Hiawatha Golf Club: A Diamond In The (Very) Rough

August 16, 2018

Despite its short season, Minnesota has several golf courses ranked in the top 100 public courses in the country – the Quarry at Giant’s Ridge, Wilderness at Fortune Bay, and the Classic at Madden’s Resort. They’re immaculate courses with challenging layouts, pristine greens and fairways, and each is uniquely carved into its natural surroundings. I play these courses each year on golf trips and there’s little I look forward to more during a Minnesota summer. If you’re into golf, they’re truly spectacular.

But some of my favorite rounds of golf each year happen at another amazing course nestled in the heart of south Minneapolis that, although well-known, many don’t even consider it worth playing: Hiawatha Golf Club.

Hiawatha is a Minneapolis public course dating to 1929, before the southern part of Minneapolis was developed. It was built when land was dredged to create Lake Hiawatha, which adds a nice backdrop to much of the course.  The only catch is that the golf itself is pretty terrible. And that’s being generous. Due to significant and consistent flooding, which I’ll get back to later, the course is regularly in pretty-bad to very-bad condition. Fairways are muddy, the grass on portions of the course, if it was ever there, has been replaced by weeds that at best resemble grass, and the Minneapolis Parks Board only has enough budget to keep the course in barely passable condition. By those measures it’s a wonder anybody plays there at all.

But Hiawatha is one of my favorite courses for an entirely different reason. Golf has a well-deserved reputation as an activity for fancy-pants, country club types. Go to almost any other course and you can predict the types of people who will be there before you arrive. Hiawatha, on the other hand, has long attracted a diverse group of golfers that you don’t see at other courses. On any given day, you see people of all skill levels and backgrounds. There’s no pretense or rules about dress or decorum, and no expectations to live up to. In that sense, and it might sound cliché, Hiawatha is a true community resource in a way that no other golf course or park in Minneapolis is. Even if the golf isn’t great, the community is and that’s what makes Hiawatha truly special.

Which brings me back to the flooding issue. This community resource might only be around for a few more years because the city has been violating its DNR permit by pumping hundreds of millions of gallons of water each year to (often unsuccessfully) protect the course and surrounding homes. The Parks Board, in response to fervent public support for Hiawatha, is currently considering whether there’s any way to keep the course open, or whether it has to be shut down and turned into parkland or otherwise repurposed. I would love to see the course remain open, but I also realize that environmental and sustainability concerns take precedence if there’s no long-term solution. Whatever the result, I hope the Parks Board is able to find to find a use of the land the preserves the community aspect that makes Hiawatha so special. In the meantime, I look forward to several more years of terrible golf and great times.