Midway Golf Links, Ivanhoe: Barbed wire and all

Golf course maintenance isn’t rocket science. But it’s close.

Consider a recent story in the magazine Golf Course Management, titled:

“Antimicrobial options for reducing bacterial etiolation on putting greens.”

OK. Sure. Huh?

Then consider golf course maintenance in, let’s say, 1935, when it went like this:

“I remember the dandelions. They took two cars and put barbed wire between them and they’d get the dandelions off, usually on Sundays or before tournaments.”

OK. Sure. Whatever works.

The dandelion — or should it be damned-delion? — quote is offered by Muriel Widmark Dorn of Ivanhoe, a small town in southwestern Minnesota that once was but no longer is home to a nine-hole golf course. The course, named Midway Golf Links, is No. 157 on the ever-growing list of Minnesota’s lost golf courses.

Muriel Widmark Dorn has to be one of the few people alive who remembers Midway, which disappeared from the Lincoln County landscape in the early 1940s. She doesn’t have extensive memories of the golf course, but at age 96 — soon to be 97, she points out — those she does have are salient, maybe in part because Midway Golf Links was family.

Midway, technically not situated within the Ivanhoe city limits but on farmland 4.5 miles west of downtown, was founded in 1933 by Widmark Dorn’s uncle Cliff.

“It was kind of hard — one hill to the next,” Dorn says of the course. On one hole, she recalls, “You had a pond to hit over, so we used to find a lot of golf balls in there.”

Dorn’s other memories of Midway Golf Links include: The course had sand greens. There was a canteen on top of a hill where refreshments — pop and candy — were sold. She passed the course on her 2.5-mile walk home from the district school and often stopped to play nine holes. Golfers played Midway with wooden-shafted clubs. And Cliff Widmark, she recalls, was not an avid golfer when he founded the course but began playing more at that point.

Muriel Widmark Dorn’s first-hand memories of Midway Golf Links are augmented by written history.

“NEW GOLF LINKS WILL BE OPENED SUNDAY, MAY 7th,” read a headline in the May 5, 1933, Ivanhoe Times. The story noted Clifford Widmark’s status as founder of Midway Golf Links and that “local golf bugs are looking forward with interest to this occasion.”

Why the Midway name?

“The links are located at an advantageous point both to Ivanhoe and Hendricks, being five miles west of the former and seven miles southeast of the latter,” the Times reported.

This made good business sense for Widmark. Though golf courses dotted the southwestern Minnesota prairie in the 1920s and ’30s, it’s debatable as to whether Ivanhoe, population 556 in 1930 (and 559 in 2010), or Hendricks, population 702 in 1930 (and 713 in 2010), could have supported a golf course on its own.

Site of Midway Golf Links, more or less midway between Ivanhoe and Hendricks, is represented by red rectangle. Ivanhoe, seat of Lincoln County, is near the right edge of the aerial photo, Hendricks, near the South Dakota border, is near the left edge. John Borchert University of Minnesota Map Library photo.

Also making good business sense for Cliff Widmark: his choice of consulting service.

“Before making preparations to begin work on the ground,” the Times reported, “Mr. Widmark engaged the services of Mr. Brokel, a golf pro of the cities, who visited the premises and gave assurance that they could be developed into a fine course. This gentleman platted the course and laid out the suitable location of nine holes, together with giving information as to how the greens should be built.”

“Brokel” was Frank Brokl of Minneapolis, a state champion golfer in the late 1920s and a notable name in the development of small-town golf in Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa. Among Brokl’s other designs was the now-lost course in Lake Benton.

The Ivanhoe Times’ report on Midway’s founding also noted that the greens were 40 feet in diameter (“larger than the average,” the newspaper said); that the course was 2,570 yards long and played to a par of 34, with no par-5s and a shortest hole of 157 and a longest of 365; and that power mowers would be employed to trim the fairways. (That having been written, I have no doubt that Muriel Widmark’s barbed-wire-trimmer recollection also is accurate.)

Midway Golf Links grounds, west of Ivanhoe, Minn., 1938 aerial map from University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The golf course grounds are in the bottom-center portion of the photo. The east-west road is Minnesota Highway 19.

The Times also reported that tournaments would be played at Midway. In 1936, the newspaper reported on an 18-hole team match between Ivanhoe and Marshall golfers. Ivanhoe won the match 655-700, with D.H. Wilson of Marshall recording a low score of 72. For Ivanhoe, M.J. Grodzick and Floyd Muchlinski both shot 76.

Another Ivanhoe Times story reported on a meeting between Widmark and club members over an apparent predicament concerning course condition and flagging patronage. It was reported that 30 members would be needed in order for Midway to continue operating.

On April 18, 1937, the Minneapolis Tribune ran a one-paragraph story headlined “Golf Club Changes Hands.” Datelined Ivanhoe, Minn., the story read, “The Ivanhoe Golf club has decided to take over the Midway golf course, owned by Clifford Widmark, during the coming season. Leo Kruse has been placed in charge of the links.”

Midway Golf Links lasted only a few more years, and issues persisted.

A July 26, 1940, a front-page story in the Ivanhoe Times reported on an impending tournament at Midway. “Reports are that the Ivanhoe course is minus dandelions, overgrown rough, filled sloughs and long-haired fairways. The greens, authentic sources stated, have been relieved of boulders dangerous to good putting.

“Preparations have been made for a large attendance … for gosh don’t disappoint ’em!”

In 2012, the Ivanhoe Times reprinted a story from its April 25, 1941, issue titled “Midway Golf Links will open for 1941 season.”

“It’ll be another season of picking stray golf balls out of neighboring grain and alfalfa fields for local golfers,” the Times had reported. “Another year’s rental has been agreed upon and the Midway Links will again be there this season for those late evening and Sunday sessions.”

The Times indicated that membership was only about 20. “All that remains now is a couple sanding bees to put the greens in shape and a prayer to keep the mowers together. … Next call will be for volunteer workers to sand the greens, pull a few weeds and put kinks in the back muscles. Then its (sic) time for that annual battle for par.”

My best guess is that 1941 was Midway Golf Links’ final season. I could find no further reporting on the course in subsequent years’ issues of the Ivanhoe Times, and with the onset of U.S. involvement in World War II in December 1941, it seems highly likely that area residents turned their attention and service to war efforts and that the course was abandoned.

Muriel Widmark Dorn, however, continued with the game. Though she is no longer an active golfer, she did play for years at Hendricks Golf Club, established in 1969, and proudly reports that a few years ago, she played there in a foursome in which all four women were in their 90s.

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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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