Tag Archives: Minnesota golf

Who was Bim, and why was he here? (It’s not a mystery.)

William Lovekin, long-deceased and itinerant Midwestern golf professional, built himself a solid résumé: accomplished player, longtime teacher and one-time (at least) course designer.

It also was said of Lovekin that he was well-schooled on golf club design. I have little doubt that’s true. In that regard, however, I would submit he can’t be considered a visionary.

Asterisk: small sample size.

The name of W.R. (William) Lovekin, better known as “Bim,”  is referenced in many old publications, and even a handful of modern ones. But the only one that I know of that reveals Lovekin’s character in any depth appeared in the May 14, 1932, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune. Keep in mind that Lovekin designed and built golf clubs with hickory shafts:

“There is a steady return to wooden-shafted irons throughout the country if Bim Lovekin, popular professional at Golden Valley, knows his clubs and golf, and he has a reputation for both,” the Tribune story began. “During the first Minneapolis league match last Wednesday at Golden Valley, Bim discoursed at length on the movement back to the hickory.

” ‘It is significant and pertinent to note that both Walter Hagen and Horton Smith have returned to wooden-shafted irons and are pushing them,’ offered Lovekin. ‘It is also to be observed that fully 60 per cent of the outstanding players throughout the country have been going the same way.

” ‘The general opinion is that irons with iron shafts were pretty much of a fad, but they have outlived much of their usefulness. …’ ”

Bim wasn’t exactly prescient on this one. Hickory-shafted irons (yes, an oxymoron, like metal woods) went the way of the horseless carriage, while steel became the shaft of choice.

The effort here is not to tarnish Bim Lovekin’s reputation, for we all have at some point supported bass-ackward notions, haven’t we? The anecdote is offered only as a small window into golf’s past.

Back to Bim Lovekin. Nine months prior, he had ventured 155 miles west of Golden Valley to Minneota, a Lyon County city of just over 900 residents, some of whom were expressing an interest in organizing a golf club and building a golf course.

Minneota Golf Club was established in late July 1931, with the Minneota Mascot reporting on July 31 of that year that the group, with Dr. R.J. Lundgren as president, was set to begin work on a 55-acre plot three miles south of downtown. The land, just west of the Hemnes church, was owned by Hans Teigland, where, according to the Mascot, “a very sporty course can be laid out there without much trouble.”

That’s where Lovekin came in. He surveyed Teigland’s property and laid out nine holes covering 2,767 yards, with a par of 35.

He also agreed with, or maybe even fostered, the Mascot’s assessment of the new golf course.

” ‘It is a mighty sporty course,’ Mr. Lovekin said, ‘and it’s one where good shots will be rewarded and bad ones penalized. There are natural hazards in abundance, and it’s a course you won’t get tired of playing.’ ”

1938 aerial photo of presumed site of Minneota Golf Club. Golf course site would have been on the left side of this photo, with County Highway 3 running north-south on the right side and the south branch of the Yellow Medicine River farther right (east). Best guess is that routings of many holes roughly followed the ravine that ran through the course. University of Minnesota John Borchert Map Library photo.

Current photo, with Minneota at top and approximate area of golf course in maroon rectangle. (USGS)

It’s worth noting that Lovekin likely had a handle on what constituted a good golf course. He had played around the Midwest, and the Golden Valley Golf and Country Club that employed him had its course designed by famed course architect A.W. Tillinghast.

The first tee at Minneota Golf Club was at the southeastern edge of the course, where players embarked on a 452-yard par 5. The course also included six par 4s, ranging in length from 285 to 440 yards, and two par 3s of 150 and 155 yards.

The course featured willow trees, hills and four crossings of a ravine. Three of the holes were doglegs. “Those who traversed the course predict that a lot of balls are likely to be lost through the fence when short-cuts are attempted,” the Mascot reported.

Charter members of Minneota Golf Club paid dues of $10. The Mascot reported by way of comparison that Lovekin’s Golden Valley club charged dues of $110 and an annual membership fee of $400.

At Minneota Golf Club’s outset, no greens fees were charged. “Expenses are being kept to the minimum in launching the course here,” the Mascot reported, “and the intention is that people who have not played golf before be given an opportunity to do so at no cost whatever in order to stimulate interest in the game. An ideal course can be arranged within the next few years, but for a ‘starter’ only the simplest of preparations will be under taken.”

Minneota Golf Club did not last forever. My best guess is that, like three other lost courses in Lyon County — at Russell, Cottonwood and Tracy — it was abandoned by the early 1940s, which would match the timeline for many other lost courses in southwestern Minnesota. A 1932 Minneapolis Tribune ad from Minneota GC solicited purchase of a mower. An April 1936 entry in the Minneota Mascot referenced the club, with Dr. C.E. Eastwood as president and Carl Strand as secretary. I found no later references to the club. Golf in Minneota reappeared in 1964 with the opening of Countryside Golf Club, on the western edge of the city.

More of Lovekin’s story deserves to be told. The native Scotsman’s bio included stops at no fewer than eight clubs: Rockford, Ill. (1906), Woodmont of Milwaukee (1907-14), Fox River of Green Bay, Wis. (1921-26), Ozaukee of Milwaukee (1925), Golden Valley (1928-36), Montevideo (1937-38), New Ulm (1939) and Worthington, where he was employed until his death in 1952.

Lovekin had the unusual distinction of playing in two U.S. Opens 24 years apart — in 1906 and 1930 — and won the 1922 Wisconsin State Open. A 1972 column in the Argus-Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D., reported that Lovekin had been among the professionals at Worthington who had worked with an up-and-coming player named Joel Goldstrand, who would matriculate to the University of Houston, then the PGA Tour, then a career as Minnesota’s most prolific golf course designer, with around 50 courses to his credit, most of them in Minnesota.

Lovekin, meanwhile, was credited with having designed 18 other courses as of the 1931 Mascot story. I haven’t run across any other mentions of courses he designed, but regardless, he did leave a mark on the state’s golf history.


More (and more) silos and flagsticks: Lake Benton

In southwestern Minnesota lies some of the most fertile ground in the state.

For lost golf courses.

Chapter 42 of “Fore! Gone.” was titled “Silos and Flagsticks.” It offered a tip of the Northrup King cap not only to the rich loam of the southwestern corner of the state but to eight small towns that were — are, actually — home to at least 10 abandoned golf courses.

Those 10 — in Chandler, Fulda, Heron Lake, Jackson, Lakefield, Tracy, Windom, and three in Pipestone — might not have been the half of it.

In the two-plus years since my book was published, I have written about the modest little course west of Madelia and the stunningly historic first site of golf in Marshall. Now, there is more in southwestern Minnesota — a lot more.

In an area roughly from Ortonville to Granite Falls to Mankato and all points south and west, I have so far identified 15 lost golf courses. I suspect there are twice as many. Their life spans are distinctly similar — almost all were founded in the 1920s, when times were good across small-town Minnesota and the economies hummed along like well-oiled combine harvesters, but were abandoned in the late 1930s or early 1940s, casualties of the Great Depression and/or the advent of World War II, when many of the male residents left town to fight overseas and many of the female residents were preoccupied with raising families or helping domestically with the war effort.

Information on these courses often is spotty, but in the coming weeks (OK, probably months; I don’t work as fast as I used to) I will be writing about dozens more lost golf courses that have revealed themselves. A good share of them make their eternal rest in the land of silos and flagsticks.

For starters, a trip far west, nearly to the South Dakota border …


Eight miles east of the Minnesota-South Dakota state line lies downtown Lake Benton. The city was the seat of Lincoln County from 1882-1902, and like a number of other small towns in that neck of the pheasant fields, it featured a population healthy and large enough to take a run at golf in the 1920s. Lake Benton’s population peaked in the first half of the 1900s — it was 944 in 1920, 903 in 1930 and 961 in 1940. Today, it is estimated to be in the mid-600s.

By 1924, according to an estimate from the Lincoln County Historical Society, a golf club had formed and established a nine-hole, sand-greens layout a half-mile east of downtown, in what is now  a mostly open area bordered by Minnesota 14 on the south, Lakeview Drive on the west, railroad tracks on the north (the course did not go as far north as the lakeshore) and Benton Street on the east. The historical society said the course was owned by the city of Lake Benton. A 1925 story in the Lake Benton News affirms that the course was established in 1924, as it reports that “last year was the initial year” of the club.

The course, wrote the historical society’s Anne Lichtsinn in an email, had “grass that got so long that balls would get lost and then you had to go home.”


In 1926, the Minneapolis Tribune reported on misfortune at the Lake Benton course in a story headlined “Foursome Halted When Visiting Golfer Breaks Leg Swinging at Ball”:

“Ivanhoe, Minn., Sept. 17 — George Graff, cashier of the First National Bank of this city, will long remember his first trip to the Lake Benton golf course.

“Graff had never played the course and with a few friends decided to make the trip and play a round.

“When the foursome had played a couple of holes, Graff took a vicious drive at the ball — and he broke his leg.”

In 1930, another outsider visited Lake Benton in a trip that had a less calamitous conclusion.

“Mr. Frank Broki of Minneapolis, a professional golfer and instructor, was in Lake Benton on Wednesday of this week and gave lessons to a number of Lake Benton golf fans,” reads a passage from a reprint of a story in the Aug. 1, 1930, Lake Benton News. “Mr. Broki played one round on our course in a foursome comprised of some of our best players and made nine holes in 34, 32 being par. On account of the extreme unevenness of the course and the multiplicity of natural hazards, it is considered a very difficult one and to make it in 34 the first time is considered remarkable.”

Broki Brokl was something of a Johnny Appleseed of small-town Minnesota golf. He won state public links championships in 1927 and 1928 and the State Amateur championship in 1929 before turning professional. A Minneapolis Tribune story from 1932 reported that Broki Brokl “now is what could be called a ‘circuit rider,’ teaching and spreading the gospel of better golf on a circuit that takes him around three states (Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa). … He makes four trips around the two circuits each season spending several days to a week giving individual instructions to club members.”

(Correction, November 2017: The Minneapolis golfer’s name was spelled Brokl.)

Lichtsinn was unaware of the circumstances of the Lake Benton golf course’s demise, noting only that “it may have died out in the depression and drought at that time.” My best guess is that that is partly true. In fact, the course survived at least through the late 1930s.

The Lake Benton News of Aug. 23, 1932, reported on election of officers at the golf club, with H.H. Evans elected as president. The club appeared to be something of a regional hub for golf: Enrollment consisted of 27 members from Tyler, 17 from Ivanhoe, 13 from Lake Benton, three each from Arco and Hendricks, and two from Ruthton.

1938 aerial photo, Lake Benton golf course. The city of Lake Benton is to the left, the lake is at the top, and Minnesota Highway 14 runs along the south side of the course. The holes on the golf course are clearly visible at the center and right portions of the photo, with the sand greens showing as small, dark circles. (University of Minnesota John Borchert Library photo)

In June 1938, a tournament was held at the course, the newspaper reported. “The course this year is in the finest shape it has ever been,” the story noted. “Entry fees are $1, and ham, bacon and golf balls will be awarded as prizes.”

The next week’s follow-up to that story referred to the “Lake Benton-Tyler golf course” and noted “raspberries to losers” in tournament play. It is presumed those were literal fruity raspberries, not the kind emitted by placing one’s tongue between the lips and emitting a sputtering sound.

Another tournament was held later in June 1938, with the newspaper referencing another name for Lake Benton’s course. “Paired with Martin ‘Dietz’ Griedzicki, of the Ivanhoe course, Jens Bolleson of the Ben-Ti golf club, blazed away on the local links.” Bolleson shot 38-36–74 and won a ham, with 20 players entered in the event.

A Lake Benton news clip from June 16, 1939, referred to the course as “Ben-Tye golf links.”

And then … nothing.

I found no further references to golf in Lake Benton in scanning microfilm of the Lake Benton News from 1939 and 1940 and then as late as 1946 (a few Minnesota courses shut down during World War II, then resumed operations later). Perhaps telling, and this is pure speculation, is a reference in the July 7, 1939, Lake Benton News to a “grasshopper scourge” in nearby Ivanhoe. Perhaps there were residual effects in Lake Benton that imperiled the course. Perhaps the golf club had just, seriously no pun intended, run its course.

In July 1940, a new bowling alley, named Paul’s, opened in Lake Benton. The Lake Benton News covered local baseball at length and included stories on other sports, including auto racing. But the only reference to golf that I found in looking through much of the year’s newspaper archives was to more misfortune, albeit less severe, at a golf course to the north.

W.A. Little, the newspaper reported, fell into a pond at a golf course in Alexandria, pulling his caddie along with him into the drink when the two could not successfully negotiate the bank of the pond.

Author’s notes: The Lake Benton golf course marks the 150th that I have identified in Minnesota. When I started this lost-course project in 2012, I soon suspected I might find as many as 70 lost courses in the state. Then I realized there might be a hundred. As more abandoned courses revealed themselves and as more modern courses folded, I realized there might be 150. Now that I have reached that mark and know of at least 20 more, I have no doubt there are more than 200 lost courses scattered throughout the state. I’ll never find them all. But if you’re out there, deceased host of the game, I’m trying to find you.

My apologies for not including a credit on the photo of the golf course at the start of this post. I received the image from a friend who doesn’t remember where the image came from. I would be glad to offer proper credit if the source is revealed.



Peter Wong photo

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

Peter Wong photo


History can reveal itself in unusual ways.

Backward, for instance.

My path to uncovering what was almost certainly the first golf course in southwestern Minnesota, and one of the first 20 in all of Minnesota, was traveled in a decidedly backward direction. A few sideways steps here and there, but mostly backward.

If you can hang with me, you’re about to endure a journalistic storytelling practice known as “burying the lede.”  Actually, it’s more like journalistic malpractice. Editors hate it. Burying the lede involves taking the most compelling information available and plunking it so deep into the story that it stands a darn good chance of getting lost.

Well, “lost” is what I do, after all. So here I go, burying away with that lede. Editors, go ahead and hate me. I’d like to think that in the end, the excavation will be worth it.

The best way I can think of to tell this story is, well, backward.


Late last year, Randy LaFoy, a fellow Minnesota golf history buff who researches courses that were aided by Works Progress Administration labor during the Great Depression, told me about a golf course site he had noticed in a historic aerial photo of the city of Marshall. That led me, albeit months later, to a post about the “rebirthing” of Marshall Golf Club, which moved its grounds from the northwestern part of the city to the southwest in 1941.

It’s a fairly standard relocation story, except it got me to thinking more about Marshall Golf Club. The bulk of the Internet entries on the club, and even the club’s web site, state that Marshall GC was founded in 1942. That’s true, in the sense of the club’s current iteration (with nine additional holes opened in 1972). But I had to wonder if there wasn’t an earlier version of club history, maybe even pre-1940, when the good folks of the Lyon County seat first played golf on the northwest edge of town.

A few phone calls ultimately led me to Ron Labat, a longtime Marshall Golf Club member who perhaps has the best working knowledge of the club’s history. Some years ago, Labat shrewdly recovered and preserved some old club documents shortly before the clubhouse was remodeled and the documents destroyed.

Labat was aware that the club’s origins dated to before 1940. He has a copy of what is called Marshall Golf Club’s original Certificate of Incorporation, dated April 24, 1930, and registered in Lyon County. Labat said annual dues ranged from $10 to $50, and he included this wonderful nugget that accompanied the 1930 “establishment” of the club: “The bylaws said indebtedness (of the club) could not exceed one dollar,” Labat said.

Cool. So Marshall GC dates to 1930.

Except …

… Being interested in finding out more about the club’s establishment, I spent a couple of minutes   a bundle of hours at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, spooling and unspooling microfilm of Lyon County newspapers. The year 1930 revealed these entries on Marshall Golf Club from the News-Messenger:

April 13, 1930: Story headlined “Golfers Improve Greens and Prepare For Busy Season” and mentions sand was being delivered for the greens at Marshall Golf Club.

June 6, 1930: “Local interest in golf is increasing for the1930 season, with 60 members registered.”

Well, fine, but those stories implied to me that 1930 was not Marshall Golf Club’s first season, either.

Now unspooling the 1929 reel …

June 28, 1929: “William Wik made a record score on the Marshall golf course Tuesday, when he shot a 33, two strokes below par. On his second round of the nine holes, his score was a 37, giving him a 70 for the 18 holes.”

Nice round, Bill. (Is it OK if I call you Bill?) But I bet the course wasn’t established in 1929, either.

How about the 1928 spool?

June 8, 1928: “Golfers Plan A Tombstone Tourney Here.” Story about an upcoming tournament at Marshall, featuring a format more complicated than most Google algorithms. (I’ll not try to explain it.)

OK, now I’m going to keep digging backward until I really find out when Marshall Golf Club started.

July 1, 1927: Headline: “Monte Golfers Win.” (That’s short for Montevideo.) William Wik of Marshall shoots the low score, an 81, at Marshall course. (Nice round, Bill, but I bet you can do better. Keep plugging away.)

Somewhat exasperated by the continued retreat through the years, I decide to start retreating two years at a time …

Feb. 6, 1925: Annual meeting of Marshall Golf Club is detailed in the newspaper. George Lowe is elected president. A $10 admission fee for non-resident members. 64 members. “… Considerable money was expended last year on the grounds and club house, and the course is in fairly good condition for after but one year’s work. … Additional traps and bunkers will be built.”

Well, there’s a strong hint — right? — that Marshall Golf Club dates to 1924. And the May 16, 1924, News-Messenger proves especially revealing:

“Increased interest is being taken locally in the game,” the newspaper reports, “and with the improvements being made at the local course more practice and better play is noticeable.

“The new Marshall course is being worked into better shape. Greens are in fair condition and the course is being well marked. A large mower has been added recently to the equipment and new turf will be noticeable by next spring from mowings made this spring. A club house has been erected which will provide storage room and locker space for 24 members. … The new course has a total length of 2,792 yards negotiated in par in 36.”

“New course.” There you go. Marshall Golf Club goes all the way back to 1924. Makes a lot of sense, actually. That would place MGC’s founding solidly in line with a large group of other southwestern Minnesota courses that were established in that era, including Worthington (1919), Olivia (1920) and Canby (1920) and dozens more. The first club of all in southwestern Minnesota has generally been regarded to be Interlaken Golf Club of Fairmont, in 1917 and/or 1919, according to conflicting information on the club’s own web site. (Note, 9/16/17: Graceville Golf Club in Big Stone County appears also to date to 1917.)

Anyway, the search for Marshall Golf Club’s founding is beginning to tread on historic ground.

And then the next passage in the 1924 News-Messenger story drops the bombshell.

“The course,” the newspaper reported, “occupies practically the same ground used by Marshall’s first Golf club which flourished in 1900 and 1901, after which the game was abandoned in Marshall until the organization of the present club four years ago. The club has a membership of about 60.”

Whoa. That’s a passage almost beyond belief. Whether formally organized as Marshall Golf Club or not, golf in this southwestern Minnesota city dates not to 1942, not to 1930, not to 1927 or ’25 or ’24 …

but to 1900 or 1901.

I have to say I was floored by that last passage. If true, golf in Marshall predated golf anywhere else in that corner of the state not by two or three years, but by more than 15. This, if credible, is a historic revelation.

Back to the microfilm.

As my late, great mother might have exclaimed, excuse my French. But damned if the 1924 story wasn’t right.

I scrolled through about the first seven months of 1900 editions of the News Messenger and found no references to local golf. But 1901 was a different story.

May 17, 1901: “The golf craze is about to hit Marshall, and will probably hit it hard. A number of would-be golfers who don’t as yet know a golf stick from a hay rake have been talking golf the past week and are now preparing enthusiastically to order outfits and lay out a ground — or is it ‘green’ or ‘links.’ The ground now being considered is on the east side of the river, and nine links will be made to start with.  … Soon the members will be wrestling with the golfer’s jargon, and the uninitiated will be wondering at foozles, bunkers, tees, drives, caddies, etc.”

(Foozle. That’s a new one to me, even after 35 years of writing about golf. Definition: “a clumsy or botched attempt at something, especially a shot in golf.”)

May 24, 1901: “A golf club was organized last Saturday evening at a meeting held in Dr. Van Tassel’s office. Mr. Van Tassel was elected president and Julius Humphrey secretary. A committee on grounds … was instructed to look for grounds at once, and ascertain the probable expense of securing and preparing them. The grounds now being considered are the railroad land on each side of the Northwestern, beyond the Marshall Milling Company’s plant.

“… The membership will be limited, and ladies will be honorary members, their number also being limited. Soon the natives will be wondering at the antics of the golfers, and wondering where the fun is in chasing a ball all over the prairie with a crooked stick.”

June 7, 1901: “The golf club is about ready to begin golfing.”

Aug. 9, 1901: “The golf links continue to attract a number of golfers every day and evening. Bert Welsford has lowered the score twice this week, putting the best score yet made on the course at 57, most of the golfers playing around 75.”

Golf in Marshall. In 1901. It’s true.

Whether or not there was a formally organized Marshall Golf Club in 1901 — the newspaper clips imply it but don’t make it clear — Marshall now occupies a historic perch in Minnesota golf history. My records show only 12 courses in state history having been in operation before 1901: Town & Country Club, Roadside and Merriam Park, all of St. Paul; Winona GC and Meadow-Brook of Winona; Burton Private Course of Deephaven; Bryn Mawr and The Minikahda Club of Minneapolis; Northland of Duluth; Lafayette Club of Minnetonka Beach; Silver Creek of Rochester; and Tatepaha of Faribault.

Take a bow, Marshall, as the now-presumed birthplace of golf in southwestern Minnesota.


— I didn’t find in the 1901 newspaper clips any mentions of the golf course shutting down, but I don’t have reason to doubt the 1924 story suggesting it.

— It’s likely that the course didn’t first reopen in 1924 but in fact even earlier than that. A blurb in the Minnesota Golfer Magazine 2012 Directory — Marshall Golf Club was honored as 2012 Minnesota Golf Association Club of the Year — reported that “the club in Marshall was in operation as early as 1922, according to the April 7 edition of Marshall’s News Messenger that year.” (I’m done unspooling on Marshall for now and won’t attempt to verify or disprove.)

— I don’t intend for any of this to reflect negatively on Ron Labat’s documentation of Marshall Golf Club’s history. Matter of fact, if Labat hadn’t preserved the documents that he did, the club would be much poorer for it. As for his Certificate of Incorporation being dated 1930 and not earlier, my guess is that the certificate pointed toward some kind of more formal organization, or reorganization, of the golf club within the city of Marshall.




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

Little Falls Country Club: A historical mulligan

Here, summarizing and paraphrasing, is what the Internet has to say about the history of a certain central Minnesota sporting venue:

“Little Falls Country Club” … “opened in 1930” … “designed by Jim Dahl.”

That’s the Cliff’s Notes version.

Cliff didn’t take perfect notes.

Now, I admit I am no expert on the history of Little Falls Country Club (given almost equal billing as Little Falls  Golf Course on web sites and in promotional materials). And because Little Falls does not have a lost-course connection, maybe I should keep my grubby lost-course paws out of this.

Sorry. No.

While snooping around and working my way up toward Minnesota lost golf course No. 150 — almost there — I came across a few old newspaper stories dealing with the origins of golf in Little Falls.

Little Falls CC, opened in 1930? In the name of Little Falls’ own Charles A. Lindbergh, I’m positive that’s not true.

Consider these excerpts from from the Little Falls Herald:

May 27, 1921, in a story headlined “Golf Links Are Purchased By Club”: “If one should out of idle curiosity get up at about 5:30 in the morning these fine days and amble down along the river bank on the east side below the lower railroad bridge one would find skipping about on the green some of our good business and professional men who were never before known to get up before 8 a.m. The reason is evident — they’ve got the ‘golf fever.’

“While no regular course has yet been laid out, the members of the newly organized golf club have put in a few holes and are warming up, if they have ever played the game before, or getting the rudiments of the game if it is new to them.”

July 19, 1921: “An expert, who has been employed by the Little Falls Town and Country club, completed a nine-hole course last week and the members are taking advantage of the finished course.”

Aug. 19, 1921: “… The grass has been mowed on all the fareways (sic). R.D. Musser had the first fareway fixed up at his own expense.”

April 7, 1922: “The question of erecting a clubhouse was discussed and it was decided not to attempt same this year, but to put all efforts into making the golf course first class. The club now has a membership of 101. …”

Dec. 9, 1922: “Some fiften (sic) or sixteen golf bugs had a round of golf at the course here Christmas Day.”

Ninety-four and a half years later, a phone call to Little Falls and a conversation with golf club manager Rich Frey reveal that the club was indeed officially founded in 1921 — on July 16, according to an original version of the bylaws held in Frey’s possession at the course. An April 15, 1921, story in the Little Falls Herald listed Dr. J.R. Holst as the club’s first president, with membership fee at $50 and 116 inaugural members enrolled. The story suggested the grounds would not be ready for play until June or July.

So 1930, usually cited as the founding year of Little Falls Country Club, is not technically correct. That year more than likely corresponds with a club decision to embark on a significant improvement of the layout. (I should give credit to St. Cloud Times golf columnist John Lieser, who did correctly write in 2007 that Little Falls CC was established in 1921. He is one of the few to have gotten it right.)

In 1931, according to Frey, bentgrass was ordered for the greens (presumably sand greens to that point). In April 1931, according to Frey, a prominent Twin Cities golf course architect (I’ll get to his name) was retained for $25 a day plus expenses to design a revised layout. This fellow was paid $150 later that year to build the greens, then was paid $10 to review the finished product.

Judging by aerial photos of the course in 1940 (above, courtesy of University of Minnesota’s John Borchert Map Library) and 1950 (below, also Borchert), Little Falls Country Club did not change appreciably in its earliest years. (The “18” marked on the later photo was probably just a catalog notation, even if it did turn out to be coincidentally prophetic.)

A major change to Little Falls Country Club came well into its adulthood with its expansion to 18 holes — in 1975, according to one source, or 1980, according to another. Enter the aforementioned Jim Dahl, who first was an employee at the course and then became the primary figure in its redesign. Much of the new nine holes covered the area marked “18” and just below it in the photo above.

Dahl is known in central Minnesota golf circles for also having designed Eagle’s Landing in Fort Ripley, Oak Hill in Rice and Pine Ridge in Motley. And certainly, he is the central figure in the current design of Little Falls CC. But it would be a historical transgression to not mention the course’s previous architects, both of considerable prominence.

From a Dec. 2, 1921, Little Falls Herald story:

“Officers and directors of the Little Falls Town and Country Club are considering having a full 18-hole golf course laid out on their 90-acre tract south of town, near the Mississippi river. W.D. Clark, golf expert, who laid out the present 9-hole course, is expected to come here in the near future to confer with the club directors regarding same.”

Although the expansion to 18 holes didn’t occur until some 60 years later, the mention of W.D. Clark is significant. William D. Clark designed or contributed to the design of at least a dozen Minnesota layouts, including Oak Ridge in Hopkins and Northfield Golf Club, plus four Minneapolis municipal courses and Chisago Golf Club, now a lost course in Chisago City. He also nearly became involved in a never-performed redesign of the first golf course in Madelia. 

When Little Falls’ course was redesigned in 1930-31, an even more prominent name came along. For that $25 a day, the club retained one Tom Vardon to oversee the redesign.

Vardon was the head professional at White Bear Yacht Club in Dellwood and the brother of six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon. Tom Vardon designed to contributed to the design of at least 40 courses in his native England and the Upper Midwest. Among them were five lost courses covered in “Fore! Gone.” — Bunker Hills, Matoska, Ortonville, Quality Park and Westwood Hills — plus more than 20 still-existing courses in Minnesota, including Southview Country Club, University of Minnesota-Bolstad, St. Cloud Country Club, Stillwater CC and Phalen Park. (Correction, October 2017: The Vardon list also should have included Sauk Centre Country Club and Shattuck in Faribault.)

In mid-2017, as Little Falls Country Club, now city-owned, approaches its centennial anniversary, it retains many of the features that have made it a reputable track. It is, I’m told, a sporty 18 holes, tree-lined and with small and undulating greens, especially rewarding to play if one can hit the ball straight. It features modest greens fees of $21 for 18 holes and $13 for nine, made even more attractive because weekend rates are the same as weekday. And it has history on its side — in addition to Clark, Vardon and Dahl, it is, as far as I can tell, the first and oldest golf course in Morrison County.

Cliff, you may now update your notes on Little Falls Country Club.

Featured image posted with permission of Little Falls Country Club.