Reusse: The golf course in the middle of somewhere

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE
  • Updated: May 6, 2013 - 11:55 PM
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Windsong: “The plan was to have a course dedicated to pure golf,” says founding member Reed Mackenzie..

Photo: PETER WONG • Special to the Star Tribune ,

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One of the difficulties Windsong Farm faced from the start in 2004 was the perception that it was located in the middle of nowhere. That was not the view of Jim Kidd and his wife Cathy when they returned to Minnesota in January 2010 to run the private club.

That’s because Jim was the pro and Cathy helped operate Sand Hills when it opened on 800 acres of sand and grass and ravines in Nebraska in 1995. They spent seven years living in Mullen with their young family.

Mullen advertises itself as the “biggest little city in Hooker County.’’ The population for the county is roughly 500 — not counting visiting members and guests at Sand Hills.

The next move for the Kidds was to Friars Head, one of the amazing and exclusive golf clubs on the outer reach of Long Island.

Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were the designers of Sand Hills. They also designed Friars Head, which was the connection that brought Jim Kidd to those spectacular dunes on Long Island Sound.

“Somebody just e-mailed me the latest Golf Week course rankings,’’ Jim said. “For modern (opened since 1960 in the U.S.), Sand Hills is No. 1 and Friar’s Head is No. 4.’’

Fantastic golf courses were nothing new to Jim Kidd. He was raised at Interlachen, where his grandfather Willie and father Bill held forth as the pros from 1920 to Bill’s retirement in 1993.

Bill has had health problems that impacted the family’s decision to leave Long Island and take the job at Windsong Farm. The club was in a lot more financial trouble at that time than the Kidds realized in making that decision.

The 200 acres on which Windsong sits are located in the countryside near Independence. It was a horse farm named Wind Song Farm and was purchased by Minneapolis Golf Club as a potential site for a second golf course.

When the MGC members voted against the plan, Jim Lehman arranged with Rehbein Construction to build the course and get its return from memberships. Jim’s brother Tom and his partner John Fought were the designers.

“The plan was to have a course dedicated to pure golf,’’ said Reed Mackenzie, one of the founding members. “We looked at Spring Hill, which was economically at the top of the food chain, and backed it down a notch. We felt there would be a sufficient number of very good, and/or very enthusiastic golfers, to make it work.’’

The horse farm became Windsong Golf Club. It opened late in 2003, about the same time the golf boom was turning into a golf bust.

“With a couple of exceptions, membership fees had started to drop at the older, established clubs in this area,’’ Mackenzie said. “That put us in competition for members. There wasn’t a sufficient market for the prices we were asking to join.’’

And then came the recession, which was dang near a depression, and Windsong was cooked.

Rehbein gave up. The members took over with a bank loan (reported at $4.2 million). In December 2011, it became public that Windsong was going to close.

Pioneer Creek is a public course and neighbor to Windsong. Marcia Kreklow and her family own that course. She sent the story on Windsong’s fate to her brother, David Meyer, the CEO of Titan Machinery in Fargo.

Six weeks later, it was announced Meyer would buy Windsong Farm and maintain it as a private club. He also had hopes of turning it into golf destination — sort of a toned-down Sand Hills, remote in its setting, but within a half-hour of a vibrant metropolis.

The membership fee that once was more than $50,000 is now $15,000, financed long-term. It’s half-price for golfers 35 and under. And it’s much less for people who live outside a 100-mile radius.

There is a golf lodge with six rooms being constructed to open this summer. Meyer has purchased 120 acres across the road. There’s a thought of perhaps a practice facility, maybe another 9 holes, or more lodging.

Mackenzie, long-time Hazeltine member and former president of the USGA, is a straight shooter on matters of golf — even those with which he’s involved. Asked his view of Windsong as a track, Mackenzie said: “I think it’s terrific, really. It’s different than most golf courses in Minnesota. There are areas adjacent to the green that are mowed down, and a ball can roll off 30 yards if you hit the wrong approach. To get back, you can putt, chip it, hit the ball in the air. It doesn’t remind you of every place you’ve seen come along in recent years.’’

OK, but what about that middle-of-nowhere location?

“From the heart of downtown Minneapolis,” Mackenzie said, “the drive to Windsong Farm is exactly 2/10ths a mile longer than to Hazeltine.’’

Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.

preusse@startribune.com

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