Olaus “Ole” Benson purchased over one-hundred and sixty acres of extremely unique farmland on the western tip of what is known today as Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Heavily wooded and surrounded by a limestone quarry, the plot was positioned on one of the highest points in Goodhue County. Mr. Benson’s intent was to raise horses & his family while constructing the first homestead on the heavenly parcel of property.
The Olaus Barn
As the “tough ole Norwegian” raised his steed, he set out to erect a barn to house his stable of talent. “Most of that barn was actually built from stone quarried on the farm and hauled by horse and wagon,” Marty Benson said about his Great-Grandfather’s pre-1900 construction gemstone. But, removing materials supplied by the land meant that the undertaking took longer than anticipated, so it was not completed until 1890--just in time for Christmas.
The Benson Home
Ole continued to successfully raise stallions, and his family, all the while plotting to build another structure on another plot of land that he owned. This time, Ole and his two man crew constructed a four bedroom beauty, which was finished at the turn of the century. As the Benson family grew, his son Lewis eventually took over the established farming operation. “My grandfather and dad had horses, cows, pigs and chickens,” Marty said, reminiscing about the Benson Farm’s early days. “They also raised oats, alfalfa, corn and soybeans, and harvested hemp for rope in the early 1900's,” he continued. “That is why some golfers occasionally come in with a hemp plant after their round!”
Creating A Golf Course..
And so, when W.J. (Bill) Whitworth teamed with Marty Benson, Olaus’ great-grandson, their challenge was to discover the holes that nature had already carved out of this picturesque piece of land, whereby renovating it into a sandy soiled supreme with bent grass fairways, tees and greens. The duo understood that the high elevation, where all water ran off the property, as well as the natural rock outcroppings featured throughout the course, would provide an exciting setting for a great golf experience—it just had to be drafted and crafted properly. Of course, they were also aware that the numerous pits and walls that remained would offer perfectly natural features while enhancing the aesthetically magnificent backdrop of the terrain.
After a "summit at The Summit" in 1999, an additional fifty acres of adjacent property was purchased, and two experienced course shapers were hired to provide all the details of laying out an excellent golf course. Thus, the erstwhile earth moving began right at the turn of another century--the year 2000. “A lot of what makes the course what it is to this day are the people who moved the earth, but mainly the guys who shaped it who did an outstanding job of bringing The Summit to life,” said Greg Wencl, a partner of Bill and Marty's on the project, as well as to this day.
The following year was spent dragging and rolling the rolling terrain, planting seed, and praying for rain. All in all, a crew of twenty-two men followed the detailed plan drawn up by a team with a dream and healthy plot of land. The result of what was carved out became a scenic wonder positioned at a peak of Goodhue County. And so, the birth of The Summit Golf Club was on July 8th, 2001, when it opened for play as an 18-hole Public Golf Course. There were a modest 34 golfers on that day…
The State Of The Summit
As an infant, The Summit Golf Club got noticed quickly due to its WOW factor with the extreme elevation changes and its’ magnificent blend of turf. Some hole-improvements were suggested by the core customer group, with a few modifications being acted upon. These modifications resulted in greater satisfaction and a more enjoyable customer experience. By 2002, strong and worthwhile rankings of The Summit Golf Club began to appear. Golf Digest had named SGC as “best new affordable course” in Minnesota, and posted it as the 8th “best new affordable” in the country. In 2004, Golf Magazine considered The Summit as the “20th best value course” in the United States. But, like many young businesses experienced, the economy tanked and created all new challenges.
Well, all grew in properly in 2008, when an outstanding agronomist, experienced manager, and excellent mechanic emerged. That was when The Summit Golf Club found Superintendent Craig Gallagher to manage the grounds. An avid golfer, too, Craig made an immediate impact on all aspects of the operation. “The fact that he viewed the property with the mindset of a golfer is a major reason the course conditions and improvements were and continue to impress players,” said Sandy Whitworth, who has been involved at different levels with The Summit for the past 14 seasons-- most recently as Manager for the past seven years. And finally, to cap off a banner year, Golf Digest ranked The Summit Golf Club as a four star golf course in 2008.
Now, fast forward fifteen years from when the vision was originally completed, and 141 years from Olaus Benson’s original purchase. What has grown out of the natural surroundings is a magnificently manicured, wonderfully designed golf course with a wide eye toward strong customer service. “The facility has really grown up, and Craig’s crew provides an unbelievably consistent playing surface that our customers have come to depend on,” Sandy said from the quaint shop at The Summit Golf Club. “And, our team on the operations side has done a good job of staying focused on making the experience here as welcoming and enjoyable as possible.” Since the original thirty-four pegged a tee in the ground on opening day, The Summit Golf Club has seen tens of thousands of satisfied golfers come and go, and come back for more...