Golf in Marshall, Part I: Rebirthed, and that isn’t half the story

Chapter 43 of “Fore! Gone.” was titled “Rebirthed.” It presented six Minnesota golf courses that I classify as lost — the grounds no longer exist for the purpose of the game of golf, even though the host clubs still exist in another, nearby location. The most notable of these was Tatepaha in Faribault, which was a founding member of the Minnesota Golf Association in 1901 before relocating in 1956 to the northwestern part of the city, where it now operates as Faribault Golf & Country Club.

Five counties and almost 125 miles due west of Faribault lies another the site of another rebirthing. This one took place about 15 years earlier, “In The Famous Cornbelt of Minnesota,” according to the banner across the top of the golf course’s hometown newspaper, the Messenger-News of Lyon County.

Marshall has long been a hub of commerce and activity in southwestern Minnesota. Second only to Mankato in population in that quadrant of the state, it lays claim to 13,664 residents, Southwest Minnesota State University and company headquarters of food distributor Schwan’s. From 1930 to 1940, Marshall saw a 41 percent jump in population, from 3,250 to 4,590, which perhaps explains why, even during a Great Depression era in which more than  a dozen southwestern Minnesota golf courses shut down (“Silos and Flagsticks,” Chapter 42, “Fore! Gone.”, and more to be reported on soon on this web site), the folks at Marshall Golf Club saw fit to relocate their nine-hole course from the northwest side of town to the southwest.

I wasn’t able to find a reason for why this rebirthing took place during 1941 and 1942, but  couple of suppositions make sense: The southwestern parcel, alongside the Redwood River, certainly was more attractive to golf than the existing parcel, with no particularly attractive golf-course topography, and the new parcel was larger than the original, allowing for longer holes and perhaps future expansion.

Ron Labat, a longtime Marshall Golf Club member who is familiar with the club’s history, said the new nine holes on the southwest side of town opened in 1941 (he cites club minutes from 1971 in this assertion) and that the old site was sold in 1943. This jibes with the prevailing-but-misleading information on the internet regarding Marshall Golf Club, which generally says “founded in 1942, designed by Marty Johnson.” (Johnson designed at least 30 golf courses, mostly in Nebraska and South Dakota.) I say “misleading” because Marshall GC dates to well before 1942, a theme not uncommon in looking into Minnesota golf course histories — for instance, at Little Falls Country Club .

Marshall Golf Club continues to operate on its rebirthed site, having given birth to a twin nine holes in 1972. The club has hosted numerous MGA regional championships, including the 1999 Women’s Mid-Amateur, and annually plays host to a Dakotas Tour professional event in which a round of 59 was shot this year. 

None of which — rebirthing, Marty Johnson, round of 59 — is even close to the most compelling part of the history of Marshall Golf Club. I’ll get to that. In the meantime, what follows are then-and-now photos of the sites of Marshall GC.

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

Then: This is the original site of Marshall Golf Club, on the northwest side of the city. Aerial photo taken in 1938. The diagonal roadway is West Main Street / Minnesota Highway 68. The presumption is that the course had sand greens; they are distinctly visible in the form of nine black, almost-perfect circles to the west and south of Main Street. (Courtesy University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library.)

Now: 2015 aerial photo of the old Marshall Golf Club grounds. Part of Marshall’s Southwest Minnesota Regional Airport is visible near the bottom of the photo.

Then: 1938 aerial view of the grounds that would become Marshall Golf Club in the early 1940s. (Courtesy University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library.)

Now: Marshall Golf Club, 2015 aerial view

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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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