Red Lake Falls GC: Oui, je crois je l’ai trouvé

Is there a city in Minnesota with a more distinct French accent than Red Lake Falls?

Maybe, but pour l’amour de Dieu (for goodness’ sake), this place is something.

Allow me, then, to translate the title of this post. It reads, “Red Lake Falls GC (or Chutes du Lac Rouge GC, if you want that part in French): I believe I have found it.”

Why the bilingual mumbo-jumbo? It’s intended to be a tribute to the French heritage emanating from Red Lake Falls, a city of 1,400 in Red Lake County, 35 miles east of Grand Forks, N.D.

Red Lake Falls’ French roots run deeper than the roots laid down by the oaks spreading along the banks of the two rivers, Red Lake and Clearwater, that wind through the area. Red Lake Falls has a Champagne Avenue and a Langevin Avenue and a Bottineau Avenue. (Even the word “avenue” is of French origin.) All that’s missing is an Arc de Triomphe replica at the intersection of International and Champagne avenues. (No, I’m not suggesting one.)

The local campground in Red Lake Falls is named Voyageur’s View. The motel on Minnesota Highway 32 is the Chateau. They serve French fries (yeah, cheap joke) at Joe DiMaggio’s, the restaurant on the south side of town — though I have to nitpick here. If you were going to name a Red Lake Falls sports bar after a baseball Hall of Famer, why not Napoleon Lajoie, “The Frenchman,” 1896-1916, .338 career batting average?

Red Lake Falls’ founding speaks to its roots. In 1798, French Canadian trader Jean Baptiste Cadotte established a trading post at what is now Sportsman Park. The city’s better-known pioneer was a French-American named Pierre Bottineau. In 1876, he led a group of French-Americans northwest from Ramsey and Hennepin counties; they homesteaded the area and were joined two years later by a colony of French settlers from Upper Canada.

Today, much of the French heritage remains. Plat maps and telephone directories are chock-full of names of French origin. Red Lake Falls couldn’t be more French-connected if its high school were named Lafayette.

Which, of course, it is.

All of which has nothing to do with golf, unless one were to point out that there are scholars of the game who posit that a form of the “Scottish game” was played in, yes, France, Belgium and the Netherlands as early as the 15th century. But there is a connection, if only tangential, between golf in Red Lake Falls and the land of croissants and Bordeaux.

The city’s long-established golf course is Oak Knolls, a nine-hole layout along the Clearwater River on the west side of town. Most web sites that include courses’ dates of founding list 1940 for Oak Knolls. That is true, but only in a kinda-sorta-not-the-whole-story way.

The Red Lake Falls Gazette of April 11, 1940, suggested golf had already been played in Red Lake Falls, reporting that the city’s golf club was about to be reorganized. The next week’s paper confirmed it. “Pierre Bottineau Golf Club Is Re-Organized,” the headline read. The golf course, it turned out, had “reverted back to nature” in recent years but was about to be revived on the same site — the one on the Clearwater River, same as its present-day site.

But in fact, golf on the Clearwater site predated 1940. And golf in Red Lake Falls went back even further.

Take it from a Minneapolis Tribune story of April 24, 1932. “The golf course at the new Red Lake Falls park has been reseeded and will be ready for play early in June, according to President Guy F. Hennings,” the Tribune reported. “More than 400 pounds of seed, mixture of blue grass and red top and clover, was spread over the entire six-hole course. The old course at the Phil Demarais farm will be used until the new one is fit for play.”

Demarais. Another classic name of French origin. And there’s your lost golf course. On the Phil Demarais farm. Wherever that was.

Time to put on my thinking beret and find the lost course.

PHIL’S FARM

Sometimes, pinpointing the site of a lost course takes less time than it takes to play a round of mini-golf. The lost course might be described in detail in an old newspaper story, or the first person you call happens to remember the eagle he made on the par-5 eighth in 1942 (“drove it past the silo on the right, grabbed my cleek, lofted it over the herd of sheep on the left, knocked in a 40-footer with my trusty MacGregor”).

And sometimes, Phil Demarais.

Tracking down the Demarais farm/lost golf course was not easy. Circling the area via an old aerial photo revealed nothing. An initial look at old plat maps, ditto — except for a 1950s map that showed property owned by a “Demaras” and coincidentally situated directly across the Clearwater from the Oak Knolls golf course. That, too, proved to be a dead end. Telephone calls to the Red Lake Falls area produced either “that number has been disconnected” or, when answered, puzzlement about any possible abandoned golf course or Phil Demarais — though a woman who had been born a Demarais offered a pronunciation of the name in those parts (DEM-uh-ruh) and suggested one might look near Terrebonne (“good earth” in French), a township and former town site southeast of Red Lake Falls. There was nothing in Terrebonne plat maps, though, except more French names that weren’t Demarais: Cadieux, Sauve, Laframboise and dozens of others.

Nothing showed promise until a relatively deep search for Phil Demarais background on the Internet. Finally — please excuse moi for two more Francophone references — voila.

Mr. Demarais was quite the notable character.

Phillip Demarais, born in 1874 in Weedon, Quebec, was the son of Red Lake County pioneer John Baptiste Desmarais I, according to an entry in the geneaology web site RootsWeb, citing an entry in “A History of Red Lake County.” (Other web sites also note different spellings of the surname; it seems possible Phillip dropped the first “s.”) He lived and farmed in Pleasant Lake Township, the web site entry read.

“Phillip loved to dance and would often call the squares at the neighborhood dances. He played the mouth harp and could even bang a good rhythm on a common dish pan.”

RootsWeb also cited a Red Lake Falls Gazette story, date not mentioned, that asserted Demarais devised an improvement for a thresher part that was patented by a Minneapolis “expert” with no credit or profit to Demarais.

“Phillip also played hard during his lifetime,” the Gazette story continued, “and had a very good singing voice. After a few drinks of Blue Ribbon Whiskey he could be quite an entertainer. …

“He was known in the area as a man who was always there when someone needed help, especially around butchering time because he could make salt pork better than anyone.”

All that aside, I still wanted most to find out where his farm was, and where the lost golf course lay.

The notation that Demarais’ farm was in Pleasant Lake Township (more commonly referred to as Lake Pleasant Township) sent me back to the Red Lake County plat maps. And there it was. Maps from 1911 and 1916 both show plots owned by either/and/or “Philip Desmarais,” Delina Desmarais (Phillip’s first wife) and D. Desmarais at the very northeastern corner of Lake Pleasant Township, 3.2 miles southeast of downtown Red Lake Falls and adjacent to Terrebonne Township on the west. In current terms, the farm was at the southwest corner of the intersection of county roads 114 and 115.

Oui, je crois je l’ai trouvé.

Site of Phil Demarais farm, 1916 plat map, courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The site of the lost Red Lake Falls Golf Club on Demarais’ farm is at the northeast corner of Lake Pleasant Township, southeast of Red Lake Falls.

The Demarais course likely was the first one in Red Lake Falls. A Gazette story from May 1, 1930, reported that the city’s golfers were organizing and planned to build a course on the Demarais farm. Beyond that, I know little about the course — number of holes, length of course, etc. The Demarais plot was mostly flat, sharply rectangular, and bisected by Lower Badger Creek. I later learned from John Thibert, president of the Red Lake County Historical Society, that such a layout was a French staple — they typically would divide sections of land in rectangular fashion so as to afford as many residents as possible access to a waterway and with a house nearby.

By now, you shouldn’t be surprised by some of the names of the folks who owned land near the Demarais farm: Ducharme, Champeau, Quesnell, Gagnon, Robillard, Latendress … you get the idea.

The golf course on the Demarais plot was abandoned in 1932, according to the aforementioned Minneapolis Tribune story. Demarais sold the farm in 1936, according to the Gazette story, “semi-retired,” and bought and operated a grocery store in nearby Brooks before selling again and moving to Terrebonne, near one of his favorite fishing holes. When he died in 1952 of tuberculosis in Thief River Falls, he was, according to one Internet entry, the last surviving pioneer settler in Red Lake County.

Golf in Red Lake Falls lived on after moving off the Demarais property and onto the current Oak Knolls site. In April 1932, committees were chosen for the six-hole Red Lake Falls Golf Club, with Otto F. Hennings as president and memberships costing $10. M.E. Jones, an engineer with the state highway department, presented a sketch of the golf course. Three additional holes along the bend of the Clearwater River were not to be put into play until 1933.

It took until mid-1932 for the course to be playable. The Gazette reported on July 28 that the course at Bottineau park was now open, employing six sand greens and supported by 33 members.

“Some of the local golfers who have played the course and have lost a goodly number of balls complain the course is too sporty,” the newspaper reported. “Others who make the rounds and return with more golf balls than when they started say it isn’t sporty enough. The truth probably lies between those two extremes and the bulk of the players say it is going to be just right.”

Though I did not scour every issue of the Gazette through the rest of the 1930s, what I did scan revealed no more signs of golf in Red Lake Falls until April 1940, with the mention of the club, now named Pierre Bottineau, having reorganized after the previous period of inactivity.

The course’s name at some point was changed from Bottineau to Oak Knolls, and it exists today as a nine-holer with grass greens. “You will be challenged to keep your ball dry as a small stream, the pond, or the river entices your ball to take a dip,” reads a passage on redlakefallsgolf.com.

Carry on, Red Lake Falls golfers. Au revoir, Monsieur Demarais.

1939 aerial photo of Red Lake Falls’ current golf course site, bottom-center of photo. The course was on the open land just to the south of the Clearwater River. The golf course likely was not operational in 1939, but it was re-established in 1940. Note that the land on the peninsula is covered with trees and clearly includes no golf holes, which goes against the notion posited in 1932 that the course soon would expand to nine holes, taking up the peninsula land. Aerial photos courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library.

Current grounds of Oak Knolls Golf Club. Note that the layout covers the land on the peninsula.

 

Hallock Golf Club: A northwest passage

Which Minnesota golf course is closest to the northwestern corner of the state? Close call. Really, really close.

The margin is thin — blade-of-bentgrass thin, figuratively speaking.

I was going to say it’s a heated competition, but since we’re only a quarter of a tank of gas away from Canada, “heated” might not be the best adjective.

Presenting the contenders for the title:

In this near-corner, Lancaster Riverside Golf Course, in north-central Kittson County. The first tee at Riverside lies 21.59 miles from the convergence of the borders of Minnesota, North Dakota and Canada, near the city of Emerson, Manitoba.

And in the other near-corner, Two River Golf Club in Hallock, west-central Kittson County. The first tee at Two River lies 21.04 miles from that same point of trilateral convergence. So that makes Two River closest to the corner, by the margin, literally speaking, of a few dozen wheat combines set side by side.

What’s the point? There is none, I suppose, except to perhaps answer a question of Minnesota golf-and-geography trivia. (Or maybe this corner stuff matters to me only because I grew up playing the Minnesota course closest to the southeastern corner, Ma Cal Grove in Caledonia. 440.6 miles away from Two River.)

Still, neither Two River nor Lancaster takes the all-time northwestern corner cake. That distinction, as far as I can determine, belongs to this place …

… “My first recollections of the Hallock Golf Club are the late twenties when the course was located a mile north of town — on the west side of the Great Northern tracks and just south of the North branch of the Two River,” wrote R.C. Nelson, a Hallock businessman and banker, for the Hallock Centennial Book 1883-1983 and reprinted here with permission of the Celebrate Hallock committee.

So, for the record, Hallock Golf Club, now a lost course, is the northwestern corner king. The course’s site, now undeveloped, lies 19.2 miles from the MN-ND-Manitoba border. (Don’t get picky on me — I don’t know where the first tee was.)

Nelson described Hallock Golf Club in detail in his writing.

“It was constructed by the local golf enthusiasts — in 1929, was nine holes and of course sand greens,” Nelson wrote. “The terrain was a little rolling and three greens were in the woods, not too far from the river.”

Site of Hallock Golf Club, 1940 aerial photo, University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The Great Northern railroad tracks and U.S. Highway 75 run parallel to each other just east of the golf course.

By Nelson’s recollection, the sixth hole was the longest, just over 300 yards, and the ninth was the shortest, just over 100 yards. Par for the course, Nelson wrote, was 34.

“The tees were about six feet by eight feet — a four by four wood frame, filled with packed river sand. As a kid I used to caddy when they had special matches and tournaments and I remember seeing a few wood shafts broken over those four by four wood frames — the result of a whiff or a wild shot.”

A handful of Kittson County Enterprise newspaper entries from the early 1930s also offered tidbits on Hallock Golf Club. The July 11, 1930, edition reported that John Stratte, “eldest son of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Stratte of this city, made a hole in one on the local course this week.” Stratte’s ace came on the second hole, “about 170 yards.”

In July 1930, the Enterprise reported that golfers from Lancaster had joined Hallock GC. (That city’s Riverside course was established in 1995, according to at least one golf web site.) In August 1930, plans were announce for a Hallock Golf Club tournament “drawing players from all parts of the country” and with the winner to receive a $15 golf bag. “To date,” the Enterprise reported, “the lowest score turned in is a 35 shot by Dr. Treleaven.” Plans also had been drawn up for the “first annual (I forgive the grammatical indiscretion) Kittson County Golf Tournament.” An entry fee of 50 cents was “payable at Taft’s Café or to Mr. Wass.”

In April 1931, a club meeting was held, and annual fees of $10 were set. On May 1, the Enterprise noted that a clubhouse for the grounds was planned.

Nelson’s account noted a timeline typical for golf courses of the era that were destined to become lost courses. “The course remained much the same until the war (World War II) when the number of players dwindled as the younger men went into the service but the old group kept it going,” Nelson wrote. “After the war, new interest developed and a deal was made with the landlord to get a few more acres so the course so the course could be stretched out and so drainage work could be done as the course flooded almost every time there was a shower of rain.”

Later in his composition, Nelson wrote: “The floods finally got the best of us plus the fact that the landlord kept raising the rent so some talk was started towards finding a new site. I tried to get the Lake Bronson Commercial Club interested in attempting to get a new course built on the lake park property — thinking Karlstad, Lancaster and Hallock could get in the act and get a real good course but I couldn’t develop sufficient interest.”

Nelson did not definitively note what year the site northwest of town was abandoned, nor can I make a reasonable estimate based on his writing. He does note his role in the founding of the golf course at the current site — the Two River course, which also has gone by the name Oak Ridge Golf Club / Country Club.

Thanks to Cindy Adams, director of the Kittson County Museum, for providing information and materials.

Housecleaning, Part I: Fertile, Kerkhoven, Renville, Warren

I could go either way on this group of lost golf courses.

This way: Keep digging. Dig deep enough, you’ll miss another two dozen lost courses in Minnesota and hit one in China instead.

Oh, stop it. You know darn well you were told as a kid that if you kept digging, you’d hit China.

Anybody know how to yell “Fore!” in Mandarin?

Or thataway: Cut bait. Tell folks what little you know about these lost courses, and cut your losses.

For now, I’m going thataway.

Here are a few more of Minnesota’s lost golf courses, their short stories and their very short stories. In all cases, I either reached dead ends in coming up with more information or, I confess, wasn’t sufficiently motivated to try. (So many other lost courses out there to track down. So little time.) 

WARREN

“Work Started on Links at Warren,” read the headline on a one-paragraph story in the Minneapolis Tribune of May 15, 1932. The story said the golf course would be 3 1/2 miles west of the city, which is in Marshall County and 25 miles northeast of Grand Forks, N.D. The story said the Warren course would open for the 1933 season.

But that probably wasn’t the start of golf in Warren.

An Aug. 23, 1931, story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on a Red River Valley Golf association tournament to be played in early September at the Minakwa course in Crookston. More than a dozen clubs were expected to have entrants, including Warren.

Whether that means there was a golf course in Warren before 1932, I can’t say. But a Warren Sheaf story from May 4, 1932, implied that a new site was being prepared on the Dudley Cheney farm, with more than 50 signed memberships for the golf club. Cheney was to operate and maintain the course.

According to a 1928 plat map, Dudley Cheney owned a plot in Boxville Township, 3 1/2 miles west-southwest of downtown Warren, near the intersection of what is now Marshall County Highway 104 and 210th Street Northwest. The Snake River crossed the very southwest corner of Cheney’s land. Most likely, this is where the golf course was built in 1932, though I could not confirm that with anyone.

(By the way, Dudley Cheney’s wife “was in Warren having some dental work done last Wednesday,” according to the Warren Sheaf of Jan. 24, 1917. Which of course is neither here nor there nor any-darn-where, but I just thought I’d include it to show the depths to which community reporting in long-ago newspapers sometimes descended.)

In late May of 1932, the Sheaf reported, Grand Forks golf professional Walt Arneson arrived to lay out the Warren course on the Cheney farm. Arneson was a University of North Dakota golf coach and a pro at Grand Forks Country Club and the municipal course (presumably Lincoln) in Grand Forks who is credited with having laid out Grand Forks CC as well as courses in Grafton, N.D., and Red Lake Falls, Minn. (more on that lost course coming soon).

The Sheaf’s account of Arneson’s arrival included the superlatives typically attached to reporting on golf courses all across Minnesota, from all eras.

“Possibilities of making the Warren course one of the sportiest courses in the Northwest were expressed by Mr. Arneson who … was impressed with the natural surroundings of woodlands and water hazards caused by coulees.” Arneson was later to have staged a four-hole exhibitions on the grounds, which was to cover more than 3,000 yards and include two holes longer than 300 yards.

Dudley Cheney farm, 1936, aerial photo courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The golf course that likely once lay on the property isn’t evident, though the terrain described in a Warren Sheaf story is. The Snake River can be seen at the bottom of the photo.

The golf course did not open at the crack of springtime in 1933. It took until June 21 for the Sheaf to report in a headline, “Warren Golf Course Ready for Playing.” And it took until July 12 for the Sheaf to make it definitive, including attaching a name to the grounds. “Oakwood Golf Course Will Be Opened Sunday,” the headline read, with the otherwise only notable detail being that the course would have a par of 35.

After that, I found no mentions of golf in Warren until the Warren Riverside course was established just outside the northeastern corner of the city limits. Internet entries variously report the Riverside’s founding year as 1946 and 1950. It remains in operation.

FERTILE

An August 1928 Minneapolis Tribune story detailed a “first annual” (redundant, I know, I know) Red River Valley Golf association tournament at the Minakwa course in Crookston. Six golfers from Fertile were among the field of 100 expected entrants.

In August 1931, the same organization held a tournament, again at the Minakwa course and again with Fertile golfers expected to participate.

Confirmation that there once was a course in Fertile, a Polk County city 25 miles southwest of Crookston, comes in the form of a Crookston Daily Times story of July 23, 1931, in which 16 golfers from Minakwa were headed for a match in Fertile. And in August 1931, Fertile was identified by the Minneapolis Tribune as the host club and defending title holder in “the annual Tri-City Golf tournament … with entries from Twin Valley, Fertile and Ada (home of western Minnesota’s first golf course).

All that said, I have only two things to add: 1) I have no information on exactly where the Fertile course was or when it was abandoned; and 2) as a lifelong newspaperman, I am proud of myself for having written a few paragraphs about Fertile without so much as alluding to the infamous, alleged newspaper headline about the town.

Oops, I guess I just did.

Note: The current Sandhill River Golf Course in Fertile was established in 1997.

KERKHOVEN

There is a word known as bass followed by a non-word as ackward — sorry, I usually try to keep this web site rated G — that can be united to form a word that fits my depth of knowledge on the two lost courses in Kerkhoven, a city of 700, situated 110 miles west of St. Paul in Swift County.

I’ll start with what I’ll call the bass part, and no offense intended in any fashion.

I was able to come up with a half-dozen nuggets on the original Kerkhoven Golf Club, on the southeast side of town.

“A nine-hole golf course opened in this city,” reported the St. Cloud Times on Aug. 12, 1931, the reference being to Kerkhoven.

The Kerkhoven Banner had reported on the development about a month earlier.

“The Kerkhoven nine-hole golf course was officially opened to the public last Sunday and every evening since that time has been crowded to capacity,” the Banner reported. A greens fee of 50 cents was being charged for public play, with no fee for charter members.

The Banner reported that the nearest golf course was in Benson, though that point is arguable. Benson Golf Club, 16 miles northwest of Kerkhoven, was established in 1925; Willmar Country Club, now known as Eagle Creek Golf Club, whose first nine holes were designed by the estimable Tom Vardon, was established in 1931 and is 14 miles southeast of Kerkhoven.

Anyway, back to Kerkhoven. On Aug. 14, 1931, the Banner published an admonition. “Because of the popularity of the Kerkhoven Golf course, for the purpose of protecting the children . … No children of members shall play on the course on Sundays or holidays or after three o’clock P.M. weekdays.” No caddies were permitted to carry bags on the course without registering. The club had 41 members and was planning to stage a tournament.

I don’t know how long this iteration of golf in Kerkhoven lasted, though a 1938 aerial photo shows a golf course that appears to have been still operating or at most had only recently closed.

1938 aerial photo of Kerkhoven Golf Club, courtesy University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library. The layout is plainly seen on the south side of U.S. Highway 12, which cuts diagonally through the photo. Residences on the southeastern edge of Kerkhoven are shown in the upper-left corner of the photo. Six greens, presumably composed of sand, are clearly visible as dark circles, and routings of even more holes are visible.

Which brings us to ackward, i.e. Kerkhoven’s second lost course — ackward because it’s a relatively recent lost course, and I know almost nothing about it. A Banner story from 1975 reported that the club would be in operation soon. The course was on the northeast side of town, near County Highway 6. I talked with a couple of people who played the course but passed along few details, other than that it also had sand greens and an “honest-john” can in which patrons would deposit their greens fees. The grounds were leased to the club by a local farmer, and the course ceased to exist when a lease agreement could no longer be worked out.

Kerkhoven’s current golf course is on the northwestern edge of town.

I have no doubt there are people who have more salient memories of Kerkhoven’s second lost course. I would love to hear from any of them.

RENVILLE

Indications are that this southwestern Minnesota city’s golf course was short-lived.

“Renville Golf Course To Open Sunday, June 16th,” read a headline in the June 7, 1928, Renville Star Farmer. “The Renville Golf Club organized a few weeks ago have succeeded in building on the old fair grounds site a small golf course especially suited for the needs of this city,” the newspaper reported. Annual dues were set at $5.

On June 17, 1928, the Minneapolis Tribune reported that a shortstop had been held at the Renville golf course.

But I found only one other mention of the course, and it was perhaps foreboding. Later in June, the Star Farmer reported that an “important” meeting was to be held concerning the club. It’s a wild guess, but I’m thinking the club disbanded and the course was abandoned by late summer of 1928.

I confess I know more about common wrens than I know about Renville, so I can’t say where the “old fair grounds” were. The Renville County Fair is now held in Bird Island (speaking, I guess, of wrens). Inquiries about the city of Renville’s fair grounds site have to date gone unanswered.

 

 

 

 

Who was Bim, and why was he here? (It’s not a mystery.)

William Lovekin, long-deceased and itinerant Midwestern golf professional, built himself a solid résumé: accomplished player, longtime teacher and one-time (at least) course designer.

It also was said of Lovekin that he was well-schooled on golf club design. I have little doubt that’s true. In that regard, however, I would submit he can’t be considered a visionary.

Asterisk: small sample size.

The name of W.R. (William) Lovekin, better known as “Bim,”  is referenced in many old publications, and even a handful of modern ones. But the only one that I know of that reveals Lovekin’s character in any depth appeared in the May 14, 1932, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune. Keep in mind that Lovekin designed and built golf clubs with hickory shafts:

“There is a steady return to wooden-shafted irons throughout the country if Bim Lovekin, popular professional at Golden Valley, knows his clubs and golf, and he has a reputation for both,” the Tribune story began. “During the first Minneapolis league match last Wednesday at Golden Valley, Bim discoursed at length on the movement back to the hickory.

” ‘It is significant and pertinent to note that both Walter Hagen and Horton Smith have returned to wooden-shafted irons and are pushing them,’ offered Lovekin. ‘It is also to be observed that fully 60 per cent of the outstanding players throughout the country have been going the same way.

” ‘The general opinion is that irons with iron shafts were pretty much of a fad, but they have outlived much of their usefulness. …’ ”

Bim wasn’t exactly prescient on this one. Hickory-shafted irons (yes, an oxymoron, like metal woods) went the way of the horseless carriage, while steel became the shaft of choice.

The effort here is not to tarnish Bim Lovekin’s reputation, for we all have at some point supported bass-ackward notions, haven’t we? The anecdote is offered only as a small window into golf’s past.

Back to Bim Lovekin. Nine months prior, he had ventured 155 miles west of Golden Valley to Minneota, a Lyon County city of just over 900 residents, some of whom were expressing an interest in organizing a golf club and building a golf course.

Minneota Golf Club was established in late July 1931, with the Minneota Mascot reporting on July 31 of that year that the group, with Dr. R.J. Lundgren as president, was set to begin work on a 55-acre plot three miles south of downtown. The land, just west of the Hemnes church, was owned by Hans Teigland, where, according to the Mascot, “a very sporty course can be laid out there without much trouble.”

That’s where Lovekin came in. He surveyed Teigland’s property and laid out nine holes covering 2,767 yards, with a par of 35.

He also agreed with, or maybe even fostered, the Mascot’s assessment of the new golf course.

” ‘It is a mighty sporty course,’ Mr. Lovekin said, ‘and it’s one where good shots will be rewarded and bad ones penalized. There are natural hazards in abundance, and it’s a course you won’t get tired of playing.’ ”

1938 aerial photo of presumed site of Minneota Golf Club. Golf course site would have been on the left side of this photo, with County Highway 3 running north-south on the right side and the south branch of the Yellow Medicine River farther right (east). Best guess is that routings of many holes roughly followed the ravine that ran through the course. University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library photo.

Current photo, with Minneota at top and approximate area of golf course in maroon rectangle. (USGS)

It’s worth noting that Lovekin likely had a handle on what constituted a good golf course. He had played around the Midwest, and the Golden Valley Golf and Country Club that employed him had its course designed by famed course architect A.W. Tillinghast.

The first tee at Minneota Golf Club was at the southeastern edge of the course, where players embarked on a 452-yard par 5. The course also included six par 4s, ranging in length from 285 to 440 yards, and two par 3s of 150 and 155 yards.

The course featured willow trees, hills and four crossings of a ravine. Three of the holes were doglegs. “Those who traversed the course predict that a lot of balls are likely to be lost through the fence when short-cuts are attempted,” the Mascot reported.

Charter members of Minneota Golf Club paid dues of $10. The Mascot reported by way of comparison that Lovekin’s Golden Valley club charged dues of $110 and an annual membership fee of $400.

At Minneota Golf Club’s outset, no greens fees were charged. “Expenses are being kept to the minimum in launching the course here,” the Mascot reported, “and the intention is that people who have not played golf before be given an opportunity to do so at no cost whatever in order to stimulate interest in the game. An ideal course can be arranged within the next few years, but for a ‘starter’ only the simplest of preparations will be under taken.”

Minneota Golf Club did not last forever. My best guess is that, like three other lost courses in Lyon County — at Russell, Cottonwood and Tracy — it was abandoned by the early 1940s, which would match the timeline for many other lost courses in southwestern Minnesota. A 1932 Minneapolis Tribune ad from Minneota GC solicited purchase of a mower. An April 1936 entry in the Minneota Mascot referenced the club, with Dr. C.E. Eastwood as president and Carl Strand as secretary. I found no later references to the club. Golf in Minneota reappeared in 1964 with the opening of Countryside Golf Club, on the western edge of the city.

More of Lovekin’s story deserves to be told. The native Scotsman’s bio included stops at no fewer than eight clubs: Rockford, Ill. (1906), Woodmont of Milwaukee (1907-14), Fox River of Green Bay, Wis. (1921-26), Ozaukee of Milwaukee (1925), Golden Valley (1928-36), Montevideo (1937-38), New Ulm (1939) and Worthington, where he was employed until his death in 1952.

Lovekin had the unusual distinction of playing in two U.S. Opens 24 years apart — in 1906 and 1930 — and won the 1922 Wisconsin State Open. A 1972 column in the Argus-Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D., reported that Lovekin had been among the professionals at Worthington who had worked with an up-and-coming player named Joel Goldstrand, who would matriculate to the University of Houston, then the PGA Tour, then a career as Minnesota’s most prolific golf course designer, with around 50 courses to his credit, most of them in Minnesota.

Lovekin, meanwhile, was credited with having designed 18 other courses as of the 1931 Mascot story. I haven’t run across any other mentions of courses he designed, but regardless, he did leave a mark on the state’s golf history.

 

First golf course in western Minnesota? Take an A-to-Z guess.

Twenty questions about Minnesota golf history, minus 19:

Which city in western Minnesota was the first to have a golf course?

I’ll give you 50 guesses, and I’ll bet you a beat-up Dunlop you won’t guess right.

OK, try this. I’ll hand you a cheat sheet of all Minnesota cities (just imagine that I did, Mr. or Ms. Literal), Ada to Zumbrota, and ask you to guess. Probably, you’ll say, a fairly large city — Bemidji, maybe. Moorhead, Alexandria, Marshall … you get the idea. Or maybe something medium-sized: Fairmont, Redwood Falls, Detroit Lakes, Worthington.

Wrong on all counts.

Ada to Zumbrota, remember? Except it can’t be Zumbrota, because Z-ville isn’t even in western Minnesota (I know you knew that, Mr. or Ms. Obvious). …

… which leaves …

… Ada.

Ada, as in bingo. The first golf course in western Minnesota, from everything I have gathered, belonged to Ada, a Norman County town of 1,600 close to — well, not so much of anything except maybe Borup and the North Dakota border. (To be fair, Ada is 40 miles north of Moorhead.)

Am I sure? No more sure than I am that Tiger Woods, who is 42 years old and has had so many back surgeries that he should have started a punch card way back when so he could get the next one free, will win another major championship. Which is to say I’m pretty sure …

… because in a half-decade of scouring reference materials and talking with hundreds of material witnesses, I have never heard of a Minnesota golf course west of Hennepin County with a founding date consisting of a number that combines a nineteen and two zeros or a number that starts with eighteen.

“And now Ada has a club devoting itself to the ‘Royal and Ancient game called Goff,” the Norman County Herald reported on July 31, 1900. “… The links are in Hampson’s addition and if the common rabble will go out there some evening now they will hear some expressions like caddie, tee, hazards, bunkers, putter, cleek, niblick etc. But they say golf is a royal game for steady people.”

Quite the backhanded compliment, if I interpret correctly.

Anyway, the Herald story, plus a reprint in the Aug. 2, 1900, Minneapolis Tribune listed the club’s members: Rev. Styles, Messrs. and Mesdames Walter Topp, C.C. Allen, George Hosmer, Theodore Tenny (might have actually been spelled Tenney) and C.R. Andrews. The Hampson’s addition reference was to an area just east and northeast of downtown Ada that now includes East Side Park. I don’t know whether the old golf course lay where the park does now.

I know of two western Minnesota cities with golf courses that were established in 1901 — Marshall and one other that I am trying to pin down details on — but nothing except Ada that dates to 1900 or before.

Ada came by its status as a golf pioneer honestly.  The city, local historian Solveig Kitchell explained in a phone conversation, was first settled by a Scotsman, and most of its early residents were of Scottish and Irish origins. And “the game called Goff,” of course, had similar origins.

It appears, however, that Ada’s first golf course was as long-lasting as a stick of Juicy Fruit. I found no other references to the golf club in subsequent 1900 issues of the Norman County Herald, nor in scrolling through many issues of the 1901 and 1902 Herald and Norman County Index.

Golf in Ada, then, perhaps lay fallow for nearly the next three decades. Then it sprang back to life.

“May Have Golf Course,” read a Page 1 headline in the Norman County Index of April 17, 1930. The story described steps being taken by a group of Ada residents, chaired by Rev. L.C. Jacobson, to form a local golf club.

The club formally organized shortly before April 21. Speaking of acerbic journalistic commentary, the Herald did not have the Norman County market cornered on it in the early 1900s. The Index puffed its chest over Ada and implicitly panned other municipalities by adding in the April 17 story, “Practically every city of any consequence has a golf course.”

(Even Zumbrota, 315 miles away in southeastern Minnesota, might have agreed with that one. Zumbrota Golf Club was established with nine holes in 1927.)

On May 1, 1930, the Index offered more details on the new Ada Golf Club. It reported that arrangements had been made to lease land for six holes on the Norman County Fairgrounds property, with the “other three by the southwest on the Thorpe land.” An additional four to five acres adjoining on the west of the fairgrounds land were to be used for golf, except during county fair time, when it would serve as a parking lot.

Plat map of Ada, Minn., and surroundings, 1916 (University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library). On the southwestern corner of the city of Ada is the Norman County Fairgrounds, which was the site of Ada Golf Club in the 1930s. Plat map also shows significant amount of land owned by Thorpes; Ada Golf Club also lay on some of this land. Garrett L. Thorpe was a prominent citizen in early Ada; Google searches reveal he was manager of Thorpe Produce and Thorpe Elevator; that he owned 5,500 acres in Norman County in 1903; that he had been a Union soldier in the Civil War and Democratic Party figure and game and fish commissioner; and that he was a Hereford and racehorse breeder.

1939 aerial photo, Ada, Minn. (University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library). Area shown includes southwestern corner of Ada, including Norman County Fairgrounds and Thorpe land just outside city limits, and site, or former site, of Ada Golf Club.

“A professional in laying out golf courses is expected to arrive next week,” the Index reported. “… Local golfers of experience believe that the site selected is ideal for the purpose, being close to the city, and containing plenty of hazards.” The club had nearly 40 members, the newspaper reported — a rather large contingent for small-town clubs of that era.

The professional did indeed arrive the next week. The Index reported that the course had been laid out by Fargo, N.D., professional Ralph Kingsrud, at the behest of club member S.J. Skaurud. Kingsrud was a prominent figure in North Dakota golf. He was the pro at Fargo Country Club, played in the 1928 U.S. Open and was inducted into the North Dakota Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.

Ada Golf Club had at least a few good years. The Minneapolis Tribune reported on April 17, 1932, that the club had 83 members, was expected to have 100 by the end of the year, and that an expansion to 18 holes was on the horizon. (I don’t believe that ever happened.) The Index reported on April 14 that the club had in 1931 “enjoyed another successful year … a cash flow of $71 on hand after purchasing considerable equipment in the past year.” The highest fee for club membership was $10 a year, and green fees were 50 cents on weekdays and 50 cents for each nine played on Sundays and holidays.

In May 1932, the club staged an 18-hole, medal-play tournament. In cold and windy weather, Oscar Bang headed the field of 14 players with a 41-40–81. In September, the club planned a members-only tournament, but it was rained out and apparently never rescheduled.

Sometime after that, Ada Golf Club began losing its shine. In June 1937, the Index reported that “efforts will be made to re-organize (the club) for this year, if enough interest is shown in the project. … The local course is in good shape and could be maintained but with little expense.”

A week later, the Index reported that “the local course will be maintained again this season” and that membership would be $5. Presumably, the 50 percent price reduction from five years earlier can be attributed to the effects of the Great Depression.

But in searching through much of the Norman County Herald from 1938, I found no mention of the local club or course.

Whether 1937 was the end of Ada Golf Club, I don’t know and won’t speculate. But golf again returned to the city in 1960 with a third course, Heart of the Valley, on the southeastern edge of town and still in operation.