Walking At Wapicada

It was sometime around this time in 1964 that I became a golfer. Well, put it this way: Sometime in June 1964, at the age of ten, I played my first nine-hole round of golf.

For several years, probably since I was six or so, I had on occasion accompanied my dad as he took on Wapicada Golf Course, a nine-hole layout northeast of St. Cloud. (It’s since been renamed Wapicada Golf Club and expanded to eighteen holes.) Dad was out on the course a couple of times a week during the warm months: He played in a weekly league (on Thursdays, I think), and at least one other time each week he loaded his Sam Snead clubs into the ’52 Ford and headed out on Highway 23 toward Wapicada. And on those non-league rounds, I often tagged along.

So what was there for a kid to do as he walked a mile and two-thirds around a golf course? Well, beyond the simple joy of spending time with my dad as he did something he loved and the benefit of physical exercise, there was plenty. A meandering creek ran across the course, flowing west to east on its eventual way to Elk Lake about fifteen miles away, and just south of the creek was a steep slope; both came into play on four holes, two going up the slope beyond the creek and two coming down the slope in front of the creek. Plenty of golf balls went into the creek or the marshy areas just south of it, and it was great fun wandering there as Dad and I made our way around the course, looking for lost balls, dragonflies and frogs.

Here’s a map of Wapicada from a 1964 scorecard. (Note: South is to the top.)

So what else did I do as I walked along with Dad? I kept his scorecard. I washed golf balls on every tee. (Most of the ball washers were the type where one places the ball in a vertical column and then moves the column up and down; one of them – on Hole 2 or 3, I think – was the circular type, where one drops the ball into a hole and then turns a crank to move the ball through the washer. I much preferred the latter type; it was just, for some reason, more fun.) I helped keep track of where Dad’s tee shots went, as Dad had occasional trouble with a severe slice. And, I imagine, we talked as we walked although I don’t remember anything of import that Dad ever said to me there. But that’s okay; conversation between us didn’t have to be important to be valuable.

I loved the bridges at Wapicada, especially the rustic plank bridges that crossed the creek on Holes 1, 4 and 6. I was a little less fond of the bridge on Hole 9, which was more substantial, with metal railings and trusses. It wasn’t quite as romantic, I guess, as the other bridges, but it provided almost a formal passage for those about to complete the ninth hole and head on to the clubhouse. In the mid-1960s, though, there wasn’t much of a clubhouse. Wapicada was built – as were so many things over the years near growing cities – on a one-time farm (probably pasture, given the lay of the land), and the clubhouse for all the years I went to Wapicada was the old farm house.

A big wooden bar with stools, some coolers and tables and chairs – and some neon wall signs and clocks – changed what was, I suppose, the living room into a barroom and the adjacent rooms into quieter places for folks to gather after their rounds. A three-season porch was added, it seems to me, and the original enclosed porch was set aside for a pro shop. I always looked forward to stopping at the clubhouse. Dad would order a Squirt for me and a Hamm’s beer for himself, and I recall standing there wondering if this would be one of those occasional days at the course when Dad would buy us a couple of Slim Jims.

On occasion, I’d tag along when Mom joined Dad, and sometimes I’d be there when the two of them played with another couple, and those times were fun, but not as much fun as when I had Dad to myself. And of course, I looked ahead to the time when I could play the game instead of watch it. And it was fifty years ago this summer that Dad handed over his old clubs to me and I hacked my way around the course in 110 strokes.

I got a little bit better at golf over the years. (How could I not, right?) During my college days and for a few years after, I’d go out on the course on weekends with Dad and my brother-in-law. And I played fairly regularly once I moved to Monticello in 1977, often getting nine holes in early on summertime Thursdays before heading to a weekly mid-morning staff meeting. But golf got more expensive, and my life moved in other directions. The last time I remember being on a course was in 1986 or so, when Rob and Rick came to Monti on a Saturday and the three of us knocked out nine holes in the morning and then repaired to my place for sandwiches, beer and laughter.

I’ve still got Dad’s pre-1960 clubs, tucked into a corner in the basement. His Sam Snead set went in the garage sale Mom had a few years ago. And my golfing days are long over. Even if I wanted to get out onto the course again, pesticides and fatigue would make it at best difficult. But that’s okay. Things come and go. And golf is, as James Brown sang in an entirely different context back in that 1964 summer of my first round of golf, just one of the things that I used to do.


One Response to “Walking At Wapicada”

  1. Yah Shure Says:

    Another great read, whiteray… even for this non-golfer. “The Bridges At Wapicada” would be the perfect name for a retirement center, housing development or just about anything else.

    Slim Jims claimed a fair share of my dimes at the nearby convenience store. One speck of Slim Jim trivia remains etched in my memory, so I’m curious to know if you also recall the name of the city shown on the wrapper in which the company was based circa 1964. Decades later, I ended up working for a company based in that same city.

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