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Webster's Golf Club
Jul 17, 2013
When you drive by a golf course in some small town along a South Dakota highway, it’s hard to slow down enough to see and appreciate the tradition and character that are part of where that community and its course meet. To the highway observer, the Webster Municipal Golf Course is just another traditional side-by-side course, indistinguishable from a hundred others across the state. With a slope rating of only 110, and 2921 yards from the men’s tees, it won’t intimidate too many golfers. And the locals will tell you that if you stay out of the National Guard parking compound (it’s fenced), away from Highway 12, and don’t hit Don Mahlen’s house or the cart shed, you can’t get in too much trouble. But that little glimpse wouldn’t tell you much about the traditions and the character of the course.
In Webster, Kids learned to golf in the summer rec program. Nobody I knew had their own clubs, although most had a few balls they’d found by scrounging in the roughs. On golf day, the community’s young’uns gathered at the course and were paired up in three or foursomes, along with a bag of clubs. The summer rec’s clubs were those left at the course through the years, so the “set” included a wood of some type, an iron in the 3 or 5 range, maybe a 9 iron, and a beat-up putter. A “round” of golf was about 3 holes — anything longer would have tied the course up for the whole day. This was about the joy of swinging and running around something like a big lawn. For our parents, it was probably about getting us out of the house for a few mornings a week. Nobody from my summer rec days went to college on a golf scholarship, but they all enjoyed learning a version of the game.
Decades of Webster Bearcats football players dressed in the armory locker rooms, and charged off to the stadium, running across the golf course, helmet in hand, seeking Friday night fame and glory. The same golf course padded their tired trot back after the games, even on those occasions when the glory may have been fleeting.
The Bearcat cross-country runners got their taste of hometown fame on the golf course too. They streaked off down #1 fairway, covered the 9 fairways, and then looped back around three more holes to make the 2.2 mile course — and end with a lung-searing kick to the chute near the 9th green.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Only a community golf course could give you the opportunity to wave to Great Uncle John and Aunt Anna in their room at the nursing home on # 2 or 4 tee boxes or #3 green, or maybe even take your cart over and tap on their window to make their day.
The club house at the course doesn’t have any columns and there is no Magnolia Lane, but it’s hosted a robust life of senior citizen meetings, card parties, and class and family reunions. It sports a deck looking out over the ninth green, where advice is freely and loudly dispensed — particularly on men’s night — to the duffers finishing their round.
IT’S A MAN’S WORLD
You don’t need to look at the paydays for majors on the LPGA and PGA circuits to understand that golf is still a male-dominated world. When we lived in Webster, my wife golfed and I didn’t, and I would get to hear about it after every Lady’s Day. Women golfed on Wednesday. Men’s Day was Thursday. Without all the modern watering devices and timers and things happening in the nights, sprinklers had to be turned on when somebody was around at work to do it. Greens and fairways had to be watered so they looked nice on Men’s Day. No greenskeeper dared mess that one up. It probably made complete sense to the groundsperson that the best way to have good greens for Men’s Thursday was to turn the sprinklers on during Women’s Wednesday! I’m not sure where the phrase “mad as a wet hen” originated, but I saw and heard where it fostered and grew.
AS GOLF GOES
There are two unique attributes about the Webster course. It is famous for its crowned greens that are the size of a quarter. If you can go “up and down” there, you can go “up and down” anywhere. When Webster golfers get to courses with bigger greens of more modern designs, they feel like they are being asked to hit into the Dome or something.
Also, Webster has a barber pole — but the haircut you get with one of these is a little different in golf. There are only two in the state— Webster and Clear Lake. (Of course I’m inviting readers to respond that I missed one.) If your ball doesn’t fly past the barber pole before cutting towards the green, you have to hit backwards and go around it. The barber pole allows a course to use a dog leg to make its course longer, without letting the unscrupulous cut the corner and make a mockery of the par 5.
YOU CAN ALWAYS GO HOME
After finishing up some business, I buzzed over to the Webster course for a quick nine, and the tradition and character of the community were in full bloom.
At the clubhouse there was only one group about to tee off — of about 12 golfers! It was the warmup for the Bob Wiley Classic, an event to raise funds and commemorate the most dedicated baseball supporter Webster has ever seen. Webster prep stars Bart Wiley, Lonnie Stover, Scottie Hanson and probably some others I didn’t recognize, were there enjoying home on their community course.
Webster’s a wrestling town, no secret to anybody in the 5-7 zip code. It seemed only right that out on the course I would come across Maurice Bierschbach, father of about 3 or 4 of those state champions. On the same fairway I again came across the 12-some, playing a spirited game of what appeared to be “worst ball” and laughing the whole time.
As I looked across those collections of people that embodied so many great memories for a community, I couldn’t help but think that this little piece of ground wasn’t really so much about birdies and pars, as it was about an opportunity to every once in a while, in some small way, bring a community together.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.