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Willow Creek to re-open as golf course this spring

Willow Creek owners
Andy Black, left, and Will Lancaster are re-opening Willow Creek Golf Course after it's closure last October. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)
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Two local golf professionals are teeing up to re-launch Rochester Willow Creek Golf Course, which closed last fall.

Will Lancaster and Andy Black signed a three-year lease for the course at 1700 48th St. SW with Sterling State Bank on Friday morning.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime ... to become owners of our own course in Rochester," said Black.

Both grew up in Rochester and are very familiar with Willow Creek. Lancaster is leaving his role as golf pro at Zumbrota Golf Club. Black is stepping away from the pro job at Pine Island Golf Course.

"Being known in the local golf community ... we've both had Willow Creek members come up to us, kind of joking and kind of not, to say, 'You should buy Willow Creek and re-open it," Lancaster said.

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"The neighborhood and the Willow Creek community are very supportive of the course," he added. It worked out that we could do it."

This all started on Oct. 29, when owner Wendell Pittenger abruptly closed the Willow Creek clubhouse and facilities , including an 18-hole course and a nine-hole executive course called Little Willow. Pittenger turned the operation over to Sterling State Bank, saying, "The party’s over. It’s really sad for me and sad for a lot of people."

The closure concerned many homeowners who live by the course. Arlen Books, whose backyard abuts the fairway of hole No. 8, was saddened and worried by the unexpected shuttering of what he called a "Rochester-area treasure."

When he heard that Willow Creek will re-open, Books said, "That's really wonderful news. That will certainly make a lot of my neighbors happy. It makes me happy on a gray winter day."

Long a popular spot for community events such as  fundraiser tournaments, wedding receptions and annual celebrations, the course's closing also meant many events scheduled for late 2019 and 2020 had to find a new venue.

Lancaster and Black are reaching out to those who had planned events at Willow Creek in 2020. They understand that many have now scheduled with new venues. The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce has moved its tournament from Willow Creek to the Rochester Golf & Country Club.

"We hope to be able to win those events back, if not for 2020, maybe 2021," Lancaster said.

The new duo plan to refresh the clubhouse facilities with some small renovations yet this winter as well as clean up some stumps and other minor issues with the courses.

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They expect to hire 25 to 30 employees to handle the re-opening this spring, with the hope that business will drive a need to add more.

When the 84-year-old Pittenger pulled the plug on Willow Creek, he cited tough financial and weather conditions as driving the closure. The new leaders think they can improve the vitality of the course with a new approach.

"We are coming at it with fresh sets of eyes and new ideas," Lancaster said. 

Both Lancaster and Black credit Sterling State Bank for the opportunity to take the reins of Willow Creek with the option to eventually buy it.

"I think Will and Andy have a compelling story, and I am excited to watch the success at Willow Creek that I know they will have, wrote Sterling State Bank President Justin McNeilus on Friday in response to questions about the deal.

Related Topics: GOLF
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