Northland Country Club

The 1903 Northland Country Club, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Zenith City Press]

3901 East Superior Street | Architect: I. Vernon Hill | Built: 1903 | Lost 1918

Six prominent Duluthians, including Guilford Hartley and Townsend Hoopes, organized the Northland Golf Club in 1899. Not long after, they began building a nine-hole golf course, designed by grain trader and golf enthusiast Ward Ames Jr., on eighty acres of a former estate along Superior Street between Thirty-Eighth and Fortieth Avenues East. Its bylaws stated: “No game for money shall on any account be allowed…. No intoxicating liquors will be allowed…and no profane language unbecoming to a gentleman will be tolerated.” By 1904 the club had 250 members, nearly half of them women who “enjoy[ed] all the privileges with the exception of the man’s prerogative, the right to vote.” That year members expressed interests in more than just golf, including tennis and automobile touring, so they changed the organization’s name to the Northland Country Club.

Northland opened its new clubhouse in May of the same year. Designed by I. Vernon Hill, the shingle-covered Craftsman-style facility stood across a creek from today’s first tee. Two stories high and topped with a cedar thatched roof, the building looked more like a cottage than a private club. A portion of the second story cantilevered over the front porch, which was supported by heavy posts and brackets. Large dentils protruded from the second-story and attic-level eaves. The interior contained a reception room, kitchen, and dining room on the first floor and lounges and a smoking room on the second. Much of the interior was finished with Mission Style fumed oak while the main dining room was outfitted in Dutch Flemish Style, as reported by the Duluth News Tribune.

The original course included six holes on land now occupied by Duluth East High School. To play the fifth hole, a golfer’s tee shot had to clear Superior Street. Holes six, seven, and eight were located entirely on the lower side, and on the ninth hole drives once again had to cross Superior Street from the tee box. Not a single match was ever disturbed by lawn maintenance equipment in those early years: A herd of hungry sheep kept the grass down to playing level. According to Northland’s website, “each fall, the caddies would herd [the sheep] down Superior Street from the course, and then on to a West Duluth packing house.” The course was expanded to eighteen holes in 1913.

Early club champions included Agnes Alexander and her real estate mogul husband Edward P. Alexander, both of whom held many club titles. Meanwhile Robert S. Patrick, son of Frederick A. Patrick, was considered one of the best amateur golfers in Minnesota. The 1903 clubhouse stood until 1918 when it was burned to the ground as the Cloquet Fire swept through the city’s eastern environs.

The 1919 Northland Country Club, ca. 1920 photographer unknown. [Image: Dale Johnson]

3901 East Superior Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1918 | Lost: 2006

Nine months after the 1903 Northland Country Club clubhouse was destroyed, the organization announced to newspapers that it would rebuild and that the new facility would be “a handsome white colonial structure, whose façade of columns will at once lend a decorative shield to a spacious veranda on the first floor and support a balcony above.” The Southern Colonial building appeared to have been plucked from an antebellum plantation. Its core structure anchored two separate wings to the north and south, their gable ends each adorned with a half-circle window. The southern wing worked as the main clubhouse and featured a porte cochère supported by ten Doric columns. Inside, the building’s first level held the central dining room, a men’s dining room, and both men’s and women’s lounges while the second floor included a ballroom, guest rooms, and manager’s quarters. The northern wing held separate locker rooms and shower baths for men and women. Research has yet to identify its architect.

Two years later the club acquired more land above the course and hired Donald Ross to redesign it. The project took until 1927 to complete, and when it was finished the holes below Superior Street had been eliminated. Member Albert Ordean purchased the land and gave it to the city in his 1926 will. The land became a park called Ordean Field. It was later the home of Ordean Junior High School and is currently the site of East High School.

In August 1941 Northland hosted a match between Clint Russell, treasurer of Duluth’s Bridgeman-Russell Creamery, and Marvin Shannon of Fort Worth, Texas. The catch? Both men were legally blind. Russel had taken lessons from Ridgeview golf-professional Sammy Belfore and developed a system using a friend or caddie to tee up the ball, adjust his stance for direction, and line up the club face. Russell won, sinking a ten-foot put to clinch the victory. Shannon won a rematch in Fort Worth two months later. Russel was also featured in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cartoon in 1932 and was considered the first blind American to learn the game. In 1956 Northland became part of golf history when it hosted the Women’s USGA Open Golf Championship, which included the debut of Ann Gregory, the first African-American woman to play in a USGA event.

The clubhouse was damaged by fire in 1973, requiring an extensive renovation to keep it standing. In 2006 the facility was demolished and replaced by a new building of a very similar exterior design.