Category Archives: Just plain old golf

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.

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.

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.