Muni’s On The Mend – Municipal Golf Gets A Facelift

By R.J. Smiley

People do things for different reasons! Therefore it would seem that groups of people (like elected officials, park boards, city councils or mayors) do things for different reasons.

Over the next seven months Tee Times will give readers an in-depth look at the recent history and the projected near future of city and county owned golf courses renovation (I like to call it a – FACELIFT) projects in the Twin Cities area.

With golf participation across America stagnant at best, why would municipal government choose to spend taxpayer dollars on a sport that many feel is dying? A sport that is enjoyed by only 20% of the population? Different reasons?

Our analysis will look closely at several municipal courses, starting with Highland National in St. Paul and Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids. These two golf courses were the first to invest millions of dollars into public golf in an attempt to create a community asset that would improve the overall image of the community.

Ramsey County elected to spend nearly $12 million for a complete makeover of the Twin Cities’ “crown jewel” of public golf, Keller Golf Course. Richard Mandell, a golf course architect from South Carolina did a masterful job of bringing the old course into the era of modern golf without changing the layout and character of this beauty. The new clubhouse retained the charm of the past while becoming a museum of championship golf from a different era.

In the spring of 2014 torrential rains reeked havoc with all Twin Cities golf operations. This once every hundred years event caused budget conscious bean counters to immediately re-evaluate forecasts for the year. These floods proved what Theodore Wirth, the Godfather of Minneapolis Park and Recreation, knew when he masterminded and created the wonderful series of Minneapolis golf courses in swampland; there will be a constant problem with water. His courses, much like the re-claimed fields in Holland, are kept dry by a series of dykes. In the summer of 2014 – someone forgot to stick their finger in the hole in the dyke.

Plans are not yet finalized for the renovation and reconstruction of Hiawatha and Meadowbrook, but residents of Minneapolis one hundred years from now will thank the 2014 floods for finally making the million dollar improvements that will insure quality golf in the future. The Minneapolis Park Board will also make some changes to namesake golf course, Theodore Wirth in the near future.

Technological improvements to “big headed” drivers and golf balls have rendered the driving range at Braemar Golf Course in Edina obsolete. For the past two years the Edina Park Board has wrestled with how to reconfigure the current driving range so that it will continue to attract the vast numbers of range rats to the best driving range location in the Twin Cities. With plans for the range nearly complete, momentum shifted form a new range to a complete makeover of the entire golf operation. Edina closed the Fred Richards Golf Course and is now frantically reviewing various design options for the golf course. Edina took a page from Ramsey County’s success at Keller and hired the best public golf (re-design) architect in the U.S., Richard Mandell, to re-do the 50 year old golf course.

A lot has happened to public golf the past few years, but nothing like the events that will transpire over the next four or five years. This series of articles about golf renovation will be an up to the minute summary of what has happened and where things are heading.

Keller Golf Course Clubhouse

Meadowbrook Golf Course Flooding In June Of 2014

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