Keller Got It Right

By R.J. Smiley

Saturday, July 19th, 2014 Keller Golf Course embarked on a new era in golf. The $12.5 million make over of the golf course and clubhouse put a magnifying glass on history and continues Keller’s strong golf tradition.

Jon Oyanagi, Director of Ramsey County Park and Recreation, Jody Yungers, Director of Arena and Golf Operations and golf architect, Richard Mandell, GOT IT RIGHT! Richard Mandell, from the home of American golf, Pinehurst, NC, was given the marching orders to “build a course for the people”, but build a golf course that retains the look and feel of Keller. Richard Mandell did exactly that.

Mandell, a student of all aspects of golf did his homework. He researched old drawings and plans of Keller’s layout and he read newspaper clippings of PGA and LPGA tournament winners (and losers) searching for their “gut” feelings about design and playability. Only then, did Mandell begin the process of modernizing the 80-year-old golfing gem. He did not interrupt the classic look and intriguing feel of Keller. Mandell did not allow his ego into the equation; no hole on the “New Keller” can be identified as “one of those Mandell holes”. Yes #9 is now a par 4, yes #10 is a par five but he retained the look and feel of Keller. It feels more like a new coat of paint than a total remodel. In fact, after the members of the Minnesota Golf Association course rating team finished re-rating the new Keller – the numbers were almost identical to the original.

I have talked with several players who have now experienced the new Keller. To a man they think it is wonderful! Starting with the clubhouse. “How can they make the clubhouse 4-times larger than the original club house, designed by prominent black architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington, and have it look the same?” said a long time Keller regular. “They even removed the old fireplace, brick by brick, and put it back in the new clubhouse. Walking down “the walls of fame” you realize what a place Keller has in Minnesota golf history. All the greats were here!”

Another regular Keller stated, “Starting with #1, it just has a great look.” In Mandell’s own words, “It makes for a beautiful opening shot. It really sets the stage for the whole experience of what makes Keller so special.”

The word replica can be used to describe the new Keller. The famous fourth hole, with the often cussed “oak tree”, is still the signature hole at Keller. Golfers will notice other little nuances that include the entirely new green on the par-5 third. They no longer have to worry about being above the cup on that green that made Niagara Falls look flat. The meat of the front nine, 5, 6, 7 and 8, have all been improved, but not made any easier. And the view of the new green on #6 is stunning. It has been enlarged to give golfers a better chance to putt for birdie, but there will be no easy two-putts on the green that is protected on the left by beautiful new bunkers, and the ever-present water still guards the right side.

Every golfer who has played Keller remembers “Amen Corner”, 12, 13, 14 and 15. These holes appear unchanged. But in truth Mandell improved the playability of each. Two of the three par-5s on the back nine are truly photo ops, and will require a good deal of strategy. The lengthened and beautifully remodeled tenth is truly a work of golf art.

As you crest the slight hill and look down at the green below your eyes are immediately drawn to the bunker that crosses the fairway. Then your eyes will sweep the uninterrupted landscape in the distance, creating a sense of grandeur.The twelfth at Keller has been the favorite of golfers who have enjoyed the course over the years, but the newly designed twelfth with a new green, new bunkers and larger pond will appear on many iPhone photos for years to come.

The tree on seventeen is still there. But the crescendo to the round happens when you arrive at the eighteenth tee. “When you get to #18, the view down the fairway to the clubhouse backdrop is like something from the origin of golf,” remarked a visitor from a neighboring club.

Now that you know the story about the process that created the “New Keller”, forget everything you have read and go enjoy a round of golf on this wonderful golf course.

All photos courtesy Rob Skelton and CastleView Photography.

RJ Teeing Off On #4

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