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From four-legged bovines to "Fore!"

Rochester's first municipal golf course was created on an old cow pasture.

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Golfers enjoy a day on the links at Soldiers Field golf course, the city's first municipal golf course.
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Rochester’s first municipal golf course was carved out of a cow pasture.

It happened in the summer of 1926, when the William T. McCoy Post of the American Legion reached an agreement with Dr. Christopher Graham to develop a golf course on what had been his farmland. The pasture would henceforth be known as Soldiers Memorial Field.

The Legion also intended to establish a general recreation park on the land, with room for other sports and activities, but the golf course was the first priority.

So that summer, workers began mowing the pasture, removing fences and staking out the first nine holes at the site, which was situated at what was then the southern edge of the city. Work on those first holes was being rushed, the Post-Bulletin reported in July, “so that playing can start a month from now, with plenty of time for the sport before snow flies.” The target date, the newspaper said, was Sept. 1.

Rochester already had one much-admired golf course. The Rochester Golf & Country Club had been organized in 1915, and the hilly, challenging course had been drawing raves from pros and weekend hackers alike.

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However, the city lacked a public course, one that would be open and affordable to the general populace.

With plans for the golf course taking shape, a membership drive, with a goal of signing up 500 members, was launched. The cost of a membership was $12.

“Due to its accessibility to a great portion of the city, it is expected that the idea which prompted the dream of Soldiers Field will find immediate popularity and that the membership drive will be well-supported,” the Post-Bulletin said.

Indeed, 100 members were signed up on the first day of the drive. Non-members could also play on the course, but would be charged 50 cents in so-called green fees.

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The course was to be constructed on the eastern half of the 160 acre site. At that time, the Zumbro River dissected the park nearly in half, running approximately where the present golf course club house is located, and then swinging east toward the present channel. The river was redirected in later years, which eventually meant that the 18-hole course would straddle the river.

As construction of the golf course began, the Legion revealed plans for the remainder of the parkland:

  • A bridle path constructed along the river bank through the eastern portion of the park.
  • Tennis courts and ball diamonds.
  • A clubhouse for golfers.
  • A memorial driveway around the entire site, dedicated to veterans of all wars.

Some of these features came to fruition in one form or another in the succeeding decades. In any case, with Soldiers Field located practically in the heart of the city, Rochester could boast of having a green oasis at its downtown doorstep.
On August 20, 1926, a family night was held at Soldiers Field, with games and activities. Boys with homemade golf clubs had the honor of being the first to play on the new course.

Before the snow flurries did fly that year, many locals gave the course a try. Sunday, Sept. 11, according to the Post-Bulletin, “saw the largest number of golfers in action since the course was completed, with an estimated crowd of 150” on the course.

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The old pasture was quickly becoming one of the most popular places in town.

Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.

Then and Now - Thomas Tom Weber col sig

Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.
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