Bunker Hills Golf Club-Making Minnesota Golf History In More Than One Way
By Steve Manthis
Home of many State Opens and High School Tournaments as well as the Burnet Senior Classic before it moved to the TPC, there certainly was a lot going on at Bunker Hills Golf Course on Wednesday, June 22nd. In addition to the Superior Golf Cars/Club Car Charity Classic, there was the Grand Opening of the new clubhouse, which includes the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame and the offices of the Minnesota Section of the PGA, as well as the official retirement of Dick Tollette, who served as the Head Professional at Bunker Hills for 44 years.
It’s hard to call any golf tournament a secondary event, but that really was the case for the inaugural Superior Golf Cars/Club Car Charity Classic simply because of all the other happenings going on. This first tournament was designed to benefit the new Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame and Museum. Over 100 players competed in the event, and first place was awarded to the winning team on each of the course’s 3 nines. There was also a separate event for the professionals on the 3 nines, with first place going to Don Berry on the West 9, Steven Fessler on the North 9, and to Bill Israelson on the East 9. The big winner out of all, though, was the MN Golf Hall of Fame.
Central to all the events of the day was the Grand Opening of the new clubhouse, and what a beautiful clubhouse it is. Tim Howe, Mayor of Coon Rapids, said, “The building is a testimony to the great golf course we have.” The decision to move forward on a new clubhouse began 8 years ago. About that time, Mayor Howe, Tollette, and many others took a tour and did an inspection of some rarely seen places in the old building. What they noticed is that it needed a lot of repair, so they decided to sit down and weigh all the options. Ultimately, they decided to start over instead of trying to repair the old clubhouse. “What we had,” said Mayor Howe, “was a top of the line course. What we needed was a clubhouse to match it.” Tollette, who did so much to get events like the State Open and the Senior Tour event to come to Bunker Hills, stayed on as professional to see the project through to the end.
After taking several proposals, the city council chose Amcon Construction to do the work. One thing that impressed Mayor Howe throughout the construction, besides the fact that the project came in on time and on budget, was the weekly video updates he got. “If I ever had anyone ask me how the Bunker Hills project was going,” said Mayor Howe, “all I had to do was forward the video to them so they could see for themselves.” Amcon broke ground in June of 2010 and what stands today, a little over one year later, is a clubhouse fitting for what Gary Player once said is “one of the finest municipal golf courses” he’s ever played.
It’s not easy to describe all they have now at Bunker Hills. The Pro Shop is much bigger than it was before, and now allows the staff to see some of the starting holes, which they couldn’t do before. Adorning the hallway leading from the Pro Shop to the Harvest Grill is a history of the Senior Tour events played at Bunker Hills beginning in 1993. Just off that hallway is a golf professional’s dream: 3 brand new golf simulators. Now the staff can give lessons during inclement weather or during the winter months.
Moving farther down the clubhouse, you next come to the Harvest Grill, a great place to get a pre-round meal or an after-golf beverage. The grill features a beautiful fireplace as well as a large patio for those days when it’s too nice to sit inside. At the end farthest from the Pro Shop is a banquet room that, when opened completely, can seat around 400 people. Mayor Howe says Bunker Hills can “now host wedding receptions, class reunions and other similar events which it couldn’t do before.”
On the level below ground are the offices of the Minnesota Section of the PGA. With a few plaques to acknowledge past award winners in the entryway, the space allows the officers and administrators to be near each other. Jon Tollette, executive director of the MN Section of the PGA and son to Dick, said, “It’s nice to have the space here. Coon Rapids and Bunker Hills didn’t have to include our offices here when they built the new clubhouse, but they did. We’re grateful.” They’re just getting used to the new space as they moved in on June 1st.
As great as everything mentioned so far is, there’s one more piece to mention: The MN Golf Hall of Fame. Located in the front and center of the new clubhouse, the Hall of Fame and Museum is vastly superior to the previous one. John Clemency of Teemark Inc., a Stillwater-based company that designs clubhouse products and displays, was hired to design the Hall. Clemency said his main task was to match the architecture of the Hall to the surrounding clubhouse. For example, “If you look at the displays,” said Clemency, “you’ll notice they match the windows in the Hall of Fame.” All the previous inductees into the Hall received new plaques, as will the six 2011 entrants (more on them in a future issue of Tee Times). Clemency has done a great job mixing the Hall of Fame inductees with the winners of previous MN Golf events. What he ultimately tried to do, said Clemency, was “to tell the story of MN Golf.” Asked how well he thought he did, he said, “We can always do better…” I’m not so sure he could because it’s a place that accurately reflects the skills and accomplishments of those who have been inducted.
Working closely with Clemency to tell the story of golf in Minnesota was Don Kunshier, curator for the Museum portion of the Hall of Fame. Kunshier began as a volunteer with the Minnesota Golf Association (MGA) “collecting old stuff,” as he put it. He belongs to the Golf Collector’s Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the treasures and traditions of the game of golf, but admits he’s found many old photos now in the museum on EBay or from the Historical Society. He says the material in the display cases will be rotated, but his favorites are “the personal stuff.” Currently in one of the displays are several PGA Championship badges from Wally Mund, head professional at Midland Hills from 1936 to 1975. But his all-time favorite piece is the trophy awarded to the 1929 State Amateur Champion Jimmy Johnston which was found and purchased at a garage sale. Always on the lookout, Kunshier would take anything from any of the Hall of Fame members. Most of all, when asked what he’s trying to do as curator, he said, “I want to honor the people who have had an impact on golf in Minnesota.” As the work progressed on the Hall and Museum, Clemency said, “Don supplied the materials. I had to find ways to display them.”
It was truly a great day for Minnesota golf, but still a little bittersweet with the retirement of Tollette. Asked if he was proud of his career and of the new building, he said, “I don’t like to use the word proud, but I am satisfied.” After 44 years at Bunker Hills and leaving the new clubhouse for the rest of us, you should be proud, Dick. As a matter of fact, we all should.