So the pipefitters now own a private golf club

I’ve meant to address what is going on at Hillcrest Golf Club of St. Paul for a while since learning that the local Steamfitters and Pipefitters Union bought the private club over the winter.

The Star Tribune wrote about the new arrangement for the club over the weekend and I find the move intriguing on a couple of levels. First, the idea of a union owning a private club being a clash of cultures and I say that having paid union dues for a number of years when I was still in journalism.

Second, I hope this is a move that keeps Hillcrest up and running for a while. The club that is located about as far north and east as you can get in St. Paul — I’m pretty sure if you cross the street on both the north and east sides of the property, you end up in Maplewood — is one of those classic courses that looks way easier on the scorecard than it does in reality.

The course is short — only 6,350 from the back tees and a par 72 — but players are forced to hit the ball straight and control their ball at the same time. The greens have a good amount of slope, but not too much. In addition, the course is always pretty much in perfect shape. And while the property has a pretty small footprint, it doesn’t feel that cramped and there’s a good amount of elevation change.

There are a number of really good holes. I really like No. 5, a 396 par 4 that doglegs to the right. The stretch of 10-13 is certainly very challenging. I like that you can stand on the 14th tee (allegedly the highest point in Ramsey County) and see downtown Minneapolis. I think 17 is very fun short par 5.

I really hope the place survives. Hillcrest certainly has had some challenges of late

Hillcrest, which is located a mile or two north of 3M, certainly isn’t aided by its geography. The neighborhood around the course is an example of how Minnesota is becoming more and more diverse. Because of that, there are probably not as many people who grew up with golf living close to the course.

In addition, Hillcrest has changed in other ways. Originally the primary club for Jewish families in St. Paul and the East Metro, the club has become more religiously diverse. And some of the Jewish members left at the club lost money in the Madoff scandal.

The club has worked hard to attract members. Over the winter, it was running deals with no initiation fee, no food and beverage minimums and no dues more expensive than $350/month. The Star Tribune story says the club has less than 200 members, but that several members have joined in recent months. That’s probably not enough to generate positive cash flow, but hopefully that will happen.

UPDATE: After getting a comment below, I want make it clear that while union-owned, Hillcrest is still being operated as a private club. There is no open public play.

I’m a huge fan of cool, classic courses. Hillcrest certainly isn’t one of the elite clubs in town, but it is very fun. I hope the pipefitters find a way to make this work.

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