Hazeltine grew from Minikahda's roots
- Article by: SID HARTMAN
- Star Tribune
- August 15, 2009 - 11:33 PM
It was in the early 1950s when Totton P. Heffelfinger, a giant in the grain business and one of the top officials in the Minikahda Club, came up with the idea of selling the very valuable land where the golf course was located across from Lake Calhoun and building a new golf club in Chaska that turned out to be Hazeltine National.
The historic clubhouse would remain, but the golf course land would be sold and, being in such a great location in the city and overlooking the lake, would raise enough money to build the new club in the western suburbs.
Heffelfinger worked hard to get the votes from Minikahda members to make the move. But he failed, and his group was stuck with the land it had bought that today is the site of this weekend's 2009 PGA Championship.
Heffelfinger, president of the U.S. Golf Association from 1952 to 1953, wanted to build a course that would be a host of major championships, which were becoming larger events. Minikahda had been the host of the 1916 U.S. Open and the 1927 U.S. Amateur (won by Bobby Jones).
There were many financial difficulties Heffelfinger faced before Hazeltine opened in 1962.
But if it wasn't for the persistence Heffelfinger and his partners, who went through with the opening of Hazeltine even though Minikahda remained, there wouldn't have been all of the big tournaments here.
With Heffelfinger's influence in the golf world, the first major golf tournament to be held at the Chaska course was the 1966 U.S. Women's Open.
Again using his influence as former president of the USGA, Heffelfinger brought the 1970 U.S. Open to the course that still needed a lot of development to be first-class. The difficulty of the course and the windy conditions escalated scores, leading to criticism from the golfers and a poor first impression.
"They ruined a cow pasture by building the course," said golfer Dave Hill, who was among many of the golfers who ripped the course and got national publicity by doing so. Jack Nicklaus didn't like the layout. Many of the top golf officials thought this was the end of Hazeltine as the site of major golf tournaments.
However, the turning point of Hazeltine might have been the 1983 U.S. Senior Open. The previous criticism turned to praise, and the course was now first-class.
Then came the 1991 U.S. Open, when Payne Stewart beat Scott Simpson in an 18-hole playoff. In tha tournament, several new revenue innovations were put in and the financial results of the event set new standards for the major tournaments.
Since then, Hazeltine has been host of the 1994 U.S. Mid-Amateur, the 2002 PGA, the 2006 U.S. Amateur and the current PGA, and it will be the host of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
Not many clubs less than 50 years old have produced a résumé of major tournaments.
Yes, the great Tott Heffelfinger and his partners made this happen. And while Hazeltine will bring a lot of golf notice to this area and make some big bucks, Minikahda continues to be one of the finest golf courses in the country -- but because of its size it never would have attracted the tournaments that Hazeltine has.Twins 2010 opener
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