A fascinating piece of golf course architecture history has been uncovered at Midland Hills Country Club in St Paul, Minnesota.
A version of Seth Raynor’s original plans for the course, which opened in 1921, has been discovered by the club’s golf course superintendent Mike Manthey in the roof of his office.
This annotated map of the irrigation system provides a thrilling insight into the architect’s plans for the course – which were generally thought to have been lost.
Manthey spoke to GCA about what finding this drawing means to the club.
“I had been using the earliest aerial photo we had of the course, taken in 1937, as my guide to what Raynor had originally designed,” Manthey said. “I have looked at the Minnesota Historical Society a few years ago, and searched through everything online I could find on Midland and Raynor, as has club historian John Hamburger. Midland’s original clubhouse was a farmhouse homestead. The club had built a new clubhouse in the 1950s and I was certain that anything and everything relevant to Raynor had disappeared in that move. The fact that we didn’t have a great collection of photos of members playing the course or any ground photos seemed a sign that nothing significant had survived from that time.”
However, as part of the club’s preparations for Jim Urbina’s upcoming work, Manthey was searching for a topography map in his office closet when he came across something of a gem.
“I have about 50 maps up on a shelf, about a foot from the false ceiling,” Manthey explained. “Since I started in 2010, I've noticed there was a ceiling tile, in the closet, in sideways, with a gap showing. A hunch came over me. At first, I was tired of looking at the gap in the ceiling, so I wanted to fix it. But before I did, I wondered if something had gone wrong in the past – maybe a ceiling leak or the running of a new communication or irrigation cable. I grabbed my cell phone, turned on the light and stood on my chair. Rolled up against the wall, above the false ceiling, there was a canvas map.”
Having unrolled the map on his office floor, Manthey quickly realised he had come across a huge find.
“I immediately realised this wasn't just any map – this was the map!” he said. “A map of Raynor’s original design. In the Midland Board minutes, it was documented that an irrigation system was desperately needed to water the new greens and tees during the grow-in of the course in 1921. Crane and Ordway of St. Paul took a copy of the original Raynor drawings and designed an irrigation system over the top to present to the Midland Board. This 3x6 ft map is from 7 February 1921, five months before the golf course officially opened for play. It’s in fantastic shape, no rips, and has what looks like just a few oil and coffee stains. At the far north-east corner of the property, the map is just slightly faded. But it’s all legible and you can see all of the design lines.”
Locating any record of Raynor’s original plans has been a source of much interest and frustration for club officials. Club historian John Hamburger, who has been involved with the club in 1969 and served as president from 2004 to 2006, is currently writing a book on the history of Midland Hills.
Hamburger said: “As president, I began gathering historical information about Midland Hills and reporting it to the members in my monthly newsletter articles. A number of members, most notably two past presidents, Bob Morgan, who began caddying at Midland Hills in 1926, and Howard O’Connell, a former Minnesota Golf Association president, urged me to compile the articles into book form.
“Starting in 2004, I attempted to access the business records of Seth Raynor, hoping I could find maps or plans of our golf course. But Raynor died in 1926 and according to a nephew I spoke with, John Raynor, most of his records were destroyed after his death. His grandniece Mary Cummings, then manager of archives at the Southampton Historical Museum, wrote to me to say there is little about Raynor in the museum’s collection. I did discover that Raynor is mentioned quite frequently in the early minutes of our club. So is Ralph Barton, a University mathematics professor, who was the club’s green committee chairman during the construction and later went to work for Raynor. I thought perhaps the University of Minnesota might have some records. So I spent a number of days at the archives department searching for information, but had little luck.
“So you could say I have been searching for these plans for 14 years. You can imagine my joy that Mike has found them.”
Manthey was amazed at the scale of the plans.
“The scale of the corridors are massive,” he said. “Raynor definitely used the topography of the land into his strategy. Now, seeing the exact grassing lines, he created much more strategy and variety and looked to maximise the landforms.”
One big surprise is how the course seems to have changed between 1921 and the earliest aerial photograph the club own from 1937.
“Bunkering, grassing lines, burying sloughs, even digging out a new pond and burying an adjacent, had already occurred,” said Manthey. “I’m also surprised that it was not as geometric as I imagined. The design of the fronts of greens were fairly square, but his grass lines really followed the contours brilliantly. Our template par threes – Short, Eden, Biarritz and Redan – are a thing of beauty. I’d put them up against any of the Raynor’s I’ve played.”
The club has been working with architect Jim Urbina to create a masterplan for the course, and this map will likely play a major role in how that project takes shape moving forward.
More information about Midland Hills CC and the history of the course can be found on Mike Manthey's blog.