Keller Golf Course renovation completed

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2014 - 12:28 AM

The rebuilt clubhouse and pro shop have been completed and are ready to use, but the golf course won’t be ready until late June.

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The new bar in the historic and popular Keller Golf Course and clubhouse.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE • gstubbe@startribune.com,

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These are the times that try golfers’ souls, when winter, to use the parlance of their passion, has reached the back nine. The days are inching longer, yet spring, and tantalizing visions of green, are still a long way off.

The wait has been especially long and trying for golfers who love the historic and popular Keller Golf Course in Maplewood, owned by Ramsey County and closed all of last season for a $12.2 million renovation that began in the fall of 2012.

The historic clubhouse dating to 1929 was razed, too far gone for renovation. The new building, with a design paying homage to Keller’s rich past but featuring updates that promise to help it endure for decades, is now finished and open for events. An open house is set for Feb. 23.

Golfers, though, will have to be patient for a few more months. The course, complete with new bunkers, tees, greens, cart paths and an irrigation system, isn’t scheduled to reopen until June 28.

New grass was planted by autumn last year. But even after the snow melts, it will still need several weeks to establish itself to withstand heavy foot and golf cart traffic, said Allison Winters, spokeswoman for the Ramsey County Parks & Recreation Department.

“Actually, this blanket of snow is pretty good for it,” she said Thursday, looking out from the clubhouse banquet room, with its wood-beamed ceilings mindful of those at Scottish links courses.

“The county is very committed to not opening too early. We’ve seen it happen before at other Twin Cities golf courses where they have been opened too early, they’re not ready for the traffic, and then they have to close and dump money back into it to make repairs. When you spend this much money on a project, you don’t want to have to go back and do it again.”

While the course was completely renovated, only six of the 18 holes were actually realigned, partly with the aim of having tee boxes closer to the clubhouse. “[The designers] tried not to do anything too drastic,” Winters said. “We wanted to remain true to Keller.”

The course is one of the state’s most historic sports venues.

Virtually every notable golfer from the 1930s through the 1960s played Keller when it was a regular stop on both the men’s and women’s professional tours, including the annual St. Paul Open that ran from 1930 to 1968.

In the 1940s, it was one of the few PGA events in which blacks were allowed to compete. In 1932, Olin Dutra became the first Hispanic to win the National PGA Championship when the event was held there, earning one of the most dominant victories in the tournament’s history. Dutra played 196 holes over the six days and was 19-under-par.

Boxing great Joe Louis golfed there as an amateur, and notorious gangsters in the 1930s also found Keller a nice place to relax. Legend has it that as John Dillinger was playing the third hole one day, he saw FBI agents approaching his group. He jumped a nearby fence and hopped a train on tracks adjacent to the course, leaving his clubs behind.

‘Let’s do it right’

The course was named for Herbert Keller, a Ramsey County commissioner.

To save on the architect’s fee, the task of designing the original 18-hole track was given to Paul Coates, the county engineer. At his own expense, Winters said, Coates visited prominent golf courses on the East Coast to see how it was done. His work, she said, has stood the test of time.

The decision to raze the clubhouse, designed by noted African-American architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington, who also designed the Highland Park water tower and original Como Zoo building, was difficult, Winters said. But with the windows rotting and the stone foundation failing, it was determined that it could not be saved.

That also offered an opportunity to renovate the course at the same time.

“Let’s do it right and make sure that this gem is around for the next 85 years,” Winters said.

  • related content

  • Care was taken to make the new clubhouse similar to the old one which was torn down due to rot and a failing foundation.

  • The original fireplace from the 1929 clubhouse on the grounds of the historic and popular Keller Golf Course.

  • The original 1929 cornerstone was preserved on one side of the main entrance, while a new 2013 stone is on the other side.

  • The historic and popular Keller Golf Course and clubhouse, closed all of last year due to undergoing a $12 million overhaul by Ramsey County, is poised to reopen in mid-June. The clubhouse, located in Maplewood, opens this month as a venue for weddings and other events.

  • keller golf course

    The newly renovated Keller Golf Course Clubhouse, 2166 Maplewood Dr., Maplewood, is now open for business, but golfers will have to be patient for a few more months. The course isn’t scheduled to open for play until June 28.

    In the meantime, several coming events will offer the first public glimpses of the clubhouse’s new banquet hall, which can seat 250 people for weddings and 300 for business meetings.

    SCOTT HANSEN COMEDY SHOW

    When: 6:30 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. show on Saturday, Feb. 15.

    Cost: Dinner and show, $79.95 for two; show only, $15 in advance, $20 at the door.

    Information: 651-766-4176, ext. 201; brownpaperticket.com.

    KELLER GOLF COURSE OPEN HOUSE

    When: 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23.

    What: A chance to sample food and cocktails by Lancer Caterers, meet the chefs and get decor ideas for special events.

    Cost: Free, but RSVP at events@lancercatering.com or call 651-766-4176.

    GOLF COURSE CHANGES

    Six holes have been altered, but all have new tees, greens and fairways, and there are new bunkers and cart paths. Changes were made to holes 1, 2, 9, 10 and 12. No. 18 was also moved closer to the clubhouse.

    One hole that will not change is the signature 150-yard, par-3 No. 4 that includes a famous — or infamous, depending on your skill — oak tree blocking the approach to the green.

    Fact: Keller Golf Course has retained its designation as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” for maintaining its high environmental standards that include 7 acres of no-play areas which offer high-quality habitat for wildlife.

    jim anderson

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