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 Fridley, MN.  Joe's first book, Fore! Gone. Minnesota's Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999, was released in December 2013. Click here to order

Valley View: The Hastings bridge

DSC06669

In eight days, school will be back in session at John F. Kennedy Elementary in Hastings, and the golf course will again be treated with reckless disregard and utter impunity.

First-graders will run screaming across the greens. Third-graders will jump and stomp and kick at the fairways as if they weren’t even there. Recess monitors will look away, as if nothing untoward were happening. Custodians, in the ultimate show of indifference, will toss garbage all over the George Nelson Historical Monument.

If they only knew …

… yeah, they would just keep doing it.

Understandable. Hey, all the kids see is a schoolyard. Play on.

A few others — very few anymore — also see an old golf course on the Kennedy grounds. Decades ago, a course known as Valley View — it went by other names later in life — occupied what is now the schoolyard, along with part of the current Smead Manufacturing site and undeveloped land to the south and east.

As a golf course site, this tract isn’t particularly notable. There are few elevation changes, no water and no overly distinguishable features.  As a bridge, however, the site carries some significance.

And in Hastings, bridges (think Spiral Bridge, 1895-1951; “Big Blue” High Bridge, 1951-2013; and four-laner, 2013-present) are a big deal.

Valley View spanned all or parts of 31 golf seasons in Hastings and bridged a gap between a mostly unknown era of golf in the city, going all the way back to 1924, and the present day.

Oh, yeah. About that monument …

George Nelson, 84, and his friend Bill McNamara, 81, both Hastings residents and former golfers at the Valley View site, rode along one warm August afternoon as I went to visit the place. I turned south from 10th Street East onto Tyler Street. We hung a quick left into the main Kennedy Elementary parking lot and proceeded directly and purposefully across the first fairway, which, yes, makes me not one whit better than the kids who scamper across other sections of the old golf course.

We veered right, into the school’s east parking lot, and Nelson spotted the monument.

“I got a hole in one there,” he said. “Right there.”

“Right there,” at a corner of the east parking lot and on the exact site of the old No. 2 green at Valley View (and I mean exact; you can verify for yourself if you want to take the half-hour to compare old aerial photos to current ones), is a large, steel marker, paying tribute to the ace Nelson recorded 66 years ago while representing Hastings in a high school golf match.

The George Nelson Historic Monument … is a Dumpster.

The George Nelson Historical Dumpster -- or, put perhaps a bit more elegantly, the site of Nelson's 1949 hole in one at the original Hastings Country Club.

The George Nelson Historical Monument — or, put perhaps a bit more elegantly, the site, on the right, of Nelson’s 1949 hole in one on the second hole at the original Hastings Country Club.

The Dumpster was, of course, not there in 1949 when Nelson pulled a 6-ion from his bag, teed off from a slight rise by where the Kennedy playground now stands, aimed north, landed the ball just short of the green because, he said, that was the only way you could successfully play holes with sand greens, and watched it hop and roll into the hole.

(Aside: I wonder if Nelson is the only person alive to have posted two holes in one on lost Minnesota golf courses. Probably not, but give him credit: In 1951, he used a 2-wood to ace the sixth hole at the original — and now lost — site of Faribault Golf and Country Club. It was the first hole in one in 12 years at the course, which relocated 1956 to a site farther north.)

“We had so much fun out here,” Nelson said to McNamara, which was easy for him to say considering he once had the distinct pleasure of penciling in a “1″ on his scorecard.

Nelson and McNamara spent the better part of an hour showing me around the grounds, pointing out where every hole was, 1 through 9, and reminiscing. They were, in effect, preserving the bridge.

———————

Hastings Gazette, July 25, 1924. Headline: Golf Course Assured For Fans Of City.

“Arrangements whereby the sporting element of Hastings will soon be able to gratify their desires for outdoor recreation, were revealed here this week in the announcement that the use of a natural golf course on the Nick Conzemius farm a mile west of the city has been secured by local enthusiasts of the sport.

“The proposed course, starting at the western boundary line of the city proper, extends for fully a mile in a westerly direction and abounds in hazards that should test the bility (sic) of golfers in this vicinity to their hearts’ content it is stated by those who have examined the proffered grounds.”

(Modern-day translation of overwrought prose: Fore!)

This original Hastings golf club, which was given no formal name in the newspaper story, had an initial membership of 25; membership fee was $1. The course consisted of nine holes. Best guess is that this location was near what is now Conzemius Park and Hastings Middle School.

Five years later, the club moved east, according to an entry in The Hastings Archives, by Richard B. Darsow. “1929: The Valley View Golf Course, formerly on the Nick Conzemius Farm, was moved and laid out on the Fred C. Gillitt farm, corner of Tenth and Tyler Streets.”

Most likely, the course became known as Valley View upon the move, not before it. And though Darsow linked Valley View and the Conzemius course, no connection is mentioned in any of five newspaper stories about Valley View’s opening that were forwarded to me by the Dakota County Historical Society and by Cindy Smith, curator of the Pioneer Room in Hastings’ City Hall.

Whomever first wrote about Valley View for the Hastings Gazette veritably swooned over the place, which wasn’t unusual for community newspaper writers of the day. I don’t know, maybe there was a set of shiny, new hickory-shafted MacGregors in it for the author.

“There are few golf courses in the country that excel the Valley View grounds in natural beauty or commanding location,” the Gazette reported on July 26, 1929, a month before the course officially opened. From the first green, the newspaper continued, “the golfer commands a magnificent view of both the Mississippi and Vermillion valley and the distant hills of Wisconsin, some of which are perhaps 10 miles away.” (The view is today obscured by building construction and tree canopies.)

Bluster aside, the Valley View site had staying power. The golf course lasted through 1936, when the club reorganized under the name Hastings Golf Club. It lasted through 1939, when 20 members re-formed under the name Hastings Country Club. It lasted through 1944, during a period when many other Minnesota courses were closing, thanks in part to a group of “war widows,” as the Gazette called them, who pitched in to help maintain the course. It lasted through 1947, when in another reorganization the club’s golfers bought the course from the Gillitt family and incorporated under the name Hastings Country Club (one 1947 newspaper clip refers to a renaming from Hastings Golf Club to Hastings Country Club at that point, but multiple clips through the 1940s refer to the club as Hastings Country Club. The incorporation, however, was a key rite of passage to Hastings CC in its present form). And the golf course lasted through 1949, when club members voted 24-12 not to sell the land to an interested private party.

But in 1957, feeling squeezed by residential growth and looking for room to perhaps expand to 18 holes, members began exploring potential new sites. They found one just over a mile to the southwest. On Sept. 2, 1958, the club purchased the John P. Zweber farm, and on May 1, 1961, Hastings Country Club opened with nine holes off Westview Drive, just a few blocks south of the old Conzemius Farm site. A second nine opened in 1966. The course has generally been held in high regard, and it has hosted many Minnesota Golf Association championship events.

If the Conzemius site is Hastings Lost Golf Course Version 1.0 and the Valley View site is Version 2.0, the current site is, let’s say, Version 2.01. Hastings CC has endured financial troubles in recent years and, after an announcement last fall that the club was ending operations and going up for sale, the course briefly lay dormant this spring before reopening for public play on May 13 and continuing through the present. I made multiple inquiries about its status, but none was answered, and so to the best of my knowledge Hastings Country Club remains for sale, its fate hanging in the balance.

Hastings Country Club, 2015

Hastings Country Club, 2015

Meanwhile, the Valley View site is a lost course. Gone, but 55 years later, not entirely forgotten.

——————

At the southeast corner of 10th and Tyler stands the Community Education building for Hastings Schools. This  is the site of the former clubhouse for Valley View/Hastings Golf Club/Hastings Country Club. The clubhouse originally was a two-story home owned by Gillitt, judging by the 1929 Gazette story on Valley View. A 30- by 55-foot addition was completed in 1955.

Valley View clubhouse, photo dated Sept. 3, 1929 (photo property of Joe Bissen)

Valley View clubhouse, photo dated Sept. 3, 1929 (photo property of Joe Bissen)

Just to the east, near the corner of 10th and Bailey, was Valley View’s first tee. The opening hole headed south, across land on which Kennedy Elementary was built (meaning kids now whimsically study science where golfers once carefully studied their approach shots), with the green near a corner of the Kennedy grounds, up a small hill and near the school’s playground.

McNamara grew up across 10th Street from the first tee, having moved there as a
12-year-old in 1946. “My aunt Martha Yanz got me started playing with her, and so a life of frustration was born!” he wrote in an email after our visit to the site.

Nos. 2 through 5 ran back and forth, parallel to one another, covering land on the south side of the current Kennedy grounds, including its ballfields. The green for the par-5 third hole was near the corner of 15th and Bailey; the fifth hole ran alongside a railroad spur line now operated by Canadian Pacific. The Veterans Home Bikeway/Mississippi River Regional Trail also runs alongside. “Five was a really good hole,” Nelson said. “Long and challenging, but a good hole.”

George Nelson, left, and Bill McNamara stand near the site of the tee box on the old second hole at Valley View/Hastings GC/Hastings CC. In the background are the Mississippi River bluffs on the Wisconsin side.

George Nelson, left, and Bill McNamara stand near the site of the tee box on the old second hole at Valley View/Hastings GC/Hastings CC. In the background are bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River.

Nos. 6 through 9 were on the east side of the railroad tracks. The sixth was a par 3 with a drop-off on the right; golfers near the sixth green and seventh tee could descend to the Vermillion River springs for a drink of water. The seventh, a short par 4, played north, near what is now a large Public Works hangar, and the eighth, an even shorter par 4, went south. As with any proper closing hole, the ninth returned home. Well, sort of. It started along the east side of the railroad tracks and headed north, parallel with the tracks, covering part of what now would be the Smead back parking lot, driveway and west side of the building. The green was maybe 25 yards from 10th Street and just a few feet from what is now the Smead driveway. From the ninth green to the clubhouse for post-round refreshments, a walk of more than 220 yards was required.

McNamara, left, and Nelson stand on the railroad tracks that divided the five western opening holes at Valley View from its four eastern closing holes.

Bill McNamara, left, and George Nelson stand on the railroad tracks that divided the five western opening holes at Valley View from its four eastern closing holes.

Nelson, who played the course almost daily, he said, remained a Hastings Country Club member when the new course opened in 1961. He is no longer a member there. McNamara did not make the transition to the current Hastings CC site, though he still plays area courses with a group of retirees.

“Living so close,” McNamara wrote in his email, ”we kids made the course our own.  Golf and ballgames in the summer, skating and sliding on the hills in the winter. My dad cut grass and did maintenance in his spare time, and even did a little golfing.”

Of the course, he wrote: ”A short distance, by today’s standards, nine holes, with SAND GREENS, small, hard, oiled sand, flat as a pancake. No water hazards or sand traps, unless you count the greens!

“… It was our course, and we loved it.”

Aerial photo, Hastings Golf Club (the Valley View site), 1940. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota's John Borchert Library.

Aerial photo, Hastings Country Club (the Valley View site), 1940. The corner of 10th and Tyler streets is at the upper-left corner of the photo; the Vermillion River is at the bottom-right corner. Photo courtesy of John R. Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota.

Author’s note: Finding every one of Minnesota’s lost golf courses has proved to be as implausible as winning the Grand Slam. I knew that would be the case when I started researching and writing about them in earnest three years ago, but still …

This is one in a series of posts that catch up with lost golf courses I missed in “Fore! Gone.” The best way to order the book now is through Amazon.com (from the seller named fivestarsales; that’s me) or to contact me directly. 

Thanks for reading.

jb

 

Rush City Country Club II: Want to see a redesign?

In about 1940, by his recollection, Don Johnson clambered up the windmill on his family farm in northern Chisago County and snapped an aerial photograph of Rush City Country Club.

Well, semi-aerial.

The click of the shutter revealed part of the grounds of the now-lost golf course, which can be seen on a post elsewhere on this website (sorry; I can never get the linking function to work properly). One would be hard-pressed to call it an aerial photo, however, since it was taken at approximately the height Wilbur and Orv reached on some of their early Kitty Hawk forays.

Now Johnson has done himself one better.

Well, two.

Johnson, a Lindstrom resident who was responsible for 95 percent of the information in my first post about Rush City Country Club, this week relayed more information on the golf course founded in 1932 by his father, Art, and uncle Bill on their father’s farm a mile east of Rush City. Most notably, they featured a first in my five-plus years of researching
Minnesota’s lost golf courses: a routing of a lost course overlaid onto a vintage aerial
photo.

Cutting to the chase, here are Johnson’s reconstructions, first of the original Rush City CC
layout, then of the layout after it was redesigned in the late 1930s because of water issues in a low-lying area:

rushcity-1 rushcity-2

 Click on the photos for closer, better looks. North is “up” on each. Highway 25 is the white line running northeast, bordering the Johnson farm and the golf course. The current Rush City Regional Airport landing strip is approximately where the large, light rectangular patch is, north of Highway 25. As with all aerial-photo views of lost courses with sand greens, the greens are particularly notable as very light, almost perfectly round circles. Base photos courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

rushcity-cardThough it might be folly to make
judgments off old aerials, what strikes me in these photos is how solid the original routing of Rush City Country Club appears to have been. Pete Carlson, who did the original design (he also designed Moose Lake Golf Club, 50 miles north of Rush City), used Rush Creek particularly well, designing at least three holes, and maybe up to five, using either side of the creek as a strategic element. The second and seventh holes appeared particularly well-designed, and I’ll bet pars on the latter were hard to come by. Given that the course was only 2,438 yards long, and that there likely was no more land available, the original layout appears well-conceived and challenging without offering any noticeably blatant “funky” holes. Only one nitpick: The par-threes were pretty similar in length: 181, 192, 198 and 175 yards.

Wish I could say the same about the revised layout, though the loss of the land that holes No. 1 and 2 were on surely destroyed any opportunity to match the original. The course was shortened by 607 yards and played to a par of only 29, with only three holes longer than 300 yards. Even more notably, holes No. 2 and 6 now shared the same green. “If you saw players approaching playing No. 6,” Johnson said, ”you would hold your tee shot off No. 2.  Never heard of a problem.”

The course survived until about 1954, Johnson reported, though never regaining the
popularity it enjoyed in the 1930s and early 1940s. I can’t help but think the forced revision of the course into tighter quarters had something to do with that.

In addition to the aerial reconstructions, Johnson, 87, passed along more memories:

“The golf course was developed and maintained with an Allis Chalmers Model U tractor purchased about 1933. This was the first farm tractor in the area on rubber tires. It might have been purchased with the golf course in mind, but Art and Bill Johnson also did custom threshing in the area, which required traveling many miles. The threshing machine also was on rubber for speedy travel at 12 mph.

“Allis Chalmers first added rubber tires to their tractor in 1933. They advertised by
displaying their tractor at the Minnesota State Fair with Barney Oldfield, a well-known race car driver, driving around the race track at 64 mph.

“A pull-behind road grader was acquired to level the greens during construction. The greens were oiled sand which would wash during rainstorms if not very level. The sand was hand screened and oiled with used motor oil. The greens were much softer than grass greens on other courses. …

“The bridges across Rush Creek were built using logs felled along the water. One log felled in the spring was so full of sap it would hardly float. The bridges were covered with
two-inch oak planks. I couldn’t drive a spike without bending it until my father said, ‘Don’t force it, just let the hammer do the work.’ Amazing, but no more bent spikes. …

“Golf clubs of that day had wooden shafts. My first set of clubs were broken discards which were glued together and the shafts wrapped with black linen thread. My first steel-shaft irons were acquired about 142 a $1.65 each. …

“When the clubhouse was operating as a dance hall, I was paid 25 cents a week to pick up empty bottles and keep the beer cooler filled. Sometimes as I walked behind the bar I would sample a bit of tap beer. A dice game called ‘Fourteen’ was played, customer against the bartender, and winners were paid one dollar in merchandise tokens or ‘chips,’ as they were called. These tokens were 25-cent brass-embossed with the Rush City
Country Club name.”

Johnson also passed along three photos of the building that served variously as farmhouse, clubhouse and dance hall. It was destroyed, he noted, in 1991 with a controlled burn by several fire departments.

rushcity-house

Calling Clearwater Country Club. Hello? Hello???

Think of everything Minnesota golf course owners have had to put up with through the years.

Tractor broke down. Hired help quit. Bear pooped on the fifth green. Cart path washed out. Well ran dry. Tree fell on the 12th fairway. Poa annua everywhere. Toilets overflowed. *%#^@ cutworms.

Flora’s on the party line again.

Yeah, that last one probably wasn’t so common — except at Clearwater Country Club, a modest little nine-holer that once occupied a spit of land off the south shore of Clearwater Lake, a mile and a half north of the central Minnesota city of Annandale.

Owen Prevost was the last owner of Clearwater Country Club, having acquired the place in the early 1960s. In addition to working a full-time job at Univac in Minneapolis while
double-bunking his six kids above the pro shop, Prevost had to put up with the
interruption of potential commerce whenever Annandale’s telephone service was at its
insufferable worst.

Prevost’s daughter, Sharon Judge, picks up the story from here.

“Back then (1963-1964), the pro shop business telephone was part of a ‘party line’ shared by four or five other houses on the road, including Flora and Lyman Ransom on their farm,” Judge recently related in an email. “Clearwater Country Club’s number was 7799, and calls were placed by actual operators.

“The party line posed a significant problem for our business,  because anyone wanting to make a tee time, or sign up for men’s day, or women’s day, or wanting to make a delivery, etc., had to compete with Flora Ransom, the farmer’s wife, who spent all of her time using and gossiping by phone. Flora was a very kind, but winded, person.”

Clearwater Country Club  had a nice run of at least 2 1/2 decades, telephonic interlopers notwithstanding. The beginning and concluding details of the course’s history are
unfortunately missing here, as none of the dozen or so people I contacted or tried
to contact either knew or offered precise starting and ending dates. Judge, in her
otherwise wonderfully detailed email, filled in many blanks in the middle. Here is a partial reconstruction:

Clearwater CC opened before 1942, most likely. A postcard dated June 22, 1942, and sent from Minneapolis to Rockford, Ill., confirms that notion. The postcard, pictured below and bought by yours truly off eBay, is captioned “Boat Landing at Golf Course, Clearwater Lake, Annandale, Minn.” The golf course is not clearly visible in the postcard (nor is Flora Ransom), but it seems likely the postcard showed part of its former grounds. (I never was told by anyone that there might have been another golf course on Clearwater Lake at any time).

clearwater2

clearwater1An early owner of Clearwater CC might have been the Swyter family, though admittedly that is purely speculative on my part. A March 2015 obituary for Berniece Swyter of Paynesville, Minn., published in the St. Cloud Times, includes the sentence “Berniece and George (Swyter) operated a golf course and campground on Clearwater Lake in
Annandale, MN.” I made inquiries with the Swyter family but was unable to confirm that the golf course mentioned in the obituary was Clearwater CC.

In 1950 or thereabouts, Hal Carnes bought the golf course, according to an entry on a blog produced by an Ovaska family of Los Alamos, N.M. The blog’s author posted a photo of Hal Carnes and wrote that “Grandpa Hal was an excellent golfer and they (Hal and his wife,
Janet) bought the Clearwater Country Club in 1950(?) and my mom used to drive the golf cart and sell drinks.” Hal Carnes, the blog post says, had previously lived in St. Paul and
Baudette.

My attempts to contact members of the Ovaska family were unsuccessful.

Clearwater Country Club was noted, for better or worse, for its sand greens, a feature not uncommon in Minnesota the 1920s through 1940s. However, while most of Minnesota’s sand-green courses either shut down by the 1940s or converted to grass greens,
Clearwater remained sand-bound until its demise in the 1960s.

The Ovaska blog and Sharon Judge’s email both suggested Clearwater Country Club was the last wholly sand-greens course in Minnesota. It likely was one of the last, but I’m
almost certain it was not the last. To my knowledge, that distinction belongs to
Whitewater Valley Golf Course in Whitewater State Park near St. Charles, which shut down in 1975. (The Whitewater course is featured in “Fore! Gone.” and pictured on the book’s cover.)

A few Annandale-area residents remember playing Clearwater Country Club. Ed Kaz, a
former Annandale hardware store owner, recalled that the sand greens were difficult to negotiate. Retired schoolteacher Dave Greve said much the same and noted that the course was relatively short, likely not a par 36. Jim Gustason, a Minneapolis native who now lives in Rogers and maintains a home on the north shore of Clearwater Lake that his parents once owned, remembered playing Clearwater CC as early as 1950. He and a friend would troll from one side of the lake to the other, play the golf course, then scoop
wayward golf balls out of the lake.

Bruce Prevost, son of former course owner Owen Prevost and brother of Sharon Judge,
recalled that the Prevosts operated a candy store and rented boats on the premises.
And, he said, “My mom was known for her snapping-turtle soup on men’s night.” Bruce Prevost speculated that Clearwater CC shut down in 1966 or 1967.

But it was Judge, who in an odd coincidence now lives in Annandale, Va., who offered the most vivid memories of Clearwater Country Club. “I have fond memories of that place in a John Irving ‘Hotel New Hampshire’ kind of way,” she wrote in her email.

The memories are little short of priceless.

“My dad … sold the course because he didn’t have the money, or the desire to go into debt by replacing the sand with grass greens (estimated at that time to cost around $3,000 per green to convert),” Judge wrote. “The clubhouse faced Highway 24 just before the road curves to go toward Pleasant Lake. It was bought by Ron Freeman. There was a circular driveway and parking area for golfers.

“While my father worked at Univac in Minneapolis during the week, our mom and my sister Gail and I ran the pro shop. (She was in eighth and ninth grade, while I was in fourth and fifth grade.) My mom, Myra Prevost, cooked the dinners for Thursday men’s league, while Dad, Owen, the pro, hosted and played. Thursday night men’s league  always ended with a few guys smoking cigars and playing poker in the pro shop late at night.

“My job as a kid was sometimes manning the pro shop, loading soda pop in the cooler, and as I got older, I was able to help oil the sand greens and moved the sweepers around them (carpet squares on rope pulls), and mow fairways, until I got the tractor and the mowers behind it stuck in the water hazard and partially tore up the seventh fairway. My dad realized I wasn’t quite old enough to have the skill set yet for that job!

“… The pro shop had an L-shaped countertop and display cases for balls and tees for sale, and we sold soda and chuckwagons and other sandwiches you could heat in the first
microwave oven.

“… The club’s first fairway was parallel to Highway 24. The first tee box was to the right of the house (with the road to the back).

“… My sister Donna worked at the course summers while she was in college. … She lived in the second little pro shop, which was a cabin down by Clearwater Lake. Golfers could stop halfway round the course, drink a pop or eat a sandwich, or buy cigarettes. … This
little pro shop also served as the place that managed the resort my parents also ran,
Clearwater Resort, which had campsites, two or three cabins for rent, trailer sites, and
picnic areas, as well as boat and pontoon rentals, and a beach/swimming area.

“The golf course also had a driving range, left of the creek and trees that ran along side the pro shop residence. It was a big, open field that ran from the Highway 24 down to
Clearwater Lake.  My sister Gail and I retrieved the golf balls by walking around with Brown’s Ice Cream gallon buckets and tin cans attached to old club shafts to scoop up balls (while trying to lookout for garter snakes and field mice) — my least favorite job. But we got paid for it. The golf course and the resort was a family affair.

“Dad’s dream was to open another golf course (on Cedar Lake). He never got the approval from the county he needed. So to feed his interest in course design, he helped Elmer (Schmidt) design his course, Whispering Pines (just southeast of downtown Annandale).

“Dad, Owen Prevost,  loved the game of golf. We know he’s up in heaven still playing!”

Clearwater Country Club, 1963 aerial photo. Clearwater Lake is at the top of the photo; Wright County Highway 24 is the straight-line road near the bottom. The Clearwater CC clubhouse and its circular driveway can be seen near the bottom-left corner. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Clearwater Country Club, 1963 aerial photo. The south shore of Clearwater Lake is at the top of the photo; Wright County Highway 24 is the straight-line road near the bottom; it curves
toward Annandale at the bottom-left corner. The Clearwater CC clubhouse and its circular driveway can be seen near the bottom-left corner. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Author’s note: What was I thinking? Finding every one of Minnesota’s lost golf courses has proved to be as implausible as winning the Grand Slam. I knew that would be the case when I started researching and writing about them in earnest three years ago, but still …

This is the second entry in a series of posts that catch up with lost golf courses I missed in “Fore! Gone.” Next up (probably): Valley View, Hastings.

Thanks for reading.

jb

One I missed: Rush City Country Club

rushtoken7

July 27, 2015

“Well, should we take a look?”

Don Johnson had popped the question.

Johnson and I were spending a late afternoon exploring.  We had driven into northern  Chisago County and pulled off the road. We were starting at an open field when he up and said the six magic words:

“Well, should we take a look?”

Um, yeah, Don. We should take a look. I mean, after all, it’s a lost golf course. Why
wouldn’t we take a look? Why wouldn’t anyone?

Fine, so traipsing through long-empty fields with rarely much to really see isn’t everyone’s cup o’ frappucino. Nevertheless, I had wanted to check out the place, and I had wanted Johnson to check it out with me, never mind the handful of mitigating circumstances.

Such as:

Bumps and brambles. This was rolling turf, overgrown with grass, weeds and thistles,
shin-high to knee-high. No, this wouldn’t exactly be an expedition up the sheer face of
El Capitan, but it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, either. Tumble-and-fall potential: maybe 10 percent.

Also: The temperature was 90. Humidity was up there, too.

And: Johnson was 87. As in years of age.

“Eighty-seven and a half,” he had gently corrected me a bit earlier.

Not to mention: Carl Heinrich’s advice.

OK, I just mentioned it.

A month earlier, Heinrich, who owns property just east of where Johnson and I were standing, had suggested in a phone conversation that exploring the premises, especially the wooded area surrounding nearby Rush Creek, might not be prudent. Something
concerning large mammals with sharp incisors and powerful paws.

Not that I cared. Not that decency prevailed, either, prompting me to suggest, say, this
rejoinder to Johnson:

“Sure, Don, let’s go look around, but just FYI, I’ve been told there might be bears close by, perhaps eager to consume our major organs and leave our rotting entrails over by the
second green.”

No, I shut up. I wanted to explore the 60-year-old resting place of Rush City Country Club as much as Johnson did.

We forged ahead.

——————

rush5rush6“The Rush City Golf Course was
developed in 1932-33 by Arthur ‘Art’ and William ‘Bill’ Johnson on the J.P. Johnson farm east of Rush City,” reads the first sentence in ”Rush City Golf Course,” a
detailed, illustrated booklet
written by Art Johnson’s son Don — the same Don Johnson who was exploring the abandoned course with me.

“The design and construction of the golf course,” the booklet
continues, “was assisted by Pete  Carlson, who developed and
operated the golf course on Sand Lake near Moose Lake MN. The (Rush City) course was first opened for play in 1934.”

To be more specific, Rush City Country Club (or Golf Course, or Golf Club; it was referred to all three ways) was situated one mile east-northeast of
downtown Rush City, off Chisago County Highway 55. Across the road to the north in
modern times lies a soybean field and then the southern edge of the landing strip for Rush City Regional Airport. The golf course lay just south of the highway. Bisecting it during its playing days was Rush Creek, a serpentine stream that flows out of Rush Lake, west of Rush City and Interstate 35, and ultimately empties into the St. Croix River.

If anyone knows the lay of the land, Johnson does. He grew up on the property, slept and ate and studied in the abode that also served as the golf clubhouse. He played Rush City CC as a youth and helped the family manage the farm and golf course before graduating from Rush City High as the class salutatorian in 1945. He attended the University of
Minnesota and went on to work in the Twin Cities as a mechanical engineer for Honeywell.

Johnson, who is retired and now lives in Lindstrom, later developed an interest in his Chisago County and western Wisconsin roots, became a genealogy expert and history buff, and wrote the Rush City Golf Course booklet a decade ago. It is the definitive history of the lost course.

A few more passages:

“The golf course was first developed by tiling and draining land along Rush Creek, which was already beginning to dry up in the early 1930s. The course of Rush Creek was altered to fill and straighten one of the horseshoe bends. Three holes followed the course of the creek. As originally designed and built, the golf course was a par 36. The greens were oiled sand, as were most of the country courses at that time.

“Frequent stories in the Rush City Post tell of various golf tournaments being held, pitting the locals against teams from Braham, Cambridge and North Branch starting in 1934.”
(A round of 40, recorded by Huck Merriott in 1934, is the lowest score mentioned in the
handful of newspaper clippings and ads offered by Johnson.)

“… As the ground along Rush Creek became wetter near the end of the 1930s, the golf course had to be altered and shortened two different times until it became only a par 29. Thereafter, only two holes, #1 and #7, crossed the creek, and none played along Rush Creek.” (A scorecard from the redesigned and shorter version of the course lists only two holes longer than 300 yards.)

rushoverhead

This image, scanned from Don Johnson’s “Rush City Golf Course” booklet, shows the first hole at Rush City Country Club, circa 1940. The hole was a 135-yard par 3, crossing Rush Creek. The sand green is visible to the left of two smaller trees toward the top-left of the photo. Johnson took the photo after climbing the windmill on the family farm.

” … During the winter of 1934-35 the clubhouse was remodeled and in the spring of 1935 was opened for dances several nights a week in addition to golf. … From 1935 until about 1943 Saturday night dances were held at the club house with beer, set-ups and
hamburgers being sold. A 5¢ slot machine was also operated in the club house but was
always moved out of sight into the ladies rest room when notification was received that the sheriff was coming for a visit.

” … The golf course continued to operate until about 1954, although never regaining the popularity and tournaments of the 1930s and early 1940s after the end of WWII.”

Johnson’s newspaper clippings featured ads: ”Herman Sandquist and his orchestra will play at the club” … “Hamm’s and Glueck’s Beer on draught” … “Shot-gun Turkey Shoot … Use your own gun and ammunition.”

————

rush3

Johnson and I tromped into the field. We approached the only standing building in sight – although “standing” hardly seems the operative word. An old granary, tilted so badly you’d swear you could knock it over with a properly placed whisper, leaned out toward the golf grounds, standing sentry, as it did 75 years earlier, near the corner of what was a dogleg on the first hole of the course’s original design.

That opening hole would be replaced in Rush City CC’s later, wetter years by a par 3 of 135 yards that crossed Rush Creek. The hole today would be considered the antithesis of a proper golf hole — instead of a grass green with a sand bunker beyond, it had a sand green with a grass bunker beyond. (In the photo above, the former green site is visible at the clearing near the horizon.)

Old No. 1 was memorable for Johnson. “There was a kid, I was in first grade and he was in second grade,” Johnson told me a couple of weeks earlier in a phone conversation. “We played the first hole, and he beat me. He got the first hole in 12 shots, and I did it in 13.

“The thing is, we went on and went to school together and played sports together, and I never could beat him at anything.”

You could blame the equipment, Don, and no one would think the worse of you.

“I learned to play golf using the backside of my dad’s left-handed putter,” Johnson said.

Moving on, we came upon old concrete blocks 60rush1 yards south of the granary. They were part of the foundation of Johnson’s childhood home — in other words, the old Rush City CC
clubhouse. Nothing remains of the building except the
foundation and part of an exit on the building’s west side. A patch of day lilies planted by two of Johnson’s aunts in the mid-1930s still blooms alongside the foundation. The two-story house was burned down in about 1990, Johnson said, in
order to ensure a clear path for craft flying in and out of the
nearby airport.

Johnson explained that the bulk of the golf course once lay mostly to the east and south of this spot, part of it on low ground near the creek and more of it on higher ground across the creek.

Though Johnson is the pre-eminent authority on Rush City Country Club, then and now, Heinrich offered a couple of recollections as well.

“When I bought that land,” Heinrich said, “I found so many golf balls. I gave a 10-pound sack of them to some kid as payment for working for me.”

Also, he recalled, “I had this hired hand; he’d see golfers go out and chop at the grass. If we had boiled eggs for breakfast, he’d put them out there, and the golfers, they’d go out swinging away and looking for the balls — and they’d be eggshells.”

rush4

From a slight rise near the former first tee of Rush City CC, Rush Creek is visible below,
winding eastward. (No bears in sight.)

 Author’s note: What was I thinking? Finding every one of Minnesota’s lost golf courses has proved to be as implausible as winning the Grand Slam. I knew that would be the case when I started researching and writing about them in earnest three years ago, but still …

This is the first in a series of posts that catch up with lost golf courses I missed in “Fore! Gone.” Next up: Clearwater Country Club, Annandale.

Thanks for reading.

jb

Author’s note II: The old Rush City Country Club token pictured at the top of this post was generously given to me by Don Johnson. Much appreciated, sir.

Lost, north of the border

southwood1

Four-hundred forty-six miles from home — in another country, in fact — and I stumble upon a lost golf course. Seriously, I almost literally stumble across it.

You know what they say about truth, fiction and strangeness …

Taking a break from my casual pursuit of more Minnesota lost golf courses, I was transported last week along I-94, I-29 and then Manitoba 75 — across Minnesota, up the topographical flat-top haircut otherwise known as northwestern North Dakota and into the land of bilingual road signs otherwise known as Canada. (“What the hell does ARRÊT mean? Damned if I know; I’ll just keep driving.”)

No, I’m not planning to write a book about the lost golf courses of Canada. How much time do you think I have on my hands?

But Canada — more specifically, Winnipeg — had been beckoning for the better part of a year, since the day the Women’s World Cup schedule was finalized. Yes, I have turned into a soccer geek, a transformation for which I will not apologize, and my daughter and I were not about to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the U.S. Women’s National Team open its quest for a world championship.

I will spare everyone the gory details of whether the U.S. can escape unscathed from the Group of Death or whether right back Ali Krieger is fit to cut off the Swedes, much less the speedy Nigerians, from gaining the corner on the American defense. You don’t want to know about that, right? RIGHT?

OK, then, I’ll focus on golf.

Anyway, shortly after arriving in the World Cup host city, we had been told by a Winnipegger of a way to park free and take a short walk to Investors Group Field, the sparkling new home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers football team (Minnesota connection: Bud Grant coached the Blue Bombers from 1957-66 and led them to four Grey Cup titles). Just north of the stadium was a large area of green space, posted as property of the University of Manitoba. We skirted the green space on the walk to the stadium, and then, after the Americans’ rousing (adjective courtesy of biased U.S. fan) 3-1 victory over Australia, we decided to take a shortcut through more of the green space on the walk back to our parking lot.

southwood2

Walking on a gravel path and emerging from a line of trees, I looked a few feet to the right and noticed a small area, maybe 100 by 200 feet, that was slightly elevated. Turning to the left, a large field opened before us, the grass and weeds having grown about a foot high. The field was framed by a thin line of trees on the left and another line of trees on the right.

“Whoa,” I said. “That looks like an old golf course.”

I seriously did not want to say that. The experience of having visited almost 30 lost-course sites in Minnesota taught me to be skeptical. Many of the Minnesota sites I have walked upon look like golf courses but in fact are just open space or farmland or woodland — not lost golf courses.

But even my daughter, who had been on lost-courses forays with me, allowed that, yes, this piece of Canadian sod did indeed look like an old golf course. There were other pathways through the grounds, some of them featuring small, arched, concrete bridges. I pointed out that, about 350 yards or so up what looked like the fairway, there was a patch of different-colored grass, browner than the rest. It reminded me of the site of the lost Whitewater Valley Golf Course in southeastern Minnesota, where the old greensites feature non-native grasses that, when grown over after the course closed, look distinctly different from the rest of the grass.

Tee box. Fairway. Rough. Treelines. Cart paths. Green.

“That REALLY looks like an old golf course,” I said, and my daughter could not disagree.

We walked a bit further and struck up a conversation with a Kenyan family that had relocated in Winnipeg a year and a half earlier. (“How do you like Winnipeg?” I asked. “TOO COLD!” the father replied emphatically.) We talked about the soccer game and other things, and then I decided to risk making a fool of myself, though that isn’t something — and you can ask my daughter this — I hadn’t done a thousand times before.

“Do you know whether there was a golf course here?”

“Yes, there was,” the man said.

Aha! My eyes hadn’t betrayed me. It was a lost golf course. Seems I can’t escape them even if I want to.

Back in the States, I learned more about my “discovery.”

This was not just any lost course. The tract of land north of Investors Group Field, now owned by the University of Manitoba, was the longtime home of Southwood Golf & Country Club, a significant and historic Canadian golf club.

From what I can gather, and without being willing to sacrifice the entirety of my remaining vacation trying to sort out overlapping and sometimes-contradictory information on the Interweb, here are a few tidbits about Southwood, its predecessors and its present state:

– The club dates to 1894, which makes it practically prehistoric in North American golf terms. Its original incarnation was known as either Norwood Golf Club or, according to the website Golf Manitoba, “the Winnipeg Golf Club with a nine hole golf course located in Norwood.” As far as I can tell, Norwood is a neighborhood in Winnipeg, perhaps a mile or two north of the original Southwood grounds.

– “A few years later, in the early 1900’s,” notes the Southwood Golf & Country Club website, “the Winnipeg Hunt Club was established. … With the demise of the hunt, in 1918, seven golf holes were built and the Club became known as the Winnipeg Hunt Golf Club. The popularity of golf was quickly taking hold in Manitoba and in 1919, an amalgamation was proposed between the committees of the Norwood Golf Club and the Winnipeg Hunt Golf Club.

“Additional land was acquired from the Agricultural College (site of the University of Manitoba) and the proposal was made and accepted to form the Southwood Golf Club in 1919.”

– Norwood/Winnipeg GC, then nine holes, was Winnipeg’s first golf course, according to Golf Manitoba. And, notes the Southwood website, “As a descendant of the Winnipeg Golf Club (a.k.a. Norwood Golf Club), established in 1894, the Royal Canadian Golf Association recognizes Southwood as the oldest 18-hole golf course in Manitoba.”

– Talk about architectural chops; Southwood has them. “The original course,” reads Southwood’s website, “was designed by Willlie Park, Junior from Musselburgh, Scotland, winner of the British Open in 1887 and 1889. The course was re-designed in later years by Stanley Thompson and was the acclaimed architect’s first 18-hole design in Canada.” (More Minnesota connections: Park routed Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park in late fall 1916; Thompson designed North Oaks Golf Club in 1950-51.)

– In 2008, the University of Manitoba purchased “the Southwood Golf Course,” according to a university web page, “and acquired the lands in November of 2011.” Since then, as is typical with Minnesota lost courses, Winnipeggers have engaged in a vigorous public debate over the ultimate fate of the Southwood grounds. The university would like to develop much of the 120-acre site as mixed-use housing and retail.

– Though the Southwood plot qualifies as a lost course, Southwood Golf & Country Club is not dead. The club moved to a site five miles (‘scuse me — 8 kilometers in Canadaspeak) south and reopened in 2011. From the club’s website: “Poised graciously alongside the meandering LaSalle River and Trappist Monastery Provincial Heritage Park, the 18-hole course was designed by renowned Canadian Architect Thomas McBroom to the highest standards. The spectacular natural and historic surroundings provide a perfect setting. Tree groves, river valley and historic ruins have been left largely untouched, while natural contours of the land are maximized to create distinct landmarks, shadows, hills and ridges. An additional 9 holes are planned for the future.”

– Southwood hosted the Manitoba Open 11 times. Among past champions of the tournament are two-time PGA Tour winner Dave Barr and — two more Minnesota connections — Ev Stuart of Duluth in 1956 and Dayton Olson of Minneapolis in 1963.

So, that’s the story of the “newest” lost golf course I have visited. Now, would you like me to tell you about impending new developments in Winnipeg, i.e. why Team USA will thrash Sweden 4-1 on Friday in its second group game?

Didn’t think so.

southwood3