NPGC Celebrates 90th Anniversary with Special Ceremony Aug. 21

Patrick Fisher photo

By Den Gardner

(NPGC Board Member)

One-hundred years ago New Prague residents dreamed of a four-hole golf course in a new park planned for the city, along with tennis courts, a football field, playground and other amenities. That vision never materialized, but a seed had been planted.

Ninety years ago that vision did become a reality and on Aug. 21 New Prague Golf Club will celebrate 90 years as part of the club championship. A brief program will begin at 4 p.m. and the public is invited to commemorate the pioneers of that dream 90 years ago.

Club Manager Kurt Ruehling will lead the brief ceremony, which will contain information on:

  • A new scholarship program to honor members of the boys’ and girls’ varsity golf teams. (See separate sidebar article)
  • Brief speeches by long-time and veteran members of the NPGC regarding the history of the organization.
  • A brief update on the NPGC and its exciting new efforts as it looks forward after 90 years and enters the last decade before celebrating 100 years.

Entertainment for the evening will be provided by Little Chicago, a local band that plays pop/rock horn band music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some members of the band are also long-time members of New Prague Golf Club.

The beginning of golf in New Prague all began when John Nickolay converted about 50 acres of farmland to nine holes and 3,000 yards of fairways, tees and greens in 1921. So began New Prague Golf Club (NPGC).

“I grew up in New Prague, played this course 40 years ago and am proud to be back here managing the facility,” said Ruehling. “There has been a tremendous resurgence in golf the past couple years at our club and around the country. We are poised to continue providing a great experience for local area golfers. We encourage folks to come out Aug. 21 late afternoon and celebrate with us.”

Ruehling continued that the golf course is a tremendous community asset. “It’s just not golfers from New Prague that appreciate this facility,” he said. “Golfers from the metro area are a big part of the group that plays this course. Playing here gives us a chance to show off New Prague and what a great community we have here. We thank the city leaders to recognizing this great asset.”

A Bit of History

About 70 New Prague residents in the early 1930s plopped down $15 each for a single membership, $20 for a family membership in the golf course. From 1931-37 it was actually a private club. One long-time member, Milo Jelinek, said many years ago: “It took a long time to get people to appreciate the golf course in New Prague. Some of the old timers used to poke fun at people who went out on the golf course chasing that little white ‘pill’ around. If you were a golfer, you could expect to be teased about your interest in ‘pasture pool.’”

With all the amazing technology today in manufacturing golf clubs and other equipment, it’s difficult to fathom that back in the 1930s Nickolay made his own clubs, using ironwood for the heads, pedaling a grinder in the basement of his house to shape the hardwood heads.

The original greens were a sand/oil mixture, not unusual for the times. Golfers entering the green would use a rake-like device with a flat edge to make an even path to the cup. Cleaning the golf balls between holes required a wooden box filled with fine white sand at the tees. Golfers would corkscrew the ball into the sane to remove the grass stains and dirt.

Nickolay, in addition to founding the course and managing it, also took constant care of the course. He had family members to assist him. They cut the fairways, smoothed the greens at the start of the day and had a never-ending fight with gophers to keep the ground free from holes. It’s been said that Dr. Matt Rathmanner even carried a gun in his golf bag when he played to deal with the “little troublemakers.”

Chuck Nickolay, long-time member, former New Prague mayor and major advocate for the NPGC through the years, has special memories about his grandfather John Nickolay.  “I feel the most memorable experience is when I was eight years old and my grandfather would take some of my cousins and myself to play with him.  It was my first experience at golf and it was amazing the patience he had with us.  We would just - hit the ball towards the green and have fun.”

The city bought the course for a net of approximately $2,000 in 1937. Breaking even financially was a difficult task back then and at times the members would need to chip in additional dollars for maintenance. Memberships were not only difficult to obtain, many folks still showed up at the course to play, despite not paying their dues.

But thanks to a Works Progress Administration project to help the unemployed during the great depression, efforts were successful in improving the course.

The original club house was known as “The Shack.” It was just 12 feet by 14 feet. It was set up on concrete blocks and shutters propped open with sticks. The wooden floor was pocked with cleat marks. All supplies were available for golf and for food/refreshments. A local beer, City Club Beer, was a favorite. In the late ‘30s the shack was expanded to 22 feet by 24 feet.

Wednesday night suppers for families turned the course from a men’s only place to more of a “family gathering.” Historians of the course say these suppers played an integral part in getting the club better organized and more family oriented.

Clem Mickus

No one symbolized the success of the golf club, the love of golf and the hospitality of the links more than Clem “Kinky” Mickus. His famous line to strangers at the club was: “Hi, I’m Clem Mickus. I’m glad to see you.”

Mickus encouraged out-of-town membership, pushed for expansion to 18 holes and served as a part-time manager for many years (some years paid little or no salary). When golfers complained at the rough being too long, the fairways not cut right, the greens not in the proper shape, he would say: “A champion will adjust.”

As his friend Bob Pomije put it: “If you gave him a chance to know you, he was your friend.”

New Prague native Scott Proshek, who was hired in 1980 to manage the course (and did so for 24 years), said Mickus’ ability to bring in members from the south metro “propelled NPGC to a successful business that other clubs envied. Bringing on Bessie Zelenka and Jerry Vinger, as a shop worker, dedicated to the Mickus family, helped the out-of-town members identify with an inexpensive membership and playing privileges on a quality course.”

Proshek recalled a day early in his tenure when he told Bessie he was going to play a rare round of golf between his duties managing the course. She asked with whom and Proshek replied: “Before we lose them, those guys – Dr. Marty Rathmanner, Eddy Bartyzal, Dr. Charlie Cervenka and ‘Slug’ Panek. I had a memorable time playing with those who helped support the club back in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s.”

Mickus became the full-time manager in 1972, nearly 20 years after he began running the course part-time. Mickus died in early 1979, leaving an indelible mark on the golf course.

There were a number of managers since the Proshek era ended in 1994, with stability coming in the year 2010. Wade Brod signed a management contract with the city to lead administration of the club, with Ruehling serving as the day-to-day manager and club pro of the NPGC. Ruehling alone has been managing the course the past two years.

A new clubhouse was first constructed in the early 1950s. An addition came in the late 1950s. It was no longer known as “the shack.” Another addition came in the 1960s. In the ‘70s a third-level addition was built.

With the help of the city regarding water needs, the ‘50s also was the decade that grass greens were installed. The greens were first at 2,700 square feet, considered a good size at the time. Most of the greens have been enlarged since then. When unpaid bills for the installation came up more than $6,000 short, the members found a way to make up the balance through donations and a grant from the F.A. Bean Foundation.

It was the late summer of 1967 when construction began on the back nine holes. Sixty trees were moved from the front nine to the back nine. The new nine holes were ready for play by 1969. It was built for just $95,000.

Bob Brinkman, long-time employee (starting in 1959) with Mickus and former high school teacher, noted: “We shared many ideas for course changes like planting willow trees on various spots especially on the back nine holes. We located new bunkers and berms and changed the design of some greens.”

Increasing the course to 18 holes greatly changed the club, becoming more suitable for tournaments and more attractive to metro-area golfers. Although some local folks objected to this, most recognized the need for out-of-town players to keep the course financially viable. That, of course, continues to this day.

“It was enjoyable and exciting to be involved in these changes and additions,” Brinkman said. “It was most enjoyable meeting many golfers while working in the pro shop for many years or visiting with them on the course. Also being able to participate in many club events.”

 

Proshek also noted the quality of the course has been the envy of its members and those in the south metro who frequent the course on a regular basis. Back at the height of golf’s popularity, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a waiting list for membership at NPGC. Although that’s not an issue anymore, memberships have climbed back the past two years and the course retains its quality status in terms of playability.

From early spring into late fall, the New Prague Golf Club serves thousands of golfers each year with what golf purists call “a great track.” Regular players from many miles away find their way to New Prague each week to play a competitive golf course, known today for its tight fairways and small greens.

Another strong asset of the course is its junior golf program. Established in the early ‘80s by Brinkman, it was enhanced by Proshek and continues today, led by Dan Puls. “Kurt has continued to support or improve these programs,” Brinkman said. Proshek noted that many New Prague High School players went on to significant college careers.

“The golf pioneers in New Prague 90 years ago created a vision for an athletic activity that holds true today,” Ruehling added. “Young or old, the game of golf presents an outlet for you to enjoy the outdoors, see wildlife, enjoy the company of your friends and laugh (and sometimes cry) at yourself and others through good times. It’s a lifetime sport and one I’m proud of to be a part of throughout my lifetime.”

Nickolay added to his list of memories as a lifelong resident of New Prague watching his dad ”winning a couple of club championships, my high school team winning the Region 4 title at NPGC to go to state and all the great people that I got to meet at the club.”

Ruehling encourages residents to come on Aug. 21 to the club to celebrate this community asset. “All of us in New Prague should be proud of this golf course, whether you’re a player or not. We are thrilled to be celebrating 90 years.”

Brinkman echoes Ruehling’s remarks: “The city should be very proud of having a picturesque and exciting golf course.”

Category:

Publication:

Suel Printing Company

Copyright © Suel Printing Company
All Rights Reserved
200 Main St E
New Prague, MN 56071

Phone: 952-758-4435
Fax: 952-758-4135

Latest articles

Tue, 11/30/2021 - 3:36pm
Tue, 11/30/2021 - 8:25am
Tue, 11/30/2021 - 8:10am
Tue, 11/30/2021 - 8:07am

If you would like to receive a FREE digital edition with a paid print subscription please call 952-758-4435.