All posts by Joe Bissen

About Joe Bissen

Joe Bissen is a Caledonia, Minnesota, native and former golf letter-winner at Winona State University. He is a sports copy editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and former sports editor of the Duluth News-Tribune. His writing has appeared in Minnesota Golfer and Mpls.St.Paul magazines. He lives in St. Paul, MN.  Joe's award-winning first book, Fore! Gone. Minnesota's Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999, was released in December 2013. Click here to order

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.

 

Lost neighbors: Russell, Cottonwood

For better or worse, Lyon County in southwestern Minnesota is a hotbed of lost golf courses. Six that I know of dot the landscape — two in Marshall, plus one each in or near Tracy, Minneota, Russell and Cottonwood.

More on the latter two:

RUSSELL

Pine Valley West?

Pine Valley Golf Club, established in 1918 in Camden County, N.J., and designed by noted masochist George Crump (in the interest of hyperbole, I made up the masochist part), is notoriously one of the most difficult golf courses in the world. Its sand-strewn routing places it No. 2 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 most difficult courses, and No. 1 on its list of best courses (period) in the United States.

Thirteen years after Pine Valley opened to the public, Russell Golf Club — who knows whether its founders had ever heard of George Crump? — took a run at Pine Valley, if an entry in the local newspaper was any indication.

Russell Golf Club opened for play in the fall of 1931 in or near the southwestern Lyon County city of Russell. On September 4, 1931, the Russell Anchor reported, “We are confident that anyone playing this course will agree that it has more natural hazards than any course its size in the country.” (Yes, that final word read country, not county.)

Which led to the corollary:

“The course is becoming well populated with lost golf balls,” the Anchor further reported.

Which led to the sub-corollary, published by the Anchor on May 12, 1932:

“The golf course has purchased a golf ball marker which is at the H.H. Purdy store. All balls with names on should be turned in to H.H. Purdy.”

The mental picture of dozens of golf balls lying in a heap at H.H. Purdy’s elevator business, waiting to be claimed by the unfortunate souls who duck-hooked them into hazards, hardly engenders a notion that golf was player-friendly when it arrived in Russell. But there were proponents of Russell Golf Club’s creation.

“Local Golf Course Praised,” read a headline in the Russell Anchor of May 19, 1932.

” ‘Russell has one of the best golf courses in the county,’ says a Balaton newspaper man,” the story read, referencing the city immediately to Russell’s southeast. “Several other articles have appeared in the Lyon County papers in the past week or two.”

The story further reported that sand and oil was being mixed for the new course’s greens. A story from the previous autumn said Russell Golf Club would have nine holes and “thirty foot greens.”

The members of Russell Golf Club did endure the abundant hazards for at least three seasons. On. July 26, 1934, the Anchor reported, “The soft ball game has got so hot around here that the Scottish game has suffered, but the course is in fine condition and waiting for some one to tie last years (sic) low scores of 34 and 25.” I’m not sure what the reference to 25 was; perhaps it was a low-net score.

I jumped ahead to 1939 issues of the Anchor to see if Russell Golf Club might have survived until the advent of U.S. involvement in World War II, which resulted in the abandonment of many Minnesota golf courses, but I did not find any mentions of the golf course from that year.

COTTONWOOD

Twenty-four miles northeast of Russell, and literally on a direct line through the site of Marshall Golf Club’s lost course of the 1920s and ’30s, lay Cottonwood Golf Club.

The Minneapolis Tribune of April 1, 1928, provided the tip-off that Cottonwood, in the northeastern corner of Lyon County, had a golf course that preceded the current Cottonwood Country Club, established in 1955 not far from Cottonwood Lake.

“The Cottonwood Golf club has taken a 10-year lease on a 40-acre tract of land just west of the city,” the Tribune reported. “A golf course will be laid out and it is also proposed to establish a children’s play ground on the tract.”

On June 1, 1928, the Cottonwood Current reported on a baseball game that was played at the “new Golf course ball diamond.” (The Cottonwood All-Stars beat the town’s high school team 10-8.)

A newspaper entry the next month made it clear the golf course was in use. “The Cottonwood golf course, after weeks of preparation, has been sufficiently completed to permit playing,” the Current reported. “Some of the local players have become quite proficient having had considerable practice on courses in neighboring towns.”

Cottonwood was not unlike other small southwestern Minnesota towns of the era. But dissimilarly, Cottonwood’s course opened near the end of a period of significant loss of population in the city. Cottonwood’s population in 1930 was 615, a 24 percent decline from the population of 813 in 1920. By 1940, the population had risen again, to 690.

I can’t say with certainty, but a 1938 aerial photo of Cottonwood appears to reveal the site of the Cottonwood course. A square plot of land south of Main Street and west of West 1st Street shows what appears to be a dogleg shape of one hole, plus possible paths of a couple of more holes. The Cottonwood Fire Department is today situated squarely on that property.

1938 aerial photo shows what appears to be the site of the lost Cottonwood Golf Club, in lightly shaded area. What appears to be a baseball diamond is just east (right) of the shaded area, which fits with a 1928 description.

 

 

 

 

Albert Lea, Part II: A little recreation, a little history

George Klukow and Oliver Flesche had the right idea, if you ask me.

In early 1930, Klukow and Flesche launched a golf course just north and west of the Albert Lea city limits, about a mile north of the since-closed Albert Lea Country Club. Their intent seemed clear, reading between the lines of an Albert Lea Tribune story from May 14, 1931.

“This is the kind of course that the city has needed for some time,” read one sentence in the Tribune.

In other words, the kind of course that everyone could play. A public course.

Until 1931, Albert Lea’s only golf courses (yes, I wrote courses, plural, and I’ll get to that) had been private, with Albert Lea CC standing prominently in southeastern Minnesota. But as it was with most country clubs, membership there was an impossible financial reach for the Toms, Dicks and Olavs of the day.

That’s why I liked Klukow and Flesche’s idea — make golf available to everyone in Albert Lea. Their 1931 creation likely was one of the first three or four daily-fee golf courses in southeastern Minnesota.

To boot, they had another excellent idea in naming for the course. Perhaps in looking to appeal to a less formal side of the game, Klukow and Flesche chose a name devoid of pretense.

“Recreation Golf Course Open to Public Tomorrow,” read a headline in the May 2, 1931, Albert Lea Tribune.

“Yielding to the increased demand of players the Recreation golf links will be open to the public tomorrow,” the story began. More details followed: the course would be open to the public, would consist of nine holes, and a few temporary tees would be employed until new ones could be grown in.

“The course is large, having a yardage of 3,165 and par on the course is 36,” the story continued. “The rolling ground adds to the attractiveness of the course.”

The May 14 Tribune story added more. The course would have sand greens, at least to start (that was the norm for Minnesota’s public courses of that era). There would be one par 5, of 475 yards, and one par 3, of 181 yards. There would be “a few natural hazards and one or two constructed traps.”

“Too much cannot be expected the first year as it takes nearly five years to make a good course.”

Klukow and Flesche retained Jack Gallett, who had been hired earlier in the year to become Albert Lea Country Club’s professional, to design the course. The grounds were situated “north of the Wedge Seeds warehouse,” the Tribune reported.

Grounds of Albert Lea’s Recreation Golf Course, 1931-circa early 1940s. In current parameters, the course was bounded by 225th Street on the south, Richway Drive/740th Avenue on the east and Bluegrass Road on the west, with the northern edge stretching not quite up to what is now Interstate 90. (John Borchert Map Library aerial photo)

Klukow and Flesche’s creation lasted only about a decade and met a fate similar to that of many comparable courses. Longtime Albert Lea resident Andy Dyrdal recalled in a telephone conversation with me that he had played the Recreation course long ago, and he was paraphrased in a 2013 Albert Lea Tribune as saying, “With many young men gone during World War II, it was plowed under to become farmland.”

EARLIER — AND EARLIER THAN THAT

Before the Recreation course, there was Albert Lea Country Club, established almost two decades earlier, in 1912.

Albert Lea CC was a golf course of historical standing in Minnesota. It was one of the first 20 courses in the state, according to records I am keeping. (They aren’t “official” records, I suppose, but I’ll be honest: I doubt anyone has a more accurate list. If so, kudos.)

But Albert Lea Country Club wasn’t even the first course in town. What was?

Hint-hint, read the March 10, 1904, edition of the Albert Lea Tribune.

“A golf club meeting will be held at the Elk club rooms Tuesday, March 15 … for investigating as to sentiment, opportunities and organization.”

In other words, Albert Lea, polish up those spoons. And not the ones in your silverware drawers, either.

The aforementioned meeting was “quite well attended,” the Tribune reported on March 16. C.D. Cowgill, who judging by records was an executive with Western Grocer Co., was appointed president. A committee was established to “look up grounds.” It was estimated it would take $500 to establish and maintain grounds in the club’s first year, and the club was seeking a membership of 50 at $15 each, or $5 each for “ladies.”

None of which was proof that a pre-Country Club golf course actually existed in Albert Lea. A Tribune story from one year later, however, clears up the matter, at least in my mind.

“The Albert Lea Golf Club has held its annual meeting,” the Tribune reported on March 6, 1905. “The club has arranged to enlarge the grounds by using the land west of the ball park.”

A Minneapolis Journal story the next week, presumably a summation of the Albert Lea Tribune story, reported that W.A. Morin was the club’s new president. William Albert Morin owned many large tracts of land in and around Albert Lea at the turn of the 20th century; he also helped bring the Illinois Central railway into town.

As for location of the Albert Lea Golf Club grounds, determining the site of “the ball park” is vital. Searches through newspapers showed that Albert Lea’s baseball stadium changed places multiple times through the 1890s and early 1900s. In 1900, however, a new ballpark opened on West Clark Street, west of downtown, apparently near the city’s rail yard. Best guess on the site of Albert Lea’s first golf course, then, is that it was just northwest of what is now the intersection of Clark Street and Minnesota Highway 13.

I don’t know that for sure. Nor do I know how long Albert Lea Golf Club lasted. Skimming in two sessions a multitude of late spring-early summer editions of the Tribune from that era revealed no mentions of local golf, even through 1911, the year before Albert Lea Country Club was established, and it is at this point that I must apologize. My appetite for researching was diminished shortly after I came across an advertisement, the likes of which was common from that era in newspapering, that began:

“Educate Your Bowels.”


Photo at top of post by Peter Wong.

Albert Lea, Part I: Back to the ’50s, and a naked truth

A couple of nuggets of Minnesota golf history:

Albert Lea was one of Minnesota’s first cities with a golf course.

Albert Lea Country Club was established in 1912.

Careful. Don’t link those two sentences too closely together. You could be jumping to a conclusion.

If you read carefully, you’ll note that I never wrote that golf in Albert Lea started in 1912. Because it didn’t. But that’s another matter for another day. I will explain — just not now.

Regardless of its status in city golf history, Albert Lea Country Club, born 1912 passed away 2006, holds a position of prominence as a pioneering Minnesota golf course. It ranks roughly among the first 20 to 25 organized sites in the state upon which were struck glorious drives and fat approach shots. In southeastern Minnesota, only Winona, Rochester and Faribault had golf courses before Albert Lea Country Club opened for business, pre-World War I, in a clubhouse that was a converted horse barn.

Albert Lea Country Club, postcard dated 1954. The green to the right of the clubhouse was No. 6. Property of Joe Bissen.

Albert Lea Country Club survived — nay (misspelled and probably misguided horse barn reference there), thrived — through 95 years. Its shortstop was long one of southern Minnesota’s prime tournaments, at one time attracting fields approaching 200 players. (One notable winner was 1957 champion John Eymann of Forest City, Iowa, who golfed cross-handed.)

And like any golf course worth its weight in either gold or just plain auld sod, Albert Lea Country Club created memories.

Most of the posts on this web site revolve around golf courses that were abandoned in the first half of the 20th century. It is admittedly biased reporting — I prefer to focus on lesser-known clubs and courses from long ago, those that vanished because of tolls taken by the Great Depression and the advent of World War II.

The 1950s? Hardly a notable era in terms of shuttered Minnesota golf courses. But that isn’t to say there aren’t tales to tell.


“One of the things about the 1950s is that you didn’t need a whole lot of money to play golf,” Dex Westrum, who spent much of his youth on the grounds of Albert Lea Country Club, said in a recent phone interview. “Guys were playing in Army fatigues and white T-shirts. For people that were just hackers, they could buy five irons, two woods, a putter and a cheap 50 cent golf ball and have a wonderful time. Now they’ve got to spend thousands of dollars.”

Westrum is a retired college professor who lives in South Milwaukee, Wis., and is the son of the late Lyle Westrum. The latter was the professional at Albert Lea Country Club for a short time in the 1950s after having caddied there in the 1930s, going off to World War II, then returning after the war and turning professional upon finishing second in the Albert Lea shortstop. Lyle Westrum, his son noted, also had been a prominent Albert Lea hockey player and all-conference fullback in football.

Young Dexter Westrum followed his father onto the golf course in the 1950s. Among his memories of Albert Lea Country Club:

“After the war, there was a great interest in golf,” Dex Westrum said, “and a lot of women, if they wanted to spend time with their husbands, they took lessons. He (Lyle Westrum) had 12 to 15 lessons a day, and most if not all of them were to women. Men would prefer to do it their way.”

Albert Lea CC’s many sand bunkers presented hazards for its golfers. The driving range presented a hazard for young Dex.

“Lesson balls had to be shagged, and I was elected to stand in the practice fairway collecting balls in a shag bag while the people took aim at me,” Westrum says in reading from a passage he penned for “Minnesota Memories 2,” written and compiled by Joan Claire Graham. “Once in a while I would lose sight of a ball in the sun and get hit. But fortunately, most people couldn’t hit the ball straight until the lesson was over.

“I received 40 cents for a half-hour lesson, which resulted in quite a sum by the end of the day. I immediately spent half of my earnings at the Ben Franklin store on new comic books. I eventually had more than 300 comics, which my mother threw away shortly after I left (Albert Lea).  …”

Westrum recalled a relaxed atmosphere surrounding golf in the 1950s, with ladies days on Tuesdays and Wednesday men’s days including steak dinners after a round of golf.

Another notable experience took place every year on the Albert Lea CC grounds.

“The highlight every summer was the Fourth of July, because the country club was where the fireworks were shot off,” Westrum said in reading from “Minnesota Memories 2.” “The whole town turned out, cars lining up on old Highway 13 along No. 3 and the driveway along No. 4. People sat elbow to elbow along No. 7 hill. …

“Best of all, there was free ice cream for all the kids. … It was rich and it was cold, and one dip was plenty. In the morning, caddies would find cardboard remnants of the fireworks. Sometimes they found them in the bushes by the clubhouse. One year, there was a bunch of stuff on the clubhouse roof.”

Dare it be said that one of Westrum’s ALCC memories tops all others.

“The Edgewater (Cottage) was so close to No. 7, it provided my father with a challenge on the morning after the high school prom in 1961,” Westrum wrote for the memories book. “He went to take the dew off the greens so they could be mowed when he discovered two naked teenage lovers on the green. Fortunately, he was more than a hundred yards away when he saw them. He didn’t want to embarrass them or himself, so he went back to the pro shop, picked up his wedge and practice ball bag and returned to hit balls at them from a safe distance until they woke up and ran on.”

Albert Lea Country Club fostered some excellent players in those days. The 1952 Albert Lea High team won the state championship (as did the 1982 team). Individual state champions from Albert Lea included Clayton “Bumper” Westrum (Dex’s uncle, 1950 and ’52, and later the designer of the Northern Hills course in Rochester),  Craig Clauson (1954), Dex’s teammate Dick Jones (1962), Mark Knutson (1973) and Chad Adams (1989). On the girls side, Donna Boom won a state title in 1994.

The old Albert Lea Country Club course required shotmaking. Dex Westrum relates a memory from the shortstop:

“Neil Croonquist (former University of Minnesota standout and two-time State Amateur champion) and some of the other guys who were playing decent amateur golf in the Twin Cities, they came down and they did not tear that Country Club course apart,” Westrum said in the phone interview. “It wasn’t long, but it was really hilly and had very small greens. You miss the hole by 30 feet in Minneapolis, you got a 30-foot putt. You miss the hole by 30 feet in Albert Lea and you’re in the trap.”

One year, Westrum said, “Neil Croonquist was medalist with 69; nobody else broke par. … Bud Chapman … a hell of a good player. He came down to the Albert Lea shortstop, and he qualified for the fifth flight. That was the year the wind blew and it took something like 83 or 82 to make the championship flight. He came back the next year and won the tournament to distinguish himself, and he never came back.”

The Albert Lea HS team that Westrum played on as a junior and senior featured Jones and four others who could break 40 for nine holes, he said. “So we were a formidable lot. In fact, I don’t think we ever lost a home match. … Teams would come and play us, and they just couldn’t handle the uneven lies. There were hardly any holes where you were going to hit off a flat surface.”

Dex Westrum shows fine form in playing a shot from one of the “yawning traps,” as he referred to them, as a youth at Albert Lea Country Club. The bunker was on No. 6; the shot was observed by Dick Davies Jr., and Westrum says it finished within a foot of the hole. (Photo courtesy Dex Westrum)

Westrum went off to college, then to a teaching career that covered 50 years, 10 schools and five states. His final memory of Albert Lea Country Club comes from the pages of “Minnesota Memories 2”:

“On my first visit back to Albert Lea Country Club after I heard the course was going to be destroyed, I took my 7-year-old son … for a walk on the old holes 7, 8 and 9. Stakes all over the landscape marked what I assumed were planned housing sites. This is where I was  a little boy and where I was a high school kid.

“I tried to explain what the holes looked like in the 1950s and 1960s and that the course had been one of the most distinctive nine-hole layouts in Minnesota. It had small greens, narrow fairways and sand traps you could get lost in.

“I never saw the additional nine or played another version of the course after the final high school meet of the 1963 season against Red Wing.”


Next: Two other lost courses in Albert Lea, including the very first.