MADELIA - When times are good at Madelia Golf Course, its location beside the Watonwan River offers patrons some truly picturesque scenery as they navigate holes that wind right alongside the riverbanks.
Despite all of its benefits, though, life alongside the river also have come with one major drawback, too - the risk of flooding.
Flooding has been a common inconvenience for the course since it opened in 1981. After a major flood in 1993, the course required vast repairs, with other smaller floods following in the years since.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
The view from the No. 3 tee at Madelia Golf Course. The No. 3 fairway suffered the worst of the flooding in the fall of 2010 and endured a long recovery process, but the hole no longer shows any signs of damage.
The course received its worst luck with flooding in late September of 2010. During a two-day period, 10 to 12 inches of rain was unleashed upon southern Minnesota, causing flash floods all over the region. The Watonwan quickly overflowed its banks and submerged much of Madelia Golf Course, including the clubhouse. The flooding on the course superseded the 1993 flood by around two to three feet.
"They called it the 'Flood of the Century,'" Madelia Golf Course Superintendent Shawn Swenson said. "They were saying that about the flood in '93, too, so I guess it was a short century."
Swenson had witnessed his fair share of flooding since joining the golf course's staff in 1993, so he was able to act quickly enough to remove valuable equipment from the flood zone before the worst of it hit. However, when he entered his office after the flood he encountered a high water mark of three and a half feet inside his office, with the water lapping right against the edge of his desk.
"I would venture to say 75 percent of the course was under water," Swenson said.
When the water finally receded, much of the course was left as a sloppy mess, with sticks and branches that had been carried by the floodwaters strewn about the course. The clubhouse was a total loss.
Luckily, the course received enough insurance money to build a brand new clubhouse in time for the 2011 golf season. The cleanup effort of the course was even assisted by members of FEMA.
"With the extra help we were able to trim some trees up, work on the canopies a little bit," Swenson said. "A lot of stuff that me with my immediate staff would not have time to do."
However, further flooding in the spring and early summer of 2011 slowed down the recovery of the course. The holes that were the worst affected were No. 3, No. 4 and No. 6, with much of the fairways on those holes unable to be re-seeded until mid August.
"The worst thing that can happen is people will try to get out there too early and actually do more damage," Swenson said. "Getting out there too early you're just making it way muddier and you're sliding around."
After the long recovery process, Madelia Golf Course is finally back and better than ever. The mild winter finally allowed the course to fully recover, leaving it in pristine condition when it opened for play in late March.
"The course now is probably in the best shape that I've seen it in five years," Swenson said.
The absence of further flooding this spring has left the Watonwan's water level well below the edge of its banks, allowing the benefits of life along the river to return at full force. With only very minimal winter kill on the fairways and the greens in perfect condition, along with the added work that was done with FEMA's help, Swenson describes the course as being the most playable it's been in five years.
Something that was almost completely lost in the fray with the flooding overshadowing last year's golf season was the new additions that came along with the now one-year-old clubhouse. Replacing the former structure was a building that brought the name "clubhouse" to a whole new level.
"The clubhouse was here at start of golf season, but it wasn't fully stocked and we didn't have everything down like we needed to, it was still kind of a growing process," Clubhouse Manager Charles Hanson said. "Now we're trying to build off of last year, continue to grow and get better and build our membership and make it just a fun, nice place to golf and enjoy your summer."
The clubhouse has expanded in size, with the much larger dining area featuring all new wooden furniture. Since both the course and the local liquor store are owned by the city, the new bar is stocked straight from the liquor store and offers one of the widest selections around. The clubhouse supports other local businesses, too, by serving food from Sunshine Foods and sandwiches from Sweet Indeed.
"In terms of a clubhouse, it went from a park shelter that maybe served Bud Light and candy to a clubhouse, with all new furniture, TVs and a bar," Hanson said. "Now we cook food, we serve 20 different types of alcohol, including liquor. It's completely different from before."
Overall, the aim is that the clubhouse becomes an integral part of the patrons' enjoyment of the course.
"That's a big goal for us this year, too, is to create that atmosphere where you're in a clubhouse, like you're at a nice course," Hanson said. "You come in and the Masters is on, you can have a beer, go golfing, come back in and have a pizza, maybe a couple more drinks, watch golf or basketball or baseball, stuff like that."
In order to help people further enjoy the course's revival, there will be a number of deals that golfers can take advantage of, such as free golf on Mondays with the purchase of a cart when there isn't a holiday or another conflicting event taking place.
After such a long wait, there is no doubt that the good times have finally returned for Madelia Golf Course. The course will continue to be at the mercy of whatever the Watonwan sends its way in the future, but right now the only river-related worrying should be by golfers trying to avoid losing a golf ball down its banks with an errant hooked shot from the tee box.