On The Slide
Tour of the clubhouse is a tour of a marvel
Looking up at the new Keller Lake Golf Course clubhouse as you drive along U.S. Highway 61 in Maplewood, you will hardly notice any differences. It was meant to be that way.
Even the brand new pro shop is located in the same place, and its exterior also appears unchanged.
I stopped by Keller recently and met with Allison Winters, communications associate with the Ramsey County Parks and Recreation Department.
Winters took me on a tour of the redesigned and completely rebuilt Keller clubhouse, and our first stop was the bar and snack bar area.
It is an eye-opener that will be appreciated by all who like to relax after a round on the picturesque course, which is owned and managed by Ramsey County.
Just being new will be appreciated, but the furnishings and size will add a lot to helping you forget the double bogey you may have added to your score on the 18th hole.
The lounge area is just a small part of the entire renovation project, which - along with the golf course - cost approximately $12.5 million. Of the total cost, some $8 million went into the clubhouse and pro shop, and the remainder into the golf course.
The clubhouse area has now expanded in square footage from 7,600 square feet to 18,800 square feet.
You will find a lot of new things to like. But everything new will be mixed with the rich history of the 85-year-old golf course.
In the bar and lounge area there are plans to replace many of the pictures - mostly obtained through the efforts of golf professional Tommy Purcell - that occupied spaces in the old clubhouse.
Winters discussed the pictures and the history of the St. Paul Open, which was played at Keller for many years and brought the top professionals of the day to the area.
Following the St. Paul Open was the LPGA tournaments, which attracted the best women golfers to the Keller’s fairways. That history will also be on display for all to peruse.
“We plan to have pictures of the winners of both events lined along the walls and area above the bar,” Winters explained.
From the lounge, we ventured into a huge ballroom. “This area,” Winters said, “can be divided into two areas. It can seat up to 260 people and can be used for banquets, weddings and other gatherings with large numbers of people. It has already been used and is available.”
It was impressive and easy to imagine the summertime views of the golf course and surrounding scenery that will be seen from either the ballroom or the adjacent patio.
We then meandered along another hallway, past the lavatories and into another smaller, more intimate meeting room.
Here was the fireplace from the former clubhouse. It was refurbished and located along a west wall.
Above the fireplace will be a time capsule filled with memorabilia. It will have historical information “basically from the beginning of the golf course through the renovations,” Winters stated.
“Just like we have tried to keep the same feeling with the building; the golf course will still ‘feel’ like Keller. People will notice some changes on four or five holes, but it will still be Keller,” Winters said.
The course was redesigned by Richard Mandell, a well-known and highly respected golf course architect from Pinehurst, N.C.
Mandell worked with members of Keller’s men’s and women’s clubs, along with Purcell and course superintendent Paul Diegnau during the course renovations.
“He was very concerned with the design, and that it maintain its integrity and image of the old course. He altered some design changes that have been made in recent years in order to bring it back to near its original design.
“One of the things that we are very committed to is to make sure the golf course is ready when the carts start rolling,” Winters said. “At this point we are getting antsy to get it open and get going.”
A “grand reopening” of the golf course is tentatively scheduled for June 28, but there is a backup date of July 19.
It is up to “Mother Nature” and how well the grass grows, Winters said.
From the clubhouse to the golf course
The clubhouse will be impressive to all who have the opportunity to visit, but if you’re a golfer you will be more interested in what has happened to the course itself.
Perhaps the most important change you will find as you go to buy your ticket or check your tee time, will be the absence of the congenial golf pro Tommy Purcell.
Purcell has retired - in March he gave notice - after serving the Keller members and the golf playing public for nearly three decades. His absence and dedication to the Keller golfing community will be a difficult position to fill.
I ventured from the meeting with Winters down to the maintenance building for a chat Diegnau.
He has been at Keller for 18 years and is the recipient of several awards for landscaping with native plants and his work with conservation and preserving natural resources.
As we began our tour around the redesigned course, it was hard not to notice the new grass.
The entire course, from tee boxes to fairways to greens, has been replanted with bent grass.
Diegnau pointed out the public course also has a new triple-row watering system, pump station and irrigation pond.
If you hit some golf balls prior to your par-breaking endeavors, you will like the expanded driving range, which is now over an acre in size.
You also will find a new green side bunker in which to practice. There are six greens in different areas to practice driving to.
As you make your way around the course you will notice there are now four teeing areas on each hole.
Return to the golf course and the first thing you will see is a new tee for hole No. 1. The severe dogleg right has been eliminated and you will be hitting from just north of the pro shop. You can see the green from the tee box.
Let’s take a quick tour of the 18 holes. No. 2 has a new sand bunker and the green is now on one level. There are new bushes to avoid on No. 3.
On hole No. 4 the green has been moved further back. On No. 5 there have been only subtle changes you may not even notice.
On No. 6 a new bunker to the left will be one to miss. No. 7 is much the same, as is No. 8.
No. 9 is now a 400-yard par four instead of a relatively easy par five.
The No. 10 tee has been moved back some 50 yards changing it to a par five. Additionally, you there will be new sand bunkers in front of you off the tee and in front of the green. These will bring thoughts of strategy before you attempt to reach the green in two shots.
There have been only small improvements to No. 11. On the No. 12 par five, the fairway has been shifted to the right. Fairway bunkers have been situated in the landing areas and the aforementioned irrigation pond will have to be avoided near the green.
You will notice what might be considered drastic changes to the par-three 13th hole. Native prairie grasses have replaced the grass that grew in front of the green. Also a bunker has been implanted in front of the green. “This will be a make-it-or-not shot from the tee,” Diegnau said with a smile.
“But for the high handicappers,” Diegnau said while looking right at me, “we have installed an alternate tee. It will be about 100 yards to the green.”
The No. 14 green has been moved back and to the right and No. 15 will share the same fairway with hole 14. But No. 15 will have a new green side bunker you should make an attempt to miss.
On the par-five 16th, a couple of bunkers have been installed on the right side of the landing area.
On to 17 and 18 and you will note little, if any, changes.
Now you know what to expect as soon as the grass turns green, and you are able to put that tee in the ground.
If you are among those golfers who can’t wait to venture out on the course after such a long winter, I hope you give the “new” Keller a try.
If for no other reason, just to see how much hasn’t changed.
Wally Wakefield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .