The initials are the same, and the holes are, too. But that's about all that's left of the past for the Red Wing Golf Course.
Last fall, Bill Holst purchased the Red Wing Golf Club, adding to his portfolio of Gopher Hills Golf Course in Cannon Falls, and Clifton Highlands Golf Course in Prescott, the three of which are branded as the River Valley Golf Trail. The new owner immediately set about updating the clubhouse and course into something more modern.
And by most indications, the mission has been a success.
Tanner Knudsen, who has been a member of RWGC for about 20 years, said change was needed.
"I would say it really started two years ago. I came back from college and rejoined and you could tell there were some things going on. People weren't acting any different, but things weren't getting improved," Knudsen said. "The course was always good, but the bar was deteriorating, the kitchen had been outdated for a while."
The member-owned course had experienced declining numbers, and that led to the sale of the course that opened in 1915.
"Last year we had a ultimatum, we were going to be assessed some money to get us through the winter, or an option came up where Bill Holst offered to buy. We had a vote, and the vote went through for Bill to come in, and everything since then has been 100 percent better," Knudsen said. "The atmosphere, the course, new carts, everything has improved. It's steps everyone wanted to see. It's been amazing to watch. It really has."
Bar 19 now greets golfers before a left turn brings them to the pro shop. Upstairs is the Brassie Spoon and a deck that overlooks the course.
"The views are spectacular, we have a huge patio that has a glorious view. It's all rolling hills and the bluff line," Knudsen said.
The course itself is the same one members recall from the past. It's challenging, with the elevation changes one would imagine for a course built into the bluffs and valley of the middle of the city.
The first tee offers the first glimpse of difficulty awaiting players. A steep drop to the fairway is quite the "hello."
But the further one plays into a round, the more stellar the views. No. 4, an elevated-tee par 3, has a pond that will snag anything not in the air. And beware the sand trap out of view behind the green. Though that's preferable to the sloping drop off beyond that.
"When you're standing on the tee box, and you have the pond below you, the green beyond that, it's nothing but a great view," Knudsen said.
The 16th hole gives golfers the chance to see what they've traversed during a round.
"You can see everything. It's the highest point of the course and you can see it all. It's amazing," Knudsen said.
And then there's No. 9. The tee box does little to give a clue as to what awaits golfers at the end of the hole. A drive into what looks like a green wall sets up a second shot at a green that seems to hang from the bottom of the clouds.
But after replacing the flag, put aside thoughts of a cold beverage and softball-sized wraps full of buffalo chicken and bleu cheese, and turn around. There, somehow, is one of the best views of Red Wing.
"Looking back, and the sun is setting, it's spectacular," Knudsen said. "Just spectacular."
Everything about Red Wing Golf Course, except the actual course, has experienced massive change over the last year. The branding of the River Valley Golf Trail, Knudsen said, has drawn in "a whole new clientele."
The next step is to get the locals to stop by. Less than 20 percent utilized the course last year, and the focus going forward is to get those within walking distance to swing by for some golf or food or happy hour.
"The first objective is to get the name out," Knudsen said. "We want to get the neighborhood, to get them to know it's a good time and a welcoming spot. And once we get them, people (out of town) will come. It's going to be a destination sooner or later."
And when they do come, they'll get a tough, classic course and a fresh, modern vibe coming from inside the clubhouse.
"The No. 1 thing people say is it's tough," Knudsen said. "But the atmosphere with the new bar, the four big TVs, the bartender smiling, the (person working the) pro shop is smiling at you, it's a welcoming atmosphere. I haven't heard any backlash from any new people having a bad experience. The new kitchen, the new food, it's drawing new people and it seems like they're having a great time."
This is the second in a series of stories about local golf courses. The bluffs present a different kind of terrain, which contrasts greatly with links and parkland styles. It is what makes the local 18s unique in their own way. Previous courses include: Mount Frontenac Golf Course.