MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (WCCO) – Walk onto Keller Golf Course in Maplewood, Minn. and you can practically feel the history rising up from the bentgrass.
Opened in 1929, Keller was a regular stop on the professional tours through the 1960s and even hosted the 1932 and 1954 PGA Championships, and players like Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and many of the greats.
“That’s one of the things that make this place so special, is the history,” Paul Diegnau, Keller’s superintendent, said. “And all the legends of golf that played here year after year after year.”
The legends of golf and the legends.
“Legend has it that John Dillinger and his colleagues used to hang out here at Keller back in the 30s,” Diegnau recalled. “They used to golf here. And supposedly one day the FBI got onto them being out here and showed up. (They) came out onto the course, and Dillinger and his gang saw them coming, dropped their clubs and ran, and caught a train that was passing by and got away. That’s the story.”
In its heyday, “it was the place to be,” Jody Yungers, the director of golf and arena services for Ramsey County, which owns and runs the course, said. “From the standpoint of the public golf course, it was the, probably the most prestigious in its day. And that’s what we’re aiming to bring it back to.”
After being closed since the fall of 2012 for a $12.2 million renovation, Keller is scheduled to reopen on July 19.
Diegnau said his crew took down approximately 500 trees and replanted about 180.
“Every golf course superintendent dreams of doing a grow-in and a reconstruction,” he said. “So yeah, I was fortunate.”
The renovation was a complete overhaul.
“It was more getting back to 1929 design standards,” Diegnau said. “What you would find from that time period.”
Like smaller greens. But the course’s most prominent feature remains unchanged – the white oak on the fourth hole has been there since the course opened in 1929.
“It’s a tough shot. You’ve got to clear the tree and still hold the green,” Diegnau said. “I believe it was Gene Sarazen during a St. Paul Open event, (he) took a 10 or 13 on this hole. And walked off the golf course and never came back.”
Preserving history was the number one priority, both on the course and in the clubhouse, which is now three times the size but maintains the same look.
“All the way from the beaming that you see, to the type of lighting,” Yungers said. “This is the original fireplace from the original building.”
Behind the medallion above that fireplace, they built a shaft for a time capsule, in which they’ll preserve artifacts both old and new.
Keller has one of the most in-demand men’s clubs in the area, with 71 currently on the waitlist. It usually takes three to five years to get in.
The women’s club has a wait list every year, too.