Walking with Ghosts: A History of the New Richmond Golf Club
"I would love to get into a time machine, punch in 1878, go downtown and see what it looked like."
Jim Reppe is an unassuming man with a passion for local history he inherited from his father, Don. A born and raised son of New Richmond, his own history includes raising a family and 38 years working for Bosch Packaging Technology.
Aside from the history gene he inherited, he attributes his proclivity for writing to correspondence courses while completing his college degree. His history book credits include contributions to the Neighborhood Series, which he worked on with Mary Sather of the New Richmond Heritage Center, and "The History of Doughboy Industries."
Jim and Don shared an abiding love for the game of golf but even more so for the research required to uncover the personal stories, memories and facts that make local history so compelling. In his day, Don was fond of creating little tidbits, reportings of local history and submitting them to the local paper, anonymously. He cherished his anonymity a trait his son humbly shares.
At the time of his passing in 2010, Don had compiled a large volume (a scrapbook actually) of information pertaining to the history of the New Richmond Golf Club, much of it with a financial slant since he had long served as the treasurer for the club.
As a tribute to his father, Reppe embraced the challenge and set about finishing what his father had started by writing, "The History of the New Richmond Golf Club." Through two winters worth of weekends dedicated to writing the book, Reppe found himself, "reconnecting" with his father.
"I can write history, but I can't remember it all," says Reppe as he thumbs through the soft covered edition stopping on page three, which contains a small photo of a 1929 plat map showing the original location of the club at the southwest corner of Bass Lake.
Jim's choice to document the history of the golf course acts as a metaphor for not only for the game of golf but for the history of the growing community of New Richmond as well. The manuscript reads like a Who's Who of New Richmond history with many of the founding members' names adorning buildings and enterprises up and down Main Street today. The 1921 original charter of 24 members included names like McNally, Arnquist, Hughes, Mosher and Doar along with two women, Mrs. O.W. Mosher and Mrs. T. J. McNally.
The Reppe's book contains an assortment of photographs documenting everything from early scorecards and concrete tee boxes to the remnants of wagon tracks and the ever changing landscape of the course as it evolved from a six-hole property at the south end of Bass Lake to its contemporary 27-hole configuration manicured by current Superintendent Tom Johnson.
Although Reppe's preference would lean toward presenting the facts, there are plenty of stories, including firsthand accounts by his father and others, including an excerpted from a 2007 article entitled "Golf in Early St. Croix County," written for Travel & Leisure magazine by accomplished Sports Illustrated author, John Garrity. Garrity's father Jack, a resident of New Richmond, had a personal attachment to the early course built in 1924.
Don Reppe's contributions to the book (distinguished in italics from son Jim's words as recommended by Mary Sather), often incorporates fiscal commentary providing a fascinating profile of a small rural community's economy as it grows, along with its understanding and appreciation for the game of golf.
Don points out, "in 1924, a double or family membership cost $25 and a single cost $20." Equivalent memberships in 2012 costs roughly $600 for a single while a family membership costs $900.
Good historical accounts often turn on several pivotal moments when success or failure rests in the hands of notable characters. When the course moved from Bass Lake to New Richmond in 1924, it resided on 45 acres rented from the Soo Line Railroad.
Reppe documents, "On March 7, 1929 a contract was drawn up by W.T. Doar, Sr. with a negotiated price of $1,200 for 45.07 acres. The golf course was incorporated under the name of the Golf Holding Corp., which consisted of 100 shares of stock valued at $25 a share. The members of the golf club purchased the stock and the funds from that paid for the land within one year. They then rented the land to the New Richmond Golf Club which charged enough to cover the property taxes and to make a fair return on its money."
In 1928, Albert Campbell, a local farmer, was appointed groundskeeper at the golf club.
Around 1945, Doughboy Industries led by Ed Cashman, offered to provide ongoing funding for course improvements provided the original stockholders "transfer title of the course to the city." The public now officially owned the New Richmond Golf Course.
In 1947 the club took the next big step toward becoming "a golf course which would be as fine as any that any small city could hope to have."
Additional purchases of the Oscar Asp farm totaling 20 acres, and Albert Campbell's farm totaling 27 acres, doubled the size of the course to 92 acres prompting a redesign by famous golf pro, Capt. Willie Kidd of Interlachen. All told, with the purchase of the additional property, redesign of the layout, and new amenities including a water system and grass greens, the project would cost $15,000.
As history would have it, in 1967 a clubhouse fire, the result of undisclosed mischief by a couple of local boys, became an opportunity. Stillwater architect Mike McGuire was hired to design and build the new clubhouse.
The final piece of the puzzle began to take shape in 1966 when 85 acres of land adjacent to the existing course were purchased from Charlie Hemenway by seven forward looking entrepreneurs, including Tom Doar, Jim Drill, George Norman, Gene Cox, Chick Polfus, Paul Swenby and Dave Cullen. In 1968 under the tutelage of golf architect Don Herfort, the group undertook a four-year program that resulted in the planting of 35,000 trees ultimately resulting in holes 13-18 of the current course.
In 1982 due to the diligent efforts of board member Tom Heffron, course manager Gary Johnson and Tom Doar, various parcels of those 85 acres were either sold or donated to the golf course. Combined with property along the Willow River donated by Doar's brother John, and a parcel donated by Fritz Friday of the Friday Canning Corp., enough acreage for the current 18-hole course had been secured. Redesign construction began in 1983 and the new 18-hole course opened to the public in July of 1984. The course was again renovated in 2002.
In 2004, after 30 years of service as manager of the New Richmond Golf Club, Gary Johnson retired.
By writing from a personal perspective, Jim and Don Reppe bring the story of the New Richmond Golf Club to life.
"Making that connection is important. It's important otherwise it all just gets lost in time," Jim said. "Everyday history is being made. I preserved this piece of history. I couldn't have done this without the microfilm of the past papers at the library. That's what's great about a local newspaper like the New Richmond News."
As for the ghosts, "Albert would probably shake his head in astonishment if he could see the course today," Jim said. "And what the future will bring is difficult to predict other than that the New Richmond Golf Club will continue to be a city treasure as long as the game of golf is being played...and that is going to be for a very long time."
The book can be purchased for $20 and is available at The New Richmond Heritage Center, The New Richmond Golf Club, First National Community Bank and the Chamber of Commerce office. A copy is also available at the New Richmond Public Library. All proceeds go to the Heritage Center.