Category Archives: Golf history

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 …)

 

 

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.

Glenwood Park, Minneapolis, circa 1917 – and a golf tangent

GlenwoodPC

This is, admittedly, something of a neither-here-nor-there post, considering I usually write about golf. But tangentially – one tangent reaching about seven-tenths of a mile to the north, another a similar distance to the east – I ran across something today that struck some chords.

Skimming through a box of postcards at an estate sale in Plymouth, I spotted the card pictured above. The inscription reads: “1679. Birch Pond, Glenwood Park, Minneapolis.” The postcard was originally issued by the Board of Park Commissioners, Minneapolis, and the photo was taken by Hibbard & Company.

Birch Pond still exists. Glenwood Park does, too, though you might not recognize it by that name. The park, near the western edge of Minneapolis, was established in 1889 and originally named Saratoga Park. The name was changed to Glenwood Park in December 1890 and then, after further parkland was acquired by the city of Minneapolis, to Theodore Wirth Park in 1935.

Similarly, Birch Pond was not always Birch Pond. It was known as Devil’s Pond until getting officially renamed by the Minneapolis park board on June 6, 1910. (Hey, I don’t know any of this stuff off the top of my head. All info was culled from posts on Minneapolis Parks websites and/or by the city’s estimable parks historian, David C. Smith.)

I bought the postcard because A) I found it to be an intriguing, century-old piece of Minneapolis history, B) I knew it had tangential connections to golf and C) because it was cheap — 25 cents after the usual second-day, 50-percent-off estate-sale discount.

About the tangents:

Most likely, there were no golf courses in the area at the time the photo for this postcard was taken. (The photo presumably was taken after 1910, when the pond was renamed Birch Pond, but before September 1917, the postmark on the back of the card.) But nearby, there was one recently departed course and, probably, another waiting in the wings.

Two-thirds of a mile to the east-southeast, in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood, on and near the intersection of modern-day Penn Avenue and Cedar Lake Road, lay the ruins of the recently closed Bryn Mawr Golf Club, which shut down in 1910 as residential growth in western Minneapolis squeezed it out of existence. (Bryn Mawr GC, in two separate incarnations, had spawned Minikahda Golf Club in late 1898 and spring 1899 and Interlachen Country Club in 1910. It’s covered in Chapter 29 of my book, titled “Minneapolis Mystery.”)

And seven-tenths of a mile north of Birch Pond lay the land upon which Theodore Wirth Golf Course would be built, starting in 1916 and featuring clay tees and sand greens. (Best guess is that the postcard predates 1916 and the opening of the Wirth course, though that’s strictly a guess.) Only the course was not known at the time as Wirth; it was known as Glenwood until 1938.

If all the naming and renaming and opening and closing is confusing to you, don’t feel alone. I can never keep this stuff straight without thinking seriously about creating flowcharts and databases and whatnot for reference’s sake. Don’t even get me started on the original name of Bryn Mawr Golf Club, or I might have to go into some long-winded discussion about which Minneapolis Golf Club was which, and where it started, and where it ended up, and about a hundred thousand more tangents and permutations.

A better suggestion: Log off the computer and go play nine or 18 at the former Glenwood Park. The memory of Theodore Wirth would thank you.

Back in time II: Town & Country Club, 1899

towncc

A few weeks ago, I posted an old photo of Town & Country Club, from the 1898 book “City of Homes,” and speculated that it might be Minnesota’s first golf photograph with a verifiable date. Is it? Was it? I’m still stumped, but I haven’t heard of or come across anything verifiably older.

Last week, however, I Googlified (that’s a short, highly technical term for “discovering via the Internet”) a handful of photos that we’ll call close runners-up, plus an interesting and very old account of T&CC, Minnesota’s first golf course.

Times — and views — were different then, judging by the description of what was then the second hole:

“From a point near the green of this hole may be obtained a wonderfully beautiful view of the whole of Minneapolis and the country surrounding it on each of three sides and for more than fifteen miles in every direction, as well as of the great bend of the Mississippi River.”

So states a paragraph in “Golf,” a magazine touted as the “official bulletin, U.S.G.A.,” in its January 1899 issue published out of New York. That issue features St. Paul’s Town & Country Club as its opening story, immediately following a section of ads for the likes of Slazenger golf balls, John D. Dunn’s “celebrated One-Piece Drivers and Brasseys,” and winter vacations in Bermuda.

The story is simply titled “The Town and Country Club of St. Paul.” It features 17 paragraphs of information about the golf course’s organization and layout (only nine holes in 1899; it expanded to 18 in 1907). The story also features four photographs, leading with a full-page photo of the clubhouse and ladies’ putting green and including a panoramic photo from No. 9, a hole dubbed “Westward Ho!”

As much as I would like to post the photos here, I don’t believe Google would approve, at least not if I interpret their rules of use correctly. But if you’re a fan of way-early golf in Minnesota, the story is worth a look. You can find it here: Town and Country Club, St. Paul

Oh … what’s with the photo at the top of the post? It’s an old Town & Country Club candy dish I found last fall at a Twin Cities estate sale, with the modern 18-hole layout featured on it.

And below is a photo of modern-day T&CC, taken at the very dawn of the 2015 golf season:

tc2015

Back in time: Town & Country Club, 1898

towncountry

Minnesota golf, at least 116 years ago.

Yesterday, I came across the photo above in the library at the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis. I don’t believe I’ve seen it before. I would guess it’s one of the oldest half-dozen or so published golf photographs in Minnesota history, right up there with that cool photo of the woman with the long skirt and sick overswing on Bryn Mawr GC or Minikahda CC (if you dig, you probably can find that one, too. It is in Rick Shefchik’s “From Fields to Fairways” book.).

Anyway, this photo is from the 1898 book “The City of Homes,” published by The Times Newspaper Co. The book is little more than a rather random collection of photos, mostly showing Minneapolis scenes and sites. This photo was taken just across the Mississippi River in St. Paul, on Minnesota’s first golf course.

It is titled “On the Golf Links at the Town and Country Club.” (Click on the image for a larger view.)

I’m guessing this photo might even predate the “long skirt” photo, as Bryn Mawr opened in spring of 1898 (much more on that course in “Fore! Gone.”), and its successor, Minikahda, didn’t open for play until spring of 1899.

I would gladly entertain discussion on whether there are older Minnesota golf photos in existence. I could be entirely wrong. Thanks to the Hennepin History Museum for storing the book and allowing me to share the photo. Please don’t flock there to take a look; the book is fragile.