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A Great History Lesson in Minnesota Golf
Stillwater author Rick Shefchik had questions about the classic courses throughout the Twin Cities and across Minnesota.
It was well established that St. Paul’s Town & Country Club was where the game got its start in Minnesota. There were few doubts that some of the great golden age golf course architects including Donald Ross, Seth Raynor and A.W. Tillinghast worked in the state. But there were many other clubs with histories that weren’t as clear, there are courses that no longer exist and countless other stories.
So Shefchik, a former reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and author of several novels, began researching and writing. The result is “From Fields to Fairways: Classic Golf Clubs of Minnesota,” a new book that is a definitive history of golf in the state.
“There wasn’t a book like this that looked at the origins of the courses I admired and didn’t know enough about,” Shefchik said. “What I wanted with the book was to investigate the clubs and the historical items of note.”
The book, published by the University of Minnesota Press, profiles most of the classic courses of the state. The story starts at Town & Country (1893) and includes stories of 19 courses that had origins before 1930.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, May 19, Shefchik will do a signing and talk about the 369-page book at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater. The book is available at many bookstores across the Twin Cities, including most Barnes & Noble locations. It is also available for purchase through Amazon.
For Minnesota golfers, the book is captivating in part because of the more than 200 photos. There are cool old aerials that show these classic courses long before they featured mature trees. There are photos from historic tournaments across the state. And there’s even a photo of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby at Midland Hills Country Club during World War II.
Two excerpts from the book recently ran in the Minnesota Golf Association’s magazine. The first excerpt in Minnesota Golfer can be found here. A second excerpt can be found here. The Minneapolis Star Tribune also ran a brief review.
I recently talked to Shefchik about the book, what surprised him and what the reaction has been.
The biggest surprises of the book?
Shefchik said the biggest surprise was how spotty record keeping was at many of the older clubs in the Twin Cities. He said the Minikahda Club in Minneapolis was an exception to that.
“I’d talk to people and they’d say, ‘We used to have that,’ or ‘It used to be in a box,’” Shefchik said. “More often than not it wouldn’t turn up.”
One of the most valuable resources in researching the book was that many old newspaper archives are now available online and they are searchable. Because of that, Shefchik didn’t have to spend nearly as much time looking at microfilm.
Those online archives allowed Shefchik to learn much more about a man named William D. Clark. In the early 1900s, golf was covered more frequently by newspapers than it is now. If there was a new pro at a course or club in town, there was often a story.
Shefchik said that Clark, a golf professional from Scotland, appeared to finish the design at Minneapolis Golf Club, he designed Oak Ridge, he designed the course now known as Brookview and did work for the Minneapolis Park Board, including Gross.
“He was such an important figure in Minnesota golf history from 1917 through the ‘20s and he’s totally forgotten now,” Shefchik said. “I’m glad I was able to find out more about him.”
Where did the photos come from?
Shefchik said both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune allowed their photographs to be used in the book. Many photos came from the Minnesota Historical Society. In addition, many clubs had their own historical photos.
“In every case, the clubs allowed us to reproduce them,” he said.
There were very few photos that Shefchik saw that couldn’t get into the book. The exception were framed photos at Town & Country in which no one knows where the originals are.
There are a number of framed photos hanging in the T&C clubhouse that could have been used in the book, but it would have been difficult to take them out of frames and reframe them.
What has the reaction been to the book?
Shefchik called the reaction “phenomenal” and “much better than expected.”
When he began writing the book, he knew he had friends that were interested in golf history in state and he assumed that each club would have interest in their own history.
“Turns out a lot of people are interested in the book,” Shefchik said.
Several clubs in the Twin Cities are selling the book in their pro shop and Shefchik has done or has plans to do presentations to club members.
Why was there so little course construction between 1930 and the 1990s?
In looking at the history of golf in Minnesota, there are two main periods of growth. The first came after World War I. The second was in the 1990s.
Some exceptions were North Oaks (1949), Wayzata (1956), Hazeltine National (1962) and Bunker Hills (1969). Why?
“After World War I, any town of any size knew it was time to get into the game, even if it was just nine holes,” Shefchik said.
Very few courses were built after the stock market crash in 1929 and clubs struggled through World War II and beyond.
“It’s like now,” Shefchik said. “When the economy tanks, golf is one of the first things that gets cut. After World War II, there were a number of clubs with less than 100 members. Clubs like Golden Valley, Midland Hills and Minneapolis were just hanging on. It took time for the numbers to recover.”
To read more from Jeff go to his golf blog, OnlyGolfMatters.com