Pressbox View: Book details state's 'lost golf courses'
Golf courses don't last forever. In fact, some pretty good ones have gone out of existence (recent example: Hidden Creek near Owatonna, whose once-checkerboard fairways were plowed back into farmland in 2010).
Golf courses don't last forever.
In fact, some pretty good ones have gone out of existence (recent example: Hidden Creek near Owatonna, whose once-checkerboard fairways were plowed back into farmland in 2010).
It turns out a lot of the now-defunct courses had an interesting story behind them. A new book tells the stories of several dozen such places.
"Fore! Gone. Minnesota's Lost Golf Courses" is the product of "basically every minute of my spare time" for nearly a year, says Joe Bissen, a sports copy editor at the Pioneer Press (St. Paul).
But it was a labor of love for Bissen, a very good golfer and a native of Caledonia.
"In 2010, I was assigned to write a story about lost courses of the Twin Cities for Minnesota Golfer Magazine, which is published by the Minnesota Golf Association," he recalls.
"I got hooked on the topic and realized I had only scratched the surface, that there were a lot more lost courses out there if someone wanted to do the digging. I did casual research for two more years and then in July 2012 decided to write a book about all the lost courses in Minnesota I could find."
He got off to a fast start.
"I got lucky within the first two weeks," he says, "meeting a wonderful 91-year-old gentleman from north Minneapolis named Mike Rak who showed me around every nook and cranny of the old Hilltop Public Golf Links in Columbia Heights."
So from July 2012 to May 2013, he traveled to abandoned sites and called people. He finished writing in May, and production and design took about five more months, and the book was released in late December 2013.
"Just guessing, I would say I put well over 1,000 hours into the research and writing," he says.
"The most tedious but enjoyable and rewarding part was perusing historic aerial photos and finding old courses and comparing old to current surroundings. I discovered that an old course in Chanhassen was a six-hole layout that way."
"Most interesting course without a doubt was Westwood Hills in St. Louis Park, a 27-hole public course with 3 1/2 decades of solid history," Bissen says. "Patty Berg, Gene Sarazen and Joe Louis played there. The family that owned the course gave me lots of information and photos, and I spent hours in the nature center and residential neighborhood that occupies the land today."
Area courses covered
Several southeastern Minnesota courses were covered in the book (see accompanying box), including three in Bissen's home town. The best-known to most P-B readers would be Whitewater Valley, a track that was played until 1975.
"Most fun to write about," he says, "was Nopeming, along the shores of Trout Lake 30 miles north of Grand Rapids, a beautiful former site of an estate owned by a lumber millionaire and his family."
He says the most curious were: Austin's municipal course, built next to the city's sewage disposal plant in the early 1930s and appropriately short-lived because of it; Memorial in Mankato, a 1930s municipal course built essentially on a swamp; and a little golf course built next to Stillwater Prison in the 1970s for the purpose of helping to rehabilitate inmates.
Why did courses become extinct? Reasons were numerous, but many were done in by horrible economy and weather in the 1930s, World War II (which sent millions of golfing-age men abroad for years) and — for the "old-timers" with sand greens — competition from courses with grass greens.
The book includes numerous photos and scorecards and is very well-written. It's available in book stores and online .