course is in Slayton, the seat of Murray County, 90 miles west of Mankato and 50 miles from the southwestern corner of Minnesota. Slayton followed the template right up to the end — when it stubbornly attempted to bust out of the lost-course mold.

“New Golf Club Is Formed at Slayton,” read a headline in the Minneapolis Tribune of Feb. 28, 1926.

The story read, in part: “Fifty golf players of Slayton met this week and former the Tri City Golf club, which will begin functioning with the first break of spring. …

“A nine-hole course will be built on a 130-acre tract on the southern outskirts of the city. The location is ideal, being about half way between this city (Slayton) and Iona, and lying along the state highway between the two cities.

“The land upon which the course is located is rolling and a small stream of water flows through it in normal seasons. Golf enthusiasts of Hadley, Avoca, and other nearby towns will be invited to become members of the club.”

The course wasn’t really on the southern outskirts of Slayton, unless one considers the skirt was one really, really large hoop skirt. The old Slayton golf course was 2.7 miles almost directly south of downtown Slayton, at the southwestern corner of the intersection of what is now county highways 32 and 49.

1938 aerial photo of Marshall / Slayton Golf Club, courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The course was two miles south of Slayton, just off the intersection of county highways 32 and 49. Routing of some of the holes is plainly visible, as are the greens, which are presumed to have been sand greens, based on their dark, round appearances on the aerial photo. I am puzzled about something, however — though a 1926 Murray County Herald story announcing the course’s establishment said it would be a nine-hole course, I count only five, maybe six, definite green sites, and this plot of land really doesn’t appear large enough to have fielded nine holes. Another mystery …

A reorganization and renaming of the club appears to have occurred in April 1929, when the Tribune reported, “Organization of the Murray Golf club was completed at a recent meeting with the election of officers and completion of arrangements for leasing the course for another year.”

So far, so template-good.

Through the 1930s, proceedings at the golf club appeared to be mostly routine, according to a semi-organized perusal of newspaper clips. (In other words, I didn’t search every word of every year. Which means I probably missed an alien abduction on the fifth fairway in 1933 and a kraken snatching the town pharmacist down by the water at southwest corner of the course in 1937, neither ever to be seen again.)  But among happenings at Slayton’s first golf course:

— In 1930, the Murray County Herald reported, some club members were making plans to participate in a tournament in not-far-away Worthington.

— During the first week of June 1935, a headline in the Murray County Herald reported that the course was about to be put in play for the season, with J.R. Price the chairman of the grounds and greens committee. “The dandelions have been somewhat of a nuisance for the ardent golfer for the past few weeks,” the newspaper reported, “but with the present cutting of the fairways, there will be no more trouble looking for balls.”

— A new clubhouse was built in 1938. and the club, the Minneapolis Tribune reported, was “anticipating its largest membership in recent years.”

— In May 1938, N.H. Miller made a hole in one on the eighth hole, and in August 1939, Judge G.J. Kolander aced the 104-yard fourth hole with a 5-iron.

Then came the 1940s, by which time many other 1920s-born golf courses in Minnesota and especially southwestern Minnesota had either closed up shop or were about to. Slayton, however, defied the template and pressed on.

A look through the Murray County Herald of 1940 revealed no local golf coverage, at least that I noticed. But on May 1, 1941, the newspaper reported, Harold Hanson had been elected president of Slayton Golf and Country Club. Membership would cost $10, $5 for women and students. “The question of hiring a care-taker was left to the executive board,” the newspaper reported. A membership of 75 was anticipated for the 1941 season.

By 1942, the United States had entered World War II, the bulk of the coverage in the Murray County Herald had turned toward the war, and, most likely, golf had ceased on the south-of-Slayton grounds. A 1943 story mentioned that Ralph Larson of Slayton had won a tournament at Worthington, but there was no mention of the Slayton course in the story or in any other newspapers I scanned. The newspaper reprinted an editorial from the Austin (Minn.) Daily Herald in which golf was excoriated, the editorialist stridently frowning upon people would play such a game when they could be contributing more by working in the fields.

So, the lost-course template apparently had been fulfilled. The Murray / Slayton layout had been abandoned.

Or not.

I assumed at this point that the golf course had disappeared forever (template paradigm at play). I read nothing about local golf in skimming 1945 newspapers. But I decided to look further. Part of this had to do with a suspicion that, as one of the larger small towns in the area, if that makes any sense, perhaps Slayton still would have had the wherewithal to support a golf course. The city’s population had been growing steadily: 1,045 in 1920, 1,102 in 1930, 1,587 in 1940.

And there, in the pages of the 1946 Murray County Herald, Slayton’s golf course re-emerged.

“Golf Course Open; Greatly Improved” read a headline in the June 6, 1946, Herald.

“After being closed down during the war, the Slayton golf course is again open and in use,” the story read. “Though membership is low, there being only 25 signed up, the number is growing daily, according to President Walter Schrupp, and will reach 80 or 90 once the course is restored to its former good shape.” Also noted were a freshly painted and renovated clubhouse, improved fairways, and an effort to resolve an issue with grub worms.

The golf course presumably made it through 1946, because a story in the Herald of June 19, 1947, was headlined “Golf Club Progresses.”

The newspaper reported that bad weather had delayed the course’s opening for the season but that it was imminent. “The course has been covered with weeds and grass on the greens but the Herald has been informed that a great deal of work already has been done and it will be mowed again at the end of this week.

“Biggest problem facing the mainsprings of the club so far has been lack of funds and manpower. Most of the work that has been done so far has been done by local golf enthusiasts in their spare time.”

So the golf course had been revived, but still, reading between the lines, it appeared to be on life support. And a stroll through 1948 editions of the Murray County Herald revealed no mention of a local golf course.

My best guess is that the Slayton golf course — the one on the lot south of the city — did not survive past 1947. I don’t know that for a fact. Determining dates of lost courses’ demise might be more challenging than uncovering the courses in the first place, because, not surprisingly, the clubs rarely publicized it when their courses shut down, and it is increasingly difficult to find current town residents who remember 1930s and ’40s-era lost courses.

Regardless, the original Slayton golf club made a valiant effort at surviving past the template time frame of early-era Minnesota lost golf courses — that is, established in the 1920s but gone before the end of World War II. And that was not the end of golf in Slayton. In 1957, Slayton Country Club was established one mile north of the city, with a new nine-hole layout. The course is still in operation, with private membership and operated by GreatLife Golf & Fitness.

Notes: Photo at the top of this post is by Peter Wong. As always, I come away with more questions than answers about this lost golf course and welcome any responses or revelations. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Hillcrest memories: Tell me about it

With Hillcrest Golf Club about to join the ranks of Minnesota’s lost golf courses as one of its most distinguished members, it would seem a shame to just let it fade off into the
late-October sunset.

Hillcrest is scheduled to permanently close its 18-hole layout at the end of the month, bowing out after its 97th season in the very northeast corner of St. Paul. Some of the course’s regulars are understandably downhearted about the closure, as Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press noted in a tribute to Hillcrest published shortly after the news of its demise was announced in late July.

I would be interested in hearing from more golfers who remember Hillcrest. What will you remember most? The players? Staff? The course? Any favorite holes? Any holes you will curse until your dying day, even if you generally loved the place? Any tournaments you won? Any tournaments you didn’t win (I’ll bet there were plenty)? Ever play it during a torrential rainstorm or snowstorm or withering heat wave? (Or all three, considering, well, this is Minnesota?)

Natalie Klasinski tees off on the 18th hole at Hillcrest Golf Club. (Valerie Reichel photo)

Respond to this blog post or send me an email (my last name, my first name, at gmail) and I’ll publish your thoughts. I also would love to post a photo or four. Surely you can do better with photos than what’s in my “stash,” which consists of two photos — I don’t even know which holes they’re of — taken while lurking around Hillcrest’s perimeter for 10 minutes in late September. (Update, Oct. 12: Valerie Reichel outdid my by 500 miles on the photo front. My two photos are posted below. Her much better photos are interspersed.)

In the meantime, though I never had the privilege of playing the course, here are a couple of other tidbits about Hillcrest, as it relates to other lost courses:

— Hillcrest was established in 1921 and notably designed by Tom Vardon. Sad to see Vardon’s design work slowly fading away. His lost courses in Minnesota now number eight : Hillcrest, Bunker Hills (the one in Mendota Heights, not Coon Rapids), Ortonville, Shattuck (Faribault), Matoska (Gem Lake), Sauk Centre, Quality Park (St. Paul) and Westwood Hills (St. Louis Park).

— Before it was bought by Steamfitters Pipefitters Union 455 in 2011 for $4.3 million, Hillcrest was known through much of the 20th century as the Jewish golf club in the eastern half of the Twin Cities. But it wasn’t the first Jewish golf club in the east metro. That distinction belonged to Northwood in North St. Paul, about a mile northwest of Hillcrest. Northwood was established in 1915 and spent 30 years as the east metro’s Jewish golf club before the membership bought Hillcrest in 1945 and made Hillcrest, formerly a public course, private and Jewish-affiliated.

— How many lost courses in Minnesota’s capital city? Hillcrest is the fourth, that I know of. The others: Quality Park (1925-unknown), Merriam Park (1900-06) and the historic Roadside Golf Club (1897-1903).

So, let me know about Hillcrest. Thanks in advance.

Looking upon the No. 8 green at Hillcrest. (Valerie Reichel photo)

More (and more) silos and flagsticks: Lake Benton

In southwestern Minnesota lies some of the most fertile ground in the state.

For lost golf courses.

Chapter 42 of “Fore! Gone.” was titled “Silos and Flagsticks.” It offered a tip of the Northrup King cap not only to the rich loam of the southwestern corner of the state but to eight small towns that were — are, actually — home to at least 10 abandoned golf courses.

Those 10 — in Chandler, Fulda, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lakefield, Tracy, Windom, and three in Pipestone — might not have been the half of it.

In the two-plus years since my book was published, I have written about the modest little course west of Madelia and the stunningly historic first site of golf in Marshall. Now, there is more in southwestern Minnesota — a lot more.

In an area roughly from Ortonville to Granite Falls to Mankato and all points south and west, I have so far identified 15 lost golf courses. I suspect there are twice as many. Their life spans are distinctly similar — almost all were founded in the 1920s, when times were good across small-town Minnesota and the economies hummed along like well-oiled combine harvesters, but were abandoned in the late 1930s or early 1940s, casualties of the Great Depression and/or the advent of World War II, when many of the male residents left town to fight overseas and many of the female residents were preoccupied with raising families or helping domestically with the war effort.

Information on these courses often is spotty, but in the coming weeks (OK, probably months; I don’t work as fast as I used to) I will be writing about dozens more lost golf courses that have revealed themselves. A good share of them make their eternal rest in the land of silos and flagsticks.

For starters, a trip far west, nearly to the South Dakota border …

LAKE BENTON GOLF CLUB

Eight miles east of the Minnesota-South Dakota state line lies downtown Lake Benton. The city was the seat of Lincoln County from 1882-1902, and like a number of other small towns in that neck of the pheasant fields, it featured a population healthy and large enough to take a run at golf in the 1920s. Lake Benton’s population peaked in the first half of the 1900s — it was 944 in 1920, 903 in 1930 and 961 in 1940. Today, it is estimated to be in the mid-600s.

By 1924, according to an estimate from the Lincoln County Historical Society, a golf club had formed and established a nine-hole, sand-greens layout a half-mile east of downtown, in what is now  a mostly open area bordered by Minnesota 14 on the south, Lakeview Drive on the west, railroad tracks on the north (the course did not go as far north as the lakeshore) and Benton Street on the east. The historical society said the course was owned by the city of Lake Benton. A 1925 story in the Lake Benton News affirms that the course was established in 1924, as it reports that “last year was the initial year” of the club.

The course, wrote the historical society’s Anne Lichtsinn in an email, had “grass that got so long that balls would get lost and then you had to go home.”

 

In 1926, the Minneapolis Tribune reported on misfortune at the Lake Benton course in a story headlined “Foursome Halted When Visiting Golfer Breaks Leg Swinging at Ball”:

“Ivanhoe, Minn., Sept. 17 — George Graff, cashier of the First National Bank of this city, will long remember his first trip to the Lake Benton golf course.

“Graff had never played the course and with a few friends decided to make the trip and play a round.

“When the foursome had played a couple of holes, Graff took a vicious drive at the ball — and he broke his leg.”

In 1930, another outsider visited Lake Benton in a trip that had a less calamitous conclusion.

“Mr. Frank Broki of Minneapolis, a professional golfer and instructor, was in Lake Benton on Wednesday of this week and gave lessons to a number of Lake Benton golf fans,” reads a passage from a reprint of a story in the Aug. 1, 1930, Lake Benton News. “Mr. Broki played one round on our course in a foursome comprised of some of our best players and made nine holes in 34, 32 being par. On account of the extreme unevenness of the course and the multiplicity of natural hazards, it is considered a very difficult one and to make it in 34 the first time is considered remarkable.”

Broki was something of a Johnny Appleseed of small-town Minnesota golf. He won state public links championships in 1927 and 1928 and the State Amateur championship in 1929 before turning professional. A Minneapolis Tribune story from 1932 reported that Broki “now is what could be called a ‘circuit rider,’ teaching and spreading the gospel of better golf on a circuit that takes him around three states (Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa). … He makes four trips around the two circuits each season spending several days to a week giving individual instructions to club members.”

Lichtsinn was unaware of the circumstances of the Lake Benton golf course’s demise, noting only that “it may have died out in the depression and drought at that time.” My best guess is that that is partly true. In fact, the course survived at least through the late 1930s.

The Lake Benton News of Aug. 23, 1932, reported on election of officers at the golf club, with H.H. Evans elected as president. The club appeared to be something of a regional hub for golf: Enrollment consisted of 27 members from Tyler, 17 from Ivanhoe, 13 from Lake Benton, three each from Arco and Hendricks, and two from Ruthton.

1938 aerial photo, Lake Benton golf course. The city of Lake Benton is to the left, the lake is at the top, and Minnesota Highway 14 runs along the south side of the course. The holes on the golf course are clearly visible at the center and right portions of the photo, with the sand greens showing as small, dark circles. (University of Minnesota John Borchert Library photo)

In June 1938, a tournament was held at the course, the newspaper reported. “The course this year is in the finest shape it has ever been,” the story noted. “Entry fees are $1, and ham, bacon and golf balls will be awarded as prizes.”

The next week’s follow-up to that story referred to the “Lake Benton-Tyler golf course” and noted “raspberries to losers” in tournament play. It is presumed those were literal fruity raspberries, not the kind emitted by placing one’s tongue between the lips and emitting a sputtering sound.

Another tournament was held later in June 1938, with the newspaper referencing another name for Lake Benton’s course. “Paired with Martin ‘Dietz’ Griedzicki, of the Ivanhoe course, Jens Bolleson of the Ben-Ti golf club, blazed away on the local links.” Bolleson shot 38-36–74 and won a ham, with 20 players entered in the event.

A Lake Benton news clip from June 16, 1939, referred to the course as “Ben-Tye golf links.”

And then … nothing.

I found no further references to golf in Lake Benton in scanning microfilm of the Lake Benton News from 1939 and 1940 and then as late as 1946 (a few Minnesota courses shut down during World War II, then resumed operations later). Perhaps telling, and this is pure speculation, is a reference in the July 7, 1939, Lake Benton News to a “grasshopper scourge” in nearby Ivanhoe. Perhaps there were residual effects in Lake Benton that imperiled the course. Perhaps the golf club had just, seriously no pun intended, run its course.

In July 1940, a new bowling alley, named Paul’s, opened in Lake Benton. The Lake Benton News covered local baseball at length and included stories on other sports, including auto racing. But the only reference to golf that I found in looking through much of the year’s newspaper archives was to more misfortune, albeit less severe, at a golf course to the north.

W.A. Little, the newspaper reported, fell into a pond at a golf course in Alexandria, pulling his caddie along with him into the drink when the two could not successfully negotiate the bank of the pond.

Author’s notes: The Lake Benton golf course marks the 150th that I have identified in Minnesota. When I started this lost-course project in 2012, I soon suspected I might find as many as 70 lost courses in the state. Then I realized there might be a hundred. As more abandoned courses revealed themselves and as more modern courses folded, I realized there might be 150. Now that I have reached that mark and know of at least 20 more, I have no doubt there are more than 200 lost courses scattered throughout the state. I’ll never find them all. But if you’re out there, deceased host of the game, I’m trying to find you.

My apologies for not including a credit on the photo of the golf course at the start of this post. I received the image from a friend who doesn’t remember where the image came from. I would be glad to offer proper credit if the source is revealed.

 

 

Peter Wong photo

Golf in Marshall, Part II: You won’t believe how far back it goes

Peter Wong photo

——————-

History can reveal itself in unusual ways.

Backward, for instance.

My path to uncovering what was almost certainly the first golf course in southwestern Minnesota, and one of the first 20 in all of Minnesota, was traveled in a decidedly backward direction. A few sideways steps here and there, but mostly backward.

If you can hang with me, you’re about to endure a journalistic storytelling practice known as “burying the lede.”  Actually, it’s more like journalistic malpractice. Editors hate it. Burying the lede involves taking the most compelling information available and plunking it so deep into the story that it stands a darn good chance of getting lost.

Well, “lost” is what I do, after all. So here I go, burying away with that lede. Editors, go ahead and hate me. I’d like to think that in the end, the excavation will be worth it.

The best way I can think of to tell this story is, well, backward.

————–

Late last year, Randy LaFoy, a fellow Minnesota golf history buff who researches courses that were aided by Works Progress Administration labor during the Great Depression, told me about a golf course site he had noticed in a historic aerial photo of the city of Marshall. That led me, albeit months later, to a post about the “rebirthing” of Marshall Golf Club, which moved its grounds from the northwestern part of the city to the southwest in 1941.

It’s a fairly standard relocation story, except it got me to thinking more about Marshall Golf Club. The bulk of the Internet entries on the club, and even the club’s web site, state that Marshall GC was founded in 1942. That’s true, in the sense of the club’s current iteration (with nine additional holes opened in 1972). But I had to wonder if there wasn’t an earlier version of club history, maybe even pre-1940, when the good folks of the Lyon County seat first played golf on the northwest edge of town.

A few phone calls ultimately led me to Ron Labat, a longtime Marshall Golf Club member who perhaps has the best working knowledge of the club’s history. Some years ago, Labat shrewdly recovered and preserved some old club documents shortly before the clubhouse was remodeled and the documents destroyed.

Labat was aware that the club’s origins dated to before 1940. He has a copy of what is called Marshall Golf Club’s original Certificate of Incorporation, dated April 24, 1930, and registered in Lyon County. Labat said annual dues ranged from $10 to $50, and he included this wonderful nugget that accompanied the 1930 “establishment” of the club: “The bylaws said indebtedness (of the club) could not exceed one dollar,” Labat said.

Cool. So Marshall GC dates to 1930.

Except …

… Being interested in finding out more about the club’s establishment, I spent a couple of minutes   a bundle of hours at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, spooling and unspooling microfilm of Lyon County newspapers. The year 1930 revealed these entries on Marshall Golf Club from the News-Messenger:

April 13, 1930: Story headlined “Golfers Improve Greens and Prepare For Busy Season” and mentions sand was being delivered for the greens at Marshall Golf Club.

June 6, 1930: “Local interest in golf is increasing for the1930 season, with 60 members registered.”

Well, fine, but those stories implied to me that 1930 was not Marshall Golf Club’s first season, either.

Now unspooling the 1929 reel …

June 28, 1929: “William Wik made a record score on the Marshall golf course Tuesday, when he shot a 33, two strokes below par. On his second round of the nine holes, his score was a 37, giving him a 70 for the 18 holes.”

Nice round, Bill. (Is it OK if I call you Bill?) But I bet the course wasn’t established in 1929, either.

How about the 1928 spool?

June 8, 1928: “Golfers Plan A Tombstone Tourney Here.” Story about an upcoming tournament at Marshall, featuring a format more complicated than most Google algorithms. (I’ll not try to explain it.)

OK, now I’m going to keep digging backward until I really find out when Marshall Golf Club started.

July 1, 1927: Headline: “Monte Golfers Win.” (That’s short for Montevideo.) William Wik of Marshall shoots the low score, an 81, at Marshall course. (Nice round, Bill, but I bet you can do better. Keep plugging away.)

Somewhat exasperated by the continued retreat through the years, I decide to start retreating two years at a time …

Feb. 6, 1925: Annual meeting of Marshall Golf Club is detailed in the newspaper. George Lowe is elected president. A $10 admission fee for non-resident members. 64 members. “… Considerable money was expended last year on the grounds and club house, and the course is in fairly good condition for after but one year’s work. … Additional traps and bunkers will be built.”

Well, there’s a strong hint — right? — that Marshall Golf Club dates to 1924. And the May 16, 1924, News-Messenger proves especially revealing:

“Increased interest is being taken locally in the game,” the newspaper reports, “and with the improvements being made at the local course more practice and better play is noticeable.

“The new Marshall course is being worked into better shape. Greens are in fair condition and the course is being well marked. A large mower has been added recently to the equipment and new turf will be noticeable by next spring from mowings made this spring. A club house has been erected which will provide storage room and locker space for 24 members. … The new course has a total length of 2,792 yards negotiated in par in 36.”

“New course.” There you go. Marshall Golf Club goes all the way back to 1924. Makes a lot of sense, actually. That would place MGC’s founding solidly in line with a large group of other southwestern Minnesota courses that were established in that era, including Worthington (1919), Olivia (1920) and Canby (1920) and dozens more. The first club of all in southwestern Minnesota has generally been regarded to be Interlaken Golf Club of Fairmont, in 1917 and/or 1919, according to conflicting information on the club’s own web site. (Note, 9/16/17: Graceville Golf Club in Big Stone County appears also to date to 1917.)

Anyway, the search for Marshall Golf Club’s founding is beginning to tread on historic ground.

And then the next passage in the 1924 News-Messenger story drops the bombshell.

“The course,” the newspaper reported, “occupies practically the same ground used by Marshall’s first Golf club which flourished in 1900 and 1901, after which the game was abandoned in Marshall until the organization of the present club four years ago. The club has a membership of about 60.”

Whoa. That’s a passage almost beyond belief. Whether formally organized as Marshall Golf Club or not, golf in this southwestern Minnesota city dates not to 1942, not to 1930, not to 1927 or ’25 or ’24 …

but to 1900 or 1901.

I have to say I was floored by that last passage. If true, golf in Marshall predated golf anywhere else in that corner of the state not by two or three years, but by more than 15. This, if credible, is a historic revelation.

Back to the microfilm.

As my late, great mother might have exclaimed, excuse my French. But damned if the 1924 story wasn’t right.

I scrolled through about the first seven months of 1900 editions of the News Messenger and found no references to local golf. But 1901 was a different story.

May 17, 1901: “The golf craze is about to hit Marshall, and will probably hit it hard. A number of would-be golfers who don’t as yet know a golf stick from a hay rake have been talking golf the past week and are now preparing enthusiastically to order outfits and lay out a ground — or is it ‘green’ or ‘links.’ The ground now being considered is on the east side of the river, and nine links will be made to start with.  … Soon the members will be wrestling with the golfer’s jargon, and the uninitiated will be wondering at foozles, bunkers, tees, drives, caddies, etc.”

(Foozle. That’s a new one to me, even after 35 years of writing about golf. Definition: “a clumsy or botched attempt at something, especially a shot in golf.”)

May 24, 1901: “A golf club was organized last Saturday evening at a meeting held in Dr. Van Tassel’s office. Mr. Van Tassel was elected president and Julius Humphrey secretary. A committee on grounds … was instructed to look for grounds at once, and ascertain the probable expense of securing and preparing them. The grounds now being considered are the railroad land on each side of the Northwestern, beyond the Marshall Milling Company’s plant.

“… The membership will be limited, and ladies will be honorary members, their number also being limited. Soon the natives will be wondering at the antics of the golfers, and wondering where the fun is in chasing a ball all over the prairie with a crooked stick.”

June 7, 1901: “The golf club is about ready to begin golfing.”

Aug. 9, 1901: “The golf links continue to attract a number of golfers every day and evening. Bert Welsford has lowered the score twice this week, putting the best score yet made on the course at 57, most of the golfers playing around 75.”

Golf in Marshall. In 1901. It’s true.

Whether or not there was a formally organized Marshall Golf Club in 1901 — the newspaper clips imply it but don’t make it clear — Marshall now occupies a historic perch in Minnesota golf history. My records show only 12 courses in state history having been in operation before 1901: Town & Country Club, Roadside and Merriam Park, all of St. Paul; Winona GC and Meadow-Brook of Winona; Burton Private Course of Deephaven; Bryn Mawr and The Minikahda Club of Minneapolis; Northland of Duluth; Lafayette Club of Minnetonka Beach; Silver Creek of Rochester; and Tatepaha of Faribault.

Take a bow, Marshall, as the now-presumed birthplace of golf in southwestern Minnesota.


Postscripts:

— I didn’t find in the 1901 newspaper clips any mentions of the golf course shutting down, but I don’t have reason to doubt the 1924 story suggesting it.

— It’s likely that the course didn’t first reopen in 1924 but in fact even earlier than that. A blurb in the Minnesota Golfer Magazine 2012 Directory — Marshall Golf Club was honored as 2012 Minnesota Golf Association Club of the Year — reported that “the club in Marshall was in operation as early as 1922, according to the April 7 edition of Marshall’s News Messenger that year.” (I’m done unspooling on Marshall for now and won’t attempt to verify or disprove.)

— I don’t intend for any of this to reflect negatively on Ron Labat’s documentation of Marshall Golf Club’s history. Matter of fact, if Labat hadn’t preserved the documents that he did, the club would be much poorer for it. As for his Certificate of Incorporation being dated 1930 and not earlier, my guess is that the certificate pointed toward some kind of more formal organization, or reorganization, of the golf club within the city of Marshall.

 

 

 

Golf in Marshall, Part I: Rebirthed, and that isn’t half the story

Chapter 43 of “Fore! Gone.” was titled “Rebirthed.” It presented six Minnesota golf courses that I classify as lost — the grounds no longer exist for the purpose of the game of golf, even though the host clubs still exist in another, nearby location. The most notable of these was Tatepaha in Faribault, which was a founding member of the Minnesota Golf Association in 1901 before relocating in 1956 to the northwestern part of the city, where it now operates as Faribault Golf & Country Club.

Five counties and almost 125 miles due west of Faribault lies another the site of another rebirthing. This one took place about 15 years earlier, “In The Famous Cornbelt of Minnesota,” according to the banner across the top of the golf course’s hometown newspaper, the Messenger-News of Lyon County.

Marshall has long been a hub of commerce and activity in southwestern Minnesota. Second only to Mankato in population in that quadrant of the state, it lays claim to 13,664 residents, Southwest Minnesota State University and company headquarters of food distributor Schwan’s. From 1930 to 1940, Marshall saw a 41 percent jump in population, from 3,250 to 4,590, which perhaps explains why, even during a Great Depression era in which more than  a dozen southwestern Minnesota golf courses shut down (“Silos and Flagsticks,” Chapter 42, “Fore! Gone.”, and more to be reported on soon on this web site), the folks at Marshall Golf Club saw fit to relocate their nine-hole course from the northwest side of town to the southwest.

I wasn’t able to find a reason for why this rebirthing took place during 1941 and 1942, but  couple of suppositions make sense: The southwestern parcel, alongside the Redwood River, certainly was more attractive to golf than the existing parcel, with no particularly attractive golf-course topography, and the new parcel was larger than the original, allowing for longer holes and perhaps future expansion.

Ron Labat, a longtime Marshall Golf Club member who is familiar with the club’s history, said the new nine holes on the southwest side of town opened in 1941 (he cites club minutes from 1971 in this assertion) and that the old site was sold in 1943. This jibes with the prevailing-but-misleading information on the internet regarding Marshall Golf Club, which generally says “founded in 1942, designed by Marty Johnson.” (Johnson designed at least 30 golf courses, mostly in Nebraska and South Dakota.) I say “misleading” because Marshall GC dates to well before 1942, a theme not uncommon in looking into Minnesota golf course histories — for instance, at Little Falls Country Club .

Marshall Golf Club continues to operate on its rebirthed site, having given birth to a twin nine holes in 1972. The club has hosted numerous MGA regional championships, including the 1999 Women’s Mid-Amateur, and annually plays host to a Dakotas Tour professional event in which a round of 59 was shot this year. 

None of which — rebirthing, Marty Johnson, round of 59 — is even close to the most compelling part of the history of Marshall Golf Club. I’ll get to that. In the meantime, what follows are then-and-now photos of the sites of Marshall GC.

Next: Golf in Marshall, Part II: You won’t believe how far back it goes.

Then: This is the original site of Marshall Golf Club, on the northwest side of the city. Aerial photo taken in 1938. The diagonal roadway is West Main Street / Minnesota Highway 68. The presumption is that the course had sand greens; they are distinctly visible in the form of nine black, almost-perfect circles to the west and south of Main Street. (Courtesy University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library.)

Now: 2015 aerial photo of the old Marshall Golf Club grounds. Part of Marshall’s Southwest Minnesota Regional Airport is visible near the bottom of the photo.

Then: 1938 aerial view of the grounds that would become Marshall Golf Club in the early 1940s. (Courtesy University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library.)

Now: Marshall Golf Club, 2015 aerial view