— A three-year search to develop a private, destination golf course in Minnesota has led to Kandiyohi County.
With a purchase agreement for the land signed, the founding investors in Tepetonka are moving forward with plans to develop the golf course on an approximate 190-acre site south of Sibley State Park, according to Mark Haugejorde, who is representing the private venture.
The project will represent an estimated $20 million investment, including costs for the land, course development and facilities, Haugejorde said.
Kandiyohi County could realize an estimated $5 million a year in economic activity from the course. That’s based on projections for a staff of possibly 60, of whom 30 would be caddies, as well as purchases of services and supplies, and outside spending by those who come to play the course, he said.
“We’re going to bring people out here who are going to spend money, go out and enjoy restaurants, shop, (and) play the other golf courses here,” he said.
The partners would like to see development start in September, with expectations for an opening in the summer of 2024.
The name “Tepetonka” is taken from the Tepetonka Hotel which operated on the north shore of Green Lake in the early 1900s. It once hosted guests who arrived on an excursion train that ran to Spicer.
Something of the sort is the plan here as well, without the train. As a destination course, most of the golfers will be arriving from outside the region to play. Haugejorde said that based on interest so far, they estimate that about 60 to 65% of the golfers will come from the greater metropolitan area, and perhaps 10 to 15% from other in-state locations. The others will make the trip from places ranging from Fargo, North Dakota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to locations across the entire country.
There are currently 20 founding members of Tepetonka. It will be limited to 100 total members, some of which will be businesses or organizations. The course will allow no more than 90 golfers each day. Members will be required to pre-pay for 100 days of golf each year, according to Haugejorde.
Membership will be by invitation only. “Money is not the leading qualifier,” he said. Members must believe in the goals of the private venture, and be a fit.
“We have two rules. Play fast and have fun,” he said.
Many Minnesotans are already making trips to private, destination courses in other states, including neighboring states of Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota, said Haugejorde. They’re spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege, he said.
“All we’re doing is filling a void for a demand that is there today,” he said.
Minnesota is among only a handful of states in the country without a private, destination course.
“How is it that Minnesota doesn’t have any destination golf?” Haugejorde said he and his partner in this venture, Mike Schultz, asked each other.
It led the two to team up and pursue this project. Schultz is a member of the Professional Golf Association of Minnesota Hall of Fame.
Haugejorde, 65, is a New London-Spicer graduate who played college golf at the University of Houston. He serves as chairman of At The Turn, a nonprofit based in Edina that helps individuals with disabilities transition into the workforce through the golf community.
Haugejorde’s father, Harold, served as superintendent of schools for New London-Spicer from 1965 to 1977.
His father was the first chairman of the Little Crow Golf Course, and was instrumental in its development. “Hal’s Folly” is what those who derided the project called it at the time, said Haugejorde.
He said the search for a site for this project initially started in locations near the metropolitan area. They also looked as far west as Morris and focused a lot of attention on the Brainerd area.
It was just about one year ago, May 22, 2021, that Haugejorde said he took a leisurely ride north on U.S. Highway 71 on a day he planned to take his mother, now 93 years old, to play the Little Crow Golf course. The ride took him to Kandiyohi County Road 40, and he headed west before he turned off on the dead-end gravel road that leads to the area along Shakopee Creek where he hopes to develop this course.
“Oh my gosh,” he said of what he saw. Aerial images of the site made with a drone convinced him and the other partners. “It looks like a golf course is there,” he said of its natural features.
Shakopee Creek meanders through a mix of glacial dunes and wetlands on the site eyed for the course.
“A very unique area,” said Ryan Peterson, district manager with the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Haugejorde met with Peterson this week to explore ways that Tepetonka can work with the SWCD to protect the waterway and enhance the natural attributes of the site.
Haugejorde said an Australian firm, OCM Golf, has been contracted to design the course. Environmental stewardship will be key to its design. They intend to mix fescue grasses to provide a fast-playing and soil-healthy landscape.
Duininck Golf of Prinsburg will serve as general contractor for the project. The company has its own golf course development division. Haugejorde pointed out that the first golf course developed by the company was the Little Crow course.
Development on the site will be modest and low-key, according to Haugejorde. Initial plans call for 40 rooms of lodging, a small clubhouse and pro shop, maintenance building and parking.
Haugejorde said the development offers an opportunity for Kandiyohi County’s tourism industry. The site will be looking for providers of locally raised foods. He expects that many of the golfers will be looking for lodging in the area, rather than staying at the course.
While it will be an exclusive course, Haugejorde said the investors intend to host an annual fundraising event on it to benefit local organizations. They are also hoping to develop a scholarship program for their young employees.