For 35 years, Jim Trudeau was a crime fighter, first as a cop and then as police chief in Forest Lake and sheriff of Washington County.

He closed out his law-enforcement career as head of the state sheriffs' association, and in the buildup to his final days on the job he harbored a dream common to the aging golf enthusiast.

"I thought: 'I'll retire as a ranger on a golf course,' " he recalled recently.

Trudeau has ended up running Castlewood Golf Course in Forest Lake, a nine-hole course, but not just any track for the budget-minded or beginning golfer. Castlewood, built in 1920, once belonged to his grandfather, and Trudeau traipsed about the property as a 5-year-old in 1945.

Now, after five seasons at the helm, the 71-year-old is hoping the city lets him re-up for another five-year lease -- whenever that discussion comes. Money is not a motivation, Trudeau said. He does not take a paycheck. The work, he says, is his "thank you" to citizens for their past support.

"What we make we put into it," he said. "It's my way of giving back."

Trudeau designed a course within a course for junior golfers, hoping to boost participation and to instill in kids a respect for rules. That is an extension of his years in law enforcement, he said, in particular his role as co-founder of the Lakes Area Youth Service Bureau, a diversion program for first-time offenders.

The course has been a turnaround project as well.

Castlewood, unlike many nine-hole courses, plays to par 36, meaning there are holes of varying lengths and challenges, not simply one par-three hole after another. That's the good news. The bad was that the course, before Trudeau's takeover, had been neglected. Fairways played more like freeways. "Castlerock" was a popular nickname.

Last Monday morning, Ron Lee, 63, of Little Canada, chipped onto the practice green as a greenskeeper rode a mower down the first fairway. Flowers and wild grasses were growing near boulders marking the first and sixth tees nearby. Lee, a member of the men's club at Keller Golf Course in Maplewood, said Castlewood was a nice test.

"There are places where you can get in trouble. Some blind shots. A creek," he said. "Here, you can use every club in the bag."

Lee had yet to golf at Castlewood this season. But, he said, he found it to be in good shape during each of the past three to four years. He also, by chance, happened to know the manager.

Two years ago, Lee said, he mentioned to Trudeau that he and some of his friends were organizing a benefit for a retired White Bear Lake police officer who had died of cancer. By the time another friend went to the course, Trudeau had complimentary golf passes and pro shop items waiting for them to give away at the benefit.

"He has been very generous," Lee said.

Still thankful

The Trudeau family's connection to the course dates to the mid-1930s.

Before World War II, Castlewood had a sprawling clubhouse, and with its proximity to the city's chain of lakes, it became a go-to spot for company picnics, Trudeau said. In 1945, he and his family moved in with his grandfather after his father joined the military. Then, the course was in its second year as a turkey farm.

"I kind of had the run of 60 acres as a 5-year-old," Trudeau said.

Today, Castlewood has a tiny pro shop that is just a few steps away from the patio of Stella's, a restaurant that provides beverage carts for the course and a banquet facility for Castlewood's year-end league celebrations. To the south, across Hwy. 97, is Forest Hills Golf Club, a private golf course.

The three businesses complement one another.

The chef at Stella's is "second to none," in Trudeau's view. For a recent league banquet, he said, "there were 85 steak dinners -- and every one was warm."

The two golf courses share carts when hosting tournaments. Brian Steinke, general manager and head golf pro at Forest Hills, said his course also will sell balls and gloves -- "at a very good price" -- to Castlewood when the nine-hole neighbor runs low.

Of Trudeau, he said, "I can't say enough about him. He's a terrific guy. He's very gracious, always looking to help."

The Forest Lake City Council wasn't expecting big paydays when it tapped Trudeau, the county's sheriff from 1978 to 1994, to manage the course beginning in 2007.

According to the management agreement, Trudeau's company, TruRing, was to pay an annual $10,000 rental fee. But as he's reinvested in equipment and other improvements, some or all of those yearly payments have been waived.

"The council has been very pleased with how he's operating, and with the improvements and repairs he has made," said Ellen Paulseth, the city's finance director.

Last Monday, with school back in session, golf was a senior experience at Castlewood. But, looking ahead, Trudeau hopes to build on his work with junior golfers. Healthwise, he said, he has been "cheating the undertaker for years," overcoming cancer, diabetes and heart troubles.

He has the energy to keep going, he added. And while no one is getting wealthy at Castlewood, Trudeau and his wife, who helps him run the place, are more than pleased.

It may sound corny, the former sheriff says, "but we get paid in smiles of little kids who are happy."

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036