Save Les Bolstad!

Is the University of Minnesota on the verge of destroying another cherished memorial?

The future of the Les Bolstad University of Minnesota golf course could be in jeopardy, according to University officials. The course lost money six of the last ten years, so the University is now considering converting the land to other uses, i.e., selling it to developers or building on it.

The grand old golf course which got its start in 1915, became an 18-hole layout designed by Tom Vardon in 1929, and is now named after the school’s legendary golf coach, Les Bolstad, could be plowed under in the name of cost-saving and “progress.” Yes, the course is short by contemporary standards, and yes, it needs a bigger maintenance budget, but it is a classic layout on beautiful property and it serves the needs of thousands of golfers each year.

Just over 30 years ago, the University believed its outdoor football bowl, Memorial Stadium, had exceeded its usefulness. The stadium – a memorial to the men and women of Minnesota who’d given their lives during World War I – was torn down so the football team could embark on a glorious – and more lucrative – new future in the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.

How’d that decision work out?

A new outdoor stadium now sits across the street from the site of Memorial Stadium, which could have been renovated for far less money than was spent on building TCF Bank Stadium. While the Les Bolstad golf course is not a memorial as such, it might as well be; when you honor a great man like Bolstad by naming a nearly 100-year-old facility after him, you have a moral obligation to resist selling off or destroying that facility at the first sign of financial trouble – or opportunity.

University President Eric Kaler and the administration must decide this fall whether to spend $19.5 million to renovate the golf course, or dig it up. The money would come from private funding sources, but the University still must justify raising and spending that much money on golf.

Perhaps we should consider the words of former U. of M. President Lotus Coffman – a golfer – who urged in 1926 that the University buy the 9-hole Minnepau golf course property on which the Bolstad golf course now sits:

“There may be some people who might be so short sighted as to criticize the University for securing a playground for its students and faculty, but the number cannot be very great. There are few things that are more sorely needed at the University of Minnesota than adequate play facilities. I know of nothing that would pay larger dividends, bring higher returns in terms of morality, clean living, good sportsmanship, high ideals, and even studentship, than wholesome play facilities. The University of Minnesota will never have enough. The Minnepau Golf Course represents a small beginning of what it should have for play facilities.”

Most Big 10 schools have golf courses. Our University is now considering becoming one that does not, a reversal of the direction Coffman undertook in 1926.

Jerry Rinehart, current vice provost for student affairs, told the Star Tribune that simply upgrading the Bolstad course was not an option. There would have to be other additions to the 120-acre property, such as research facilities.

“We’ve got enough golf courses,” Rinehart said.

Not according to the course’s neighbors, who love the open space. Not according to the club members who’ve supported the course for decades. Not according to fans of classic golf course architecture, who’ve witnessed the disappearance or disfigurement of too many outstanding old courses by design masters like Vardon.

What we do have enough of is houses and office buildings. No one will ever regret that more of the same weren’t built on those precious 120 acres at Larpenteur Avenue.

3 thoughts on “Save Les Bolstad!

  1. The U golf course is a great asset. It was mismanaged by the athletic department for over 40 years and they used it for their own private playground. Over $250,000 in free golf, cross country and soccer events a season make it difficult to operate a golf course in the black. Now that new management has taken over, they are attempting to bring this asset back to life by getting a renovation done. This can only be a good thing for the U, Minnesota golf, and golfers in general.

  2. Did the losing money statement include $$$ earned at the driving range? I rarely visit when the range is not crowded – someone told me they made more in a couple of weeks than the old par 3 did in the entire season. Do those funds go to support the golf course or are they somehow redirected to other programs?

  3. In recent years the course has been run as if the U wants it to fail. Green fees out of touch with the rest of similar courses, course in bad shape, no specials to try to reach players, etc. Losing the course woulld also weaken alum relations as many classes in all the schools tie their reunions to an afternoon golf event.
    The U has just not been a good steward of this great asset. Is there any chance of selling it/or land swap with Ramsey county? They take great care of their courses and do not have a course in this part of Ramsey county.
    Is there any organized effort to get the U to reconsider closing it? Finally the refurbishment number seems very inflated. Actually it would be just fine if they took better care of what they have.

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