Category Archives: Golf history

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.

 

 

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.