Izatys – Back From The Dead
By R.J. Smiley
Located just 90 miles from the Twin Cities, Izatys was one of the first resorts developed in Minnesota. In 1922 Izatys started as a fishing camp and has been a major part of the resort community on beautiful Mille Lacs Lake ever since Jerry and Dorothy Dubbs ran the resort until 1987. Over the years they made improvements to the property added a few condominiums. They even built a poorly designed and maintained golf course. Through two different owners since 1987, the resort morphed from a mom and pop resort with a nice harbor and a little golf course into a major resort that includes condominiums, time-shares and a hotel and conference center. Like anything that has been around for 90 years, there have some ups and downs. The most recent downturn occurred in the September of 2008 when Commerce Bank, the financial institution that held the mortgage, foreclosed on the resort and locked the doors. Throughout the years the bank attempted to sell the property while maintaining one of the two golf courses at Izatys.
The resort was brought into the modern definition of “Resort” when Edina businessman, Chip Glaser, purchased the property in 1987. Glaser changed the name to Izatys Golf and Yacht Club and spent several million dollars making Izayts exactly that, a golf and yacht club. His master plan for the resort included include two, 18-hole golf courses, hundreds of condominiums and a hotel and conference center that could handle the big corporate outings for their employees and guests. Glaser, an avid golfer, brought in the Dye Design Group to build the first of the two golf courses. Traces of the original Dye influence are still seen with a few railroad ties and small nasty greens. Later Glaser brought in John Harbottle to blend the Dye 18-holes into two new courses. Harbottle was familiar with the property; he had done the design work for the first course when he worked for Dye Design. Harbottle now owned his own design company. The two courses, The Sanctuary and Black Brook, enjoyed a great deal of notoriety being joined at the hip with a major real estate development.
With an aggressive advertising budget and great PR, Izatys and its golf courses were always in the news and on the radio. Dan “The Common Man” Cole seemed to live on Mille Lacs Lake. The real estate marketing, great fishing, new golf courses and nearby Grand Casino Mille Lacs brought thousands of people to Izatys each year. Glaser was savvy enough to bring in Jason Tollette, a member of the golfing Tollette family, to manage the resort. Tollette, with his connections, helped Izatys become home to some major golf events. For many years Izatys was the host site of the annual Boys and Girls Minnesota State High School Golf Tournament. Black Brook, the better of the two courses, was the site of the Minnesota Section of the PGA Championship for three years. Izatys was also the venue for several Minnesota Golf Association Championships. With the real estate project sold out, in 2004 Glaser sold the resort to an investment group. Shortly after the sale Jason Tollette also left. With no experience in running a multifaceted resort and things started to go backward. The resort did not fail, management failed to manage. The bank has owned he resort since 2008 and has operated only Black Brook on a reduced budget.
In 2009 the Commerce Bank hired Jason Tollette in a dual roll; to manage the resort and find a buyer. Jason had become a real estate broker and had nine years of experience running the resort during the heydays. Jason and his wife Sherry, former director of sales for Torguson Properties, have handled all phases of the business for the past two years.
Fast forward to today. Roy Winjum, is the owner of Winjum’s Shady Acres on Roberds Lake west of Faribault and Codger’s Cove campground in Howard Lake, currently has a purchase agreement to purchase this historic resort in the near future.Winjum is in the business of developing and managing top quality motor home parks. Winjum will convert the south nine of Sanctuary into a 250 unit motor home park. The very complex approval process took over a year to complete as the sewage treatment for the motor home park had to be diverted to near by Wakon. He believes that Izatys has all the amenities in place to attract travelers from all over the United States. Winjum is well acquainted with the resort, restaurant, marina and campground business but does not have experience operating a golf course. That is why he has retained Tollette, the selling broker, and his wife to manage the resort. Tollette describes Winjum as a real character, the kind of guy who could sit around all day and visit with customers. Tollette believes that the 500 extra people who will frequent the motor home park will be the little extra that the resort needs to operate at maximum efficiency. Word is that the owners of the town homes and time shares are happy to have a real resort operator in an ownership position. They also appreciate that Tollette and his wife add a continuity of management to the resort.
At the recommendation of Tollette, Winjum hired Steve Schumacher, the previous golf course superintendent at Izatys. Schumacher was responsible for the beautiful conditioning of Izatys during the Glaser reign. Winjum, Tollette and Schumacher all agree that many resort golfers do not want to play a tough 18-hole golf course. With this thought in mind, the trio plan to convert the front nine of Sanctuary into a more player friendly resort course. The through the woods and marshes feel of Sanctuary will not be disturbed but several bunkers will be filled and the course will be widened where possible. With some help from the weatherman, this resort nine should be ready for play by mid-July. Black Brook is a wonderful golf course that has been maintained in Championship condition by Commerce Bank over the past few years. Black Brook will remain the flagship course at Izatys. Tollette is extremely happy that the new ownership intends to keep golf at Izatys affordable. Less that half the price of some noted resort courses.
For those of you who have not played Izatys, the four, 3-par holes on Black Brook are among the toughest, most scenic and varied holes you will ever encounter. Any golf that can score 12 or less on these four water hazard laden and visually intimidating holes will have something to brag about. When you reach number 14 the full grandeur of Mille Lacs Lake will hit you smack in the face. If the wind is in the north you might get wet from the huge wave, that Mille Lacs is known for, slapping the huge boulders that God lined the lakeshore with.
The work Tollette has done over that past two years has prepared Izatys for a return to prominence on Mille Lacs’ south shore. With this incredible property and shoreline, Winjum’s vision, and the Tollette’s at the helm Izatys is poised for a resurrection. Top flight hospitality and accomodations, a great marina and challenging golf is just a 90 minute drive from your front door. Enjoy!!