Tag Archives: lost golf courses

Murray / Slayton Golf Club: Valiant effort

The lost golf courses of southwestern Minnesota — and there might be 50 of them, for all I know, the way they keep sprouting up on me like cornstalks in the June sunshine — by and large conform neatly to a template.

I have detailed the template ad nauseam in my book and on this web site, but, hey, let’s take that dead horse and boot it one more time.

Scores of golf courses sprang up across the small and medium-sized Minnesota towns in the 1920s, thanks to a robust economy and access to transportation affording folks enough spare time and spare change to take up the game. (Usually they were townfolk, bankers and doctors and businessmen, while farmers, busy with milking and haying, golfed far less frequently but sometimes offered up their pastures via lease to the newly organized golf clubs.) Then, between effects of the Great Depression and World War II, dozens of courses were abandoned in the 1930s and ’40s.

Among them were many in the “Silos and Flagsticks” lost-course heartland of southwestern Minnesota. I have written about 14 of them and have a handful of new-found ones on my to-do list.

One such lost course is in Slayton, the seat of Murray County, 90 miles west of Mankato and 50 miles from the southwestern corner of Minnesota. Slayton followed the template right up to the end — when it stubbornly attempted to bust out of the lost-course mold.

“New Golf Club Is Formed at Slayton,” read a headline in the Minneapolis Tribune of Feb. 28, 1926.

The story read, in part: “Fifty golf players of Slayton met this week and former the Tri City Golf club, which will begin functioning with the first break of spring. …

“A nine-hole course will be built on a 130-acre tract on the southern outskirts of the city. The location is ideal, being about half way between this city (Slayton) and Iona, and lying along the state highway between the two cities.

“The land upon which the course is located is rolling and a small stream of water flows through it in normal seasons. Golf enthusiasts of Hadley, Avoca, and other nearby towns will be invited to become members of the club.”

The course wasn’t really on the southern outskirts of Slayton, unless one considers the skirt was one really, really large hoop skirt. The old Slayton golf course was 2.7 miles almost directly south of downtown Slayton, at the southwestern corner of the intersection of what is now county highways 32 and 49.

1938 aerial photo of Marshall / Slayton Golf Club, courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library. The course was two miles south of Slayton, just off the intersection of county highways 32 and 49. Routing of some of the holes is plainly visible, as are the greens, which are presumed to have been sand greens, based on their dark, round appearances on the aerial photo. I am puzzled about something, however — though a 1926 Murray County Herald story announcing the course’s establishment said it would be a nine-hole course, I count only five, maybe six, definite green sites, and this plot of land really doesn’t appear large enough to have fielded nine holes. Another mystery …

A reorganization and renaming of the club appears to have occurred in April 1929, when the Tribune reported, “Organization of the Murray Golf club was completed at a recent meeting with the election of officers and completion of arrangements for leasing the course for another year.”

So far, so template-good.

Through the 1930s, proceedings at the golf club appeared to be mostly routine, according to a semi-organized perusal of newspaper clips. (In other words, I didn’t search every word of every year. Which means I probably missed an alien abduction on the fifth fairway in 1933 and a kraken snatching the town pharmacist down by the water at southwest corner of the course in 1937, neither ever to be seen again.)  But among happenings at Slayton’s first golf course:

— In 1930, the Murray County Herald reported, some club members were making plans to participate in a tournament in not-far-away Worthington.

— During the first week of June 1935, a headline in the Murray County Herald reported that the course was about to be put in play for the season, with J.R. Price the chairman of the grounds and greens committee. “The dandelions have been somewhat of a nuisance for the ardent golfer for the past few weeks,” the newspaper reported, “but with the present cutting of the fairways, there will be no more trouble looking for balls.”

— A new clubhouse was built in 1938. and the club, the Minneapolis Tribune reported, was “anticipating its largest membership in recent years.”

— In May 1938, N.H. Miller made a hole in one on the eighth hole, and in August 1939, Judge G.J. Kolander aced the 104-yard fourth hole with a 5-iron.

Then came the 1940s, by which time many other 1920s-born golf courses in Minnesota and especially southwestern Minnesota had either closed up shop or were about to. Slayton, however, defied the template and pressed on.

A look through the Murray County Herald of 1940 revealed no local golf coverage, at least that I noticed. But on May 1, 1941, the newspaper reported, Harold Hanson had been elected president of Slayton Golf and Country Club. Membership would cost $10, $5 for women and students. “The question of hiring a care-taker was left to the executive board,” the newspaper reported. A membership of 75 was anticipated for the 1941 season.

By 1942, the United States had entered World War II, the bulk of the coverage in the Murray County Herald had turned toward the war, and, most likely, golf had ceased on the south-of-Slayton grounds. A 1943 story mentioned that Ralph Larson of Slayton had won a tournament at Worthington, but there was no mention of the Slayton course in the story or in any other newspapers I scanned. The newspaper reprinted an editorial from the Austin (Minn.) Daily Herald in which golf was excoriated, the editorialist stridently frowning upon people would play such a game when they could be contributing more by working in the fields.

So, the lost-course template apparently had been fulfilled. The Murray / Slayton layout had been abandoned.

Or not.

I assumed at this point that the golf course had disappeared forever (template paradigm at play). I read nothing about local golf in skimming 1945 newspapers. But I decided to look further. Part of this had to do with a suspicion that, as one of the larger small towns in the area, if that makes any sense, perhaps Slayton still would have had the wherewithal to support a golf course. The city’s population had been growing steadily: 1,045 in 1920, 1,102 in 1930, 1,587 in 1940.

And there, in the pages of the 1946 Murray County Herald, Slayton’s golf course re-emerged.

“Golf Course Open; Greatly Improved” read a headline in the June 6, 1946, Herald.

“After being closed down during the war, the Slayton golf course is again open and in use,” the story read. “Though membership is low, there being only 25 signed up, the number is growing daily, according to President Walter Schrupp, and will reach 80 or 90 once the course is restored to its former good shape.” Also noted were a freshly painted and renovated clubhouse, improved fairways, and an effort to resolve an issue with grub worms.

The golf course presumably made it through 1946, because a story in the Herald of June 19, 1947, was headlined “Golf Club Progresses.”

The newspaper reported that bad weather had delayed the course’s opening for the season but that it was imminent. “The course has been covered with weeds and grass on the greens but the Herald has been informed that a great deal of work already has been done and it will be mowed again at the end of this week.

“Biggest problem facing the mainsprings of the club so far has been lack of funds and manpower. Most of the work that has been done so far has been done by local golf enthusiasts in their spare time.”

So the golf course had been revived, but still, reading between the lines, it appeared to be on life support. And a stroll through 1948 editions of the Murray County Herald revealed no mention of a local golf course.

My best guess is that the Slayton golf course — the one on the lot south of the city — did not survive past 1947. I don’t know that for a fact. Determining dates of lost courses’ demise might be more challenging than uncovering the courses in the first place, because, not surprisingly, the clubs rarely publicized it when their courses shut down, and it is increasingly difficult to find current town residents who remember 1930s and ’40s-era lost courses.

Regardless, the original Slayton golf club made a valiant effort at surviving past the template time frame of early-era Minnesota lost golf courses — that is, established in the 1920s but gone before the end of World War II. And that was not the end of golf in Slayton. In 1957, Slayton Country Club was established one mile north of the city, with a new nine-hole layout. The course is still in operation, with private membership and operated by GreatLife Golf & Fitness.

Notes: Photo at the top of this post is by Peter Wong. As always, I come away with more questions than answers about this lost golf course and welcome any responses or revelations. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Clearwater Country Club, Annandale: Another look

Maybe it’s just me.

OK, it’s just me.

But one of the compelling things — to me, just me — about rummaging around for Minnesota’s lost golf courses is occasionally coming across something quite unusual — an old scorecard, an old photo, an old duffer buried and petrified beneath the surface of an ancient pot bunker from which he could not extricate himself (OK, haven’t come across one of those yet).

There is satisfaction, too, in sharing a find with two or three people who might care.

Sometimes as many as four.

The downside is that for every find, there can be more questions raised than answers revealed.

Case in point:

In August 2015, I wrote about the former Clearwater Country Club of Annandale, in central Minnesota’s Wright County. A couple of months ago, a friend who shares an interest in Minnesota golf history alerted me to an eBay auction for an old Clearwater CC postcard.

Old postcards of old golf courses in Minnesota aren’t unusual. There are plenty available from the state’s first course, Town & Country Club of St. Paul. There may be even more available from another early and historic course, Minikahda of Minneapolis. (Maddeningly, close to half of the postcards from the latter course mangle the spelling of the course’s name, going with Minikhada or the even more common ultramangling, Minnekahda.)

But postcards from other lost courses don’t show up every day, and they often offer little more than a dim view of a shoreline or a clubhouse. I was drawn to this Clearwater CC postcard because of the clear view of the terrain and Clearwater Lake in the background, and the clear depiction of a golf course, even if no greens or 22-handicappers are visible nearby.

So I bid on the postcard and was fortunate enough to win it, for something less than the price of a new Callaway driver, which I wouldn’t be able to hit worth a damn anyway. A look at the card, and a long-ago view of Clearwater Country Club, is presented below.

Best guess is that the photo was taken from near the center of the golf course, looking northeast and toward Clearwater Lake. Wright County Highway 24, which was more or less the southern border of the course, would be behind the photographer, as would the clubhouse. There is a better look at the entirety of the golf course in an aerial photo of the course on my original post on Clearwater CC (see link above).

But it seems like I can never come up with one nugget from a lost golf course without more unsolved mysteries arising. So it is with Clearwater CC.

I reported in my original post that Clearwater Country Club “opened before 1942, most likely.” I’m never crazy about being so vague, but is inevitable in this line of work/folly because absolute confirmation of “facts” can be difficult to come by. The postcard above, however, suggested that Clearwater CC was in fact founded well before 1942. The date on the postmark, though partially obscured, appeared to be 1932. Short of trying to contact Mr. Martin Syphrit (spelling?), to whom the postcard was mailed and who presumably has long since ceased to become reachable via a valid postal address in Brookville, Pa., I thought I would try to be more precise with the founding date of Clearwater Country Club.

Browsing through issues of the Annandale Advocate from 1932 held on microfilm at the Minnesota History Center revealed nothing — no mention of a golf course. Across the hall from the History Center’s microfilm room, however, is the Gale Library, with a wonderful collection of books, magazines and other resources. Included among those holdings is an Annandale centennial book, issued in 1988 and titled “Community with Spirit.”

The centennial book cleared up for me the exact date of Clearwater Country Club’s founding. An entry reads:

“1925: Agitation for a golf course. In 1925, Mrs. L. Longfellow was the President of the first golf club in Annandale. The first golf course in the area was located near Clearwater Lake. It was a nine-hole course with sand greens, and has since been platted for lots, and many homes have been built on the land.”

As far as I can tell, a 1925 opening would have made Clearwater Country Club the first golf course in Wright County.

Of course, if I had come across the centennial book in the first place, I never would have had to speculate that Clearwater CC was founded “before 1942.” But you never know in which order you’ll find these little gems, so you do what you can with what you have.

Anyway … it may be small potatoes, but there you have it. A cool, old view of Clearwater Country Club, plus the knowledge that someone first striped a drive there in the year 1925.

 

Silver Creek Golf Club, Rochester: Pioneering and vanishing act

Of the 135 verified lost golf courses in Minnesota, seven very early renditions share a common, significant characteristic.

No, the correct answer is not “failure.”

I suppose that is technically an accurate answer for almost any lost golf course, but let’s keep the tone a little more upbeat, huh? Dock yourself two strokes for smart-aleckry and move on.

These seven courses, all of them shuttered by 1918 — well, those that had clubhouse doors or windows to shutter — shared this commonality: All bore seeds that were whisked away after the course’s demise and sprouted one or 10 or 100 miles away, helping give rise to the game of golf in Minnesota.

The histories of six of these seven clubs are fairly clear matters of record, for those who might care to bury their noses in dimly lit microfilm for an hour or 50. None of the six lasted long — 21 years was the max, eight the average — but each left an impression beyond its physical footprint.

To wit:

Winona Golf Club was the state’s first lost golf course, a sliver of light that flickered for mere months in 1897. WGC led the next year to the establishment of Winona’s Meadow-Brook Golf Club, which in 1901 was host of the first Minnesota State Amateur tournament. Bryn Mawr Golf Club (1898-1910) in western Minneapolis was the Halley’s Comet of early lost courses, shining brightly before famously spawning first Minikahda GC in 1899 and then Interlachen CC in 1910 (the same year Bryn Mawr shut down and Halley’s made a particularly spectacular celestial appearance). Roadside Golf Club (1897-1902) in St. Paul was Minnesota’s most female-friendly early course. In Wayzata, the six-hole, flash-in-the-pan practice course in the Ferndale neighborhood (1899) hosted a pantheon of stars of Minnesota golf and commerce. Merriam Park (1900-1906) was, like Meadow-Brook and Bryn Mawr, a charter member of the Minnesota Golf Association.

The other member of the lost-course septet similarly left its mark on Minnesota golf at the turn of the 20th century before dissolving in the year … well, danged if I know.

So much for historical precision. Onward …

The first known mention (by that, I mean known by me) of golf in the southeastern Minnesota city of Rochester was made by the Rochester Post and Record of May 11, 1900: “There is no reason why Rochester should not have a golf club,” the newspaper story began, and reported that a group of 12 people had begun efforts to organize one.  Membership was to cost “$10 for a gentleman alone or $15 for lady and gentleman together.”

The newspaper story speculated that a grounds would be established on land owned by F.R. Van Dusen southwest of the city, in a pasture straddling the Zumbro River. Judging by later stories, however, it appears the Van Dusen grounds never were used for Rochester’s first course. Coincidentally, judging by an 1896 plat map, that site appears to be near the current Soldiers Field Golf Course grounds.

By late June 1900, the organization of Rochester’s first golf club was imminent. “The game of golf grows greater in popularity with an increasing number of Rochester people,” the Olmsted County Democrat reported on June 29. “The golf links between the State Hospital and St. John’s cemetery have seen more people in the last three weeks than at any other period in known history. … Golf is a most healthful form of exercise and is much enjoyed by all who have the leisure to play.”

A week later, a group of 23 people met at the home of milling company owner John A. Cole and organized the city’s first golf club. On July 6, 1900, the Post and Record and the Olmsted County Democrat both reported on the organization of the first golf club in Rochester.

“The ‘Silver Creek Golf Club’ is now firmly established in this city,” the Post and Record reported. “The foundation stone has been laid, and the nucleus is formed from which a flourishing and prosperous club will grow.

“The present links are situated about a mile from the city (remember, this is 1900 Rochester, population 6,843, not the current sprawl of 100,000-plus), just north of the Northwestern railroad tracks, and this side of the State hospital. At present, there are only five holes laid out, but owing to the constantly increasing membership, the club finds it necessary to lay out two or three more holes. …

“Never was a golf club formed under more favorable circumstances; never were members more enthusiastic and persevering. If this counts for any thing, as we know it does, then who can doubt the bright future of ‘The Silver Creek Golf club.’ ”

The club was so named because of its proximity to Silver Creek, which runs from east of Rochester into the city before emptying into the Zumbro River near Silver Lake. The course’s grounds are presumed to have lain near what is now 5th Street Northeast and 15th and 17th Avenues Northeast — east of Calvary Cemetery, which went by the name St. John’s Cemetery (see five paragraphs previous) until 1940.

1896 plat map of Rochester, Minn., courtesy of John Borchert Map Library, University of Minnesota. Area inside red rectangle at right shows presumed approximate grounds of Silver Creek Golf Club. At the upper-left corner is downtown Rochester.

The first set of Silver Creek club officers made for a distinguished foursome in Rochester business and professional society. Cole was the founding president. Arthur F. Kilbourne, the club’s vice president, was superintendent of the Rochester State Hospital. Secretary John H. Kahler was a prominent Rochester hotelier; one of the businesses his family started still operates in downtown Rochester as The Grand Kahler Hotel. Treasurer George J. Stevens owned a carpet and window-hanging business.

Though the club’s founding members were well-to-do, its golf grounds were modest. “This pasture was maintained by a herd of sheep and a few goats with the greens given more attention by hand mowing,” wrote local golf historian James Gardner, the former longtime greens superintendent at Rochester Golf & Country Club, in 1988. It is likely the course “expanded” from five holes to six at some point.

Modesty aside, in its second season of operation, Silver Creek Golf Club helped make Minnesota golf history. On Aug. 29, 1901, representatives of seven golf clubs met in Winona and formed the Minnesota Golf Association. The seven founding clubs were Bryn Mawr and Minikahda of Minneapolis, Town & Country and Merriam Park of St. Paul, Tatepaha of Faribault, Meadow-Brook of Winona …

… and Silver Creek.

Silver Creek was referred to as Rochester Golf Club in Winona newspaper stories documenting the formation of the MGA and as “Rochester Club” in the minutes of the MGA meeting. But as sure as Jordan Spieth can putt, the Rochester club that was a founding MGA member had its grounds on the Silver Creek site. The club is referred to as Silver Creek in a St. Paul Globe story of Aug. 30, 1901, that reported on the formation of the MGA, and the newspaper reported that “Cole” — presumably John A. Cole — was elected an MGA director. The minutes of the MGA meeting list “Ireland and Terry” as delegates of “Rochester Club” — and H.J. (Harry) Terry and W.W. Ireland also were listed as Silver Creek members in Rochester newspaper stories from 1900.

And then, poof. Almost as soon as Silver Creek Golf Course came onto the scene, it disappeared.

Or didn’t. Take your pick.

There may be more musty records in a vault somewhere, but advancing past 1901, I could not find a shred of firm evidence that Silver Creek Golf Club saw the dawn of 1902. An archivist’s search at the Olmsted County Historical Society revealed no mention of Silver Creek golf from 1902-15. I contacted three authors, including Gardner, who had mentioned Silver Creek in writing about the origins of Rochester Golf & Country Club, and none could confirm that the course existed during that 1902-15 “dead period.”

Although Silver Creek is a nondescript stream as it runs through the eastern part of Rochester today, it once lay alongside Rochester’s first golf course. (November 2016 photo)

The years 1915-17 marked a pivotal period in the development of Rochester golf. There are slightly different versions of stories afoot, but the essence is that Rochester Golf Club was formed, and play began on the club’s current site two miles west of downtown, known today as Rochester Golf & Country Club. Harry Turpie, professional at Red Wing Country Club, designed the original nine holes at the current site, and famed golf-course architect A.W. Tillinghast designed an expansion to 18 holes in the late 1920s. Today, RG&CC is one of Minnesota’s preeminent courses, having hosted the MGA State Amateur Championship five times.

And what of the Rochesterians who in 1900 pumped drives into Silver Creek or fanned mid-mashies into the cemetery? Those people were not one-year golf wonders. As with other golfers at early Minnesota lost courses, many took up the game at new venues, and some became promoters and pioneers of the game.

Gardner confirmed that Silver Creek members Kilbourne, Ireland and Terry also were early Rochester Golf & Country Club members. Harold J. Richardson, a University of Minnesota law student in 1900 who “suffered a ‘swipe’ in the face with a golf stick” at Silver Creek, according to the Olmsted County Democrat, recovered to become a prominent attorney, moved to St. Paul, and had memberships at Town & Country Club, Minikahda, Somerset and White Bear Yacht Club.

Certainly, there were other Silver Creek members whose games emigrated to other courses. And so, Silver Creek joins the group of seven Minnesota lost golf courses that are gone but should not be forgotten.


POSTSCRIPT

Since my original posting, I have come across a few more references. Unfortunately, they make the history of early Rochester golf as crystal-clear as a dank day in London.

In order, with commentary and amateur analysis:

— The Minneapolis Tribune of Aug. 30, 1901, reported on the forming of the MGA in very similar fashion to the St. Paul Globe of the same date, and also referred to the Rochester Club as Silver Creek.

— The Minneapolis Journal of May 6, 1901, confuses the issue. “The local golf club, which has just been organized, has laid out its links in the southwestern part of the city, and the game promises to be a very popular one this summer.” The geographical reference is befuddling. Silver Creek was/is decidedly in the eastern part of Rochester. Unless Rochester’s first golfers abandoned the Silver Creek layout after the 1900 season and reorganized in 1901 in another location, perhaps on the Van Dusen land southwest of the city, there is a geographical contradiction at play here. And the “just been organized” reference also is confusing, because there was a Rochester club the year before, and the club still was referred to as Silver Creek later in 1901, when the MGA organized. Why would there be “Silver Creek” references in 1901 if the club had relocated?

— I was wrong about references to golf in Rochester vanishing in late 1901. Despite going through many issues of two Rochester newspapers from 1902 and 1903 to no avail, I did find a Minneapolis Journal story reporting on the 1903 MGA state tournament that reads in part, “Two new golf clubs, those of Rochester and St. Cloud, have been added to the state association during the last year.” There was no mention of Silver Creek in the Journal story.

— Yet that story seems to contradict an early document. In 1920, the MGA compiled a list of all member clubs, current and former. “Rochester Golf Club, Aug. 29, 1901,” the document reads, referencing its founding date as an MGA member. “Resigned 1902.”

Resigned. That’s a good word. I do believe I am resigned to not understanding what in the name of Francis Ouimet Rochester were doing with their club or clubs and its name or names from 1901 to 1903, not to mention beyond. Further information would, of course, be most welcome.

Shor-Tee, Part II: Punch it 58 yards, UNDER the tree

Shor-Tee scorecard. Sam Terrell said the card is provided courtesy of Mike Thomas, general manager and PGA professional at North Links Golf Course in Mankato. Thomas, Terrell said, used to play the course when he went to visit his mother in Waseca, Minn. Thomas said the scorecard was from a round he played with his father at age 12.

Shor-Tee scorecard. Sam Terrell said the card is provided courtesy of Mike Thomas, general manager and PGA professional at North Links Golf Course in Mankato. Thomas, Terrell said, used to play the course when he went to visit his grandmother in Waseca, Minn. Thomas said the scorecard was from a round he played with his father at age 12.

shortee2

Gotta love people like Sam Terrell.

After I posted last week about the old Shor-Tee Golf Course alongside Tetonka Lake in Waterville, at least a dozen people recounted good memories of the course on the “You Know You’re From Waterville,…” Facebook page.

Then Terrell, who grew up in nearby Elysian, emailed me a detailed account of Shor-Tee and the course’s owner and founder, Bill Sautbine, complete with a few cool old photos and a photo of the scorecard. The text of Terrell’s email follows, with photos at the bottom.

Here are Sam Terrell’s recollections:

“The course had all par threes and was a very short course. If I remember correctly, the  shortest hole was 58 yards and the longest was 116 yards. You could play the course with 2 clubs and a putter. I learned to play golf at Shor–Tee and also learned from Bill that you do when you hit a ball that may hit someone. I was teeing off on number 3 and hit one right over Bill’s head as he was teeing off on hole 4. He came rushing over and said, “When you think you are going to hit someone you holler ‘fore!’ real loud”. Needless to say I had many opportunities to holler ‘fore’ on such a small course when I was younger.

“I got my only hole-in-one on that course. It was on the 72 yard 7th hole. I played 27 holes that day. The first nine I hit the pin on hole 7 and thought that would be the closest I would ever get to a hole-in-one. The second time around, I hit a ball on 7 that hit the green and went in the hole on the second bounce. I was really excited and when I finished the second nine and was getting ready to go the third nine, I went into the clubhouse and told Bill I got a hole-in-one! His reaction was “oh, that’s nice”. It must have happened often because he did not get very excited about it.

“Back then, my future brother-in-law, Bob Preuss, lived on a farm west of the course and worked for Bill mowing the greens. He had to walk across a couple of fields to get to the course. Bill would make him change shoes because he didn’t want him getting mud on the greens.

“I talked to Bill years ago and he said he had intended to make the course into an 18 hole course but felt the community support was not good enough. He said he was a little disappointed because the community learned to golf on his small course but then went to Waseca and other courses where they could play longer holes and Shor – Tee was forgotten.

Terrell’s course description

Hole #1) The hole went up a steep incline starting at the clubhouse going north. Bill and June’s house sat just to the right of the green.

Hole #2) This hole was a short 58 yard hole on top of the hill that went east from behind hole 1. It had a big oak tree before the green so you could not hit a high shot. You had to punch a low shot under the tree to get to the green.

Hole #3) This was a hole that was 107 yards on top of the hill that went straight west with trees all along the right side all the way to the green.

Hole #4) This was a 80 yard hole that went south and was straight downhill. I like this one because if you drubbed the shot it could still roll down the hill and make it to the green.

Hole #5) This hole was 70 yards and went west towards the inlet off Tetonka. There was a small pond between the tee box and green.

Hole #6) This was 65 yards and came back east. Again you had to hit over the small pond.

Hole #7) This was a 72 yard hole that went towards the inlet.

Hole #8) This was the longest hole at 116 yards. It went east back towards the club house. When you finished the hole you had to walk west to get to the 9th tee box. There was a screen behind the 9th tee box to protect you from someone that may shank their tee shot to number 8.

Hole #9) This hole was 104 yards and ran parallel to number 8 and the road, going east towards the lake.

Terrell: "Me teeing off on number 7, the 6th green and clubhouse is behind me."

Sam Terrell: “Me teeing off on number 7, the 6th green and clubhouse is behind me.”

Terrell: "Me putting on the 6th green."

Terrell: “Me putting on the 6th green.”

From Sam Terrell: "My wife Rhonda with the 4th green in the background."

Terrell: “My wife Rhonda with the 4th green in the background.”

 

 

 

 

Golf in Waterville: A mostly true story

Waterville1WATERVILLE, Minn. — Yes, indeed. Greetings from Waterville.

This is the scene the postcard paints: warm, sunny, friendly, inviting Waterville.

The postcard lies.

Don’t misinterpret. The lie doesn’t reflect poorly on Waterville. There are many pleasant truths about this small town in south-central Minnesota. Waterville is home to the Buccaneers of Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School, the reigning Class A state volleyball champions. It is host of citywide garage sales in mid-May and Bullhead Days in early June, where festival offerings include fireworks, bingo, food and carnival rides and where Miss Waterville kisses the prize catch in the kids fishing contest. And it is adorned by two big, beautiful and usually peaceful lakes, Tetonka to the west and Sakatah to the east.

Sakatah Bay, near downtown Waterville.

Sakatah Bay, near downtown Waterville.

Tetonka Lake, at Waterville Municipal Beach.

Tetonka Lake, at Waterville Municipal Beach.

Beyond those truths, there is this opinion: Waterville, population 1,868, is among the more appealing under-2,000-population towns I have visited in more than five decades of tooling around Minnesota. “World class fishing, scenic beauty and a progressive atmosphere,” the city’s website boasts, and the municipal chest-thumping doesn’t come across as overblown.

Here is how I got to Waterville:

In early April, while rummaging through eBay in a search for trinkets on lost Minnesota golf courses, I came across this listing: “Waterville Minnesota-Greetings From A Golf Course-1950s PC.” (The “PC” stands for “postcard.” The 1950s notation seemed unlikely to me; the golfers’ attire looked like what I wore on the course in the mid-1970s, except that my shorts were, I’m horrified to say, shorter and whiter and tighter than those on the woman at the left of the postcard.) Nonetheless, I hacked into my wife’s bank account for the required $6.40, bought the card (shown at the top of this post) and began Googling golf in Waterville.

Oh — If you similarly Googled “Waterville” and “golf” and wound up here while trying to land a reservation at the renowned links in Ireland, all I can say is “tough Irish luck.”

After a handful of search variations, Google revealed Shor-Tee Golf Course in Waterville, Minn. Maybe I should have known about the place, but I always said when I started digging up Minnesota’s lost courses that there was no way I would find every one. A few more clicks and a half-dozen phone calls revealed only smidges of information about Shor-Tee, all of which added up to the inevitable conclusion:

Road trip. I gotta see me that lost course.

Waterville is in southeastern Le Sueur County, approximately halfway between Faribault and Mankato and an hour south of Minneapolis. I had been told I might find archived material on Shor-Tee at the newspaper office, so that’s where I was headed first.

The door to Lake Region Life was closed. It was after office hours on a Friday afternoon, but the door was unlocked, so I barged in, as any big-city reporter worth his ill-mannered salt would. Jay Schneider, the newspaper’s editor and manager, couldn’t have been more accommodating. He not only invited me to go through the newspaper’s back issues, he spent at least an hour helping me look and/or telephoning one local after another to dig up the history of Shor-Tee. There was an element of doggedly digging for the truth at play, even for a subject as trivial as a little old golf course, which perhaps helps explain why Schneider and his staff won awards for their coverage of the devastating Waterville floods of 2014.

At this point, a few more truths about Shor-Tee Golf Course can be revealed. The course was owned by Willis Sautbine, who operated it with his wife, June. The Sautbines were teachers at Waterville High School. (June died in 2001 and Willis in 2011, and they had no children, so firsthand information on Shor-Tee from direct family members was impossible to gather.) Shor-Tee was situated two miles west of downtown Waterville, on the southern shore of Lake Tetonka, near a finger of land known as Willow Point.

Shor-Tee was a short course — a veritable walk to the end of the block and back. It was a par-3 layout, nine holes. A handful of Waterville residents said almost all of the holes were less than 100 yards long, with one saying the longest was about 110 yards.

“It was a 9-iron course and putter. You could get through the whole course with that,” said Waterville resident Scott Pullen, and evidence in the Lake Region Life office bore him out.

The Shor-Tee version of the golf bag: functional, lightweight, not overly stylish.

The Shor-Tee version of the golf bag: functional, lightweight, not overly stylish.

Schneider reached to a top shelf and pulled down a makeshift “golf bag” that came from Shor-Tee — a set of three plastic golf-bag tubes, held together by two old Schell’s beer cans.

At this point, the lines between truth and half-truth, hyperbole and well-intentioned but fuzzy memory began to blur. It most certainly wasn’t a Waterville thing; it is part and parcel of researching lost golf courses. One person tells you Lost Course X was 18 holes, on the south side of the county highway and tantamount to a Donald Ross design; the other says it was nine holes, alongside a dusty dirt road and was a dog track.

Willis Sautbine enjoyed various avocations. “Dabbler” might be an appropriate label. Besides opening a golf course, he performed karaoke at area bars. One Waterville resident doubted he was much good; another rebutted with “No, I think he was quite the crooner.”

Sautbine’s name comes up in a U.S. patent search. In 1972, he was awarded Patent No. 3699913, for something called a self-righting marker: “An upright marker for use in designating a selected spot on a floor or ground surface and having a weighted base with a rounded bottom to automatically return the marker to its uprights (sic) condition when knocked or blown over.”

Perhaps not all of his dabbling, however, was performed with precision. One person said Sautbine once set out to build an airplane, buying parts and assembling them in his garage. One little hang-up: The garage doors, the person said, weren’t wide enough to accommodate the exit of a fully assembled aircraft.
That anecdote aside, Sautbine’s golf course apparently was successful. At a minimum, it had staying power. At least two Waterville residents said the course was built in the 1950s, and two said it opened as a three-hole layout, although an entry penned by Minnesota State Mankato alum Sautbine on a university website purports that he built the course and strongly suggested its origin dated to the 1960s. (Sautbine called the course “Shor-TEE” in the piece, as opposed to the “Shor-Tee” in most other references.) He closed the course in 1994, with at least close to three decades of operation of a golf course of less than 1,000 yards in a town of less than 2,000 residents in the books. That in itself is remarkable.
Economy must have had something to do with Shor-Tee’s durability. Waterville resident Edgar Eggers, 99, recalled that annual membership cost $25. A 1990 roundup of golf courses that ran in the Rochester Post-Bulletin mentioned 58 courses in the region; the lowest greens fee of all was the $3.50 at Shor-Tee.
Criticism of Bill Sautbine’s operation could not be found in modern-day Waterville. At least a half-dozen people complimented Shor-Tee. “It used to be a cool place; it really was,” offered Pullen. Sautbine’s niece, Pat Hansen of Valley City, N.D., recalled spending summer weeks along the Sautbines’ Lake Tetonka shoreline, where houseboat and cottage rentals were available. A public beach was nearby, as well.

Willis Sautbine (used with permission of Minnesota State University Theatre & Dance)

Willis Sautbine (used with permission of Minnesota State University Theatre & Dance)

Thursdays were men’s nights at Shor-Tee, and the potlucks included hand-picked vegetables from June Sautbine’s garden. “June was the one that made that place go,” Eggers said of the high school phy ed teacher. “She taught all the kids how to play golf. … It was really a well-run golf course.”

With truth, fiction and opinion now reasonably sorted out, only The Big Lie remains , and it concerns the “Greetings From Waterville, Minn.” postcard.

My original intent in visiting Waterville included trying to ascertain the identity of the gentleman pictured at the center of the postcard. I was hoping to salute him, even if posthumously, for the high finish and excellent balance in his swing, and in the event he were still alive I would ask him if he had ever won a U.S. Open championship.

Not gonna happen.

Though it’s impossible to say for sure, it strongly appears the gentleman is swinging a wood, as are three others on the tee box. A mite too much club, I would say, by about eight clubs, for a likely low-handicap player negotiating a hole of 110 yards or less. And the golf course grounds appears relatively expansive, certainly not economy-sized like Shor-Tee was.

Schneider, a visitor to his newspaper office and Eggers all doubted that the postcard was from Shor-Tee. Waterville’s Jack Luther, 85, who played the course often and once had a hole in one there, unequivocally said the postcard absolutely did not depict Shor-Tee.

The back of the postcard is unmarked, so there are no hints as to the actual site of the picture on the front of the card. Maybe it was a photo from a nearby golf course — the nearest to Waterville are Prairie Ridge of Janesville, but that didn’t open until 1995, and Lakeside Club of Waseca.

Or maybe Tichnor Bros. Inc. of Boston 15, Mass., which issued the postcard, merely reached into its file of stock photos of golf courses and decided to imply to the unwashed masses that “Greetings From Waterville, Minn.” meant “Greetings From Waterville, Minn., Where The Golf Course That’s Really There Isn’t The One You’re Viewing On This Postcard.”

But that would have taken up a lot of real estate on the 3.5-by-5.5-inch field. Besides, a half-century later, this exercise in truth-finding was more fun anyway.

Looking north on Tetonka Lake from the Minnesota DNR boat launch, toward Willow Point. Area in the background was part of Willis Sautbine's property, sold in 1998 to Tim Schmidtke, who said his basement lies where the No. 2 green on Shor-Tees once lay.

Looking north on Tetonka Lake from the Minnesota DNR boat launch, toward Willow Point. Area in the background was part of Willis Sautbine’s property, sold in 1998 to Tim Schmidtke, who said his basement lies where the No. 2 green on Shor-Tees once lay.

 

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Postscript

The question of Shor-Tee’s date of opening appears to have been answered. Sam Terrell, an Elysian native who played at Shor-Tee’s, forwards the clip above from Jay Schneider’s Lake Region Life, published just after my visit. Thank you, Sam and Jay.