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Town & Country Club draws golfers to north side of lake

A golfer tees off during a golf party in the late 1930s at Bemidji Town & Country Club. Submitted Photo

Originally founded in 1916, Bemidji Town & Country Club has drawn golfers to the north side of Lake Bemidji for more than 90 years.

Today, the club offers an 18-hole golf course, a driving range, a pro shop and a clubhouse with a restaurant and bar, a dining room with catering services, locker rooms and a deck overlooking the 18th green and Lake Bemidji.

Spanning about 175 acres, the semi-private golf course features rolling terrain bordered on two sides by Lake Bemidji State Park. It also offers a view of Lake Bemidji.

"People enjoy the layout," said Tom Johanns, golf course superintendent. "They enjoy playing it time and time again."

Eleanor Bowser Pfau wrote in her early memories of the club that A.P. White and Clyde Bacon decided to try to start a golf course in Bemidji. She noted that they were interested in locating the golf course at the head of Lake Bemidji and hired a golf authority to see the land and give his opinion.

"When he agreed that it would be an ideal spot, they bought the land and had it cleared with the help of 30 or 40 lumberjacks under the supervision of Jim Black, a well-known Bemidji lumberman," Pfau wrote in her account. "The Crookston Lumber Co. was very cooperative in every way, lending equipment and horses to the project."

White and Bacon used their own money during the preliminary planning and work, Pfau wrote. When they exhausted the funds they had available, they decided to try to get others interested in investing in a golf organization, she added.

"It was hard going at first, as few people had been exposed to the game of golf, and those who had played a few times weren't too enthusiastic," Pfau wrote in her account. "But there were enough public spirited people in town that they finally were able to organize a club, and about 1918, the ground work was completed and people began to play golf."

During the early days, there was no clubhouse, but a green barn-like building served as the pro shop and storage area, Pfau wrote. She added that she believes a clubhouse was built around 1924.

"In 1926, the second nine holes were completed and the golf course became very popular with summer visitors," Pfau wrote. "Sometime in the later '20s, Walter Hagen, a famous golfer of the time, visited Bemidji and played the course."

Renovations made

Starting in 1990, the club began a series of renovations. Dick Robbins, a club member who served as president of the club's board of directors from 1991-92, said close to $2 million was spent on upgrading the club during the past 20 years.

Robbins said the general membership of the club in the mid-1980s recognized the need for a renovation of the golf course. He said a long range planning committee was appointed and developed two or three proposals. In the late 1980s, the membership approved one of the proposals. The project, which cost about $500,000, started in 1990.

"The project itself created five new holes and minor changes in three other holes," Robbins said. "Once the project was completed in 1992, the attention was turned to the clubhouse, which was in need of major repair."

A fundraiser for the remodeling of the men's locker room and the addition of an outside deck was held, Robbins said. He said about $50,000 was raised from donations from club members and local businesses, representing about half the total cost of the project.

In the late 1990s, the club started a several hundred thousand dollar project to remodel the kitchen, dining room and women's locker room with the cost of the project absorbed by the general membership, Robbins said.

He noted that a decision was made at that time to encourage the use of the clubhouse by the public for wedding receptions and company parties as well as a public dining facility.

In the early 2000s, the club added a patio area that could be available for wedding receptions and such, Robbins said.

The club today

Today, the club has several golf tournaments, including the Birchmont Golf Tournament.

"It is our biggest event," said Rick Grand, golf professional at the club.

The weeklong amateur golf tournament will mark its 85th anniversary this year.

In the clubhouse, the full-menu service restaurant is open seven days a week. It's open for lunch and dinner from April 15 to Oct. 15, and for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Catering services are available year-round.

Both the restaurant and bar are open to the public. The golf course also is open to the public.