Calling Clearwater Country Club. Hello? Hello???

(Note: Since this original post was filed, a couple of updates have presented themselves. Read this post first, then see the updates here🙂

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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

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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

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