Editors’ Note: This article first appeared in our Summer 2013 issue and remains one of our most read stories from our archives.
People still wear pressed tennis whites and go yachting. There are still women who call themselves “Babs.” But many of the Twin Cities’ private country clubs have changed, particularly since the Great Recession. Clubs with long-standing wait lists, like Interlachen and Woodhill, now find themselves with ample openings. Some, such as Dellwood Hills, have moved to a no-initiation model. Even the most exclusive clubs are offering terrific bargains for young people (half off the initiation fee for those under 40, for example).
“It used to be that country clubs were the domain of the truly well-connected,” confides one Woodhill member, who asked to not be named. “Now, clubs are clamoring for almost anyone with a wallet. Even Woodhill members are being asked to groom their contacts, to do recruiting.”
The glitz and formality of country clubs have faded, too. Woodhill and Minikahda used to host lavish parties for hundreds of people, à la The Great Gatsby. But galas have largely been replaced by patio BBQs and couples’ trivia nights. Once considered unthinkable, gentlemen at Woodhill are no longer required to wear neckties in the clubhouse after 6 p.m.
Which is not to say there aren’t real benefits to joining. If you want to tee off with Minnesota’s most powerful players, you will still find them at “the club.” Here’s your insider guide to the top venues.
The Basics: This lavish club is built around a core of nouveau riche. Transplants to Minnesota are sometimes advised to join Edina to build up social capital and then try for membership at the more prestigious Interlachen or Minikahda. The club is considered kid-friendly, especially since the 2008 hiring of Manager Carl Granberg, who added a slew of kid-centric offerings, such as pool-opening parties and kids’ etiquette classes. As of 2012, the club had 1.67 adults for every child. But for some, the place became a little too kid-friendly; there has been a moderate exodus of older members and empty nesters to Minikahda.
Ancient History: The Edina Country Club was designed as a kind of community center. Real-estate mogul Samuel Thorpe bought a farm south of 50th Street with visions of an idyllic 585-home subdivision. At the heart of his “country club” neighborhood: an actual country club.
Big Moment: A 1970 exhibition game between pro golfer Arnold Palmer and Gov. Wendy Anderson.
Noteworthy Event: Easter Sunday Brunch with ham- and prime rib–carving stations, chicken Kiev, Cajun shrimp, and house-made chocolate eggs (hand decorated with edible paint, naturally). Don’t miss the roving Easter bunny, kids’ egg hunt and Easter Bunny-shaped ice sculpture.
Clubhouse: The 65,000-square-foot shake and brick clubhouse is a sprawling, low-slung affair that overlooks the fifth green and sixth tee. Inside, off-white walls hem with dark-wood furnishings and gilt hardware.
Golf Course: The original course is credited to Scottish-American designer Tom Bendelow, though he had a hand in only nine of its 18 holes. When the clubhouse was moved in 1959, the course was reoriented, and there have been issues ever since, mostly with winterkilled greens and awkward tees. The course was shut down for a year in 1996 so designer Roger Rulewich could do a complete overhaul. When that effort underwhelmed the membership, the club hired former Gophers golfer Tom Lehman to do a redesign in 2010 and again shut down the course for an entire year. Local golf blogger Jeff Shelman, a former sports scribbler at the Star Tribune, reviewed the new course, calling it “way more fun than before.”
Other Amenities: An Olympic-sized pool, four clay and two hard-surface tennis courts, plus a winter clubhouse that offers two platform tennis courts and easy access to ice skating and hockey.
The Damage: $50,000 initiation, $564 monthly dues, $75 monthly capital assessment for a golf membership. Members are also expected to spend $75 or more on food every month.
Getting In: The club offers 100 social memberships, 210 pool/tennis memberships and 375 golf memberships. New members are approved every third Thursday, but if you bring them a check and seem up-to-snuff, the club will get you into the facilities as soon as the next day. New members need one sponsor and two endorsers (endorsements can be as simple as an email to the general manager).
Notable Members: Plastic surgeon Doug Gervais; pro golfer John Harris; retailer Perry and Mary Mead, co-owners of Melly at the Galleria; Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Otteson; legendary venture capitalist Gordon Stofer of Cherry Tree Investments, who funded “Sesame Street Live”
Networking Hot Spots: Cargill; Dalco Enterprises; Entegris; Ingenio; J.W. Hulme Co.; Lazard Middle Market; Preston Kelly; Schwegman, Lundberg & Woessner; Steingart, McGrath & Moore; Thomson Reuters; QSR+
The Basics: Situated on the shores of Mirror Lake in Edina, this chummy club attracts a broad cross-section of new and old wealth. It’s much harder to get into than Edina, just two miles away. Interlachen has perhaps the most famous golf course in Minnesota; in recent years, it has hosted the Solheim Cup (2002) and the U.S. Women’s Open (2008).
Ancient History: The club was established on 185 acres of farmland. Grain merchant Alvin Poehler was a major stakeholder in its early days.
Big Moment: Bobby Jones’ famous shot in the 1930 U.S. Open, when he topped his shot into the pond and it skipped on the surface of the water to the far bank.
Noteworthy Event: This July will mark the 45th anniversary of the Willie Kidd Invitational, named for the club’s long-deceased Scottish golf pro. People fly in from all over the country for the chance at a Willie Kidd Piper, a rubbed bronze statuette of a Scottish Highland bagpiper in full regalia.
Clubhouse: The frame and timber Tudor-style clubhouse retains much of the masculine aura instilled by architect Cecil Bayless Chapman. The main dining room still has a soaring ceiling with exposed hardwood rafters. Details include mahogany-stained woodwork and scoop-back leather chairs.
Golf Course: Designed by William Watson with revisions by Robert Trent Jones, Interlachen’s course is difficult, with many trees and nine water hazards. The signature hole is No. 18, where Bobby Jones accidentally skipped his ball across the water and ended the hole with a birdie.
Other Amenities: A six-lane, 25-yard pool, seven clay and two-hard surface tennis courts, plus a wellness center that offers massage therapy, pedicures, manicures, facials and reflexology.
The Damage: $60,000 initiation plus $680 in monthly dues for a golf membership. The monthly food and beverage minimum is $100.
Getting In: The multi-step process involves a questionnaire about your golf skills, various meet-and-greets, two separate reviews by the membership committee, and six letters of recommendation.
Notable Members: Arne and David Rovick, sons of Edina Realty Founder Emma Rovick; St. Cloud Times Publisher Scott Johnson; Opus Founder Gerald Rauenhorst; Bachman’s President Paul Bachman; MacPhail Center CEO Kyle Carpenter; Allina Health System CEO Emeritus Gordon Sprenger; former Target CEO Bob Ulrich; former UnitedHealthcare CEO Robert Sheehy; former PepsiAmericas CEO Bob Pohlad; John Remes, president at KARE 11; William Lindsay, MD, who performed the first heart transplant in Minnesota; Sports-show host Dave Mona; Malt-O-Meal board chair John Lettmann
Networking Hot Spots: CarVal Investors; CBRE; Dain Rauscher; Ernst & Young; Faegre & Benson; Hays Companies; Hoyt Properties; Norwest Mezzanine Partners; Piper Jaffray; Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi; UBS
The Basics: Considered a transitional club between the more showy nouveau-riche clubs (Edina, Wayzata) and the decorous old-money clubs (Woodhill, Somerset), Minikahda is more prestigious than Interlachen and is difficult to get into.
Ancient History: Minikahda was the first private club founded by the enterprising old-money families: the Washburns, the Crosbys, the Pillsburys, the Daytons. Situated right on the outskirts of Minneapolis, it originally served the milling barons who lived in the grand homes on Lake of the Isles. As those families began to migrate toward Lake Minnetonka, Minikahda was somewhat abandoned by the ultra-rich in favor of Woodhill.
Big Moment: When the Archbishop of Canterbury visited in the early 1950s wearing his formal tailcoat and knee pants, and got very splashed by kids in the pool. (He laughed it off.)
Noteworthy Event: Prim and proper luncheon for all past Aquatennial Queens, held each July. The menu is always the same: Minikahda chicken salad and sticky rolls.
Clubhouse: The antebellum-style clubhouse has expansive views of Lake Calhoun. Members sit on the whitewashed grand portico and eat meals prepared by Ferris Shiffer, said to be the best private-club chef in Minnesota.
Golf Course: In 2001, Minikahda hired Ron Prichard to return the course to a more undulating style, as envisioned by Scottish architect Donald Ross. He reconfigured all 18 holes, enlarged all the greens and dramatically lengthened the course. The signature hole is still No. 10, which starts off very steep and narrows down through a passage of old-growth trees.
Other Amenities: A kidney-shaped pool that overlooks Lake Calhoun, six clay and one hard-surface tennis courts, and a separate paddle house for platform tennis.
The Damage: $60,000 initiation plus $632 in monthly dues for a golf membership.
Getting In: Applicants need a minimum of six sponsors. Expect a wait time of two months or more for your application to be considered. As of press time, there were 875 members; the club has a capacity of 915.
Notable Members: Ecolab CEO Doug Baker; Constance Bakken, who bought herself a bank after divorcing Medtronic Founder Earl Bakken (also a member); Pillsbury heir and Washburn Crosby heir Robert L. Crosby; U.S. District Judge David Doty; Haskell’s CEO Jack Farrell; Rev. Douglas Fontaine, retired dean of the Cathedral of St. Mark; SimonDelivers Founder Simon Foster; Minnesota Monthly Publisher Steve Fox; Gabbert’s Founder Jim Gabbert; Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, minister at Westminster Presbyterian Church; Peavey heir Frank Heffelfinger; former Brit’s Pub Owner Stuart Higgins; Rockefeller heir Alida Messinger; Target design chief Rich Varda; Rev. Canon Charles Vogt of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral; Minnesota Commissioner of Transportation Charlie Zelle
Networking Hot Spots: Arthur J. Gallagher & Co; AWJ Capital Partners; Briggs and Morgan; C. Chase Company; Coldwell Banker Burnet; Dorsey & Whitney; Dougherty Financial Group; Gray Plant Mooty; Hillcrest Capital Partners; Lindquist & Vennum; McGough; RBC Wealth Management; Riverbridge Partners; TCF Bank
The Basics: Conceived and financed by the wealthy heirs of railroad baron James J. Hill, the North Oaks Golf Club has lost much of its prestige in its 63 years. Though the third-generation Hill heirs stayed involved until their deaths, the club is now populated mainly by lawyers, doctors and VP-level businesspeople from North Oaks and St. Paul. Members say they appreciate that their place lacks much of the social preening found in some other clubs.
Ancient History: James J. Hill’s grandson, Louis Hill Jr., was caught up in the utopianism of the 1950s. Le Corbusier had his “radiant city.” Writer Ebenezer Howard envisioned a grand “garden city movement.” There was a feeling among power players and intellectuals that idyllic cities, towns and neighborhoods could be neatly and properly constructed. With that in mind, L. W. Hill Jr. convinced his fellow heirs that they could create a chaos-free community on their grandfather’s 4,000-acre farm. Thus, today we have North Oaks, a St. Paul suburb that is also a private, gated community. The golf club is part of that residential complex.
Noteworthy Event: The Ray Vennewitz Acorn Men’s Invitational is the club’s much-anticipated guest/member tourney held each July.
Clubhouse: Low and sprawling, the clubhouse has the feel of a high-dollar senior-living facility: clean, comfortable, rather antiseptic. The ballroom has fiberglass ceiling tiles. But there are nice views of the golf course.
Golf Course: Designed in 1951 by Stanley Thompson, the 6,655-yard course was significantly renovated in 2007 by golfer Tom Lehman. Members say their course is quick, challenging and very underrated.
The Damage: Initiation is $5,500 plus $593 in monthly dues. There is a $50 monthly food minimum for a golf membership.
Getting In: Two letters of sponsorship are required. You do not have to live in the gated community to be a member.
Notable Members: Former 3M CEO Lewis Lehr; Rev. Paul Morrissey, minister at the Church of St. Louis, King of France; Car dealer Lee Carlson, the father of FOX host Gretchen Carlson; Compulsive entrepreneur Tom Auth, who owns more than 30 different companies (from auto parts to chemical testing and wireless alarm systems)
Networking Hot Spots: Cody Law Group; Hamre, Schumann, Mueller & Larson; Homel Realty; Felhaber, Larson, Fenlon & Vogt; Fredrikson & Byron; Brookdale Health; Johnstech International; White Pine Capital; Yaeger, Jungbauer & Barczak
The Basics: Located near the Marshall Avenue–Lake Street bridge in St. Paul, this steady, low-priced club attracts midlevel VPs, St. Paul politicians and a surprising number of doctors.
Ancient History: Before the great Minnesota barons were at Minikahda, White Bear Yacht or Woodhill, they were at Town & Country, the oldest private club in Minnesota. It was founded by the Nushkas, a social krewe born out of the first Winter Carnival, which included Lucius Pond Ordway and James J. Hill. True to its roots, the club originally had a toboggan slide and an official uniform: electric blue with astrakhan fur. The first version of the golf course employed tomato cans and fishing poles with red rags because members weren’t yet exactly sure how to play the unusual Scottish game.
Clubhouse: Once a cool fin-de-siècle clubhouse designed by Cass Gilbert. But that was torn down in 1955 to go with standard dark brick. The main dining room has a nice view of the Mississippi River.
Other Amenities: Four clay tennis courts and a swimming pool heated to 80 degrees.
The Damage: $8,750 initiation plus $667 monthly dues for a golf membership. The food and beverage minimum is $187.50 per quarter.
Getting In: Very easy. The membership coordinator will even find sponsors for you to meet if you don’t know anyone there.
Notable Members: Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer; former Minnesota Gopher star tackle and World War II vet Ed Lechner; Nora McGuire, the first female golf pro in Minnesota; investor David Freeman, the former owner of the Nashville Predators; well-known car dealers Ron Saxon and Tom Krebsbach Jr.
Networking Hot Spots: Advantus Capital Management; Dain Rauscher; First Farmers and Merchants Bank; ING; National Checking Company; Oberman Thompson; Schwan’s; UBS
The Basics: Where Woodhill is demure and secretive, Wayzata is glitzy and flashy: The two clubs are polar opposites, as different as Mark Dayton and David Koch. And yet, they are near neighbors, less than a mile apart, separated by a railroad track (literally). Culturally speaking, Wayzata is lively, fun-loving and very family-oriented. It also seems to attract more than its fair share of drama. Just Google Wayzata Country Club and “Ali Dunham” for one juicy tale that made it all the way to the TV show A Current Affair. The club has also attracted a few crooked characters, such as Denny Hecker and Tom Petters. In fact, a handful of members were accused of being co-conspirators in Petters’ $3.65-billion Ponzi scheme.
Ancient History: For nearly 40 years, Woodhill was one of the few private clubs near Lake Minnetonka. As the area exploded with new residents after World War II, it was besieged with membership requests. This made Woodhill’s old-guard founders, who preferred to stay under the radar, quite uncomfortable. As such, the old-money families decided they needed a kind of pressure valve for their favorite club and so put up much of the early capital for Wayzata.
Clubhouse: The Tudor cottage clubhouse is well-appointed outside and in. Even the lockers in the locker rooms have carved-wood doors.
Golf Course: The splendid and tough 18-hole championship course is never lent to the Minnesota Golf Association for tournaments.
The Damage: $35,000 initiation, $685 monthly dues, $100 monthly capital assessment plus a $160 bimonthly food minimum.
Getting In: You need one primary and two supporting sponsors to write letters on your behalf. These letters, plus a formal membership application and credit report, are submitted to the board of directors for review. The process generally takes a couple of months.
Other Amenities: Trap and skeet range, an Olympic-sized pool, six clay and two hard-surface tennis courts, two paddle tennis courts, a six-hole junior golf course, an ice rink in winter.
Notable Members: Former General Mills CEO Steve Sanger, former Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Publisher Vance Opperman, Gov. Wendy Anderson, TCF Bank CEO Bill Cooper, Archivers Founder Jann Olsten, professional golfer Tim Herron
Networking Hot Spots: Campbell Mithun; C.H. Robinson; Deloitte & Touche; Fabcon; Fair Isaac; General Mills; Korn/Ferry; Kraus-Anderson; Medtronic; Merrill Lynch; Pentair; PricewaterhouseCoopers; RBC Wealth Management; Toro; U.S. Bancorp; Wells Fargo Home Mortgage
The Basics: Twenty miles northeast of St. Paul sits the White Bear Yacht Club, the only sailing-plus-golf club in the state.
Ancient History: Originally a summer hotel, the yacht club still rented rooms to vacationers through the 1920s. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, spent the summer of 1921 at the club but were kicked out before September (probably for fighting, which they did all the time). In 1922, Fitzgerald published Winter Dreams, a short story about a caddie-turned-businessman who falls in love at Sherry Island Golf Club in Black Bear Lake, Minnesota.
Noteworthy Event: The Sailors BBQ features a competitive scow, a BBQ buffet on the Lakeside Lawn and cocktails galore.
Clubhouse: The clubhouse is an interesting mix of nautical and Nantucket: white clapboard and blue awnings next to bold arches and sweeping porticos. Currently, a $3.2-million renovation is underway. As of Memorial Day, club members can enjoy a new 25-yard competition pool, a kid’s splash pool and wading area, a new dining terrace with lake views, a new 1,200-square-foot lakeside pavilion with firepit and patio, a new tennis house, and a new on-course restroom. The club is also funding a shoreline restoration project.
Golf Course: The Donald Ross–designed course is separated from the clubhouse by Dellwood Avenue.
Other Amenities: Four clay and two hard-surface tennis courts.
The Damage: Initiation is $26,550 initiation, $725 monthly dues.
Getting In: As of press time, there were 200 members; the club has a capacity of 225. Applicants need two letters of recommendation from club members. New members are approved the second Tuesday of the month.
Notable Members: Ordway family heirs Todd Nicholson, Horace Irvine III and Ford Nicholson; Regions Hospital CEO Brock Nelson; art dealer and Coldwell Banker Burnet Co-founder Dar Reedy
Networking Hot Spots: 3M; CentraCare Health System; Craig-Hallum Capital; Hallberg & McClain; Securian Financial Group; Smith Barney; St. Croix Orthopaedics; Western Bank
The Basics: Woodhill is an interesting contradiction. It’s unassuming on the outside but exceptionally hard to get into. The membership is mostly old, traditional, proper and conservative. This is, after all, the club that kicked out Gov. Mark Dayton when he brought black friends around the clubhouse in the early ’70s. (Dayton was accepted back into the fold after he married a Rockefeller heir in 1978, but he resigned his membership after he decided to run for U.S. Senate.)
Ancient History: When the old-money families had migrated from Kenwood to Lake Minnetonka, they needed a new private club, and they built a simple one, with no flourishes or special airs. The painted-brick exterior was designed with one purpose: to keep away potential kidnappers-for-ransom such as the gang that nabbed Minnesota brewer Bill Hamm in 1933 or St. Paul banker Ed Bremer in 1934. That wealth-based paranoia still influences Woodhill’s members in the 21st century — some of the older members still drive Chevys and Fords; many wear midrange clothing brands.
Big Moment: When 19-year-old Jack Nicklaus shot a four-under-par 67 in 1959 to win the Trans-Mississippi Amateur.
Noteworthy Event: There are lots of parties around the midsummer Woodhill Invitational golf tournament. Highlights include a cocktail party on the tennis courts and a black-tie dinner on Saturday night. But the biggest deal is the party held on the second night at one member’s home on Lake Minnetonka. Almost everyone arrives by fancy boat.
Clubhouse: Pragmatic and generically pleasant (think Chippendale cane chairs with floral upholstery and rolled-arm sofas next to beige walls). Very few fancy details.
Golf Course: Unlike many clubs that distinguish between golfers, swimmers, tennis players and socialites, Woodhill has just one membership category: in. As such, the Donald Ross–designed course is virtually empty half the time. The signature hole is No. 6, which starts very steep and is incredibly picturesque.
Other Amenities: Ten clay tennis courts with a dedicated tennis clubhouse.
The Damage: $45,000 initiation, $741 in monthly dues.
Getting In: A yearlong process of cocktail parties, dinners and more cocktail parties before you are thoroughly vetted and approved.
Notable Members: Ned and Bob Dayton, scions of the department store fortune and first cousins to Gov. Mark Dayton; Phil Ordway, the real-estate investor and great-grandson of 3M Owner Lucius Pond Ordway; Fred Boos, owner of Grand View Lodge in Brainerd; Malt-O-Meal heir Conley Brooks Sr.; former North Stars, Twins and Vikings investor Wheelock Whitney; Executive Roger Headrick, who once owned the Minnesota Vikings; John J. Taylor III, who owns one of the top 10 beer-distribution companies in the country; Helen Waldron, granddaughter of John Pillsbury Snyder and great-great granddaughter of John Sargent Pillsbury, founder of Pillsbury
Networking Hot Spots: If upward mobility is your aim, Woodhill isn’t your game.
The governor’s office denies Governor Dayton was kicked out of Woodhill saying that’s “just a story.” His spokeswoman did confirm Dayton was once a Woodhill member but is not now.
The Best of the Best
Best Golf Hole
No. 10 at Town and Country Club
Best Pro Shop
Edina Country Club
Best All-Around Club
Wayzata Country Club
Best Bar Snacks
Best Golf-Only Club
Three-Way Tie: Hazeltine National Golf Club, Spring Hill Golf Club, Windsong Farm Golf Club
Hardest Club to Get Into
Somerset Country Club, closely followed by Interlachen Country Club
Best Signature Drink
Bootleg from the Minikahda Club
Best Locker Room
Wayzata Country Club (newly renovated with Cambria quartz)
Best Ninth-Hole Shack
Wayzata Country Club. You can hit the shack from 5 different holes. Insider tip: Bonnie Pipkorn makes the strongest libations.
Most Swinging Club
Bearpath Golf & Country Club
Best Overall Community
North Oaks Golf Club
Edina Country Club
Best Place to Have a Wedding
Tie: Hazeltine National Golf Club and Windsong Farm Golf Club
Woodhill Country Club
Best Caddie Program
Interlachen Country Club
Best Course Not Noted
Minneapolis Golf Club
Best Swim Team
Bearpath Golf & Country Club
Hardest Greens to Read
Northland Country Club
Most Appreciated Course
Interlachen Country Club