Greg McKush has a phone to answer. He always does, it seems. Someone making a tee time or another caller inquiring about a weekend event. One more about greens fees.
“Can you hold on one second?” he says, speaking into his cell. He’s usually running the show from behind the bar, manning the cash register and juggling the tee sheet. Behind him, on the wall, is a large Beatles poster, one of many in his pro shop. Directly across from him stands a limited-edition Beatles jukebox (the same one Steven Tyler owns), a few guitars and a putter with a yellow submarine on the head. But that’s hardly scratching the surface of his obsession — Fab Four gear is all over.
McKush is the owner of Montgomery National Golf Club, a Beatles-themed golf course in rural Minnesota that, oh, by the way, is believed to be haunted (more on that later). But it wasn’t a Beatles- and music-themed course until McKush took over in 2018. Now there’s a 17-foot guitar greeting golfers in the parking lot, a hole with the world’s largest — only? — guitar bunker and a one-ton yellow submarine floating in a pond on the signature 18th. Beatlemania is everywhere. It’s on the website and on the scorecard; the holes are named after Beatles songs and, yes, there are strawberries growing near the one dubbed Strawberry Fields.
And you know what? It’s working, and not just because of the schtick. Golf is booming right now basically everywhere, but this course is also busy because it’s fun and affordable and interesting, and when something is interesting people ask questions. And, to be fair, who wouldn’t ask questions? It’s a Beatles-themed golf course, for cryin’ out loud. The key, McKush says, is just letting everyone in on his secret. They’ll ask about it all — the posters, the guitar, the submarine and the haunting (remember, we’ll get to that) — and he’ll tell them. Then they’ll tell their friends. Then they are in on it. If they happen to enjoy The Beatles, even better. A couple of weeks ago 16 gents traveled 75 miles to play the course together, clad in Beatles shirts.
“Sorry about that,” McKush says, returning to the phone. “So, anyways…”
So what’s the deal with Montgomery National? It all starts with its owner.
McKush, 57, was born in Canada but his family moved to the Minneapolis suburbs when he was 15. His parents bought a nine-hole golf course in Prior Lake, Minn., in 1979, added another nine and renamed it Lone Pine Country Club. McKush worked as the pro, and in 1988 the nearby Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community inquired about buying the land. The family finally sold it in 2002, and the course was promptly torn up and rebuilt. It reopened in 2005 as The Meadows at Mystic Lake, an 18-hole course at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel that today remains one of the top public courses in the state.
McKush stayed on as the project manager for the new course and was its director of golf for 12 years. He retired in 2013 at age 47, but, inevitably, he became bored. Over the years he had kept busy with his golf job and gigs as an actor, model and musician (he’s also in a band with his two sons), but now he needed a new project. He looked into buying nearby Montgomery National, an 18-hole Joel Goldstrand design in Montgomery, Minn., population 3,000, about an hour southwest of Minneapolis, but the price wasn’t right. A few years later, it was. McKush bought it on March 23, 2018.
But this wasn’t going to be just any course. This was going to be McKush’s course.
You got to go to that course. The guy is like Willy Wonka if you traded chocolate and candy for golf and The Beatles.
Garrett Gill and Paul Miller of Gill Miller, Inc., designed The Meadows, and McKush remained close with Miller, who now has his own firm, Paul Miller Design. Even before McKush purchased Montgomery National, they played the course together and talked about potential changes they could make. Once McKush bought it, the wheels kept turning. He hired superintendent J.D. Stanger, who is still there. He talked with Miller often and hired Kevin Unterreiner, who works with several Twin Cities courses, as marketing director. Once McKush, a Beatles fan since the seventh grade, unveiled his unorthodox idea to make it a Beatles- and music-themed course, they ran with it. No idea was too crazy, not even the crazy ones.
The first musical move came in 2018. With the help of shaper Scott Greenseth, Miller put in an Olson guitar bunker right of the fairway on the par-4 6th (now the 10th). It’s visible from the tee and 55-yards long and nearly 20 feet at its widest point. The next year, McKush made two of his most important purchases in the rebranding of his golf course — a 17-foot guitar and a 25-foot, one-ton fiberglass submarine.
He bought both from Hot Sam’s Antique Store & Foto Park in Lakeville, Minn., which does its best advertising by displaying its most notable pieces off Interstate 35. McKush had talked before about buying the submarine, which was an extra from the 1970 movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (The movie had two, but blew up one on the first take and never needed the second.) He wanted to paint it yellow a la The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and proudly display it at his course, which he figured would help with marketing. So after some haggling, he bought both the submarine and guitar for $14,000. When one of his friends saw the submarine getting towed south down I-35 on delivery day, he knew where it was going.
“Tell me you didn’t just buy a submarine,” he texted McKush.
The refaced guitar and painted submarine stood outside the clubhouse and were a hit. Beatlemania at Montgomery National had begun.
The clubhouse is covered with memorabilia, including a rare Beatles jukebox that McKush picked up at an estate sale. (Ringo Starr, Ozzy Osbourne and Steven Tyler reportedly have the same one.) The scorecard is Beatles-themed and the course website’s homepage image is the “Abbey Road” album cover, despite the White Album being McKush’s favorite. He doesn’t have a favorite song; he says there are too many. He knows how to play nearly all of them, and often he’ll grab his guitar and 1,100-watt PA system and sing outside, providing a soundtrack for those still finishing up their rounds. If the wind is just right, his voice carries the entire course.
“I think it gets back to his roots as basically an entertainer first,” Unterreiner says. “He just happens to own a golf course now.”
McKush sometimes sleeps at the course; he’ll hit shots off the back deck in his pajamas at dawn or grab a guitar and strum and sing and broadcast it all on Facebook. When he chimes in on a group text that’s an incubator for course ideas, he often includes song lyrics (ob-la-di, ob-la-da). He’s never given a rain check in his life; he just tells customers to remind him he owes ‘em one. If you want a cart you can help yourself — the keys are in a bowl outside on top of the garbage can. The contact information on the course website gives McKush’s personal cell and says to call or text him. (Text him!) Once he had a promotion where golfers could get a free round if they brought in a Beatles CD. He quickly received hundreds of discs.
“I’ve thrown a lot of things at the wall to see if they stick, and they just keep sticking,” McKush says. “It’s a wonderful canvas that I can do whatever I want to.”
Once, when a member was waiting in line at a local bank, he heard two men in front of him talking about Montgomery National and its eccentric owner.
“You got to go to that course,” one said. “The guy is like Willy Wonka if you traded chocolate and candy for golf and The Beatles.”
McKush said it was the greatest compliment he could receive.
“A key component is that Greg is here every day sort of energizing, engaging with these people and having fun with it,” Miller says. “It creates this kind of sense of community, and there’s not this holding people at arm’s length. I think in the golf course industry, people are apprehensive about what it takes to come out and play. And I think folks see approaches where it’s like, ‘Hey, welcome. Come on in, we want you here.’ It’s been super successful in the community.”
Montgomery National has made headlines before, but not for anything about John Lennon or Paul McCartney. The course, as the internet will tell you, is haunted, with some websites calling it one of the top-10 most haunted courses in the country. The two original owners of the farmland, long before it hosted golfers, are supposedly buried beneath the big cottonwood tree that lines the left side of the 1st fairway. Some say they never left the property.
According to club lore, there have been a handful of spooky occurrences. Twice for McKush himself, in just the last four years. One time, at dawn when he was the only one on site, he took his breakfast out of the microwave and placed it on the counter to cool. He left the room and came back to find it squished with a jacket resting on top. Another time, when the clubhouse wasn’t open due to Covid-19, he placed a jar outside for people to drop in $40 for contactless greens fees. Once a golfer’s $20 bill missed, fell to the ground and was blown a few feet away. McKush saw it oscillating on the ground, but before he could retrieve it himself it flew up and found its way back into the jar.
“It totally gives me chills,” he says. “Those two things are totally true.”
Montgomery National, though, is not supposed to be a gimmick, despite its claim as the world’s first music-themed championship golf course, nor for its haunted past. As Miller and McKush discussed the future of the course one thing was clear: The Beatles theme was fun and interesting and good for water cooler talk, but the course needed to deliver too.
When he bought it, McKush knew he wanted to build a log cabin clubhouse complete with spacious outdoor seating and an outside amphitheater for live music, but he wanted it by the 5th green, which sits atop a hill and provides a nice view of the property. So he tasked Miller with creating a new routing so the 5th could be the new 18th. Meanwhile, Miller and Co. started working on other projects — adding tee boxes, removing a couple dozen trees, rebuilding bunkers and more — but the main focus remained the new 18th and making it a memorable finishing hole. Already a strong par-4 with a daunting uphill approach to a slick-sloping back-to-front green, it was the ideal spot to marry clubhouse camaraderie with the end of a round. Plus, it had a pond players had to avoid off the tee — which is exactly where McKush wanted to place his submarine.
Miller and Greenseth added a fairway bunker as an aiming point for those going over the pond, widened the fairway to 80 yards to encourage players to take the heroic route and added and remodeled bunkers left of the green.
They recently broke ground on the clubhouse, which is being built off site and is set to open next spring. The new routing was unveiled in July, with The Beatles “Help!” signs staked throughout the course to get golfers used to the new sequence. Days before the routing changed, one of the final pieces was added to the finishing hole — the submarine. From the tee, behind the yellow submarine sits an elevated green and the Montgomery water tower, with the soon-to-be-completed clubhouse to act as the final touch to the memorable finishing hole they wanted all along.
Montgomery National rates never exceed $50 and a weekday walking greens fee is $30. Not far from the Twin Cities suburbs, it’s a wonderful value for a course in good condition with quality golf holes — regardless of one’s opinion of 1960s music.
“When Greg bought this the community was really excited that it was going to stay a golf course, but I think somebody could have come in here and tried to operate it the same way [as before], not taken advantage of a new clubhouse site, not making changes and seeing a vision and getting a re-routing,” Miller said. “There’s a lesson that, you know, there’s always opportunities to create a new vision. And if in golf we create a new vision, but we broaden the appeal, that’s how you create more golfers, and more interest, and you make it more user-friendly and community-oriented.”
McKush is giddy when he talks about the new clubhouse and how much it will help Montgomery National. It will be better for golfers. They can host weddings. They can host events. It’s exactly what he wanted when he bought the course 3 1/2 years ago. Even in that short time he says he’s already had a few offers to sell the land but has zero interest.
“You could give me $50 million, and I wouldn’t take it,” he says. “It’s too much fun.”
And as the new clubhouse goes up, more changes will happen around the course, too. Miller plans to expand the pond on 10 and renovate the greenside bunker and improve many cart paths. More bunkers might get work, too. Play a round with Miller and Greenseth, and they are constantly kicking around new ideas.
The course’s new routing has been dubbed the Magical Mystery Tour, and a contest on Facebook helped name the holes after Beatles songs. The 1st is With a Little Help From My Friends, since a member had a heart attack on the hole, was treated by paramedics that landed via helicopter, survived and later decided it was a fitting name. The 6th is Strawberry Fields Forever, since McKush is growing strawberries nearby. The 8th, a par-3 from which you tee off on a hill, is Fool on the Hill. The 17th, with water right, is Octopus Garden.
The last hole, the 18th, is the only one with two names, simply because two made sense. McKush was at first against the idea but then realized he owned the place, so, well, he was going with two anyway. Both names are fitting: Yellow Submarine and The End. The latter is on the “Abbey Road” album, and it’s a song McKush and his sons played often when their band had gigs at farmers markets. Its second verse is stylized on the front of the Montgomery National scorecard, and it’s a motto McKush has always been fond of.
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make
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