Gone but not forgotten
Historic 'links' hold fascination for Caledonia native
Friday, April 18, 2014 10:13 AM
"I've been writing about golf for more than 30 years," Joe Bissen said. "I kind of grew up on Ma Cal Grove and love that place, love the game."
Caledonia-raised Bissen recently wrote a book about Minnesota golf courses, which have disappeared from the landscape, covering over a century (1897-1999) of history. He's a former golf letter-winner at Winona State University and now works as a sports copy editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Joe's writing has appeared in Minnesota Golfer and Minneapolis St. Paul magazines.
"I've been a Minnesota journalist for all my life, basically," Bissen stated.
"I was fascinated by the notion that you might be walking around on an old golf course, and there's not even the slightest hint that it was there. There's also the social aspect, how a town develops, their histories."
There are more than a few surprises to be found in " Fore! Gone. Minnesota's Lost Golf Courses." Many Spring Grove residents will wonder what a former course just west of the high school looked like, and Caledonia golfers will learn of no less than three now-defunct golfing locations that sat on the edges of that city.
The name of the Spring Grove course didn't turn up during research, but the Caledonia Golf Club ran the other three venues over the years, Bissen said. They most likely all shared that name.
"Sometimes, in smaller towns, you'd get groups that would come together to create a place to play," he added. "They'd lease land or they'd develop a course.... I think one of the Caledonia Golf Club courses was over near old Highway 44, to the west and north of where Ma Cal is now. There was another one north of town at one time, and then there was a course that was built on land on the southwest edge of town."
The latter site was actually the second Caledonia course to be built. It operated for about a decade. Caledonia Golf Club number two was the longest-lived course. It shut down in the early '40s, and then the club revived briefly at the northern site, which was just north of where the current high school sits, near Highway 76.
"That (10 years) was a fairly typical lifespan," Bissen noted. "A lot of the courses I wrote about either shut down because of the Great Depression or the advent of World War Two. Men were going off to fight, and there were fewer women involved with golf at the time. Women were also too busy helping with the war effort at home, so a lot of courses shut down.
"There are courses that started in the 1920s that are still with us, but there are also a lot of courses that shut down after one, two, or five years."
The volume covers more than 80 abandoned layouts.
The oldest course in the book was in Winona (Winona Golf Club). It shut down in 1897. The very next spring, Meadowbrook Golf Course opened in the same town. That facility was historic in that it hosted the first Minnesota Golf Association State Championship.
"One of the crazier ones was in Austin," Bissen stated. "That course opened for one year and shut down because the planners had the foresight to put it right next to the sewage disposal plant. That didn't go over too well.... There's stories like that from all over the state. There are some interesting and significant things."
The cover photo of "Fore! Gone" also comes from southeastern Minnesota. It features a bench shelter from Whitewater Valley Golf Course, which closed in 1975. The site is now part of Whitewater State Park, and a hiking trail now meanders past the old bench, which seems to blend into the greenery.
The book can be purchased directly from Bissen's website (ForeGoneGolf.com) or at Amazon.com under the vendor name fivestarsales.