ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) — Imagine golfing every course in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. A retired teacher did exactly that.
In this week’s Finding Minnesota, we travel to Elk River where 50 years and 527 courses later, one man keeps on swinging.
When it comes to summer in Minnesota, Art Hennington has no plans to take a mulligan.
“Peaceful. The only problem you have is, ‘Can you hit the ball?’ That’s it,” Hennington said.
For Art, his love of golf started when he was a kid. At one point, he built his own course in his backyard.
“We had a road running through it and some holes would go over the road, and some would go through the trees.”
That’s when he realized playing was easier than designing. Hennington was a long-time history teacher in Elk River, and one day, he stumbled upon a list of Minnesota’s golf courses.
“I thought, ‘Gee, how many have I played?’ And I went through and I had maybe played 180,” Art said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll keep seeing how far I can do it.'”
Hennington made a plan, and when it came time to retire in 2003, he took off and teed off.
He spent summer days traveling the state and golfing course after course. He put on driving miles and walking miles, preferring to walk rather than ride in a cart.
A fellow teacher and friend, Guenther Sagan, would sometimes tag along. Sagan realized that by joining Hennington he could also see a lot of courses and a lot of Minnesota.
“Almost every course we played we probably lost at least one ball,” Sagan said.
It wasn’t unheard of for the duo to hit five or six courses in a day.
“I saw places in Minnesota that I never thought I’d see,” Sagan said. “And courses that I couldn’t believe.”
Hennington has added pins to a map of the state marking every course he’s ever golfed at. He can remember nearly every course, including Lake of the Woods–where he needed a passport to play.
“It has sand greens and the most bugs of any course I’ve played on in Minnesota,” Hennington said. “I was literally running down the fairways.”
Hennington said there have been greens of all kinds, like the rubber ones in Kerkhoven. And obstacles of all kinds, like trees in the middle of the green on a course near Houston. In Breckenridge, Hennington played nine holes in Minnesota and nine in North Dakota.
He played his very first round of golf in Sauk Centre in 1964, and ended this journey in 2014. The last round at a course in St. Paul happened to be a course that’s been around longer than all the others.
“Town and Country wanted to be the very last course because it’s the oldest course in Minnesota,” Hennington said.
The club even provided the champagne at the end.
For Hennington, it’s like a walk through the fairway of life–a walk he hopes will inspire others.
“It’s like climbing a mountain, especially when we got close,” Hennington said. “We really want to accomplish this and it would be sad if you didn’t make it at all. It’s kind of nice to have a dream if you can reach it.”
Hennington said he golfed at 492 sites, but actually played on 527 courses as some had par-3 courses attached. He said he also wants to play a course in Lake Elmo again because it was recently redone.
The question Hennington most often gets is, “Which course is the hardest?” His answer: Spring Hill in Orono.