BUISNESS PROFILE: OLD COURSE, SAUK CENTRE
Historic Sauk Centre course will be converted to an executive nine; new housing also planned for the property.
BY JIM PALMER
The Old Course in Sauk Centre has weathered many storms since it was established in 1921. For a century, the golf club has gone through several changes as it has evolved and adapted to best serve the community.
Now in its 101st year, more changes are on the way as the course continues to evolve. Plans are underway to convert the Old Course into an “executive” course later this year. In addition, plans are also in the works for the construction of a proposed 60-unit housing unit located on the edge of the golf course property.
The historic Sauk Centre course is coming off a big year. It turned 100 years in 2021. In recent years, big renovations were made to the clubhouse and nine-hole reversible course. Last year, the course celebrated its 100th year with a special golf event, along with the publishing of a book spotlighting the rich history of the course.
But the glow from the celebration didn’t last very long.
“Just 45 days after the book was published, a series of storms hit, and the course lost 120 trees,” said Steve Klick, who acquired The Old Course in 2013. “Those storms changed things.”
After the storms and the cleanup, Klick looked at his options. He came to the conclusion that it was time for a new direction. That is when the idea to convert the existing course to an executive course came to the forefront.
An executive course is shorter than a traditional course with a lower par score, and they are designed for quick play. A smaller course also lines up perfectly with a project and mission that Steve has long been committed to -- making golf more accessible to more people.
“We have partnered with the PGA on their 100 Holes of Golf event each year, and that day all the funds raised go to a program called PGA Reach,” said Klick. “PGA Reach is about encouraging seniors, people of color, people with handicaps, veterans, and kids, to experience golf.”
“The goal of PGA Reach is to engage others to get involved and benefit from the great game of golf,” said J.D. Drimel, Chief Executive Officer of the PGA, Minnesota Section. “Our three pillars -- youth, military, and diversity and inclusion, targets groups and tries to get them into our game in some form or fashion.”
In recent years, Klick has added complimentary activities at the Old Course, including lighted practice facilities, pickle ball, corn hole, shuffleboard, and more. These activities fit right into the PGA Reach mission statement.
“Steve’s operations in Sauk Centre hits PGA Reach goals directly by not only doing everything he can to make the game more accessible, but also in the areas of other activities in and around the facility,” said Drimel. “ Steve’s desire to engage all people of all backgrounds is welcomed and supported.”
There are two other 18-hole golf courses in Sauk Centre -- Greystone Golf Club and Lynx National Golf Course. The Old Course gives the area a different option.
“The new course design, along with the activities that we have at The Old Course, will be totally different than a traditional golf course,” said Klick. “And it should be. There are about 100 nine-hole golf courses in the state of Minnesota, and the differences here will really set this course apart.”
The PGA fully supports the changes being made to the course, and appreciates the efforts being made to introduce more people to golf.
“Anytime our Minnesota Section of the PGA of America can team up with individuals, and companies, such as Steve Klick and the Klick Foundation, we can help try to make the world a better place through golf. Steve’s passion for helping others is unmatched, and we are proud to partner with him and Mary to help move the needle, and have each of us come together as humans, no matter who you are or what you look like, to enjoy our great game of golf,” said Drimel.
The current reversible nine golf course at The Old Course will be open to the public as usual throughout the summer. In September, work will start to convert it to an executive course. This includes eliminating the two par 5 holes on the course and converting them to shorter holes. The new executive course will debut in the spring of 2023.
The second big change to the property will also take place this fall, pending approval from the city.
“Because of the storms, we came to the realization that we need to change things. The storms were really the catalyst for a change,” said Klick. “Sauk Centre has had a need for more housing, and we will be able to provide a nice living environment for people right next to the golf course and Sauk Lake.”
More details on the housing project will be released later this year, pending city approval.
Connection to the golf course
For Klick, some of his favorite childhood memories came from small town community golf courses, especially the ones in Long Prairie and Sauk Centre.
“My roots in the game of golf and in Sauk Centre run deep,” he said. “I grew up in nearby Long Prairie, Minnesota, but my parents took me to Sauk Centre frequently to watch the trains come and go at the depots.”
As he grew older, Klick started to caddie at the course for area businessmen.
In his adult years, Steve became a businessman in Sauk Centre himself. He loved to golf at the Sauk Centre Country Club. It was during this time that he grew to really appreciate the efforts required to keep the golf course running effectively for 100 years. His childhood memories of the course and his appreciation of its history was part of the reason why he purchased the golf club in 2013.
“Being a kid coming here at six years old, starting a company in Sauk, golfing here for 65 years, and then coming back to buy the course... it was almost like it was supposed to happen,” Klick said.
History of the Course
In 1921, the city of Sauk Centre was coming off a decade of growth, both in population and in business development. The dirt roads and horse-drawn carriages had been replaced with primitive highways. Several new businesses were popping up, and others were starting to beef up their operations. Chatter in many of these downtown businesses often turned to Sinclair Lewis, an award-winning novelist from Sauk Centre who was getting national attention after publishing Main Street (1920), a novel that featured a community modeled after Sauk Centre. World War I was over and things were getting back to normal. People in Sauk Centre and across America were feeling a new sense of optimism. It was the start of the “roaring 20s.”
Dave Caughren, a childhood friend of Lewis, was a banker in Sauk Centre in 1921. Caughren was having stomach issues and decided to visit a doctor at a health spa in Battle Creek, Michigan. That doctor recommended drinking soda water and getting a lot of exercise. He also suggested golf as a way to get that exercise. Caughren took that suggestion to heart. He came back to Sauk Centre, teamed up with Julian DuBois, a respected doctor, and got to work on the development of a golf course. Caughren talked to business owners and farmers about his idea. Stocks in the course were sold for $100 each to help finance the project, and lots along Sauk Lake were sold on a first-come, first-serve basis to the highest bidder.
When money was secured, 150 people with 25 teams of horses came to level the terrain, build bunkers and seed grass for the fairways and roughs. Sand was originally used as the “greens,” and a wire fence surrounded the entire course to enclose the sheep, who were the full time grass mowers. After a few years, the sand greens were replaced with bentgrass, the sheep were relieved of their duties, and the Sauk Centre Country Club started to evolve and flourish. This evolution continued for the better part of a century.
In 2013, the Sauk Centre Country Club purchased the Greystone National Golf Course, which was built in 2000 and located a few miles north of town. Steve Klick and Centre Graphics, Inc., then purchased the historic course and changed its name to The Old Course to reflect its rich history. Under the purchase agreement, Klick was restricted from offering public golf or running the facility at full capacity for 10 years. That period of time expired last year and the course was open for full use once again.
During the years that the non-compete was in effect, Klick planned, maintained, and improved the entire property. The clubhouse, guest lounge, and outdoor patio were renovated, making it a great place for special events including corporate events, fundraisers, class reunions, family reunions, birthday gatherings, bachelor/bachelorette parties, etc. The clubhouse seats 120 comfortably, and there is also an outdoor patio seating area available. They have a bar/restaurant, and now offer flame-fired pizza, calzones and appetizers, among other food offerings.
Fun activities were also added, giving the Old Course a family-friendly atmosphere. These activities include pickleball, croquet, bocce ball, cornhole, horseshoes, shuffleboard, challenge putt course, and a lighted practice area.
Klick felt the need to make more people aware of the course’s history and the impact it has had on the community. So he decided that a book was needed. In 2020, Klick approached Jim Umhoefer, a Sauk Centre writer, who took it from there. The book is called The Old Course on Main Street--A Century of Life and Golf on the Minnesota Prairie.
“Steve wanted to tell the story of a beloved golf course that was supported for 100 years by a small community, and the challenges it faced to build it and keep it going for all that time,” said Umhoefer.
Sauk Centre has had some successful individuals and teams play the course through the years, both locals and visitors. One of those regular visitors was Tom Lehman, who golfed the course as a high school and college player, before going to become an accomplished professional golfer. Lehman wrote the foreword for the book.
Here is one paragraph from Lehman’s foreword, “Golf, to me, is far more than a game -- it is a way of life. I am indebted to my upbringing, the people of Sauk Centre, and the experiences I’ve had there, for being such integral influences in my life. Long live the memory of the Old Course!”
The Old Course on Main Street-- A Century of Life and Golf on the Minnesota Prairie is now available on Amazon and some shops in Sauk Centre.
If you would like to play some golf, enjoy any of the other activities, or learn about options for special events at The Old Course, call 320-238-8001. The course is located in the same place it has been for the last 101 years -- 606 Lake Shore Drive in Sauk Centre, right along Sauk Lake.
This is a paid business profile. If you would like to learn more about promoting your business in the Sr. Perspective with a business profile, call Jim at 320-334-3344.