Keller Golf Course nears start of $12 million makeover

Keller Golf Course in Maplewood has seen decades of duffs and divots since it debuted in 1929.

The course, which once hosted national events and felt the golf spikes of legends such as Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead, is overdue for some TLC.

It “needs a facelift , so we can remain competitive in the market,” said Paul Diegnau, course superintendent for the Ramsey County-owned course. “She is just tired right now.”

Hoping to invigorate the course at 2166 Maplewood Drive, the county is collecting bids for $4 million worth of long-planned improvements, including new greens, bunkers, tees and cart paths, re-grassed fairways, drainage work and a new irrigation system.

A new clubhouse, to be built by Roseville-based McGough and designed by Minneapolis-based Partners & Sirny, is also on tap. Overall, $12 million worth of improvements will start this fall and finish in 2014.

The improvements have been in the works for a long time, but the timing seems to be right. After recent declines, golf course rounds are up both locally and nationally, according to industry statistics.

Based on survey responses from 2,620 facilities, the PGA of America reported in late July that rounds were up 2.7 percent nationally in June, the eighth straight monthly increase. In Minnesota rounds played were up 3.9 percent for the month.

Tom Ryan, executive director of the Minnesota Golf Association, said rounds are up 20 percent statewide year-over-year through June, thanks in part to favorable weather and an early start to the season.

“The earlier they get the golf clubs out of the basement and into the trunk, the more they keep playing,” he said.

Diegnau said Keller rounds have been “steady” this year. Weather was a big factor, “because we opened so early this year. We opened in mid-March.” Some courses were open beginning of March and “those are rounds you don’t normally get.”

Another factor: “A lot of people are trying to get out to play one last time before we close down” for construction and renovation.

The Keller project is one of a handful of noteworthy golf course projects in recent years, including a new $9 million clubhouse at Bunker Hills Golf Course in Coon Rapids, and a $15 million clubhouse and indoor teaching center at Hazeltine National in Chaska.

Both opened last year and had been in the planning stages for a long time.

Smaller projects include a new $3 million clubhouse at Valleywood Golf Course in Apple Valley.

Meanwhile, other golf courses have closed or been put on the market for new development. Carriage Hills Golf Course in Eagan closed in 2004, and a local developer wants to turn Parkview Golf Course, also in Eagan, into a housing development.

Ryan doesn’t see a lot of golf course closures on the horizon. But he doesn’t expect a flurry of major capital improvements, either.

“You are not seeing much building,” he said. “We are not seeing many clubhouses at this point. People are doing their best to keep their head above water.”

Ryan noted that the Keller project will improve the greens, bunkers and such without making radical changes to the course. In other words, he said, Keller will still be Keller.

“They will do a good job out there,” he said.

Diegnau said general contractor bids for the course improvements will be opened Aug. 17. North Carolina-based Richard Mandell Golf Architecture is the designer.

Richard Mandell’s work includes courses in the east and southeast, but Diegnau said this is the company’s first in Minnesota.

Diegnau said seven certified golf course builders have requested plans for the course improvements, but it remains to be seen how many will actually bid on the specialized work.

In Minnesota there are a couple of big players who bid on that type of work, but most are from other states, he said.

Minnesota-based builders listed on the Golf Course Builders Association of America’s membership directory include Duininck Golf in Prinsburg and Hartman Companies in Victoria.

Diegnau said construction will begin Oct. 1. The plan is to open the new clubhouse by December 2013 and the course by late spring 2014, he said.

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