By Emily Bialkowski
Caledonia native and lifetime golf enthusiast Joe Bissen has written a nostalgic book about golf courses of yesteryear titled “Fore! Gone. Minnesota’s Lost Golf Courses, 1897 to 1999.” The self-published project examines extinct courses across the state with historical information and first-hand recollections of the deceased links.
“I wrote a story for Minnesota Golfer Magazine on lost golf courses in the Twin Cities area. There were five to 10 of them and, as I did the research, I just really got hooked on the subject,” Bissen said. “The idea simmered around in my brain for a couple years about doing more research and maybe writing something. Then last July I took the leap and started researching hard.”
Bissen found that a large swath of the lost golf courses are located in the southern part of the state – about 25 to 30 – though he had no hypothesis as to why.
Caledonia alone has three lost courses, according to his research, and Spring Grove has one that remains unnamed.
“Nobody I talked to in Spring Grove knew what it was called,” he said.
All three Caledonia courses were called “Caledonia Golf Club.” Bissen said the first one was constructed in the northern section of town. Another sprang up on the southwest edge of town by the Allen family farm, and finally one was developed on the northwest edge of town not too far from where the high school is today.
Bissen said a group of golf enthusiasts most likely constructed the first and after awhile wanted something different or more expansive.
“My best guess is they were operated by essentially the same group of people. That’s somewhat typical in a small town,” he said.
Bissen found a woman who grew up next to one of these vanished courses and shares her
stories in the book.
“It was my mission not to just write about the golf courses but find people who knew about them and tell their stories. To me it makes the book a lot more personal. I was lucky in the case of Caledonia to find somebody.”
The book is close to 300 pages and takes a look at 87 lost courses.
“I heard of others but couldn’t confirm their existence. I have little doubt there are 120 or more,” the author said.
Significant chapters or entries in the book explore courses in Austin, Bayport, Brooklyn Park, Caledonia, Chanhassen/Shakopee/Chaska, Chisago City, Chisholm, Collegeville, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Deephaven, Duluth, Faribault, Gem Lake/White Bear Lake, Grand Rapids area, Hugo, Jackson, Lakeville, Mankato, Mendota Heights, Minneapolis, Mound, North St. Paul, Richfield, St. Charles/Elba (Whitewater State Park), St. Cloud, St. Louis Park, St. Paul, Stillwater, Wabasha, Windom and Winona.
There are shorter entries on courses in Bemidji, Brownton, Chandler, Fulda, Hermantown, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Lindstrom, McGregor, Northfield, Pipestone, Ortonville, Plymouth, Roseau, Sleepy Eye, Spicer, Spring Grove, Spring Valley and Tracy.
When possible, the book explores what the former courses have become. One turned into an airport runway, another into part of a state forest, and dozens have become residential settlements.
The book is fully illustrated with historical images as well as modern images produced by Minnesota’s premier golf photographer Peter Wong.
It took almost a year to complete the research and writing phase of production, and now Bissen is faced with printing and marketing.
“It’s an enormous job and you have to step out of your skin,” he said.
In addition to publishing the book, Bissen is setting up an interactive Google site that maps out the location of lost courses. Visit www.ForeGoneGolf.com, where, once printed, people can purchase the book.
Funds still need to be raised for printing, and Bissen is using the online tool kickstarter.com to bring the publication to his audience.
If his name rings a bell, it might not only be because he graduated from Caledonia in 1976, but also because his father, Warren, owned and operated Bissen Electric on Marshall Street.
An avid golfer himself, Bissen won the Ma Cal Grove Country Club championship in 1980 and played the sport for Winona State. He’s been writing about golf for 35 years and has three grown children.
“I like it, and I like what I do,” Bissen said.