Sauer Brothers’ Legend Continues at Tianna Golf Club
By R.J. Smiley
Peanut butter and jelly. Bacon and eggs. Lobster tail and drawn butter. Over time somethings become linked. Thus, our story begins…
On June 27th, 2021, it was a good thing that the annual Tianna Country Club Two-Man Best-Ball was scheduled near the equinox (longest day of the year). Two lengthy rain delays had stretched the extremely popular 27-hole golf tournament to the max. As the shadows rolled across the 100-year-old golf course, bothers, Joe and Jon Sauer, embraced in an emotional hug as Jon’s pressure packed winning putt settled to the bottom of final hole.
As Yogis Berra would say, “Deja vu all over again.”
In that exact instant, a rainbow appeared over the golf course. The full color spectrum of the perfect arch sent a shiver up Ray Sauer’s spine. Ray is the father of Jon and Joe. Ray and his twin brother, Ed, grew up in Walker and played Tianna Country Club since they were kids. Both excellent golfers, Ray and Ed started the Two-Man Best Ball golf tournament 48 years earlier. With tears in his eyes Ray hugged his sons as he looked up at the rainbow and cloaked out these words, “Uncle Ed was watching. He sent us that rainbow from heaven.”
Over the decades, the Sauer twins became legends across the state of Minnesota winning several MGA events. The twins went to nearby Bemidji State University where they were pillars of a powerful golf team in the late 60’s. With Bemidji as their adopted second home, each twin has his name on the winner’s trophy of the Birchmont Tournament at Bemidji Town and Country Club. Ray won at age 25; Ed got his glory 15 years later at age 40.
The Tianna twins owned the Two-Man Best-Ball for years. They created a dynasty recording nine victories from 1975 through 1995. Very impressive, considering the tournament draws one of the strongest fields of any non-MGA event in Minnesota.
Twelve years after their final victory Ed left Ray to play as a single. Ed died an early, at age 61, from ocular melanoma in his left eye. Since Ed’s untimely death Ray has held the annual Ed Sauer golf fundraiser for the Bemidji State University Golf Team. This year, the event topped $100,000 in donations to the foundation.
Ray’s sons, though not twins, have followed in their father’s and uncle’s footsteps, both are really fine players. The brothers have been bride’s maids several times in the Tianna Two-Man. They have lost by a single stroke several times. Ray remarked, “Now that they have the monkey off their back, I think they will win a few more.”
For those who have not experienced Tianna Country Club, you have been missing something. The golf course is unique. It is routed over, around and through woods and hills. The towering white pines, that frame many holes, bring memories of the lumber industry that brought civilization to this wilderness in the late 1800’s. No dirt was moved to construct the golf course. It is a piece of raw wilderness that simply morphed into a golf course.
Some call it unfair. Some call it unique. Some call it challenging. A round of golf at Tianna is filled with uneven lies, blind shots to elevated greens and putts that will baffle you even after a mulligan. But one thing is for sure, when you leave Tianna, memories of the golf course will be branded into your memory. Memories start early, the second hole is framed in dramatic beauty. Have your cell phone charged, you will want pictures of this dramatic hole that changes like a kaleidoscope with the seasons and the fickle Minnesota weather. At Tianna, “expect the unexpected!”
Authors Note: The Sauer twins beat my partner, Bud Tompkins, and me in the MGA Sr. 4-Ball Championship at Indian Hills in 2001 in a sudden death playoff. Playing a casual round with the twins at my golf course, Mille Lacs Golf Resort (now Northwood Hills), Ed made a hole-in-one on the 240-yard 14th using a 5-wood. In 65 years of golf that was the longest HIO I ever witnessed.