Lakato Golf Club: First the La, then the Kato

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

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


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

La Crescent … Lake Benton … Lake City …

No Lakato.

The second paragraph of the Tribune story explained Lakato succinctly.

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

Well, that clears things up. To a point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image at top of post via Peter Wong.


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

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

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

… no golf course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever. Billy has the floor again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But …

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

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

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

Ha det, Milan Golf Club.

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




Browns Valley / Beardsley: Twists and turns and punches

Browns Valley, Minnesota, is Muhammad Ali to my George Foreman. Not long after I first heard about the existence of a lost golf course in the far-western Minnesota town, Browns Valley began bobbing and weaving, feinting and jabbing, doing the rope-a-dope.

Browns Valley was the rope. I was … well, guess what I was.

The history of golf in the small town on Minnesota’s Traverse Gap, occupying the westernmost point of a notch at the South Dakota border, with Lake Traverse to the north and Big Stone Lake to the south, threw me for a couple of loops when I started looking into it.

Browns Valley’s Inter-Lake Tribune of April 23, 1925, pointed toward the establishment of a future lost golf course when it reported, “A big bunch of golf enthusiasts from Browns Valley, met a like bunch from Beardsley on Sunday last, down on the banks of the Big Stone, at what is known as Anderson’s Point, where golf grounds had already been selected and partly laid out.

” … much interest and enthusiasm was displayed. The preliminary steps were taken for the organization of a golf club of 50 members. … They may have to buy a sprinkler, for they do say Harry Smith and one or two others raise an awful dust, whole clouds of dust, when they pound away at the pellet — and miss it.”

Harry, I know what it’s like to whiff.

My mind had been overly focused on identifying a lost course in Browns Valley — and only Browns Valley. I didn’t consider another possibility until re-reading an April 1928 Minneapolis Tribune story that reported 29 cities would be represented at a Central Minny tournament on July 9-10 in Sauk Centre, among them “Browns Valley-Beardsley.”

Wait a minute. There’s a reference to Beardsley again.

As it turns out, Browns Valley and Beardsley are close, at least geographically, and most likely shared a golf course and golf club.

The cities of Browns Valley (1930 population 981, 2010 population 589) and Beardsley (406, 233) are separated by only 6.5 miles on a direct path, so it became clear that the two cities’ golfers had combined to form a club for competition’s sake. And, apparently, to share the same golfing grounds, close to Big Stone Lake.

Then it hit me — like an Ali right hook — that I already had identified this lost course in “Fore! Gone.” The book reported that Lakeside Golf Club was established in 1924, five miles from Beardsley and near the state border — which coincides with the location of the course described in the 1925 Inter-Lake Tribune story. (A Browns Valley librarian last week told me it was her understanding that the course lay on the Hornstein property, and a plat map from that era shows a Hornstein property near Big Stone Lake, with three Anderson properties — Anderson’s Point, remember? — nearby. A creek, perhaps Fish Creek, appears to have run through the Hornstein property. Neither the course nor its remains, however, are visible in aerial photos from 1938, the earliest that can be readily accessed.)

The Browns Valley-Beardsley course, I had reported in my book, citing the 1930-31 American Annual Golf Guide, was nine holes, 2,227 yards, par 33, with sand greens.

I was dazed but ultimately satisfied that I had resolved the matter of Browns Valley’s lost golf course.

Then came Round 2, ding-ding-ding. I decided to try to determine when the Browns Valley-Beardsley course was abandoned. And I stumbled across more news I hadn’t anticipated.

“New Golf Links,” read the headline in the Inter-Lake Tribune of April 25, 1930. “Browns Valley is to have a new Golf Course,” read the first sentence.

Another Browns Valley lost course?

Well, yes and no. A lost course, yes. Only not in Minnesota.

” … the new links are to be located on the west side of Lake Traverse on the historic Indian Mounds,” the Inter-Lake Tribune story continued.

Which places that golf course in South Dakota — a few miles north of Browns Valley. And which makes sense when considering the story went on to report that the golf club included members from Browns Valley, Sisseton, Effington, Rosholt and Peever. The latter five cities are all in South Dakota.

“The club has been named Tonka-Mani,” the Inter-Lake Tribune reported, “which in the Sioux language means Long Walk, and in addition to the appropriateness of the title, the club is also called by the name of the Indian from whom the lease was obtained.”

The Tonka-Mai club was reported to have taken out a 10-year lease on 80 acres of land. Oscar Oman, the pro at Alexandria Golf Club, was hired to lay out the course. I have no information on how long Tonka-Mai might have lasted, only a likely confirmation that it did exist based on a 1938 aerial map of the area that clearly shows a golf course routing.

Presumed site of the Tonka-Mani Golf Course of South Dakota, which was organized to accommodate golfers from Browns Valley, Minn., and nearby South Dakota communities. The golf course appears to be in the center-left of this photo, with green sites indicated by small, light circles. Big Stone Lake is to the right (east). This site is approximately 6.5 miles north of Browns Valley and 11 miles east of Sisseton, S.D. (University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library photo)

Even further, it appears Browns Valley took one more swing (and miss, for better or worse) at golf. Randy LaFoy, who researches Minnesota golf courses that were supported by Works Progress Administration projects, passed along a 1938 document that proposed “a complete recreational area and park development” for Browns Valley that would include “golf course, tennis courts, and other sports facilities.” The document said the park would be built on “Village of Browns Valley owned property.”

The proposal was rejected. And that was the end of golf in Browns Valley.

I think. Unless Ali wants to drag me back into the ring.

(Photo at the top of this post is by Peter Wong.)

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.

Notes, Part 2: On Oct. 27, Heather Engelkes contacted me to say she and her husband, John, own the homestead across the land that was the Slayton golf course and that “we now run cattle on the pasture that was once the golf course.” After chastising her for the likelihood of bovine hoof marks now pockmarking the greens and tee boxes (I was kidding), she further noted that 80 acres of the former golf course is now tilled farmland. Her husband, she said, suspected that there were indeed nine holes on the golf course site.





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)


Nick Brozak comments: I’ve had the honor of working at Hillcrest on the grounds crew for the past 7 years, the last 3 as the assistant superintendent, and I just wanted to share what Hillcrest meant to me. I will never forget Hillcrest. It’s where I got my start working in the golf industry and it’s where I learned to love and respect the game of golf more than I ever had. When October 31st came and Hillcrest was officially closed it was one of the saddest days of my life, and I know I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. The location of the course was far from prime, but when you got onto the course you would forget about all the commotion of St. Paul and take in the beautiful scenery of the course. The course wasn’t super long but the hills and doglegs would still give you a challenge and the greens didn’t curve every which way but they were quick and true. (My favorite greens ever.)
Like I said earlier I will always remember Hillcrest for what it has done for me in my profession and my love of golf!