Gross Profits

Gross Profits
Thanks to St. Paul, what might have been a feedlot is now a fine public golf course

by Rob Levine

Thank you, St. Paul.
If it weren’t for the city of St. Paul enticing a business away from Minneapolis, instead of teeing up our Top Flight’s on the first tee at Francis A. Gross Golf Course in Northeast Minneapolis, today there would be sweet aromas wafting from a packing plant and stockyard that were planned for the site. Thank you City of St. Paul.

Let me explain. In 1924 Armour & Company of Chicago (the hot dog guys) wanted to build a packing house and stockyard on 800 acres of land they owned east of Stinson Boulevard in Northeast Minneapolis. The City of St. Paul, in an action that we will always regard with great respect, convinced the Armour company to build in South St. Paul instead. Left with 800 acres of land, Armour agreed to sell 154.3 acres to the Minneapolis Park Board at $1000/acre . Armour advanced the board $55,000 to complete and buy the course, with the city making payments to Armour out of net earnings.

Thus in June 1925 did open the first Minneapolis Public Course with grass greens and tees (the two existing courses, Glenwood [later renamed Theodore Wirth] and Columbia, both had sand greens and tees). The course gets its name from Francis A. Gross, who was president of the Board of Commissioners and instrumental in setting up re-financing of the course’s debt (finally paid in full in 1977) to Armour in 1947.

Feel the wood
Today the course is familiar to local golfers who like the feel of a mature public course, with lots of big older trees that don’t hide your balls when you hit into them. Like other courses around the state, Gross planted many Elm seedlings in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Then, about 25 years ago, they began dying from Dutch Elm Disease in great numbers. Fred Herrmann, Gross course manager from 1930-1978, had the presence to begin planting new trees of various species when the Elms began dying. Today we reap the results of that foresight, golfing among the many Elm, Oak, Spruce, and other species of trees.

Gross is also a predominantly flat course, compared to other city courses such as Theodore "Billy-Goat" Wirth or Columbia. That, and the course’s age and ease of access may account for its popularity with the senior set. This fact reminds me that a decision to play Gross must be honestly weighed against the length of the average round. I’ve played Gross in four hours; I’ve also played it in five and a half hours. Course management has taken steps to speed play, including banning five-somes, a tradition some long-time players apparently were NOT happy to see end.

Short, narrow par fours
Of the 10 par fours on the course, only one (#4, 405 yds.) is over 400 yards. For the straight hitter, these are good scoring opportunities. However, if you miss just about any of these fairways, you’re faced with at least one additional stroke pitching out (if you’re smart). Gross has only three par fives. One, the 491-yard number 10 is reachable, but only with two straight, long woods. The other two par fives, the 566-yard number 12 (a really great golf hole) and 520-yard number 9 are not reachable in two by mere mortals.

What are really vexing at Gross are the par threes, all of which are legitimately difficult holes. Number three (179 yards from the white tees) is a particularly scary hole. Playing uphill to a domed/sloped green, there’s a bunker in the front-right, and pine trees to the immediate left. Miss the green anywhere but short, and you could easily be looking at a triple bogey. The second and third par threes (#’s 7 & 11) are 198 and 186 yards, respectively. Only does the 17th hole, at 159 yards, appear birdiable.

Calling St. Paul
Seventy three years ago St. Paul bailed out Minneapolis by taking a smelly, messy business away, and giving us a golf course in return. I think that’s a pretty good deal. I wonder if Norm Coleman would be interested in this little garbage burner next to Stu Dio’s office?

Special appreciation goes out to Steve Walters, Gross course manager, who supplied the research for this story.

Gross Golf Course
St. Anthony Blvd.
22nd Ave NE
Mpls, MN 55418
(612) 789-2542

Green fee: $20; w/patron card: $16. Senior or junior: $10.
Location: Hwy 35W & St. Anthony Blvd, Mpls
Difficulty: Moderate to easy
Par: 71
Recommendation: Recommended