The Course I’m Thankful For: A club that lies in the weeds was so much more years ago

November 26, 2017

This is the final installment in our 11-part “The Course I’m Thankful For” series, in which we asked staffers to wax lovingly about the first course that stole their golfing hearts. Be sure to check back daily to feast on a new essay — or simply binge-read them all when you awake from your turkey coma. Happy Thanksgiving!

Home for the holidays, I borrowed my dad’s red ’02 Chevy pickup the Sunday before Thanksgiving and pulled out of the driveway at 11:10 a.m.

Inspired to write about “The Course I’m Thankful For,” I needed a photo. Endless Google searches were no help. So off I went.

Located just a few miles north of downtown Austin, Minn. — tucked between train tracks and the Old Mill restaurant and flanked by a pond in which no one would dare swim — sits Ramsey Golf Club. Or what’s left of it. At 11:20 I took a right after a crooked bridge hazard sign and pulled into the parking lot, stopping the car by the old putting green.

Ramsey, even in its heyday, was not fancy. It had a laughable driving range (pick up your own balls!) and a modest clubhouse. But it was just fine for me.

I can still hear long-time club pro Roger answering the phone with his familiar, monotone, “Raaaaammmmsssseeeey Golf Club.” And I can still taste the best item from the kitchen, the delectable three-cookies-for-a-dollar deal I still crave.

I learned the game at Ramsey. A weathered and faded red bag was passed down from my grandpa to me, and in it I stashed a Lynx Black Cat driver (I copied my brother), MacGregor irons (freebies from my neighbor), a Lion wedge (I found it and later realized it was a women’s club) and a scuffed-up Ping B60 putter ($15 from my brother’s friend). The opening holes were my favorite: two par 5s split by a bunker-guarded par 3. My slice played perfectly on No. 5, but definitely not on 7. The 8th, with that annoying tree hugging the water on the left, was my disaster hole. The 9th and 13th had drainage issues and were always soggy — you had to walk them the way you’d tip-toe through your parents’ kitchen after missing curfew. The 15th was the signature hole, a 600-yard par-5 brute aptly named Big Bertha.

MORE: Best public courses in MN  |  How to plan a Brainerd, MN, golf trip

I spent thousands of hours at this course. I started playing around age 11, when my buddies and I were dropped off in the dewy mornings and picked up as the sun disappeared. While waiting for our rides we putted for dimes and juggled balls on our wedges like Tiger did in those commercials. Later we strapped bags on our backs and rode mopeds to the course, and eventually we graduated to more reliable options — cars. After high school, I spent three summers working on the grounds crew, beginning eight-hour shifts at 6:30 and playing the course afterward. That decade was littered with every golfing emotion possible. I practiced and cussed, broke rules and gambled, fist-pumped and high-fived, lost my temper and lost boxes of balls.

Some of my greatest golfing moments happened here, too. There was that time I beat my friend Tom at age 12. I shot 46 and clipped him in a scorecard playoff, but have never beaten him since. (I still store the winning medal in my bag, occasionally marking my ball with it when we play together.) There was that time Fred and I were engulfed in Poison Ivy while trimming the front of the 3rd tee, and those times when, as college kids, we cut loose on Friday evenings and indulged in twilight rounds and cheap beer on an empty links.

On this November Sunday I navigated the brush, weeds and thistles and walked onto the 1st tee box, surrounded by the 10th tee, 18th green, 9th green and starter’s area, and looked down the fairway. Off in the distance sits an overturned garbage can. A wood pallet littered with newspapers, a ripped couch cushion and drainage equipment lies next to it.

Ramsey Golf Club is far different than it was years ago. The property was sold and renamed, and in 2004 a devastating flood demolished the clubhouse. Eventually a portion of the property was leased and later sold to a neighboring club, which combined the two 18-hole courses for 27 holes. Seven and a half of the holes I grew up playing now lie in front of me; shaggy, pin-less greens and tee boxes with no markers. I wish it was the same place I remember.

I walked off the tee, climbed into the truck and shifted it into drive. I drove cautiously over the pothole-filled terrain, past the ghost of the former clubhouse and took a left coming out of the parking lot. The course disappeared behind me.


Sneaky rounds in suburban New York, by Alan Bastable
Shoes-optional on the Maine coast, by Dylan Dethier
Planting roots in Southern California, by Jessica Marksbury
A rumpled links in England, by Michael Bamberger
Meats (and murder?!) in Michigan, by Jeff Ritter
A transition out of tennis in Ohio, by Joe Passov
A short-and-sweet gem on Long Island, by Tim Reilly
An old, reliable NorCal muni, by Alan Shipnuck
Just clowning around in Cape Cod, by Josh Sens
A Hollywood ending in Wisconsin, by Sean Zak
Lying in the weeds in Minnesota, by Josh Berhow