Hitting the Trail

February 23, 2023 | 3 min.
By Joseph Oberle
Photos by Matt Seefeldt

When one considers the impact on the game of Joel Goldstrand, a two-time NCAA golf champion, professional golfer, longtime club pro and prolific golf course architect, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving a bigger mark on Minnesota golf—both figuratively and literally. Goldstrand, who passed away at age 83 this past November, left his mark on the land throughout the state, as he is credited with designing (or contributing design work to) more than 70 Minnesota golf courses (his career total stretches to 100 when you include the upper Midwest region). And perhaps nowhere is the artistry of his designs more apparent than on the West Central Driving Minnesota tour.

Whether the area’s golf course operators became familiar with Goldstrand’s work and reputation and sought out his services or the architect simply enjoyed working in the part of the state (located north of his hometown of Worthington), nearly half (six of 13) of the courses on this tour bear Goldstrand’s name. Koronis Hills Golf Club is one of them.

“I was familiar with his work at other courses in our part of Minnesota,” says John Janotta, president of Koronis Hills during its period of expansion. “That and word of mouth about his work made us desire to contact him.”

“Joel was a true gentleman. He was very patient and easy to work with. He had a calm demeanor, and he had the knowledge and background to help us and other courses all over Minnesota. He was a joy to work with!”

Goldstrand’s Minnesota golf legacy is cemented among the state’s greats and his work is featured prominently in the mounds, near the ponds and among the prairie grasses of West Central Minnesota. If anyone were ever to create an official “Goldstrand Trail” of his course architecture, it would be a lengthy trail and just might begin with the courses in this region. This Driving Minnesota tour gives you a head start down that path.

The Goldstrand-ard
Once taken, a trip to the West Central area of the state will certainly enter your repeat-trip rotation. The treasure trove of Goldstrand courses is sprinkled throughout and each holds its own charms.

Morris has been home to Pomme de Terre Golf Club since 1923 when the first nine holes were built. A second nine of Pomme de Terre (which is French for potato) was unearthed by Goldstrand in 2007, and the local community purchased the club in 2011. Boosting a course rating/slope of 71.0/137 from the blue tees, it is arguably the most challenging track on this tour.

To the southeast in Montevideo, Goldstrand reworked another 1923 nine-hole course, adding a second nine in 1994. Formerly called The Crossings at Montevideo, the scenic River Crest Public Golf Course earns its new moniker resting on the banks of the Minnesota River at its confluence with the Chippewa River. 

Koronis Hills Golf Club opened in Paynesville in 1929, and Goldstrand added his stamp on the track with a second nine in 1997. Each nine has its own character. The par 36 front at 3,191 yards from back tees features rolling hills and elevated greens, while the par 35 back nine (a bit shorter at 3,027 yards) is tightly tree-lined and offers golfers a tougher challenge.

“From the day we opened the 18 holes, golfers have felt that the 17th hole is our signature hole,” Janotta says. “It’s a par 3 with water, sand, beautiful oak trees and a steep elevation change. It’s a memorable hole for members and visitors alike.”

Near the eastern edge of this tour, Goldstrand designed the nine-hole Hawk Creek Country Club in Raymond in 1997. Saying they’re a small-town course with a big heart on their website, Hawk Creek promotes an experience “less frantic than in the big city, for enjoyment rather than a race against the clock.”

Benson Golf Club was originally built in 1925—and a river runs through it. Hard along the Chippewa River, its east branch traverses the property, where Goldstrand added a second nine 54 years later. This challenging championship track features water in play on eight holes and beauty throughout.

Madison Country Club is another course from the 1920s (1927) that Goldstrand refurbished. This semi-private club has a unique routing of one par 3 and eight par 4s for a par 35 at 2,814 yards. The club is located on the 45th Parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole, which can make for interesting conversation on the first tee.

Just Up the Road
Additional gems on this tour are worthy of your exploration. Start with Little Crow Country Club in Spicer, which was built by renowned Minnesota architect Don Herfort. Unique amongst the tour, Little Crow offers 27 holes—the Willows, Pines and Oaks nines—with water features on 16 of them. Bon voyage!

Appleton Golf Club course routes along the “Potato” (actually, Pomme de Terre) River, which makes it a great course for hikers, bikers, campers and canoers to get in a quick nine holes. Want more “golf?” Try the frisbee golf course located in Appleton’s Riverview Park.

Ortonville Municipal Golf Course is prairie golf at its finest. Located on Minnesota’s western border, this par-72 18-hole track offers views of neighboring South Dakota and Big Stone Lake, where the Minnesota River connects with the Red River. Don’t be distracted by the views on this challenging course.

On the eastern side of the tour, Litchfield Golf Club has been challenging golfers since 1927 on the shores of Lake Ripley. The par 70 layout features, like most of these 1920s-era courses, fairways lined with mature trees—and the rolling greens will get your attention on every putt.

The Willmar Country Club was built in 1931 (young by this tour’s standards) and was later renamed Eagle Creek Golf Club. But with Eagle Creek winding through it, plus ponds and beguiling lake views, it could be just as aptly called “Willmar Water World.” It’s a tough challenge and a beautiful walk. Eagle Creek annually hosts the Lakeland Championship, June 24-25, and is hosting the 2023 MGA Senior Amateur Four-Ball Championship, Sept. 12-13. 

The tour is rounded out by a duo of nine-hole tracks. Graceville Golf Club is surrounded by East Toqua, West Toqua and Lannon Lakes, while the semi-private Dawson Golf Course is near the southernmost point of this tour and boasts a slope/rating of 72.2/121 for women and 67.0/114 for men from the back tees. Anywhere you find yourself on the West Central Tour, beauty, challenge and great golf await. 

Joseph Oberle

Joe Oberle is an award-winning author, sportswriter, and has been the managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine since 2002. He’s covered the Minnesota Vikings, the NFL, Minnesota Twins and spent six seasons as publications manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he co-authored “Unstoppable: The Story of George Mikan.”

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