Category Archives: Just plain old golf

Peter Wong photo

Golf in Marshall, Part II: You won’t believe how far back it goes

Peter Wong photo

——————-

History can reveal itself in unusual ways.

Backward, for instance.

My path to uncovering what was almost certainly the first golf course in southwestern Minnesota, and one of the first 20 in all of Minnesota, was traveled in a decidedly backward direction. A few sideways steps here and there, but mostly backward.

If you can hang with me, you’re about to endure a journalistic storytelling practice known as “burying the lede.”  Actually, it’s more like journalistic malpractice. Editors hate it. Burying the lede involves taking the most compelling information available and plunking it so deep into the story that it stands a darn good chance of getting lost.

Well, “lost” is what I do, after all. So here I go, burying away with that lede. Editors, go ahead and hate me. I’d like to think that in the end, the excavation will be worth it.

The best way I can think of to tell this story is, well, backward.

————–

Late last year, Randy LaFoy, a fellow Minnesota golf history buff who researches courses that were aided by Works Progress Administration labor during the Great Depression, told me about a golf course site he had noticed in a historic aerial photo of the city of Marshall. That led me, albeit months later, to a post about the “rebirthing” of Marshall Golf Club, which moved its grounds from the northwestern part of the city to the southwest in 1941.

It’s a fairly standard relocation story, except it got me to thinking more about Marshall Golf Club. The bulk of the Internet entries on the club, and even the club’s web site, state that Marshall GC was founded in 1942. That’s true, in the sense of the club’s current iteration (with nine additional holes opened in 1972). But I had to wonder if there wasn’t an earlier version of club history, maybe even pre-1940, when the good folks of the Lyon County seat first played golf on the northwest edge of town.

A few phone calls ultimately led me to Ron Labat, a longtime Marshall Golf Club member who perhaps has the best working knowledge of the club’s history. Some years ago, Labat shrewdly recovered and preserved some old club documents shortly before the clubhouse was remodeled and the documents destroyed.

Labat was aware that the club’s origins dated to before 1940. He has a copy of what is called Marshall Golf Club’s original Certificate of Incorporation, dated April 24, 1930, and registered in Lyon County. Labat said annual dues ranged from $10 to $50, and he included this wonderful nugget that accompanied the 1930 “establishment” of the club: “The bylaws said indebtedness (of the club) could not exceed one dollar,” Labat said.

Cool. So Marshall GC dates to 1930.

Except …

… Being interested in finding out more about the club’s establishment, I spent a couple of minutes   a bundle of hours at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, spooling and unspooling microfilm of Lyon County newspapers. The year 1930 revealed these entries on Marshall Golf Club from the News-Messenger:

April 13, 1930: Story headlined “Golfers Improve Greens and Prepare For Busy Season” and mentions sand was being delivered for the greens at Marshall Golf Club.

June 6, 1930: “Local interest in golf is increasing for the1930 season, with 60 members registered.”

Well, fine, but those stories implied to me that 1930 was not Marshall Golf Club’s first season, either.

Now unspooling the 1929 reel …

June 28, 1929: “William Wik made a record score on the Marshall golf course Tuesday, when he shot a 33, two strokes below par. On his second round of the nine holes, his score was a 37, giving him a 70 for the 18 holes.”

Nice round, Bill. (Is it OK if I call you Bill?) But I bet the course wasn’t established in 1929, either.

How about the 1928 spool?

June 8, 1928: “Golfers Plan A Tombstone Tourney Here.” Story about an upcoming tournament at Marshall, featuring a format more complicated than most Google algorithms. (I’ll not try to explain it.)

OK, now I’m going to keep digging backward until I really find out when Marshall Golf Club started.

July 1, 1927: Headline: “Monte Golfers Win.” (That’s short for Montevideo.) William Wik of Marshall shoots the low score, an 81, at Marshall course. (Nice round, Bill, but I bet you can do better. Keep plugging away.)

Somewhat exasperated by the continued retreat through the years, I decide to start retreating two years at a time …

Feb. 6, 1925: Annual meeting of Marshall Golf Club is detailed in the newspaper. George Lowe is elected president. A $10 admission fee for non-resident members. 64 members. “… Considerable money was expended last year on the grounds and club house, and the course is in fairly good condition for after but one year’s work. … Additional traps and bunkers will be built.”

Well, there’s a strong hint — right? — that Marshall Golf Club dates to 1924. And the May 16, 1924, News-Messenger proves especially revealing:

“Increased interest is being taken locally in the game,” the newspaper reports, “and with the improvements being made at the local course more practice and better play is noticeable.

“The new Marshall course is being worked into better shape. Greens are in fair condition and the course is being well marked. A large mower has been added recently to the equipment and new turf will be noticeable by next spring from mowings made this spring. A club house has been erected which will provide storage room and locker space for 24 members. … The new course has a total length of 2,792 yards negotiated in par in 36.”

“New course.” There you go. Marshall Golf Club goes all the way back to 1924. Makes a lot of sense, actually. That would place MGC’s founding solidly in line with a large group of other southwestern Minnesota courses that were established in that era, including Worthington (1919), Olivia (1920) and Canby (1920) and dozens more. The first club of all in southwestern Minnesota has generally been regarded to be Interlaken Golf Club of Fairmont, in 1917 and/or 1919, according to conflicting information on the club’s own web site. (Note, 9/16/17: Graceville Golf Club in Big Stone County appears also to date to 1917.)

Anyway, the search for Marshall Golf Club’s founding is beginning to tread on historic ground.

And then the next passage in the 1924 News-Messenger story drops the bombshell.

“The course,” the newspaper reported, “occupies practically the same ground used by Marshall’s first Golf club which flourished in 1900 and 1901, after which the game was abandoned in Marshall until the organization of the present club four years ago. The club has a membership of about 60.”

Whoa. That’s a passage almost beyond belief. Whether formally organized as Marshall Golf Club or not, golf in this southwestern Minnesota city dates not to 1942, not to 1930, not to 1927 or ’25 or ’24 …

but to 1900 or 1901.

I have to say I was floored by that last passage. If true, golf in Marshall predated golf anywhere else in that corner of the state not by two or three years, but by more than 15. This, if credible, is a historic revelation.

Back to the microfilm.

As my late, great mother might have exclaimed, excuse my French. But damned if the 1924 story wasn’t right.

I scrolled through about the first seven months of 1900 editions of the News Messenger and found no references to local golf. But 1901 was a different story.

May 17, 1901: “The golf craze is about to hit Marshall, and will probably hit it hard. A number of would-be golfers who don’t as yet know a golf stick from a hay rake have been talking golf the past week and are now preparing enthusiastically to order outfits and lay out a ground — or is it ‘green’ or ‘links.’ The ground now being considered is on the east side of the river, and nine links will be made to start with.  … Soon the members will be wrestling with the golfer’s jargon, and the uninitiated will be wondering at foozles, bunkers, tees, drives, caddies, etc.”

(Foozle. That’s a new one to me, even after 35 years of writing about golf. Definition: “a clumsy or botched attempt at something, especially a shot in golf.”)

May 24, 1901: “A golf club was organized last Saturday evening at a meeting held in Dr. Van Tassel’s office. Mr. Van Tassel was elected president and Julius Humphrey secretary. A committee on grounds … was instructed to look for grounds at once, and ascertain the probable expense of securing and preparing them. The grounds now being considered are the railroad land on each side of the Northwestern, beyond the Marshall Milling Company’s plant.

“… The membership will be limited, and ladies will be honorary members, their number also being limited. Soon the natives will be wondering at the antics of the golfers, and wondering where the fun is in chasing a ball all over the prairie with a crooked stick.”

June 7, 1901: “The golf club is about ready to begin golfing.”

Aug. 9, 1901: “The golf links continue to attract a number of golfers every day and evening. Bert Welsford has lowered the score twice this week, putting the best score yet made on the course at 57, most of the golfers playing around 75.”

Golf in Marshall. In 1901. It’s true.

Whether or not there was a formally organized Marshall Golf Club in 1901 — the newspaper clips imply it but don’t make it clear — Marshall now occupies a historic perch in Minnesota golf history. My records show only 12 courses in state history having been in operation before 1901: Town & Country Club, Roadside and Merriam Park, all of St. Paul; Winona GC and Meadow-Brook of Winona; Burton Private Course of Deephaven; Bryn Mawr and The Minikahda Club of Minneapolis; Northland of Duluth; Lafayette Club of Minnetonka Beach; Silver Creek of Rochester; and Tatepaha of Faribault.

Take a bow, Marshall, as the now-presumed birthplace of golf in southwestern Minnesota.


Postscripts:

— I didn’t find in the 1901 newspaper clips any mentions of the golf course shutting down, but I don’t have reason to doubt the 1924 story suggesting it.

— It’s likely that the course didn’t first reopen in 1924 but in fact even earlier than that. A blurb in the Minnesota Golfer Magazine 2012 Directory — Marshall Golf Club was honored as 2012 Minnesota Golf Association Club of the Year — reported that “the club in Marshall was in operation as early as 1922, according to the April 7 edition of Marshall’s News Messenger that year.” (I’m done unspooling on Marshall for now and won’t attempt to verify or disprove.)

— I don’t intend for any of this to reflect negatively on Ron Labat’s documentation of Marshall Golf Club’s history. Matter of fact, if Labat hadn’t preserved the documents that he did, the club would be much poorer for it. As for his Certificate of Incorporation being dated 1930 and not earlier, my guess is that the certificate pointed toward some kind of more formal organization, or reorganization, of the golf club within the city of Marshall.

 

 

 

Little Falls Country Club: A historical mulligan

Here, summarizing and paraphrasing, is what the Internet has to say about the history of a certain central Minnesota sporting venue:

“Little Falls Country Club” … “opened in 1930” … “designed by Jim Dahl.”

That’s the Cliff’s Notes version.

Cliff didn’t take perfect notes.

Now, I admit I am no expert on the history of Little Falls Country Club (given almost equal billing as Little Falls  Golf Course on web sites and in promotional materials). And because Little Falls does not have a lost-course connection, maybe I should keep my grubby lost-course paws out of this.

Sorry. No.

While snooping around and working my way up toward Minnesota lost golf course No. 150 — almost there — I came across a few old newspaper stories dealing with the origins of golf in Little Falls.

Little Falls CC, opened in 1930? In the name of Little Falls’ own Charles A. Lindbergh, I’m positive that’s not true.

Consider these excerpts from from the Little Falls Herald:

May 27, 1921, in a story headlined “Golf Links Are Purchased By Club”: “If one should out of idle curiosity get up at about 5:30 in the morning these fine days and amble down along the river bank on the east side below the lower railroad bridge one would find skipping about on the green some of our good business and professional men who were never before known to get up before 8 a.m. The reason is evident — they’ve got the ‘golf fever.’

“While no regular course has yet been laid out, the members of the newly organized golf club have put in a few holes and are warming up, if they have ever played the game before, or getting the rudiments of the game if it is new to them.”

July 19, 1921: “An expert, who has been employed by the Little Falls Town and Country club, completed a nine-hole course last week and the members are taking advantage of the finished course.”

Aug. 19, 1921: “… The grass has been mowed on all the fareways (sic). R.D. Musser had the first fareway fixed up at his own expense.”

April 7, 1922: “The question of erecting a clubhouse was discussed and it was decided not to attempt same this year, but to put all efforts into making the golf course first class. The club now has a membership of 101. …”

Dec. 9, 1922: “Some fiften (sic) or sixteen golf bugs had a round of golf at the course here Christmas Day.”

Ninety-four and a half years later, a phone call to Little Falls and a conversation with golf club manager Rich Frey reveal that the club was indeed officially founded in 1921 — on July 16, according to an original version of the bylaws held in Frey’s possession at the course. An April 15, 1921, story in the Little Falls Herald listed Dr. J.R. Holst as the club’s first president, with membership fee at $50 and 116 inaugural members enrolled. The story suggested the grounds would not be ready for play until June or July.

So 1930, usually cited as the founding year of Little Falls Country Club, is not technically correct. That year more than likely corresponds with a club decision to embark on a significant improvement of the layout. (I should give credit to St. Cloud Times golf columnist John Lieser, who did correctly write in 2007 that Little Falls CC was established in 1921. He is one of the few to have gotten it right.)

In 1931, according to Frey, bentgrass was ordered for the greens (presumably sand greens to that point). In April 1931, according to Frey, a prominent Twin Cities golf course architect (I’ll get to his name) was retained for $25 a day plus expenses to design a revised layout. This fellow was paid $150 later that year to build the greens, then was paid $10 to review the finished product.

Judging by aerial photos of the course in 1940 (above, courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library) and 1950 (below, also Borchert), Little Falls Country Club did not change appreciably in its earliest years. (The “18” marked on the later photo was probably just a catalog notation, even if it did turn out to be coincidentally prophetic.)

A major change to Little Falls Country Club came well into its adulthood with its expansion to 18 holes — in 1975, according to one source, or 1980, according to another. Enter the aforementioned Jim Dahl, who first was an employee at the course and then became the primary figure in its redesign. Much of the new nine holes covered the area marked “18” and just below it in the photo above.

Dahl is known in central Minnesota golf circles for also having designed Eagle’s Landing in Fort Ripley, Oak Hill in Rice and Pine Ridge in Motley. And certainly, he is the central figure in the current design of Little Falls CC. But it would be a historical transgression to not mention the course’s previous architects, both of considerable prominence.

From a Dec. 2, 1921, Little Falls Herald story:

“Officers and directors of the Little Falls Town and Country Club are considering having a full 18-hole golf course laid out on their 90-acre tract south of town, near the Mississippi river. W.D. Clark, golf expert, who laid out the present 9-hole course, is expected to come here in the near future to confer with the club directors regarding same.”

Although the expansion to 18 holes didn’t occur until some 60 years later, the mention of W.D. Clark is significant. William D. Clark designed or contributed to the design of at least a dozen Minnesota layouts, including Oak Ridge in Hopkins and Northfield Golf Club, plus four Minneapolis municipal courses and Chisago Golf Club, now a lost course in Chisago City. He also nearly became involved in a never-performed redesign of the first golf course in Madelia. 

When Little Falls’ course was redesigned in 1930-31, an even more prominent name came along. For that $25 a day, the club retained one Tom Vardon to oversee the redesign.

Vardon was the head professional at White Bear Yacht Club in Dellwood and the brother of six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon. Tom Vardon designed to contributed to the design of at least 40 courses in his native England and the Upper Midwest. Among them were five lost courses covered in “Fore! Gone.” — Bunker Hills, Matoska, Ortonville, Quality Park and Westwood Hills — plus more than 20 still-existing courses in Minnesota, including Southview Country Club, University of Minnesota-Bolstad, St. Cloud Country Club, Stillwater CC and Phalen Park. (Correction, October 2017: The Vardon list also should have included Sauk Centre Country Club and Shattuck in Faribault.)

In mid-2017, as Little Falls Country Club, now city-owned, approaches its centennial anniversary, it retains many of the features that have made it a reputable track. It is, I’m told, a sporty 18 holes, tree-lined and with small and undulating greens, especially rewarding to play if one can hit the ball straight. It features modest greens fees of $21 for 18 holes and $13 for nine, made even more attractive because weekend rates are the same as weekday. And it has history on its side — in addition to Clark, Vardon and Dahl, it is, as far as I can tell, the first and oldest golf course in Morrison County.

Cliff, you may now update your notes on Little Falls Country Club.

Featured image posted with permission of Little Falls Country Club.

 

 

Theodore Wirth: Over historic hill, over historic dale

Today’s Sunday drive took me just west of downtown Minneapolis, to the grounds of Minnesota’s oldest public golf course, Theodore Wirth.

You think it ain’t? I say it is.

You can Google around for hours (sadly, I have done this, neglecting important duties such as getting the garbage out in time) and find references to Theodore Wirth Golf Club as “one of the first public courses in the state” or as “Minnesota’s first municipal golf course.”

Both labels are true, though less definitive than they might be.

To my knowledge, Wirth is just plain the first public golf course in Minnesota history, even if the distinction between “municipal” and “public” is perhaps trifling.

Wirth was established in 1916. though at the time it was named Glenwood Park Golf Links. In 1938, it was renamed Theodore Wirth Golf Club, in honor of the estimable Minneapolis Park Board chairman and supporter of municipal golf from 1905-1935. (A more complete timeline of the establishment of the course can be found in a 2016 story I wrote for Minnesota Golfer magazine.)

Wirth preceded Phalen Park, across the Mississippi River in St. Paul, by one year as Minnesota’s first public golf course.

Theodore Wirth Golf Club did not predate, however, the hills upon which it was built. (I know. Duh.) There are two distinct features of this golf course: One, the views of the Minneapolis skyline from Wirth’s front nine, which lies upon low land along Bassett Creek, and the relative Swiss Alps-like terrain on the course’s back nine.

Did someone say Swiss?

That reminds me. Notable feature No. 3, I suppose, is the golf course’s clubhouse, known simply as The Chalet, designed in the image of a Swiss chalet. Wirth was Swiss, so the chalet’s design stands as a tribute to him.

For all of the talk in recent years about golf being a “dead” or “dying” sport, on this day, Wirth blew raspberries at the haters. There were dozens of cars in the parking lot, there were groups of golfers on a majority of the holes, and with a steady stream of bikers passing by on Wirth Park’s bicycle trails, it seemed like a great advertisement for peaceful coexistence between those who golf and those who appreciate green space. Or maybe even an advertisement for those who appreciate both. I couldn’t help but think of the uncertain fate of Hiawatha Golf Course, another city-owned course six miles to the southwest, and how important Wirth would become to Minneapolis golfers if Hiawatha were to close (I predict, sadly, that it will, but others know more about that than I do).

Back to the terrain. Wirth is not, literally speaking, for the faint of heart. The ups and downs of the back nine come at a golfer right away, with a 60-foot rise from the 10th tee to the 10th green. The rest of the back nine features mostly gentler climbs and descents, but climbs and descents nonetheless. A golf cart would seem the best way to navigate the place.

The course is undergoing renovations on its front and back nines, with the 17th and 18th holes being rebuilt. Theodore Wirth Park also features a par-3 course, a disc golf course, and archery, a fishing pier, cross country skiing, and sledding and tubing, among other features. The park lies mostly within the borders of Golden Valley but is managed by the city of Minneapolis. And not that anyone cares, but an even older, more historically significant golf course lies — OK, technically lay, past tense — just beyond the park’s southeastern border. Bryn Mawr Golf Club (1898-1910), which occupied land at and sweeping above the intersection of Penn and Cedar Lake avenues in Minneapolis, in its two iterations spawned both the Minikahda Club and Interlachen Country Club.

More Wirth photos (click on any, above or below, for larger images):

Clubhouse: “The Chalet”

Wirth’s clubhouse walls feature old photos of the grounds, including a wonderful juxtaposition of golfers golfing and ski jumpers ski jumping.

From the 10th tee, the climb to the green.

Alongside the 10th fairway.

Construction underway.

More construction.

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.