Golden Valley Country Club was born in 1914 with the purchase of a 133-acre site, bisected by Bassett Creek.Initially, this land consisted of pasture land and corn fields. A 9-hole golf course was fashioned out of the land north of the railroad tracks and play commenced shortly after.
The Club entered the roaring 20’s with exuberance and the golf course was expanded to 18 holes. Membership was strong and a new clubhouse was constructed.
A.W. Tillinghast, a world-renowned golf course designer, was retained in 1926. He commenced a three-year renovation of the course.
Over the years a number of changes were made to accommodate the needs and desires of the membership. These modifications changed the character of the course. In 1998, the club embarked on a restoration project to return the course to the original A.W. Tillinghast design. The project was as much an archeological adventure as a construction project, as old bunkers were discovered and photographs of the original green complexes were utilized. Recent reconstruction of the tee boxes now allows the courses to be played to enjoy the true Tillinghast experience regardless of the level of golfer playing the course. It truly is a championship course.
In 2002, a beautiful, new clubhouse overlooking the 18th hole was constructed. Today, Golden Valley Country Club is the preeminent country club in the Twin Cities, well known for its world-class golf course, fine and casual dining, pool and tennis facilities, and its elegantly decorated clubhouse for weddings, social gatherings and corporate meetings.
What has been forged over the past century is a club of deep tradition, values and vision.
From the beginning, the golf club at Golden Valley faced adversity, but with a dedicated and vigilant group of members, has always prevailed, becoming one of the finest clubs in the region.
The birth of Golden Valley Country Club dates back to 1914 when a series of informal meetings brought together grain merchants, bankers, lumbermen, salesmen, lawyers, doctors, real estate brokers and other business men who wanted to start a new golf club west of Minneapolis. On February 1, 1916 accountant Charles A. Tardiff convened a meeting of seven business men including lumberman P.M. Parker, railroad man William N. Cavan, insurance man Edward Von Ende, stationery salesman Arthur C. Statt, steel broker Walter I. Fleck and R.O. Johnson to formally organize a club and begin site inspection.
The group rounded up thirty prospective members within a few weeks and Statt reported that the site committee had identified an ideal location for the new club: a 138-acre parcel of pastures, cornfields, woodlands, hills and wetlands know as Golden Valley.
The land had been settled by William Varner, who had walked due west more than seven miles from the Saint Anthony Falls to find the highest hill in the landscape with an elevation of 935 feet. He stood atop the hill gazing at the green valley beyond, filled with golden daffodils. He decided to return to homestead the land, building a log cabin for his wife and sons in what he called "my valley, my Golden Valley". Varner would transform the landscape where Native Americans had once hunted buffalo, into farmland.
In 1887, Varner became one of the first elected officials of Golden Valley. The city consisted of farms, mills and dairies until the Electric Luce Line railroad came through the village in 1912 bringing with it residential development.
The selected site consisted of two adjoining farms owned by William Varner Sr. and his son Clark Verner. The site was accessible by a gravel road and by the Minnesota and Western Railroad, both of which traversed the property. This made the travel ideal for the businessmen to board the train on 7th Street North and take the 5 mile train ride through the countryside to get to Golden Valley. At the Club's first open meeting on July 8, 1916, 68 men joined the newly formed Minneapolis Golf Club and by August 1st the membership grew to 127 and the first payment was made on the land where the members cleared enough trees and brush north of the railroad tracks that a crude 9-hole course could be constructed. The Club would open the 9-hole course on August 5, 1916 as Allied forces secured the Suez Canal in the World War I Battle of Romani.
The Club hired America's first prolific golf course architect Tom Bendelow to build a new eighteen-hole course the following spring. By the time Bendelow came to Golden Valley he was already credited with laying out over 700 golf courses in the United States and Canada including work on Minikahda Club, Lafayette Club, Minnetonka Country Club and Edina Country Club. When Bendelow arrived at Golden Valley in August 1916 he reported to the Minneapolis Tribune that the new Minneapolis Golf Club would have one of the finest and most complete courses in the Northwest and he laid out an eighteen-hole course with a total distance of 6,685 yards making it the longest in this section.
Work commenced on the new course in mid-Septemer, but came to a halt a month later. There was going to be a Minneapolis Golf Club, but it wasn't going to be in Golden Valley. The Club was offered a new site and a vote of the membership meant that the Minneapolis Golf Club would move to St. Louis Park, fracturing the membership. The 40 members that preferred their original location remained and the new Golden Valley Country Club was incorporated on December 21, 1916. In March 1917, Bendelow completed his revised plan for the eighteen-hole course, changing the layout so that no holes crossed the railroad tracks, reducing the length of the course to 6,340 yards. By the end of April the Club was nearing its goal of 100 members. With World War I continuing, the Club suspended dues for those entering military service and even planted four acres of potatoes in the corners of the fairways as a wartime measure.
On April 7, 1918, the Club faced another setback as the Verner Farmhouse, which had been converted to the Clubhouse, burned down. The executive committee immediately planned a new clubhouse that would be bigger and better than the original, and would include a club room, ladies room, grill room and showers, to be completed in only three to four weeks! By July 1918, two-thirds of the new permanent course was ready to play, but citing the impact of the war, the Club could not afford to complete the course that year.
By April 1919, Golden Valley Country Club topped the 300-member mark and the Club began to properly drain the lowest parts of the course where water would stand in pools. Work was also completed on Bassett Creek including a dam which formed a reservoir from which water was pumped into a pressure tank connected to pipes that delivered water all over the course. The Board also voted to purchase a bus to pick members up from downtown Minneapolis, making the Club more accessible and comfortable. The course would open on June 7, 1919, with a new total yardage of 6,382.
In 1920, the course would change yet again, under the direction of William Watson, an architect with an exceptional reputation in Minnesota, having designed the first courses at Minikahda, Interlachen and White Bear Yacht Club. The 1920's would see a rise in social and dining activities including the Wednesday night buffet dinners, noon lunch service and Saturday night dances.
In 1922, the Club would focus on hosting the State Amateur for the first time, building forty new bunkers. The course played as a par 74; 36 on the front nine and 38 on the back. Following the success of the State Amateur, Golden Valley would host the Minnesota State Open in 1923.
The Clubhouse burned down again in 1923, so William Tell began construction on a larger more modern clubhouse in 1924 to accommodate the now 400 members. The clubhouse featured locker rooms and the golf shop on the lower level, and the dining room, kitchen, club rooms and porch room on the upper level. The Board also purchased ten acres east of the new clubhouse that would eventually be turned into the Club's practice area. Moving the clubhouse forced the redesign of the course yet again, with a desire to have two nine-hole loops that began and returned to the new clubhouse. Golden Valley then secured one of the biggest names: A. W. Tillinghast.
By the early 1920s, his resume included dozens of top-flight clubs. Tillinghast had already designed Baltusrol Upper and Lower, Winged Foot East and West, San Francisco Golf Club and Somerset Hills Country Club, and immediately saw the possibilities in creating a truly great golf course at Golden Valley. Work began in 1926 and was completed three years later. The timelessness of his designs make Tillinghast the prolific designer of golf's Golden Age and he is revered as one of the greatest golf course architects of all-time. Tillinghast is remembered as a superb course architect, whose courses when properly cared for, improve with age. U.S. Opens and PGA Championships are still contested on his courses at Baltusrol, Winged Foot and Bethpage Black.
Tillinghast's design at Golden Valley became known for its deep bunkers with grass faces, and for it's steeply-pitched greens. Ladders were even constructed in several bunkers to help golfers get in and out of them. The routing proved ideal for a course that had been re-routed a half-dozen times in it's first ten years. In fact, only the par-three eighth hole has been altered since Tillinghast conceived his design in 1926. The classic A.W. Tillinghast golf course would be ready for it's first full season of play in 1929.
The new Tillinghast course would host the Women's State Amatuer in 1929 and the State Open in 1930. Golden Valley would also make news as seventeen year-old Pat Sawyer, son of Golden Valley founding member Charles W. Sawyer, would become the youngest player to ever win the Minnesota State Amateur Championship. Sawyer would go on to win again in 1932, 1946 and 1948. Wining the Minnesota State Open in 1935, 1936 and 1956. From 1947-1951 he won a record five straight Resorters Tournaments, which he would win for a sixth time in 1954. Sawyer was inducted into the Minnesota PGA-MGA Hall of Fame in 1992.
In 1931 the prestigious Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship came to Golden Valley, but the 1930's were a time of declining membership due to the depression. Austen Cargill became president in 1934 and through the generosity of numerous loans to the Club, including $100,000 loan which was written off upon his death, Cargill saved the Club from extinction. His keen sense indicated it was more than the depression that was affecting membership and in spite of having the best course with the lowest dues, the membership mix at the club simply wasn't working. Cargill wanted a club that primarily appealed to men who could afford to pay more to have fewer members, with well-defined character.
By 1939, the softening of Tillinghast's masterpiece had begun with partially filling the exceptionally deep bunkers. By this time plans were being made to widen Olson Memorial Highway, making it possible to reach the club from anywhere in the loop district within 10 minutes, a major advantage the Club has to this day. Golden Valley hosted the Minnesota State Amateur that year, as well as the stroke-play Women's Amateur.
Cargill's plan to keep the Club small and exclusive didn't pan out and at the end of 1940 the Club went into receivership. A group of forty-six investors led by George M. Munson as Golden Valley Associates would bid on the property keeping the Club alive. The grand opening party was held on July 7, 1941. By adding slot machines, outside tournaments and membership for unattached women, a progressive move for the time, the Club reported a profit and 9,417 rounds of golf played! More of Tillinghast's bunkers were altered or eliminated and a new tee was built on the seventh hole.
By 1943, the Club looked to the opportunity to host a professional tournament to showcase it's course and make much-needed revenue from gate receipts. The Golden Valley Invitational would be held September 3-6 consisting of sixteen players selected from the best pros of the United States. Poor weather turned the event into a financial disaster, but gained city and nation-wide recognition for the Club. The board approved a second year of the Invitational only to be thwarted by bad weather a second year in a row.
After the Invitational, the Club turned it's attention back to altering the course, this time reverting to Tillinghast's original design by moving the third green complex to the Tillinghast location.
By 1945, the Club's main concern was the lagging social life, so to create a livelier social atmosphere, the Club initiated dinner-dances on Saturdays when there was a home game for the University of Minnesota football team. The club also held a New Years Party with dinner and an orchestra. The Club hosted the Minnesota State Open and things were looking up with the club making a $16,000 profit for the year.
In 1946 the Club decided to operate year-round, purchased seventy-six lots on the north boundary of the property allowing for the lengthening of the eighth hole, and a family membership was offered for the first time. The family membership changed the entire feeling of the Club, made possible the women's club and made for more dining room and buffet patrons. The 1946 Women's Amateur stroke play championship was hosted at Golden Valley and the Club extended honorary memberships to Patty Berg and Bea Barrett Altmeyer, the two best women golfers in Minnesota.
Even with a robust membership, the investments in capital improvements meant the Club was still in financial difficulties and membership began to decline by 1949. The Board called for a shareholders meeting to request the authority to sell the club.In February of 1950 the Club was sold to a group of members of the Zuhrah Temple of the Shrine in Minneapolis with the intention of making the Club a Shriners-only membership. However, the Board decided to allow as many as fifty non-Shriners to maintain their memberships. The sale was a success and by mid-June 1950 the club gained two hundred new members and Golden Valley hosted the 1950 State Amateur Championship.
By 1954, the Club had secured enough cash to pay off it's mortgage and a gala mortgage burning party was held on July 7. The Women's State Amateur would return to Golden Valley again in 1955 and 1959, and the State Open in 1956.
By 1956, a new clubhouse was needed and a 24,000 square foot new club house designed by member Clair Armstrong of the architectural firm of Armstrong and Schlichting with a $325,000 mortgage was approved by the membership. The new club house was completed in 1958; a modern-looking one story building with a brick exterior. The main dining room could seat 500 and it opened to a large screened porch.
1958 was a busy year for the Club with 26,500 rounds played and continued changes to the course including cutting down some of the severe mounds around some of the greens modernizing the course. The 'chocolate drops' were eliminated and many of the deep traps at greenside were partially or completely filled in. There were also specific changes to several holes. When the USGA increased the minimum length of a par-five hole to 471 yards, the first and thirteenth holes became par-fours. The location of the first tee was moved closer to the road adding twenty-eight yards to return it to a par-five. The thirteenth hole was increased in length from 458 yards to 473 yards by building a new tee.
The social life of the Club continued to expand in the 1950's with businessmens' luncheons with guest speakers on Thursdays; bingo nights with cash prizes; Sunday family dinners and winter bowling leagues at area lanes and dance lessons on Friday nights. Theme parties were also the rage including Mexican Fiesta, Lobster Bake, Speak-Easy Daze (with WCCO radio vocalist Tony Grise and his Hot Shot Rhythm Makers), Oriental (with Japanese dancers and Willie Paterson's Orchestra featuring WCCO's Jean Arland at the Organ), Night in Paris, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Good Ol' Summertime, Aquatennial Showboat, Hawaiian, Western and Monte Carlo.
The 1960s saw the expansion of activities to attract families with children and teens as the Club became more of a family club. Teen parties and sock hops would soon be regular activities. In 1961 the Board finally was able to secure the votes of the membership to build a swimming pool which was completed for the Memorial Day opening in 1966. Membership requirements were loosened in 1964 to allow members of the Blue Lodge Masons. The group that joined in the '60s became a strong fraternity of deep and lasting friends, participating in variety shows, bowling leagues and dinner parties, while their children joined the junior golf, tennis and swimming teams.
Golden Valley continued to host the State Amateur Championship in 1967 and the Women's State Amateur match play championship in 1969.
In 1971, the Club's name was changed back to Golden Valley Country Club as the requirement that a member had to belong to the Shrine or the Masons was removed. The change to a country club, open to all applicants, brought in a wave of new members, which created a new set of needs for the Club. A capital program called Project 72 was created to complete the front entry canopy, renovate the card room and porch, enlarge the pro shop, remodel the women's locker room and build additional tennis courts.
The Minnesota State Amateur Championship returned to Golden Valley for the fifth time in 1972. In 1977, a pond was dug to the right of the seventeenth green to handle runoff from Golden Valley Road. The Board also doubled the size of the practice range and added a par-three practice course. The new facility was a particular benefit to the Club's children, who were playing an increasingly important role in the social life of the Club. The increase in family participation coincided with a surge in adult golf participation.
For decades, the Club's two big summer events have been Tillinghast Cup, a member-member competition, and Golden Days Invitational, a member-guest competition. The Club annually shut the course down for two days so the maximum one hundred and twelve teams could play the Golden Days event.
In the 1970's hundreds of trees were planted at the Club to act as a hedge against the blight of Dutch Elm disease. Golden Valley is one of the few Minnesota courses that has been able to retain a number of specimen elms that give the course it's character and definition.
In 1985, the Club hired noted golf course architect Geoffrey Cornish to create a plan to restore the course to Tillinghast's original design, which would be a fifteen-year long project.
In 1986, the state legislature passed a new bill that would take away a private club's favorable tax status if the club did not grant equal membership privileges to both spouses. As more women entered the workforce, it had become inequitable to continue to reserve prime tee times for men only. A group of Golden Valley women golfers lead by businesswoman Nan DeMars pointed out that women could not play on Tuesdays between 10:30a.m. and 3:30 p.m.; on Wednesdays between noon and 3:30 p.m.; on Thursdays after noon; on Friday between noon and 1:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays before noon. Junior golfers had more rights than women; they were allowed to play Saturday and Sunday morning and Thursday afternoons. The old guard had its most significant clash over women's playing rights, even considering non-compliance. At the time many clubs were challenged with the legal complications resulting from failure to provide women with equal treatment. When put to a vote of the membership, a solid majority voted for compliance and on August 1, 1986 women were allowed the same access and privileges of membership as the men. The late 1980's would also be a time for female golfers to shine. Liza LeBelle, daughter of members Ron and Carole LaBelle won three straight State High School Girls' Golf Championships, winning a Class A title in 1986, 1987 and 1988. In August of 1988, the Club hosted 207 young women from around the world for the U.S. Girls' Junior Championship.
In the early nineties the city resurfaced Golden Valley Road and added a sidewalk, curbs and gutters. At the time a tunnel was dug between the fourth green and fifth tee, finally eliminating the danger of traffic while walking between these holes.
In July of 1992, future PGA star Tim Herron tied the Golden Valley course record and the tournament single-round record with an eight-under-par 65. On August 18, 1994 the course record was broken yet again, this time by Tim Gonsior who fired a nine-under-par 64.
While the reputation of a high-buck gambling club has faded over time, Golden Valley was once a hotbed for dice games, high-stakes poker and betting on the course.
In 1998, the Club undertook the last phase of it's fifteen-year golf course restoration project; the bunkers. From the opening of the Tillinghast design in 1929, the deep bunkers were the signature feature. Some thought the bunkers were too deep for daily play. Others believed the bunkers were a great test of gold skills, and set Golden Valley apart as a classic-era gem. Over the decades those bunkers had been altered - and in some cases removed - so often it was difficult to recall the courses' original features. By 1998, the golf world had rediscovered the genius of the old masters, including Tillinghast and was urging restoration of the great golf courses. Golden Valley realized that its most valuable asset was its A.W. Tillinghast course, and the best way to celebrate that asset was to restore the bunkers to their original shape, size and depth. The Club hired Tillinghast restoration specialist Ron Forse and contractor Jeff Hartman to recreate Tilly's bunkers as closely as possible. Using old photos, the Club knew that the bunkers originally had grass faces and flat bottoms, but the desire to 'modernize' the course in the 1960's caused the Club to change the bunkers to sand-faced to improve their visibility on approach shots. Tillinghast built subtle berms around the bunkers to keep rainwater run-off from entering the traps, but those berms eventually came to be considered decorative 'chocolate drops'. Most were removed or allowed to wear away over the years.
While digging around each bunker for signs of the original contour, Hartman discovered that there had been three separate bunker alterations, revealed by the layers of dirt and sand that were found, beginning with a layer of rich yellow sand used by Tillinghast in 1926. Hartman and Forse ignored their preconceptions of the original shape and excavated each bunker to the exact size and depth indicated by the lowest layer. The original plan did not include the tenth hole because it had been remodeled during the flood control project in 1993, but when it became obvious that the hole would be glaringly out of character with the rest of the course, the Greens & Grounds Committee recommended that the bunkers there be restored.
In 1998, the Club once again changed its name, to Golden Valley Golf and Country Club.
The most recent updates to the golf course include renovating the tees. Longer tees allowed the course to be played at 7,000 yards, which restored the approach shot values that Tillinghast originally intended. The Club also installed family tees for adults to play with their younger children.
In 2000, the membership approved the proposal to build a 60,000 square-foot clubhouse at a price of $13.5 million. Designed primarily by Rick Christiansen of Partners & Sirny, the Clubhouse would feature floor-to-ceiling windows over looking the eighteenth and second holes, gabled roof lines with wood-beamed ceilings, first-class locker rooms and banquet facilities to accommodate up to 700 guests. Construction began in August 2001 and continued over the winter. The sight of the old clubhouse was the highest point in Golden Valley, but to make room for the new clubhouse the hill was leveled by fifty feet. The new clubhouse sits just south of the original site and extends to the swimming pool.
The Clubs bylaws were amended during the early 2000's to allow women to serve on the board. Before that, a membership controlled one share of stock. Most memberships were family memberships and that share was held by the male. Since Board members were required to be stockholders, women were de facto excluded from serving. When the board presented the change to have each shareholder have two votes, the membership approved on the first ballot. This led to Roberta Mellen being the first woman elected to the Board of Directors and then the first woman to become president. In 2009, the Club again amended its bylaws to allow domestic partners to be shareholding members, whether opposite sex or same sex.
Golden Valley's caddie program is as old as the Club itself, and remains vital entering its second century. As of 2017, the Club has produced forty-eight Evans Scholars over the years, with four of the Minnesota caddies receiving Evans Scholarships coming from Golden Valley. These four will be joining ten other Golden Valley Evans Scholars recipients who are currently attending the University of Minnesota. That’s a total of fourteen caddies from Golden Valley that will be in the Evans House next August, by far the most of any club in the state.
In 2016, the Club's name was changed back to Golden Valley Country Club, one century after the original Golden Valley Country Club name was incorporated.