Category Archives: Just plain old golf

Southview Country Club: A visit with Tom

Been awhile, Tom. Good to see you again.

Truth be told, I never knew Tom. Never met him. Don’t think I’ve ever even met someone who met him. Tom, who died in 1938, was from a different era and a decidedly different social circle. But how could I not feel a connection?

Tom is Tom Vardon, one of the four most important figures in the early development of Minnesota golf. Depending on your point of view, Vardon, the brother of six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon and former longtime head professional at White Bear Yacht Club, is either A) one of the most prolific and gifted course architects in Minnesota golf history or B) the most prolific and gifted architect of lost golf courses in Minnesota history.

I’ll concede that I may be the only person alive with the “B” viewpoint, but whatever.

Vardon designed or contributed to the design of at least 40 courses in his native England and the Upper Midwest. Among them were five lost courses that were covered in “Fore! Gone.” — Bunker Hills, Matoska, Ortonville, Quality Park and Westwood Hills — plus more than 20 still-existing courses in Minnesota, including University of Minnesota-Bolstad, St. Cloud Country Club, Stillwater CC and Phalen Park.

Before this weekend, I hadn’t set foot on a Vardon creation in probably three years, since I left an old Westwood Hills green site hidden on the grounds of Westwood Hills Nature Center in St. Louis Park. But the weekend offered a new opportunity to peruse another of Vardon’s gifts to Minnesota golf: Southview Country Club.

Southview is where, over the weekend, I reacquainted myself with Tom Vardon. The venue on the southern edge of West St. Paul is the annual host of the Tapemark Charity Pro-Am tournament, which features not only outstanding golf by many of Minnesota’s top players but also outstanding contributions to the community — the Tapemark benefits organizations that help people with disabilities and has raised, according to its website, $7.2 million since the tournament’s inception in 1972.

The Southview that golfers see today — green and lush and tree-lined — is most certainly not the Southview on which Vardon and Walter Hagen faced off in a 1925 exhibition match, prompting Hagen to comment, according to Rick Shefchik’s “From Fields to Fairways” book on Minnesota’s classic courses, “I never thought I’d play an exhibition in a nanny goat pasture.”

Nanny goats be gone: After opening with nine holes in 1922 and expanding to 18 (with sand greens) in 1924, Vardon conducted the first hands-on, professional design of Southview in late 1927. The club adopted some revisions offered by A.W. Tillinghast in 1936, and Jerry Pirkl engineered a significant redesign in 1967. Today, the course is known as a relatively short (6,404 yards off the back tees) but challenging test because of the strategy required in negotiating its doglegs, changes in elevation, trees and hazards.

I presume there are elements of Tom Vardon’s design golf that remain on the Southview grounds, whether it be in routing or green structure or bunker placement. Until last weekend, I never had been closer to the Southvew playing grounds than within a few steps of the first tee. But afforded an opportunity to walk the grounds during Sunday’s final round of the Tapemark, I took in some impressive greensward and thought about my old friend Tom.

These are the sights I saw, offered in no particular order other than the order in which my strides decided to take me. I’ll keep the commentary limited, as I’m not familiar enough with the layout to offer many details.

First tee — dogleg-right par 4, 353 yards.

Elevation change comes into play everywhere at Southview. Miss the green to the left here, and you’ve found trouble. It’s about impossible to see, but there is a ball lying about 8 feet from the cup on this short par 4. The player smartly landed his approach shot well to the right of the flagstick and let it feed toward the cup.

More elevation change. Thank you, tree, for offering brief shelter from the rain.

Ninth tee. This par 4 was played from a forward tee for the final round of the Tapemark, I believe measuring at 315 yards. This is the highest point on the Southview grounds, at 1,027 feet above sea level. (Lowest point is 942 feet.) From this vantage point, one can see beyond the green to a water tower in South St. Paul and then across the Mississippi River (not visible) to a ridge in Woodbury, with a look at power lines ascending the ridge.

Ninth fairway.

Ninth green, clubhouse in background.

18th hole — tee box down the fairway to the right, green atop a rise back home. (Sadly, I’m too technologically limited to be able to offer a wider view of this panoramic photo. I’ll work on it …)

 

 

Dispatch from Augusta: Down Magnolia and Memory Lanes

Author’s note: With the 2017 Masters opening today, it came to me yesterday that this year marks the 20th anniversary of my first trip to Augusta. What follows is the column I wrote for the Duluth News-Tribune of April 10, 1997. 

———————-

AUGUSTA – I did it I did it I did it I did it!

I told you I would. I told you.

I knew that someday, some glorious day before I left God’s occasionally green earth, I would just take off and cover the greatest sporting event of all, the Masters golf tournament.

The day has arrived. The tournament starts today, and I am in Augusta! Can you believe it?

Tell me you don’t envy me. A wife, three kids, a job, a back yard to bail standing water out of … and I just took off for Augusta, unannounced.

Amen Corner, here I come!

How’d I do it? Just jumped in a company car, punched the gas pedal and headed south. Simple as that.

Why’d I do it? Why drop that great office routine — editing NHL roundups, changing times from Eastern to Central on NBA standings, trying to figure out voice mail — and cover a golf tournament 1,300 miles from home?

I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring, that’s why.

Some of you (those who should get a life) may remember my Masters columns of the past two years, Nos. 9 and 10 in an annual series. I tried for interviews with pro golfers, but Phil never called. Fuzzy never called. Lumpy never called. (That’s Mickelson, Zoeller and Herron, for all you surname-challenged readers.)

This year, we’ve got this spanking new computer device called Phone-Disc. It’s supposed to list every phone number known to mankind, but I couldn’t find “Eldrick Woods” or “Fred Couples” in the darn thing. There was a “COUPLES, F” in Kalamazoo, Mich., but I don’t think that’s the one I was looking for.

So if the hotshot pros won’t come to me, I’ll come to them.

Augusta or bust!

On the road

Maybe it was the anticipation of finally getting to Augusta, but the drive didn’t seem that long. The trip to Georgia takes days, but this felt like hours. I was never sleepy, never bored, never tempted to run one of those slowpoke Chevettes off the passing lane.

Now … it’s too good to be true … I’ve reached my destination.

The road sign announcing “Augusta” is a deep, lush green, the same blazing hue I’ve seen on my TV screen each and every April. There are no billboards blaring “HOME OF THE MASTERS” or roadside vendors selling green golf balls, which is exactly as I’d expected. The genteel folks running the tournament would never allow something so crass.

And maybe all that anticipation wasn’t good, because, frankly, Augusta isn’t what I expected. The town isn’t bustling, the azaleas aren’t blooming, the breeze isn’t warm and gentle and … can it be?? … the grass isn’t green? It feels like March in the Midwest, not April in Augusta.

This being a spur-of-the-moment decision, I didn’t prepare well for the trip. I don’t know where anything is in Augusta. But I do know I’m hungry. I’ll eat lunch on Lincoln Street, Augusta’s main drag, and find out how to get to Augusta National.

Searching, searching …

The Road Haus Cafe is painted dark green, darker even than the color of Augusta National’s wavy 16th green. The menu, though, is somewhat disappointing. I wanted to order a pimento cheese sandwich, the staple at Augusta National during Masters week, but the cafe isn’t in the Masters spirit. It doesn’t serve pimento cheese sandwiches. There’s cheese everywhere — cheeseburger, cottage cheese, cheese curds — but no pimento cheese.

Lunch is filling, and it’s time to go to work. I turn to the waitress.

“Can you tell me where the golf course is?”

She is puzzled. “Golf course? In town? Linda, is there a golf course in town?”

Linda, hauling hash in the other aisle, says no. I guess they’re not golf fans, but how can they not know about the Masters?

Minutes laker, walking across the street, I see a well-groomed, middle-aged man in an antique shop wearing a green jacket. Masters champions wear green jackets. Could this be … Charles Coody, the 1971 Masters champ?

I approach.

“Excuse me, sir, are you a golfer?”

“I have golfed.”

“Can you tell me where the golf course is?”

“In Augusta? There’s no golf course here.”

Very strange. If that really was Mr. Coody, he’s been out in the Augusta sun too long.

Across the street again. What luck! A man wearing a sweatshirt with the word “GOLF” etched across its back is sitting in a local bar.

He must know where The Shark and Gentle Ben and The Golden Bear are this week. I enter Country Dave’s Saloon.

“Excuse me. Are you a golfer?”

“Sometimes.”

“Can you tell me where the golf course is?”

“What course?”

“Augusta National.”

(Thin smile.) “There is none.”

“There is none?”

“There is none. Not here. Not in this Augusta.”

It hits me. In the words of Roberto de Vicenzo, who lost the 1968 Masters after signing an incorrect scorecard, “What a stupid I am.”

I am ashamed and embarrassed. I am in Augusta, Wisconsin, not Augusta, Georgia!

The other Augusta

I’m not kidding. While looking to hook up with the freeway out of Eau Claire, I’ve taken a wrong turn down U.S. Highway 12 and ended up in the wrong Augusta — a quiet little town of 1,500 smack-dab in the middle of Dairyland.

What a stupid I am.

Well, as long as I’m here, I can still do some reporting.

Dennis Frank is the fellow in Country Dave’s. He’s from Fall Creek, the town up the road from Augusta, and is both a golfer and a golf fan, as his sweatshirt suggests.

“Yeah, I’ll watch some,” he says of the Masters TV coverage. “Hey, I’ve gotta see if Tiger Woods is going to win. Him or Nick Faldo.”

It turns out Augusta, Wis., isn’t much of a golf town. There’s no Augusta National here, not even an Augusta National Bank. The nearest golf course is in Osseo, 10 miles to the south. Frank and some others built a couple of holes on flat land out behind the high school and hoped to build more, but the idea never took off.

Augusta National North? Alister Mackenzie, who designed the real thing back in 1932, would not have approved.

The big event in Augusta, Wis., isn’t a golf tournament. It is, according to city clerk and treasurer Sandy Boettcher, Bean and Bacon Days, held on 4th of July weekend and featuring packed streets and a 300-unit parade. The event is named in honor of Bush’s Best Beans, which as a plant in Augusta and is the town’s largest employer.

The town’s notable sporting accomplishments come from the Augusta Beavers, who won the 1989 Wisconsin Division 6 high school football championship, and the Augusta Athletics town baseball team, which won the 1994 state championship.

Boettcher says Augustans are proud of their town. “It’s a nice little town; people come here to retire,” she says. She laughs and says City Hall occasionally gets calls from people wondering about the Masters — seriously.

Well, I can’t promise I’ll be back, now that I’ve looked at the map and know how to get to that other Augusta.

Guess I’ll just turn around, head back to the frozen north, and sit in front of the TV all weekend.

What a stupid I am.

—————–

Postscripts, nigh upon 20 years:

— I seriously did write a pre-Masters column for 10 consecutive years for the News-Tribune. One year, I stumbled across the phone number for 1959 Masters champion Art Wall, who was gracious and engaging in granting an interview. Wall died in 2010.

— If I’m not mistaken, this was my last byline and certainly my last column for the News-Tribune. I had by this time committed to taking a position at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and I remember vacillating about whether to invest a workday and then some on a lame-duck folly such as this. I did, and I’ve never regretted it, even though one of my closest Duluth golfing friends, who preferred his journalism direct and sober, told me post-publication that he was not amused.

— Within hours of publication, 21-year-old Tiger Woods had stolen my thunder with a 30 on the back nine at Augusta National — the one in Georgia — en route to a spectacular 12-shot victory over runner-up Tom Kite for his first of 14 major championships. I wonder where Tiger is today. …

— I have been back to the Augusta in Wisconsin once since 1997. Sadly, I have never been to the Augusta in Georgia.

Long gone, two miles from Hazeltine and the Ryder Cup: Mudcura

Mudcura Sanitarium

Author’s note: When the 1,500 or so wingnut golf fans — and I use that term with all due respect — take their seats in the first-tee bleachers Friday through Sunday at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National, they will stare almost directly southwest as the players fire their opening salvos down the first fairway.

Were they able to peer an additional two miles down literally the same line — a line that goes from Hazeltine’s first tee box, through the greenside bunker to the right of No. 1 green and southwest almost to Flying Cloud Drive — they would be looking upon the site of what used to be another Carver County golf course. It is unidentifiable today and long since overgrown, but it’s there.

I wrote about the site in Chapter 20 of my 2014 book, “Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999.” ($19.95, Five Star Publishing.) The chapter is repeated below, with the author’s permission (I asked. I promise.). The book is available on Amazon.com.

20. Not so much the golf course …

Mudcura Golf Club
City: Chanhassen
County: Carver
Years: 1926-1940s

The oddest confluence of modern-day Minnesota golf courses and their lost counterparts lies in and around the Carver County cities of Chaska and Chanhassen.

First, the former:

Three modern-day courses in this area boast indisputable stature: Chaska Town Course, designed by Arthur Hills, regarded by many as the best city-owned course in the state; Bearpath, just across the Carver County line in the Hennepin County city of Eden Prairie, designed by Jack Nicklaus and home to some of the state’s most affluent residents; and Hazeltine National in Chaska, designed by Robert Trent Jones and reworked by his son Rees, host club for two U.S. Opens, two PGA Championships and two U.S. Women’s Opens, and host-in-waiting for the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Now, the latter:

Wedged in among all that eminence are two old courses that are, frankly, about as revered as liver spots.

Tracy D. Swanson, president of the Chaska Historical Society, summarized two Carver County lost golf courses in an email:

“In the Chaska history book ‘Chaska, A Minnesota River City,’ golf was referred to by Chaskans as ‘cow pasture pool’ because a primitive course was carved out of a community pasture in Chaska in the 1930s.

“Another course just east of Chaska was located behind the old Mudcura Sanitarium, but the same soothing springs that gave cause for Mudcura’s existence also contributed to a poor golf course.”

Yikes. Don’t save a spot for these two in the pantheon of great layouts in Minnesota history.

Lost Course A — let’s call it Meadows Golf and Droppings Club — shall be allowed to fade into oblivion. As for Mudcura, there is further peculiarity — not from the golf course so much as from its next-door neighbor.

Mudcura Sanitarium was just north of what is now Flying Cloud Drive and west of Bluff Creek Drive, in southwestern Chanhassen. Its cause was noble. A Chaska Herald story reported that the sanitarium, which was said to have opened in 1909, “offered mud baths and respite for those suffering from rheumatism, arthritis, asthma and a variety of skin, kidney and nervous diseases.” It also was said to have been an early alcohol abuse treatment facility.

Even before the place opened, however, and certainly afterward, there was oddness.

A detailed history of Mudcura Sanitarium written by Joseph Huber, Michael Huber and Patricia Huber noted that the grounds were situated on 120 acres, half of them mud, that construction on the main building began in 1908, and that by December of that year, “with only the foundation completed, they were calling the facility the Swastika Sulphur Springs Sanitorium. … When finished it was called Mudcura, even though they still had a decorative Swastika in the main office.”

In fairness, it should be noted that the swastika symbol did not come to have negative connotations until it was adopted by the Nazi party in Germany in the 1920s and incorporated into the state flag of Germany after Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party gained power in 1933.

During the decades Mudcura Sanitarium operated, there was mud everywhere – and a few dark moments, according to the Hubers’ history. A man receiving treatments at Mudcura was nabbed after stealing a $600 diamond in 1921. A June 1925 tornado did $25,000 worth of damage to the property, and sanitarium founder Dr. Henry P. Fischer and his assistant Larry Hunter both received broken arms trying to close a second-floor door during the storm. Later that year, a patient’s body was found on the grounds; he had presumably slit his own throat with a pocketknife.

Mudcura was sold in 1951 to, according to the Hubers’ history, “the Black Franciscans, Order of Friars Minor Conventual, Our Lady of Consolation Provience, Louisville, Kentucky.” The place later became known as Assumption Seminary, a seminary college and dairy farm operating in association with the colleges of St. Catherine and St. Thomas from the 1950s to 1970.

After the seminary closed, the grounds lay dormant. The main building did not age gracefully, apparently becoming something of a haven for partiers and curiosity seekers, some with a bent for the paranormal.

And eventually, Mudcura Sanitarium was labeled these things:

— Creepy.

— Haunted.

— Hell House.

Yes, Hell House. That appellation was spray-painted on the front of the building, and there are reports of satanic graffiti having been applied liberally to other parts of the abandoned building. There are multiple reports of the building’s caretaker chasing interlopers off the property with a shotgun and one report of the caretaker painting over the satanic graffiti with biblical phrases.

“Just thinking about that place gives me the heebie jeebies up my back,” wrote one person on an Internet message board.

At least three websites feature prominent entries on what became the gloomier side of Mudcura. All can be easily accessed through a simple Internet search. Details will not be provided here, so as to spare the faint of heart from a possible case of the heebies, or jeebies, or both.

The Mudcura Sanitarium building burned to the ground in 1997 in a spectacular blaze. The Hubers’ history reported that the Chanhassen Fire Department burned the dormitory down as a practice exercise, but others have suspected a more nefarious cause: arson.

Two people who posted about Mudcura on Internet sites graciously offered more information on their visits to the Mudcura grounds vie email but declined requests to be interviewed on the record.

“When it burned down, I nearly cried. It was like I lost an old friend,” wrote one, a frequent Mudcura visitor.

“It was definitely creepy,” wrote the other.

And this: “My great-grandfather was one of the foremen during its last renovation before being abandoned. He kept extensive journals from his life, and included a strange comment about the building that said, ‘it will be too soon the next time I return to this place.’ Also he said many of the workers had very unusual experiences while working on the project. He didn’t note in any detail. … On the night the building burned down, one of my aunts committed herself into religious asylum for protection (which she never explained to anyone) and my other aunt decided to burn my great-grandfather’s journals.”

The burned-out building stood for a time before it was reduced to rubble, and the rubble was hauled away.

The first mention of Mudcura Golf Course in Carver County Historical Society archives is from an Aug. 19, 1926, story in the Weekly Valley Herald of Chaska. The newspaper reported on a match at the course between players from Shakopee and Chaska. Shakopee won the match, 727 strokes to 731. E.G. Darsow had the lowest 18-hole score, an 85. Six of the 17 competitors were doctors. All players had dinner at the sanitarium, and the club was offering memberships for the balance of the season for $5.00 for “Gentlemen” and $2.50 for “Ladies.”

A Weekly Herald story from April 19, 1928, reported on a meeting at which a membership limit of 85 had been established. “The club is composed of members from Chaska and Shakopee, who are very enthusiastic about their little course which is described by many golf fans as being one of the most sporty in this section.”

Mudcura-C Mudcura-D

Scorecards courtesy of Phil Kostolnik

An old, undated scorecard says Mudcura was a par-33 course. The scorecard lists nine holes out and nine holes in, as would any traditional scorecard for a nine- or 18-hole course. But here’s where it gets curiouser and curiouser, as if so much about Mudcura weren’t curious enough:

All indications are that Mudcura was a six-hole course.

On the scorecard, the yardages for holes 1 through 6 are identical to those of holes 7 through 12, and then again for holes 13 through 18. The golfers who filled out the scorecard marked only the first six holes, a logical ending point on a six-hole course. What’s more, a 1937 aerial photograph of the area distinctly shows six — no more, no less — small, white circles, identical in appearance to sand greens seen on other aerial photos from the same era. The circles are distinct enough to suggest the course was still active.

The aerial photo contradicts the notion that the golf course was “behind” the sanitarium. Two greens were, but the rest of the course appears to be west of the sanitarium, on both sides of the creek, almost as far south as Flying Cloud Drive.

Mudcura Sanitarium. The road in front of the sanitarium is what is now Flying Cloud Drive. The oval-shaped feature near the left edge of the photo and close to the edge of the sanitarium was almost certainly a green on Mudcura Golf Club.

Mudcura Sanitarium, from a postcard dated Dec. 29, 1943. The road in front of the sanitarium is what is now Flying Cloud Drive. Reverse side of postcard includes the notation “near golf course,” and just to the left of the building is an oval shape that is presumed to be a green.

The creek came into play on two holes, according to the scorecard, and the second hole, a 338-yard par 4 and the No. 1 handicap hole, must have been a beast: Someone named “HHP” took an 11, with no scores higher than 6 on the rest of the card.

The scorecard included this notation: “Drop your cards in box at west entrance of sanitarium.”

The likely resting place of part of the former Mudcura Golf Club grounds can be viewed from the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail, by walking about a half-mile west on the trail where it intersects Bluff Creek Drive. The site is nothing more than farmland and marshland, with no evidence of golf ever having been played there. “If you like nature, it’s worth it just for the view,” one of the website posters wrote.

Beyond the newspaper stories and the scorecard, Mudcura Golf Club is barely a footnote in county history. On this author’s visit to the Chaska-Chanhassen area, six people were asked about it. Three had heard of the sanitarium, two others of the seminary. None had heard of the golf course.

Today, all that remains of Mudcura Sanitarium are portions of the driveway, angled and leading to a circular slab of concrete that served as a parking area, judging by old aerial photos. Just to the west, in a thicket, is another slab of old concrete, about a foot square and a foot high. And that is it.

Mudcura4

The surrounding area, however, is not without modern-day significance. It is the site of Seminary Fen. A fen is a lowland, and Seminary Fen is a calcareous fen, considered one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. A 2008 Minneapolis Star Tribune story covering the dedication of Seminary Fen described this area of the Minnesota River Valley:

“Environmentalists say that only about 500 calcareous fens exist worldwide, with Minnesota home to about 200 of them. … The fens thrive in cold groundwater at the bottom of a slope or bluff enriched with calcium and magnesium.”

Limited public access is permitted on 73 acres of Seminary Fen, which is under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

You’re welcome to walk around in much of the fen. You might discover the scant remains of Mudcura Sanitarium. Maybe, if you’re paranormally plugged in, you’ll sense the old “Hell House” aura. But Mudcura Golf Club is history. Very little history, actually, but history nonetheless.

Nugget: Though the Mudcura grounds are closer to the downtowns of both Chaska and Shakopee, they are within the Chanhassen City limits. Two public courses are within 1 1/2 miles of Mudcura: Bluff Creek and Halla Greens.

Minnesota golf: More rounds played

Looks like 2015 will go down as a good year for golf in Minnesota.

I received the following email in my work inbox this week, reporting that rounds of golf played in Minnesota through September is up almost 10 percent over last year. The source of the data is reputable. A few observations follow. (Photo above is from Majestic Oaks in Ham Lake, October 2015.)

———–

“PGA PerformanceTrak, a golf data collection and benchmarking service from The PGA of America (@pgaofamerica), reveals that golf rounds played have increased by (+9.5%) across the state of Minnesota, Year-to-date through the end of September, when compared with 2014 data.

“In addition to rounds played, other key performance indicators such as Golf Fee Revenue (+7.9%), Merchandise Revenue (+4.5%), and Food & Beverage Revenue (+8.5%), have also seen an increase throughout the state year-to-date through the end of September 2015, when compared with 2014 data. This information is based on responses from nearly 50 facilities statewide.

“The golf marketplace is trending positively nationwide in 2015, with nationwide golf rounds up (+2.0%), Golf Fee Revenue up (+1.4%), Merchandise Revenue Up (+4.4%) and Food & Beverage Revenue up (+4.6%) based on responses from approximately 2,500 facilities across the U.S.”

—————–

Observations:

— About the source of the data: According to the PGA of America’s website, “PerformanceTrak in Cooperation with NGCOA (National Golf Course Owners Association of America) is the largest single source of rounds played data in the industry. Primary contributors of this monthly data are PGA Professionals and NGCOA member(s) along with other allied partners.”

— On its face, it’s good news for the golf industry in Minnesota. Good for golfers, too: The fact that the increase in rounds played outpaces increases in measures of revenue suggests that course owners and managers are trying to make their venues more affordable. Over and over, golfers have cited cost of play as a key factor in why they have played less golf in the past decade.

A Sept. 27 Star Tribune story went into detail about the increase-in-rounds trend, citing July numbers from PerformanceTrak. The story confirms that cost of play has decreased, reporting that “Minnesota’s median 18-hole greens fee was $26.68, below the $28.28 recorded for 2014 …”

The full Star Tribune story is here: http://strib.mn/1HMPGPD (sorry, I never can get that direct-link coding to work). It’s a good story that balances the positive numbers with the sobering reality that the golf industry remains significantly challenged. Check out the reader comments on the story, too; they are always revealing.

— As mentioned prominently in the Star Tribune story, the fact that we had a terrific run of weather — deserved compensation over a few recent hellacious weather seasons — has much to do with the rise in rounds played. Also, considering how nice October and early November have been, it’s likely that increases in year-end figures will be even greater, across the board.

— Can’t help myself here. The Star Tribune’s story is headlined “Out of the rough: Golf’s exceptional year.” Note to headline writers (and my newspaper is as guilty as any): Can we please stop with the hackneyed clichés about the golf business (“out of bounds,” “in the rough,” etc.). I’ve read far too many of them. They drive me up a wall.

— The data shouldn’t be interpreted as evidence that the business of golf is in recovery after a downward trend of more than a decade. These numbers are from one season only and don’t necessarily constitute a trend. Anecdotally, I have heard of at least a half-dozen Minnesota courses with serious financial issues, and I’m certain there are more than that. I have little doubt that there will be more attrition in the near future, more course closings on the horizon. On the other hand, I know only of one course that’s closing at the end of this season — Tartan Park in Lake Elmo — so that’s a good sign. Right?

Golf up Minnesota 65, Part 1

Minnesota mass transit has its Green Line: an 11-mile light-rail route along University Avenue in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There are no golf courses in sight along the route, unless you include the old Tom Vardon-designed Quality Park lighted pitch-and-putt course (1920s and ’30s) in St. Paul that is now occupied by the parking lot of the Midway Target store.

Minnesota golf, conversely, has its Line of Greens: a 50-mile stretch of pars 3, 4 and 5 along State Highway 65 from Minneapolis and continuing northward, to and through the city of Cambridge.

Hop in the car at the northern border of northeast Minneapolis, put your head on a swivel and stop texting and driving if you want to catch all the nearby golf courses or signs pointing toward them:

Columbia (Minneapolis), Victory Links and TPC Twin Cities (Blaine), Majestic Oaks (Ham Lake), Viking Meadows and Hidden Haven (East Bethel), Sanbrook (Isanti) and Purple Hawk (Cambridge). That doesn’t include the outliers, all of them likewise within three miles of 65: Bunker Hills (Coon Rapids), The Refuge (Oak Grove) and Grandy Nine (Grandy).

That makes eight courses within a mile of  Minnesota 65, plus three more just a few more turns of the odometer away. Parsed another way, your choice of 243 holes of golf — not to mention driving ranges, a putting course and a learning center. (The Blue Ribbon Pines Disc Golf Course in East Bethel doesn’t count.) Not a bad day trip from the Twin Cities — just drive up 65 and find a course you haven’t played before.

I made an early October day trip up Minnesota 65 that featured stops at four courses on the Line of Greens. It also featured zero birdies, zero pars, bogeys, doubles or those dreaded “others.” I was curious about visiting courses I hadn’t seen before, to be sure, but I was more curious about other matters. If you’ve spent even a few minutes on this website or know about my infatuation/obsession/how-dare-you-call-it-a-fetish for a certain golf-related topic, you’ll know where I’m going with this. But that’s for subsequent posts.

For now, a few photos and a little info  on some (not all!) of the courses along the Minnesota 65 Line of Greens. I’m not offering anything earth-shattering, partly because it’s tough to write about courses you haven’t played before. (Why do it, then? I dunno — just take the info and comments at face value.) Information on greens fees and the like are taken from the club’s websites or the Minnesota Golf Association’s 2015 online course directory. Greens fees are standard weekday rates.

Columbia, Minneapolis

columbia2015

The par-3 17th at Columbia, just a little to the southeast of what used to be Sandy Lake (see below)

Holes: 18, plus driving range/learning center
Greens fee: $28
Established: 1919
Architect: William Clark, a Scotsman who also designed Gross (formerly Armour) in Minneapolis, Oak Ridge in Hopkins and — lost-course references a requirement when possible — the former Chisago Golf Club in Chisago City.
Notable: Part of the Columbia grounds used to be a lake — Sandy Lake, a shallow, reportedly unattractive body of water that dried up early in the 20th century. Sandy Lake’s successor of sorts is a water hazard between Columbia Golf Club’s 11th and 12th holes.

My original intent was to post only one photo from each course I visited or had photos from. But the view from a couple of spots on Columbia was so impressive on Oct. 22 that I had to take a post a couple more. They’re from my Android and cropped, so they might not look so great when expanded. But they are what they are.

First tee, Columbia -- par 4, 365 yards

Above: first tee, Columbia — par 4, 365 yards; below: approach to the 10th green, par 4, 330 yards

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TPC of the Twin Cities, Blaine

The par-4, 417-yard ninth hole at TPC Twin Cities (2014 photo)

The par-4, 417-yard ninth hole at TPC Twin Cities (2014 photo)

Holes: 18
Greens fee: The course is private, but its green fee is listed as $139
Established: 2000
Architect: Arnold Palmer, with Tom Lehman as design consultant
Notable: The course is home to the Champions Tour’s 3M Championship. That’s common knowledge, but what strikes me every time I’m there is that a course that’s darn hard for any weekend golfer is such a pushover for the pros. True, the 3M setup doesn’t call for an ardent guardianship of par, but the winning scores of the past 10 champions have totaled 185 under par. Never get into a skins game with those guys.

Majestic Oaks, Ham Lake

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No. 1, Majestic Oaks Signature Course. par 5, 485 yards

Holes:  45 (Signature 18, Crossroads 18, Executive Nine)
Greens fee: Signature $25.95, Crossroads $20.95, Executive $9.95
Established: 1965, as the nine-hole Golden Tee Country Club. Re-established as Majestic Oaks Country Club in 1972 with 18 holes; expanded to 45 holes in 1991 with the addition of the Executive Nine and the South Course (now known as the Crossroads Course)
Architects: Charles Maddox designed the original 18; Garrett Gill and George B. Williams designed the Crossroads Course.
Notable: Suburban sprawl here (that is intended as a purely good-natured observation). Besides 45 holes of golf, Majestic Oaks features the 46th Hole Bar & Grill, a wedding-and-events center, a dinner theater, and even a winter boot hockey league operating out of the metal shed next to the pro shop that doubles as a warming house. More nuggets, taken from “Under the Majestic Oaks,” published in 2012: The three courses have a total of 118 bunkers, 72 of them on the Signature Course. Water comes into play on 31 holes. Mark Mueller had won 12 men’s club championships as of 2012.
One more thing: The person who founded Majestic Oaks as Golden Tee in 1965 has a direct and important connection to a lost course on the Highway 65 corridor. More on that in a week or two.

Viking Meadows, East Bethel

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First hole, Viking Meadows, 344 yards, par 4

Holes: 18 (if you go online and see a reference to an executive nine, ignore it. That course was shut down a few years ago.)
Greens fee: $22
Established: 1989
Architect: Ron Olson (source: GolfDigest.com)
Notable: I got nothing. Sorry, but really almost nothing at all. I had time to spend only 10 minutes on the grounds and saw trees, relatively few bunkers and fairly ordinary greensites. That’s neither criticism nor endorsement. Would be glad to hear from someone who knows more about the place.

Sanbrook, Isanti

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Toward the ninth green at Sanbrook. I think. Maybe. Could be wrong. Just not a lot of definition out there.

Holes: 27 (18-hole course and executive nine)
Greens fee: $22
Architect: Lyle O. Kleven
Established: 1995
Notable: Sorry, but I kinda flinched there when I had to type “architect” followed by an actual name. Hey, I really would rather not denigrate, but this looked a lot like 18 flagsticks cut into a moribund plot of land. The only definition I noticed was occasional routing around some marshland. I suspect that “utilitarian” was the intent, though, and that’s fine. Every golfer’s appetite is different. Here is one online review: “Beginner golfers can practice their technique on the short, flat … layout without worrying about obstacles frustrating them.” Knock yourself out, then. Kudos deserved on the autumn rate of $20 including cart, assuming I heard that right on my stop there.

Hidden Haven, East Bethel

No. 18, Hidden Haven, par 4, 328 yards

Holes: 18
Greens fee: $29
Architect: Mike Krogstad
Established: 1988; nine additional holes in 1999
Notable: My last, short stop on my way back from conducting old business, if you catch my drift, in the Cambridge-Isanti area.
This course intrigued me, even if based only on a 15-minute visit. It shot to the top of the list of courses I would most like to play in the Highway 65 corridor (Columbia is up there, too, and I’ve heard good things about Purple Hawk though have never played there). Anyway, a superficial look at Hidden Haven, plus a subsequent look via Google’s aerial photos, left me impressed. The nine on the east side of Polk Street appears fairly open, albeit with some bunkers and water. The nine on the west side of Polk appears more tree-lined.
If the greensite on No. 18 is any indication, course designer Mike Krogstad (an occasional golfer who designed only Hidden Haven and died in 2008 at age 49) did an excellent job of balancing playability and challenge. Much more thought appeared to go into the design of this course than some others I visited. From the aerial photos, the bunkering looks both varied and well-plotted. At 5,968 yards off the back tees (par 71), length probably is a drawback for a medium-to-long hitter, but I think a geezer-bunter like me could have a good time at Hidden Haven. At least until the inevitable dumping of a sleeve of balls with three fat wedges into a pond.