Tag Archives: Albert Lea MN

Albert Lea, Part II: A little recreation, a little history

George Klukow and Oliver Flesche had the right idea, if you ask me.

In early 1930, Klukow and Flesche launched a golf course just north and west of the Albert Lea city limits, about a mile north of the since-closed Albert Lea Country Club. Their intent seemed clear, reading between the lines of an Albert Lea Tribune story from May 14, 1931.

“This is the kind of course that the city has needed for some time,” read one sentence in the Tribune.

In other words, the kind of course that everyone could play. A public course.

Until 1931, Albert Lea’s only golf courses (yes, I wrote courses, plural, and I’ll get to that) had been private, with Albert Lea CC standing prominently in southeastern Minnesota. But as it was with most country clubs, membership there was an impossible financial reach for the Toms, Dicks and Olavs of the day.

That’s why I liked Klukow and Flesche’s idea — make golf available to everyone in Albert Lea. Their 1931 creation likely was one of the first three or four daily-fee golf courses in southeastern Minnesota.

To boot, they had another excellent idea in naming for the course. Perhaps in looking to appeal to a less formal side of the game, Klukow and Flesche chose a name devoid of pretense.

“Recreation Golf Course Open to Public Tomorrow,” read a headline in the May 2, 1931, Albert Lea Tribune.

“Yielding to the increased demand of players the Recreation golf links will be open to the public tomorrow,” the story began. More details followed: the course would be open to the public, would consist of nine holes, and a few temporary tees would be employed until new ones could be grown in.

“The course is large, having a yardage of 3,165 and par on the course is 36,” the story continued. “The rolling ground adds to the attractiveness of the course.”

The May 14 Tribune story added more. The course would have sand greens, at least to start (that was the norm for Minnesota’s public courses of that era). There would be one par 5, of 475 yards, and one par 3, of 181 yards. There would be “a few natural hazards and one or two constructed traps.”

“Too much cannot be expected the first year as it takes nearly five years to make a good course.”

Klukow and Flesche retained Jack Gallett, who had been hired earlier in the year to become Albert Lea Country Club’s professional, to design the course. The grounds were situated “north of the Wedge Seeds warehouse,” the Tribune reported.

Grounds of Albert Lea’s Recreation Golf Course, 1931-circa early 1940s. In current parameters, the course was bounded by 225th Street on the south, Richway Drive/740th Avenue on the east and Bluegrass Road on the west, with the northern edge stretching not quite up to what is now Interstate 90. (John Borchert Map Library aerial photo)

Klukow and Flesche’s creation lasted only about a decade and met a fate similar to that of many comparable courses. Longtime Albert Lea resident Andy Dyrdal recalled in a telephone conversation with me that he had played the Recreation course long ago, and he was paraphrased in a 2013 Albert Lea Tribune as saying, “With many young men gone during World War II, it was plowed under to become farmland.”

EARLIER — AND EARLIER THAN THAT

Before the Recreation course, there was Albert Lea Country Club, established almost two decades earlier, in 1912.

Albert Lea CC was a golf course of historical standing in Minnesota. It was one of the first 20 courses in the state, according to records I am keeping. (They aren’t “official” records, I suppose, but I’ll be honest: I doubt anyone has a more accurate list. If so, kudos.)

But Albert Lea Country Club wasn’t even the first course in town. What was?

Hint-hint, read the March 10, 1904, edition of the Albert Lea Tribune.

“A golf club meeting will be held at the Elk club rooms Tuesday, March 15 … for investigating as to sentiment, opportunities and organization.”

In other words, Albert Lea, polish up those spoons. And not the ones in your silverware drawers, either.

The aforementioned meeting was “quite well attended,” the Tribune reported on March 16. C.D. Cowgill, who judging by records was an executive with Western Grocer Co., was appointed president. A committee was established to “look up grounds.” It was estimated it would take $500 to establish and maintain grounds in the club’s first year, and the club was seeking a membership of 50 at $15 each, or $5 each for “ladies.”

None of which was proof that a pre-Country Club golf course actually existed in Albert Lea. A Tribune story from one year later, however, clears up the matter, at least in my mind.

“The Albert Lea Golf Club has held its annual meeting,” the Tribune reported on March 6, 1905. “The club has arranged to enlarge the grounds by using the land west of the ball park.”

A Minneapolis Journal story the next week, presumably a summation of the Albert Lea Tribune story, reported that W.A. Morin was the club’s new president. William Albert Morin owned many large tracts of land in and around Albert Lea at the turn of the 20th century; he also helped bring the Illinois Central railway into town.

As for location of the Albert Lea Golf Club grounds, determining the site of “the ball park” is vital. Searches through newspapers showed that Albert Lea’s baseball stadium changed places multiple times through the 1890s and early 1900s. In 1900, however, a new ballpark opened on West Clark Street, west of downtown, apparently near the city’s rail yard. Best guess on the site of Albert Lea’s first golf course, then, is that it was just northwest of what is now the intersection of Clark Street and Minnesota Highway 13.

I don’t know that for sure. Nor do I know how long Albert Lea Golf Club lasted. Skimming in two sessions a multitude of late spring-early summer editions of the Tribune from that era revealed no mentions of local golf, even through 1911, the year before Albert Lea Country Club was established, and it is at this point that I must apologize. My appetite for researching was diminished shortly after I came across an advertisement, the likes of which was common from that era in newspapering, that began:

“Educate Your Bowels.”


Photo at top of post by Peter Wong.

Albert Lea, Part I: Back to the ’50s, and a naked truth

A couple of nuggets of Minnesota golf history:

Albert Lea was one of Minnesota’s first cities with a golf course.

Albert Lea Country Club was established in 1912.

Careful. Don’t link those two sentences too closely together. You could be jumping to a conclusion.

If you read carefully, you’ll note that I never wrote that golf in Albert Lea started in 1912. Because it didn’t. But that’s another matter for another day. I will explain — just not now.

Regardless of its status in city golf history, Albert Lea Country Club, born 1912 passed away 2006, holds a position of prominence as a pioneering Minnesota golf course. It ranks roughly among the first 20 to 25 organized sites in the state upon which were struck glorious drives and fat approach shots. In southeastern Minnesota, only Winona, Rochester and Faribault had golf courses before Albert Lea Country Club opened for business, pre-World War I, in a clubhouse that was a converted horse barn.

Albert Lea Country Club, postcard dated 1954. The green to the right of the clubhouse was No. 6. Property of Joe Bissen.

Albert Lea Country Club survived — nay (misspelled and probably misguided horse barn reference there), thrived — through 95 years. Its shortstop was long one of southern Minnesota’s prime tournaments, at one time attracting fields approaching 200 players. (One notable winner was 1957 champion John Eymann of Forest City, Iowa, who golfed cross-handed.)

And like any golf course worth its weight in either gold or just plain auld sod, Albert Lea Country Club created memories.

Most of the posts on this web site revolve around golf courses that were abandoned in the first half of the 20th century. It is admittedly biased reporting — I prefer to focus on lesser-known clubs and courses from long ago, those that vanished because of tolls taken by the Great Depression and the advent of World War II.

The 1950s? Hardly a notable era in terms of shuttered Minnesota golf courses. But that isn’t to say there aren’t tales to tell.


“One of the things about the 1950s is that you didn’t need a whole lot of money to play golf,” Dex Westrum, who spent much of his youth on the grounds of Albert Lea Country Club, said in a recent phone interview. “Guys were playing in Army fatigues and white T-shirts. For people that were just hackers, they could buy five irons, two woods, a putter and a cheap 50 cent golf ball and have a wonderful time. Now they’ve got to spend thousands of dollars.”

Westrum is a retired college professor who lives in South Milwaukee, Wis., and is the son of the late Lyle Westrum. The latter was the professional at Albert Lea Country Club for a short time in the 1950s after having caddied there in the 1930s, going off to World War II, then returning after the war and turning professional upon finishing second in the Albert Lea shortstop. Lyle Westrum, his son noted, also had been a prominent Albert Lea hockey player and all-conference fullback in football.

Young Dexter Westrum followed his father onto the golf course in the 1950s. Among his memories of Albert Lea Country Club:

“After the war, there was a great interest in golf,” Dex Westrum said, “and a lot of women, if they wanted to spend time with their husbands, they took lessons. He (Lyle Westrum) had 12 to 15 lessons a day, and most if not all of them were to women. Men would prefer to do it their way.”

Albert Lea CC’s many sand bunkers presented hazards for its golfers. The driving range presented a hazard for young Dex.

“Lesson balls had to be shagged, and I was elected to stand in the practice fairway collecting balls in a shag bag while the people took aim at me,” Westrum says in reading from a passage he penned for “Minnesota Memories 2,” written and compiled by Joan Claire Graham. “Once in a while I would lose sight of a ball in the sun and get hit. But fortunately, most people couldn’t hit the ball straight until the lesson was over.

“I received 40 cents for a half-hour lesson, which resulted in quite a sum by the end of the day. I immediately spent half of my earnings at the Ben Franklin store on new comic books. I eventually had more than 300 comics, which my mother threw away shortly after I left (Albert Lea).  …”

Westrum recalled a relaxed atmosphere surrounding golf in the 1950s, with ladies days on Tuesdays and Wednesday men’s days including steak dinners after a round of golf.

Another notable experience took place every year on the Albert Lea CC grounds.

“The highlight every summer was the Fourth of July, because the country club was where the fireworks were shot off,” Westrum said in reading from “Minnesota Memories 2.” “The whole town turned out, cars lining up on old Highway 13 along No. 3 and the driveway along No. 4. People sat elbow to elbow along No. 7 hill. …

“Best of all, there was free ice cream for all the kids. … It was rich and it was cold, and one dip was plenty. In the morning, caddies would find cardboard remnants of the fireworks. Sometimes they found them in the bushes by the clubhouse. One year, there was a bunch of stuff on the clubhouse roof.”

Dare it be said that one of Westrum’s ALCC memories tops all others.

“The Edgewater (Cottage) was so close to No. 7, it provided my father with a challenge on the morning after the high school prom in 1961,” Westrum wrote for the memories book. “He went to take the dew off the greens so they could be mowed when he discovered two naked teenage lovers on the green. Fortunately, he was more than a hundred yards away when he saw them. He didn’t want to embarrass them or himself, so he went back to the pro shop, picked up his wedge and practice ball bag and returned to hit balls at them from a safe distance until they woke up and ran on.”

Albert Lea Country Club fostered some excellent players in those days. The 1952 Albert Lea High team won the state championship (as did the 1982 team). Individual state champions from Albert Lea included Clayton “Bumper” Westrum (Dex’s uncle, 1950 and ’52, and later the designer of the Northern Hills course in Rochester),  Craig Clauson (1954), Dex’s teammate Dick Jones (1962), Mark Knutson (1973) and Chad Adams (1989). On the girls side, Donna Boom won a state title in 1994.

The old Albert Lea Country Club course required shotmaking. Dex Westrum relates a memory from the shortstop:

“Neil Croonquist (former University of Minnesota standout and two-time State Amateur champion) and some of the other guys who were playing decent amateur golf in the Twin Cities, they came down and they did not tear that Country Club course apart,” Westrum said in the phone interview. “It wasn’t long, but it was really hilly and had very small greens. You miss the hole by 30 feet in Minneapolis, you got a 30-foot putt. You miss the hole by 30 feet in Albert Lea and you’re in the trap.”

One year, Westrum said, “Neil Croonquist was medalist with 69; nobody else broke par. … Bud Chapman … a hell of a good player. He came down to the Albert Lea shortstop, and he qualified for the fifth flight. That was the year the wind blew and it took something like 83 or 82 to make the championship flight. He came back the next year and won the tournament to distinguish himself, and he never came back.”

The Albert Lea HS team that Westrum played on as a junior and senior featured Jones and four others who could break 40 for nine holes, he said. “So we were a formidable lot. In fact, I don’t think we ever lost a home match. … Teams would come and play us, and they just couldn’t handle the uneven lies. There were hardly any holes where you were going to hit off a flat surface.”

Dex Westrum shows fine form in playing a shot from one of the “yawning traps,” as he referred to them, as a youth at Albert Lea Country Club. The bunker was on No. 6; the shot was observed by Dick Davies Jr., and Westrum says it finished within a foot of the hole. (Photo courtesy Dex Westrum)

Westrum went off to college, then to a teaching career that covered 50 years, 10 schools and five states. His final memory of Albert Lea Country Club comes from the pages of “Minnesota Memories 2”:

“On my first visit back to Albert Lea Country Club after I heard the course was going to be destroyed, I took my 7-year-old son … for a walk on the old holes 7, 8 and 9. Stakes all over the landscape marked what I assumed were planned housing sites. This is where I was  a little boy and where I was a high school kid.

“I tried to explain what the holes looked like in the 1950s and 1960s and that the course had been one of the most distinctive nine-hole layouts in Minnesota. It had small greens, narrow fairways and sand traps you could get lost in.

“I never saw the additional nine or played another version of the course after the final high school meet of the 1963 season against Red Wing.”


Next: Two other lost courses in Albert Lea, including the very first.