The little, big, remarkable course at Ferndale

Small golf course. Big, big, big hitters.

That would be a diminutive and three superlatives. And still, they hardly go far enough in describing the diametric nature of the lost golf course at Ferndale.

There is no lost course in Minnesota more incongruous than this one. Not by a long shot. And a short shot.

Exhibit A: Its Smallness.

Go back a century, plus 17 years. You’re standing within the borders of the city of Wayzata, a stone’s throw — about three fairly healthy stone’s throws, to be precise — of the Lake Minnetonka shoreline. There it is, spread before you in all of its glory. Or lack thereof.

A golf course so small, a Lilliputian would have found it Lilliputian.

Western Wayzata and the Ferndale peninsula (bottom), 1898 plat map (courtesy John Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

Western Wayzata and the Ferndale peninsula (bottom), 1898 plat map (courtesy John Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota)

This “golf course” — although it really wasn’t a full-fledged course at all and never was billed as such — occupied about the same acreage as a farmer’s back 40, divided by four. It was only six holes “long,” and from first whack to final tap-in, it was a jaunt of only 1,135 yards — the modern-day equivalent of a long par-5, a long par-4 and a flip-wedge par 3.

The course’s meager physical imprint was matched by its wisp of a chronological footprint. Its life span was exactly one Minnesota golf season — a mere half a year’s worth of spoons, cleeks and mashies.

On the other hand …

Exhibit B, Its Bigness:

Did someone say big hitters? This golf grounds and the surrounding neighborhood featured some of the biggest in the state. Ever. In any walk of life, sporting or otherwise.

In other words: Business magnates. Millionaires. Socialites. Philanthropists. Politicians. Movers. Shakers.

And one particularly notable golf bigwig.

FERNDALE WHAT

The first golf grounds in Wayzata — and one of the first in all of Minnesota — was introduced to the public in a one-paragraph entry in an “On the Golf Links” column published in the Minneapolis Tribune of June 25, 1899:

“The new links at Ferndale, Lake Minnetonka, were completed for use last evening and there was a little play over them to try the ground. The course is laid out in six holes, averaging 200 yards, which gives a very satisfactory game.”

Next notice came in the July 27, 1899, issue of The Courant, a newly minted Minneapolis social magazine. Page 9 included this:

“The residents in Ferndale, Lake Minnetonka, where are grouped so many of the elegant summer homes, have a practice course for golf on which there is much playing in anticipation of the Minikahda links in town or the new Minnetonka club course when it is completed. …”

The Ferndale practice course was among the first 10 golf grounds in Minnesota, preceded only by Town & Country Club and Roadside Golf Club (St. Paul), Winona Golf Club (already defunct by 1899), Meadow-Brook in Winona, Bryn Mawr in Minneapolis, and Hazen and Ward Burton’s three-hole layout, later expanded to nine holes, on their Chimo estate in Deephaven. (Northland Country Club in Duluth and the courses at Minikahda and Camden Park, both in Minneapolis, also debuted in 1899. The “Minnetonka club,” referred to in the previous paragraph, was the Lafayette Club, whose golf course didn’t officially open until 1900.)

A little about the bigness of Ferndale:

Ferndale is a neighborhood just southwest of downtown Wayzata occupying a triangular peninsula along the north shore of Lake Minnetonka. Wayzata Bay lies to the east, Browns Bay to the west. The peninsula then and now has been home to some of Minnesota’s wealthiest, most prominent and influential citizens.

In the late 19th century and early 20th, Ferndale, with its mansions and cottages lining the shore and rising from the higher ground nearby, was a veritable Minnesota version of The Hamptons. Much of Ferndale’s exclusive, millionaire class spent summers vacationing alongside Lake Minnetonka while maintaining large, primary homes in Minneapolis, where they conducted business. Still, many of the summer abodes at Ferndale were stately enough to have had names bestowed upon them: Bonsyde, Cloverley, Beltres, The Arbors et al.

“Ferndale,” wrote Thelma Jones in her 1957 book “Once Upon a Lake, “flowed with milk and honey … the honey was the gold that stuck to these men’s thumbs.”

Green thumbs, they were. Legal-tender green.

FERNDALE WHO

Back to golf, and the Courant article on the Ferndale practice course:

“Messrs. F.B. Wells, C.C. Bovey, George Peavey and A.T. Rand were primarily interested in starting the course,” read one passage.

Well, that would be quite the foursome of big hitters.

Frederick Brown Wells was a vice president of grain giant F.H. Peavey & Company and a board member with two prominent Minneapolis banks. Charles Cranston Bovey was export manager and later chairman of the Washburn Crosby Milling Corporation, later known as General Mills. George Wright Peavey was the son of Frank Hutchison Peavey, who founded F.H. Peavey & Company and was known as “Grain Elevator King of the World.” Alonzo Turner Rand was vice president of the Minneapolis Gas Light Company, which illuminated Minnesota’s largest city in the late 1800s.

At least a dozen other Ferndale residents, prominent Minnesotans all, had connections to the peninsula’s little golf course.

And then there was Lucia.

The Courant article continued: “Mrs. Howard Mansfield, of New York, Mrs. Frank T. Heffelfinger, Mrs. George Chase Christian are among the women players seen oftenest on the course.”

Lucia (pronounced “Loosha”) Louise Peavey was the daughter of Frank Peavey and a sister to George Peavey. Born in 1873, she married another man named Frank — Frank Totton Heffelfinger — in 1895. The couple lived at Ferndale, on the Highcroft estate. On Jan. 23, 1899. a few months before winter dissolved and Ferndale’s practice course debuted, Lucia gave birth to her second son.

The son’s name: Totton Peavey Heffelfinger.

If you are a golfer, the name might ring a bell.

Totton P. Heffelfinger was among a handful of the most important figures in Minnesota golf history. He was a prominent member at The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, became president of the Minnesota Golf Association in 1932 and served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1952 and 1953.

In 1960, about 10 miles south of his Ferndale birthplace, Totton Heffelfinger founded a golf club that built a course in the western Twin Cities suburb of Chaska.

That name might ring a bell, too: Hazeltine National Golf Club.

All of which adds up to a rich slice of serendipity. It is entirely possible that the first golf hole ever seen, albeit through 6-month-old eyes that wouldn’t have known a dogleg from a dog biscuit, by Totton P. Heffelfinger, founder of the broad-shouldered Hazeltine National Golf Club course that has hosted six major championships and this fall will host the 41st Ryder Cup matches, was one of the six little practice holes at Ferndale.

A leap of logic? Maybe not. Though Heffelfinger’s father, Frank Totton Heffelfinger, undoubtedly weaned young “Tot” largely on Minikahda and Town & Country Club, two city courses to which he held membership, the newborn son likely spent his first months in the company of his mother, perhaps close to home. And perhaps close to — or on — the Ferndale layout.

That speculation was presented to a modern-day Heffelfinger who found it plausible. After being apprised in mid-2015 for the first time of the Ferndale layout and the Courant story, Tom Heffelfinger, a grandson of Totton P. and a former U.S. attorney who lives in Edina, soon surmised that when his grandmother Lucia played the Ferndale course, “it was either with him (Totton P.) in tow or as a break from mothering her son.”

Lucia Peavey Heffelfinger, rear, holds her son, future Hazeltine National Golf Club founder Totton Peavey Heffelfinger, while her grandmother Mary holds Lucia's son Frank P. Also pictured is Lucia's father, Frank H. Peavey. The photo is dated 'about 1899,' which is the year Totton was born and the one year of existence of the six-hole practice golf course at Ferndale which was played by Lucia.  Photo courtesy of Justin Peavey.

Lucia Peavey Heffelfinger, rear, holds her son, future Hazeltine National Golf Club founder Totton Peavey Heffelfinger, while her grandmother Mary holds Lucia’s son Frank P. Also pictured is Lucia’s father, Frank H. Peavey. The photo is dated “about 1899,” which is the year Totton was born and the one year of existence of the six-hole practice golf course at Ferndale which was played by Lucia Heffelfinger. Photo courtesy of Justin Peavey.

The Heffelfingers seemed to be not entirely of the same ilk as their immediate neighbors. In “Once Upon a Lake,” Jones wrote that the Heffelfingers “broke the (Ferndale) rule about no fraternization” with the rest of Wayzata. Young Tot apparently matured with similar egalitarian inclinations, as he insisted that Hazeltine membership “be available to anyone, regardless of religious background or gender,” former Hazeltine president Reed Mackenzie was quoted as saying in Rick Shefchik’s “From Fields to Fairways” book about Minnesota’s classic golf courses.

That digression aside, back to name-dropping. Turn-of-the-20th century Ferndale teemed with luminaries of Minnesota business and society. It also teemed, probably not coincidentally, with the first aficionados, disciples and apostles of Minnesota golf. They might not have learned the game on the Ferndale peninsula, but the 1899 practice course was in play, or at least in sight.

If the following Ferndale-and-golf connections make your head spin, apologies …

Ferndale resident Alonzo T. Rand was president of Town & Country Club in St. Paul, Minnesota’s first golf course. He also was a founding governor of Minikahda, and a Minneapolis Tribune story from 1898 labeled him one of the better players at Bryn Mawr.

His father, Alonzo C. Rand, was head of the Minneapolis Gas & Light Company and a former Minneapolis mayor who died along with nine others in the locally notorious swamping of the Minnie Cook off Ferndale’s Lookout Point in 1885.

George Chase Christian, husband of the aforementioned Ferndale golfer Caroline Knight Christian, was on the T&CC golf committee in 1899. His family and the Hardenbergh family owned the southern tip of Ferndale, including Lookout Point and Spirit Island. George S. Christian’s father, George H., was manager of the Washburn-Crosby Company (later General Mills). At least three members of the Christian family were Minikahda members.

There is no readily available evidence that F.H. Peavey, the grain magnate, dabbled in golf, but he was a founding Bryn Mawr member as well as the first president of the Lafayette Club, which was organized in 1899 and in 1900 opened a nine-hole course in Minnetonka Beach.

Ferndale’s Franklin B. Semple was a founding board member at Minikahda and Lafayette.

E.J. Phelps, a real estate developer, was on the Minneapolis parks board for two decades, was president from 1912-14, and he promoted creation of a golf course by the park board, according to Minneapolis parks historian David C. Smith. In 1916, Glenwood (later renamed Theodore Wirth) opened as Minneapolis’ first public course. Phelps and fellow Ferndale resident William Bovey were on the parks board at the time of Glenwood’s birth.

The Boveys were another influential Ferndale-and-golf family. They owned multiple plots at various times in Ferndale. Charles Cranston Bovey, the Ferndale course regular, was the son-in-law of Judge Martin Buren Koon, who on July 15, 1899, struck the first shot ever at the new Minikahda Club. Charles C.’s twin brother, William, served 20 years on the Minneapolis park board and was on the board in 1919, when the Columbia course in northeast Minneapolis was opened.

In 1915, one mile northwest of the by-then-abandoned Ferndale layout, Woodhill Country Club was established. Frank Totton Heffelfinger was an original board member and the longest-serving club president (1922-34). The Boveys were similarly integral to Woodhill. Charles C. Bovey was a founder of the club, and William was an original board member. According to a Woodhill history, Charles C. Bovey once authored a memorandum on the founding of the club that included this passage: “For some years the residents of Ferndale had been thinking of a country club. Our children were young. We wanted a family club, free from temptations of drink.”

Frederick B. Wells was the first Woodhill vice president; he also held memberships at Town & Country Club, Minikahda and Lafayette. He was F.H. Peavey’s son-in-law and at one time a Peavey Company vice president.

Then there were the Pillsburys. Perhaps you’ve heard of them, as well. John Sargent Pillsbury II and Charles Stinson Pillsbury, twin sons of flour industrialist and Pillsbury Company co-founder Charles Alfred Pillsbury, were co-owners in 1913 of a plot of land in Ferndale just south of Highcroft, perhaps on the edge of the former Ferndale golf grounds. The Pillsburys long owned land at Ferndale from the late 1800s into the 1900s. John S. Pillsbury was an original Woodhill board member and bought the land upon which that golf course was established. Charles S. also was an original Woodhill board member, as was their cousin, art collector Alfred Fisk Pillsbury, who had a villa built on the Wayzata Bay shoreline at Ferndale in 1905. A.F. Pillsbury was a Minikahda member, a Minneapolis park board member and was described as an “eager golfer” in journalist Lori Sturdevant’s 2011 book “The Pillsburys of Minnesota.” His father was John Sargent Pillsbury (not to be confused with John Sargent Pillsbury II), the eighth governor of Minnesota.

George W. Porter, founder of the Minnetonka Elevator Company, owned property between Pillsbury and Semple property on Wayzata Bay. He was a founding member at Minikahda.

The aforementioned Warren Manning, who landscaped the Highcroft estate, appears to also have been an early proponent of golf in Minnesota. Smith, the Minneapolis parks historian, reported in a blog entry that Manning, in about 1900, proposed that land just south of downtown that had been donated to the park board by Thomas Lowry include a golf course. That land became Parade Park.

WATSON, COME HERE

Beyond all of those Ferndale property owners, the most prominent figure of all, in a golfing sense, was an outlier. Quoting from The Courant article:

“Mr. William Watson, keeper of the greens for the Minikahda Club, visits the Ferndale course one or two days a week to give instruction.”

William Watson was arguably the most important person in the employ of the game of golf as the game got off the ground in Minnesota. (Former Town & CC professional Robert Foulis could stake a claim to that title, as well, but that is a debate for another day.) Watson was a Scotsman, born in 1860. He grew up near St. Andrews and played that historic course at the same time that Old Tom Morris was the club’s greenskeeper and professional. Watson moved to Minneapolis in late 1898, hired for $2,500 by Koon and other Minneapolis businessmen to design the new Minikahda Club course. He and Foulis crafted a nine-hole layout, opened in mid-1899, years later expanded to 18 and then redesigned by the famed Donald Ross — who, like Watson and Foulis, was a former Old Tom Morris apprentice at St. Andrews.

In 1899, Watson spent mornings teaching on the Bryn Mawr course in western Minneapolis, which had opened the year before, then shut down as the bulk of its membership established Minikahda. Watson redesigned Bryn Mawr in 1899 and 1901, according to Watson historian Dennis “Marty” Joy II, head professional at the Watson-designed Belvedere Golf Club in Charlevoix, Mich. In 1901, Watson’s brother Martin was hired as Minikahda’s golf instructor; he later worked at the Lafayette Club and Northland CC in Duluth.

William Watson, meanwhile, went on to become a noted course architect, with more than 100 layouts to his credit. He had a hand in the design of the original nine-hole White Bear Yacht Club course in 1915, though Ross and WB professional Tom Vardon also are presumed to have played roles. Watson’s designs largely were in California; his Midwestern designs included Interlachen (1909), La Crosse Country Club (1912), Fargo CC (1914), Winona CC (1917) and Ridgeview CC in Duluth (1921). Most of those original layouts were redesigned, some by the likes of Ross, Vardon and A.W. Tillinghast. Watson also is named as the designer of the Ferndale course in a list compiled by Joy.

Next, in Part II: Ferndale where. Pinning down the hole locations, in a manner of speaking.

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Joe Bissen is a Caledonia, Minnesota, native and former golf letter-winner at Winona State University. He is a sports copy editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and former sports editor of the Duluth News-Tribune. His writing has appeared in Minnesota Golfer and Mpls.St.Paul magazines. He lives in St. Paul, MN.  Joe's award-winning first book, Fore! Gone. Minnesota's Lost Golf Courses 1897-1999, was released in December 2013. Click here to order

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