Ruttger’s Bay Lake Lodge, This Brainerd Resort Has Been “Treating Guests Like Family” Since 1898
By R.J. Smiley
Joseph Ruttger came to America, the land of opportunity, from Neuleiningen, Germany in 1883. By the spring of 1886 he had moved to Minnesota and joined a group of settlers who founded Rankin’s Colony on Bay Lake. Each colonist filed his own homestead claim and Joe Ruttger settled on an island off the North shore of Bay Lake. The colonists used a sawmill, transported by wagon, to cut lumber and build their homes and other community buildings. In 1890, Joe met and married Josephine Wasserzieher and they moved to the North shore of Bay Lake, the present home of Ruttger’s Bay Lake lodge. The fishing on Bay Lake was great and word spread quickly of a settler, Joe Ruttger, who had a boat for rent. Each new summer brought more and more visitors who stayed in their own tents, some even slept in the hayloft of the barn. Eventually, Joe built a special lodging facility where he and Josie charged $5 for a one-week stay for a bed, meals and a boat.
Joe and Josie’s first born son, Alexander, decided to go into the resort business after he returned from World War I. His goal was to build a first class resort. Golf was booming in the 1920’s and a regular summer guest from Junction City, Kansas named Haas Zigler designed the first nine holes at Ruttger’s Resort. Alec’s Nine opened in 1921 with 5 sand greens and 9 tees. The original design, on a piece of cardboard, has been laminated and is on display in the clubhouse restaurant, Zig’s, named after the designer. Alec’s Nine is now the executive 9-hole course that is included free for guests on the American Plan Package at Ruttger’s. Alec and his wife Myrle devoted their lives to building the resort and the family tradition was carried on with their son Jack, born in 1929.
During Jack’s tenure the resort business gradually changed from a fishing resort with a little golf to a golf resort with a little fishing. Jack with his wife, Ann, have grown the small “mom and pop” resort to one of the finest resort complexes in Minnesota. The resort now includes two golf courses, condominiums and a conference center. Jack has understood for a long time that golf is the driving force in the resort business. In 1980 Paul Fjare with Brower and Associates designed the first nine of the Lakes Course at Ruttger’s. Ten years later Jack brought in the hottest golf architect in Minnesota, Joel Goldstrand, to blend a new nine holes into the Lakes original nine. Though (unfairly) not ranked with the big nams resort golf courses just North of Brainerd, The Lakes Course contains some of Goldstrand’s most stunning work. Joel blended many small un-named lakes with the raw Minnesota wilderness into a visual golf experience not found at your local muni. Does the Lakes Course contain a signature hole? Oh yes! Number 18, the 235 yard, all carry over, believe it or not, a lake, to an elevated green with several tiers. It is worth the price of a trip up North just to play this very intimidating hole.
For the centennial anniversary, in 1998, with Jack’s son Chris at the helm, Ruttger’s opened the new clubhouse and Zig’s Restaurant overlooking the Lakes Golf Course and the beautiful 18th. Chris showed the same innovation that has made his family so successful, when he designed a beautiful open-sided cart barn with electrical wiring, to charge the carts, hidden under the roof. The cart barn has a concrete floor and two nice bathrooms. Why would Chris spend all that money on a cart barn? Answer, so they could use the space as a shelter house for golf tournament dinners and even weddings on rainy days.
As golf has become a larger part of the business at Ruttger’s, the golf courses have continued to be improved. On a regular basis, golf professional, Greg Snow, and superintendent, Joe Wellner, meet with management to plan and review capital improvements to the courses. Greg Snow says that the most common comment that he gets is…”I have been driving past this place for years, not any more. It will be a regular stop from now on.”
So what does the future hold for Ruttger’s? Chris and his wife Joanne, who does the payroll and newsletter, have a son, Sam, age five. What will the resort look like when Sam takes over? When the business cycle swings in the other direction, Chris has the land and a routing plan complete for another nine holes of golf. With continued condo sales the demand for a larger better equipped indoor pool will be a necessity. With the friendly pioneer spirit of Great Grand Father, Joe, the Ruttger family will continue to treat guests like family and provide wholesome family oriented vacations. A bed, a boat and meals cost more than $5 today, but the things that created value in 1898 are still there today.