Name: The course was named June 23, 1925 for its topography. Minnehaha Creek is the “brook” that runs through the course. Before it was formally named the course was referred to as the Southwest Golf Course.
Acquisition and Development
In the spring of 1924 the park board struck a deal with Armour & Company to build a golf course on Armour property adjacent to northeast Minneapolis, which eventually became Francis Gross Golf Course. That brought to three the total number of golf courses operated by the park board—Glenwood (Wirth) and Columbia were the others—all in north Minneapolis. While the park board purchased land around Lake Hiawatha in 1922 for a golf course in the southern half of the city, it was years away from being developed. Property owners near Lake Hiawatha were already paying assessments for the extensive work being done to develop Lake Nokomis and to acquire the Hiawatha property and Minnehaha Creek east to the falls. The park board couldn’t assess those properties for money to develop the Lake Hiawatha property at the same time.
Still, southern Minneapolis needed a golf course in the opinion of the park board and park superintendent Theodore Wirth. Golf was increasing dramatically in popularity at the time. So according to Theodore Wirth’s memoirs, written in 1945, he set out to find suitable land for a golf course anywhere in the vicinity of south Minneapolis. The land he found was 1½ miles west of Minneapolis on Excelsior Road.
Inspired by the financing arranged with Armour & Company for the acquisition and development of the northeastern golf course, the board struck a deal with the Atlas Realty Company to acquire the land west of Minneapolis. Atlas Realty agreed to sell the 210 acres for $80,000 and loan another $50,000 for building the golf course. They would be paid back over twenty years with proceeds from the golf course. If the park board failed to pay off the contract in twenty years, title to the land would simply revert to Atlas Realty. It was a deal that was almost too good to be true for the park board—and it was.
Burton Kingsley, park board president at the time, wrote in the 1924 annual report that the city was “literally obtaining golf courses without expense to the taxpayer.” Wirth noted in his report that year that the creative contracts with Armour and Atlas Realty “prove that there are many different ways open to accomplish desirable and worthy objectives.”
The only catch, initially, to the Southwest Golf Course project was that the park board had never before acquired land outside of the city limits that was not contiguous with park property. (Since 1885 the board had had the power to acquire land outside of city limits that was an extension of a park or parkway within the city limits—and had used that power in acquiring portions of Minnehaha Creek and Glenwood (Wirth) Park. Even in the case of the Armour land for a golf course, although it was outside city limits, the land was contiguous with St. Anthony Parkway.) To be sure that the board had the legal authority to acquire the land for Meadowbrook Golf Course the park board instituted a test case in the courts. Essentially the board sued itself—and won. The courts decided that the park board had the power to acquire the land and use it for a golf course. The decision was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court in early 1925, and Wirth was given the go-ahead to commence building the golf course.
Like the new Armour course, Meadowbrook was built to designs by local architect William Clark and had grass tees and greens. The first two courses in the city, Glenwood and Columbia, still had sand greens and clay tees
The course was completed, including a small clubhouse, and opened for play in 1926. The first problem encountered at the golf course emerged in 1927 when parts of the course near a flooded Minnehaha Creek were too wet to be playable. To make them playable, nine holes of the course were closed for three seasons to dredge a twenty-acre lake from seventy acres of swamp. To pay for the dredging and filling, the park board borrowed another $90,000 from First Minneapolis Company, the successor to Atlas Realty, and put it on the tab.
Still, the course was popular enough that in 1930 the park board managed to pay the interest on the contract and in 1931, despite the Great Depression, the park board made payments on interest and principal with earnings from the course. That would be the last year for many that the park board would be able to pay down the principal it owed.
As the depression took hold, the number of golf rounds played on all city courses dropped dramatically. Even though the park board reduced fees to play Meadowbrook and Armour from seventy-five cents to fifty cents, Meadowbrook operated at a net loss. In 1933 the board announced that it was unable to make scheduled payments on the contracts for Armour and Meadowbrook. By the end of 1934, with its failure to make even interest payments for a few years, the board’s debt on the property had grown from $220,000 to $253,000.
To make matters worse, summers of drought had made the golf course less appealing. In order to compete with other golf courses in the area, Meadowbrook needed a sprinkling system for its fairways. Once again the successors to the Atlas Realty contract, Merchant’s Bank Building Company, came to the rescue. The company not only put up the $40,000 for a new sprinkling system, but agreed to renegotiate the original contract, wiping out over $100,000 in park board debts. The new contract set the board’s debt for the course at $180,000.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, Meadowbrook operated at near breakeven most years and at that it was one of the most successful park board golf courses. It also charged the highest fees. In 1936 the park board instituted a season pass program for the golf courses, ranging in price from $24 for Meadowbrook to $16 for Columbia.
Still, the long-ago dream of acquiring a golf course with only revenues from the course had proved illusory. By the time the original twenty-year term of the contract was up in 1944, the park board had added another $53,000 in unpaid interest to the amount of the contract renegotiated ten years earlier. The Merchant’s Bank Building Company informed the board in 1945 that it was going to take back the land for failure to make payments. The company already had a housing developer lined up to buy the land.
In a final act of generosity, the company agreed to sell the land—for which the park board still owed $237,000 under the terms of its revised contract—for a cash payment of $75,000, which was less than it had been offered by the developer. To cover the purchase price and needed improvements to the course, the city agreed to sell $87,500 in bonds. The bonds were to be repaid through operating profits on the course over the next twenty years. Ultimately, golfers did pay for the course through playing fees, and the course has since become an important source of revenue for the park board.
Clear park board title to the property was celebrated in 1947 when the National Public Links Golf Championship was played at the course.
In 1968 Meadowbrook became the first park board golf course to offer golf carts to players.
In 1979 the first non-golf improvements were made to the property, including a canoe landing on Minnehaha Creek and a picnic area.
In June 2014 record rainfalls caused a devastating flood that forced the course to close for the remainder of the 2014 season and all of the 2015 season. In September 2015 the park board approved a plan that will allow the course to reopen in summer 2017 with an improved layout.
History through 2008 written by David C. Smith, with updates from 2009 to present written by MPRB.