A Furniture Salesman Shares His Fortune
Less than a year later, in January 1920, the News Tribune announced that an anonymous donor had pledged $50,000 to purchase Grand Mountain and the surrounding land. In his letter to the city, the donor requested that “a sufficient amount of land be acquired so as to accommodate municipal golf links, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, swimming pool, toboggan slides, and other summer and winter sports and recreational establishments.”
Mayor Clarence Magney was reluctant to accept the money without knowing the name of the donor; nevertheless, he asked the city council to begin condemnation proceedings on Grand Mountain and five forty-acre parcels located north of Twin Lakes. Although he did not expect the city to purchase all the parcels, Magney wanted the council to have the option to choose the best that could be obtained with the $50,000 gift. He informally called the area Twin Lakes Park.
Soon after the land purchase was completed in early 1921, Duluth businessman Bert Enger surprised everyone by admitting that he was the anonymous donor. A quiet man, he had emigrated from Norway in 1877 at age thirteen, and in 1903 he and partner Emil Olson had started a successful furniture store in Duluth’s West End. As the News Tribune reported, “While Mr. Enger has always been known as a public-spirited man and has ever been ready to be enlisted as a supporter of any worthy cause, his stride into the too-seldom entered field of philanthropy is bound to cause general admiration.”
The council promptly named the area Enger Park, proclaiming, “The city of Duluth through its council assembled, hereby expresses the appreciation and gratitude of its people, his fellow citizens, for this, his most generous and meritorious act.”
Enger’s donation had made it possible for the city to acquire the land, and other Duluthians soon became involved in helping to develop the area. Throughout the city, organizations and individuals supported the idea of creating a municipal golf course. In July 1922 one woman told the News Tribune,
Golf has particular appeal to women. It is not an expensive game, and women take to it readily. It is not by any manner or means an old man’s game, as some think…I am much in favor of the idea of a municipal links not only for the men, but for the exceptional opportunities which it will offer the women.
Golf course supporters were led by J. B. Clinton, a well-known businessman, sportsman, and Exalted Ruler of the Duluth Elks. He sent a letter to local Elks lodges and civic organizations that stated, “May I ask that you submit this suggestion to your organization with the thought that if it be deemed best one of your members be selected to act on a committee in conjunction with one of our members to devise ways and means by which this health giving game may be available to all of Duluth’s residents and visitors.” The Duluth Chamber of Commerce established a Municipal Golf Committee, and Clinton organized an outing for the committee to visit the Enger Park site, which they agreed was most suitable for a golf course. They estimated the cost to develop the course at $1,000.
Boosted by the efforts of the citizen committee, construction began in 1926. That summer Park Superintendent F. Rodney Paine announced that Arnold “Andy” Anderson, an employee at Northland Country Club, had been hired as the new course’s head greenskeeper.
The clubhouse, designed by Abraham Holstead and William J. Sullivan, was completed on June 1, 1927, a month before the grand opening. The park department reported that the building “was decorated and furnished under the direction of Mrs. Torrey Ford.” Bert Enger contributed additional funds for the clubhouse, and “Mr. W. J. Olcott very generously supplemented the small amount that the Park Department was able to spend by donating a considerable part of the furniture and decorations.” The News Tribune later described the building as “modern in every respect and includes lounging rooms, dressing units and shower baths.”
Olcott also designed and built the caddie house using lumber donated by Charles Woodruff and hardware donated by the Kelley-Duluth Company. An old garage purchased from Minnesota Power and Light Company was moved to Enger Park to be used as a tool house. The nine-hole municipal golf course was ready by the end of June 1927. Course manager Roger Borgeson told the News Tribune that the initial course was 3,184 yards long. The longest hole, number four, was 505 yards long; the shortest, number five, was a 171-yard par three. As often happens in Duluth, the opening was delayed by weather. The Park Department reported that “the spring was wet and rather cold and it was not found possible to open the course before the 2nd of July.”
Enger was scheduled to drive the first ball at 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 2. The Naval Reserve band played and speeches were made by Tom Hastings, president of Minnesota’s State Association of Public Golf Courses, and Judge Clarence Magney—who actually drove the first ball, stating that Enger was “too modest.” Mayor Sam Snively was supposed to officially accept the course on the city’s behalf, but he could not attend and Commissioner W. S. McCormick stepped in as the mayor’s replacement. Every civic group in town had been invited, and the festivities included various golfing competitions including driving and low medal score for both men and women, with trophies and other prizes donated by Bagley & Co. Jewelers, Kelley-Duluth Hardware and Sporting Goods, Silberstein & Bondy (retailers), Big Duluth (retailers), and M. Cook and Son (clothiers).
The golf course was an immediate success, and by September it had generated enough money for the city to begin planning a second nine holes. Two years later, despite the Great Depression, the Enger Park golf course had earned back the city’s investment, and the park department initiated plans to build a golf course at Lester Park. The Enger Park course was in fine shape except for one thing: the exotic bent grass used on its greens was not hearty enough to withstand Duluth’s cold winters. While struggling with this issue, Andy Anderson noticed a patch of grass growing along a nearby creek. On closer examination he discovered it to be a native bent grass, and he immediately began developing the strain for use on the golf courses. He called it “Enger bent” and used it on the new greens at Lester Park. At Enger Park the original greens were torn up and reseeded with Enger bent. Several other courses in the area began using it on the greens as well, including the short-lived Lakewood Golf Club east of Lester Park.
Both of Duluth’s municipal golf courses were expanded in the 1980s, with nine holes added to each. Paying back the investment severely compromised the finances of both courses. Since the 1990s a variety of plans have come forward for their management, including hiring private companies to operate the courses, allowing developers to build homes adjacent to the courses, and even selling all or portions of the courses to housing developers. As of 2016, all fifty-four holes of the municipal courses remain open to play under the management of a national company.