The Royal Golf Club – A Toast To The King And Queen!
By R.J. Smiley
Chances are you have not yet heard of The Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. This new golf course, opening (at least 9-holes) in late summer of 2017, has not received the pre-open hype of Sand Valley or Bandon Dunes. It was not created as a “Golf Buddies Weekend” type of golf course.
The Royal Golf Club is being developed as a, never to be duplicated, memorial tribute to the King and Queen of golf. The idea is the brainchild of Hollis Cavner, long time golf entrepreneur and visionary. Cavner, who’s main business, Pro Links Sports, a company that manages PGA TOUR and Champion’s Tour events, has been very good friends with Arnold Palmer for over 25 years. “This was the last golf course Arnold visited before he died,” Cavner said. “The Royal Golf Club will forever be the last golf course to bare Mr. Palmer’s signature.”
“We worked together on the layout, design and management philosophy long before the property was purchased. I listened very closely as Mr. Palmer expressed his vision for what the ultimate daily fee golf course should be.”
The Royal Golf Club is being developed on the Tartan Park property. Tartan Park, with 27-holes of golf, tennis courts and a huge clubhouse, was built, owned and operated by Minnesota based 3M Company. 3M’s corporate headquarters are located very near the Tartan Park site. Over the years it became clear that owning and managing a golf course was not in the best interest of the 3M Company. Cavner and his investment group seemed a perfect fit to re-develop the property.
25 years ago Hollis Cavner went to 3M with the idea of hosting a Senior Tour golf tournament in the Twin Cities. The 3M Championship, a hugely successful event, has been an annual Twin Cities golf event since. Cavner has kept the event at the forefront through innovation like the Legends of Golf, a tournament within a tournament. Golf fans flock to the tournament to cheer their childhood hero’s like Palmer and Nicklaus. During those 25 years, Cavner created a trusted relationship with 3M. It only made sense for Cavner and 3M to come together on the sale and purchase of Tartan Park.
Golfers will find the Royal Golf Club to be a wonderful golf course, but more than that – golfers and non-golfers will find RGC to be a living tribute to the KING and QUEEN. So who is the Queen? Who will sit on the throne beside the King for eternity?
“There is really only one Queen of women’s golf! Annika Sorenstam has won 72 official LPGA tournaments including 10 majors and 18 other tournaments internationally. She has done for women’s golf worldwide what Mr. Palmer did for golf in the U.S.,” Cavner explained.
“I had been working on this project with Arnold for years when the idea of bringing Annika on board came to me. She could bring the woman element to the project. When I mentioned Annika (who viewed Palmer as a mentor but in reality was a long time friend) to Arnold, he asked, ‘Why do you want her?’ I told him that no one in the U.S. would give her a chance. Let’s allow her to design one nine and you design the other. We will call them the King and the Queen.”
“Just make sure that I get the best piece of property,” Palmer said with that twinkle in his eye.
The Royal Golf Club is designed to flow in harmony with the existing terrain. On the front nine, Annika gives golfers several phenomenal panoramic views from elevated tees to landing areas below. Since the Queen (nine) is further along in the grow-in stage, it is easier to get a feel for her work. But the King appears to contain a little more “raw meat” type of holes. Holes with elevated greens and false fronts and sides. Over all, the course will contain only 23 sand bunkers making it fun to play and family friendly. With as many as eight tee pods, the course will be fun but not easy. Pin position on many holes will dictate the proper angle of approach.
At Mr. Palmer’s request, the Royal Golf Club has a 6-hole golf course where kids will play FREE forever. No fees will ever be charged for kids who play this golf course. Palmer knew that the future of golf is in the hands of today’s kids. A small health club will be constructed overlooking the 6-hole loop where mom’s can get their workout in while they watch their kids play golf.
Jim Leary, Director of Golf at RGC, made this comment recently, “In conversation with 3M executives, they have expressed that the Royal Golf Club contains 3M DNA and that the executives and employees of the company will continue to use and support RGC like it was their own.”
The Royal Golf Club, along with 291 home sites for executive homes, is being built on 477 acres overlooking Horseshoe Lake. The former Tartan Park recreational facility, with an incredibly beautiful wilderness feel, is the home of deer, wild turkey and other creatures that have co-existed with man for years.
I received a tour from Jim Leary, who justly can’t hide his enthusiasm for the property. We started in the completely remodeled clubhouse as Leary pointed out amenities, making statements like, “This is the bridal dressing room, we plan to have many weddings at RGC. We have a built in mirror that is circled with lights for the bride. This meeting room will seat 270 for a sit-down dinner or up to 800 for a cocktail party. The pro shop is next to the grill so golfers can pay a green fee and then grab a hot dog on the way to the tee.” Leary and his team have left no stone unturned.
Then we moved onto the golf course where the course looks nothing like a new construction. The golf course is using none of the original Tartan Park holes, but the beautiful design exploits the very mature trees to frame the newly designed holes. “From opening day, the course will feel like a 50 year old golf course. We have cleaned up much of the brush and cover that kept a good portion of Horseshoe Lake hidden from view,” Leary said.
“I think it is so cool for this to be Arnold’s last course and Annika’s first. Now and forever this will be the only golf course in the world featuring the combined talents of the two,” said Cavner.
Palmer last visited the site on August 4, 2016 only weeks before he passed away. It was his last visit to one of his golf course sites. “When we shook hands at the airport, Palmer leaned in and gave me a big hug,” Cavner said. “Our mutual friend Paul Spangler, of the Pebble Beach Company, said as his plane was taxiing down the runway, ‘He was saying goodbye.’ It took me a few weeks to realize that Paul was right, Arnold Palmer, the King of golf… was saying goodbye.”
Golfer’s who play the Royal Golf Club will now have the opportunity to drink a toast to the King and Queen!