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9-hole golf course in Detroit Lakes closes for good

The Ironman Golf Course property slowly evolved away from the game of golf during the past decade with the driving range replaced by storage sheds and the back nine developed residential, culminating this year with the future sale and development of the front nine holes. Submitted photo1 / 3
The Ironman Golf Course property slowy evolved away from the game of golf during the past decade with the driving range replaced by storage sheds and the back nine developed residential, culminating this year with the future sale and development of the front nine holes. Submitted photo2 / 3
A declining state of the structures and an increase of buying interest in the property have led to the permanent closing of Ironman Golf Course and sale of portions of the property by owner Mike Mathias. The course was opened in 1960 and was one of only two golf courses in Detroit Lakes at the time. Robert Williams/Tribune3 / 3

DETROIT LAKES, Minn.—Detroit Lakes is losing a golfing fixture of nearly 60 years in the permanent closing of Ironman Golf Course and the future sale of portions of the property.

"Business-wise, the decision was easy; emotionally, it was really difficult," owner Mike Mathias said. "Once you care for the land and try to preserve that, it was really, really challenging."

The decision to sell was made in early December, but not easily.

"There was always this thought in the back of my mind of how could we resurrect it," Mathias said. "We've kind of gotten beyond that point now."

Mathias went to Becker County to have the property rezoned from agricultural to residential and worked with the city and township on the future plotting of the property.

"Right now we're looking at two-thirds of that will be sold off," he said.

Mathias was inundated with unsolicited offers on portions of the property from day one of taking over the business and even had offers on equipment during the 2016 season.

People knew that Ironman was a financial challenge.

"I had people coming in, up to the middle of July, saying, 'I heard Ironman is closing and I want to buy a golf cart.' We had one person come Fourth of July and asked to buy land."

The Fourth was the biggest revenue weekend in 2016, along with the week of the Pine to Palm golf tournament at Detroit Country Club in early August. Those stretches of business were key in making the budget year and keeping losses to a minimum.

The plan is to sell two-thirds of the property as residential lots of an acre in size and larger with an emphasis on keeping as much green space as possible. The other third of the golf course will be kept in the family.

Mathias works in Fargo as a wealth management advisor and he and his family have lived near the course on Big Floyd Lake since 2001.

He purchased the course in 2015 from PGA professional Kris and his wife Margery Smith, who now operate out of Lakeview Golf Course and coach the girls high school team.

In 1960, Ford Hermanson built the short course of nine par 3s between Big and Little Floyd Lakes from the ground up. At that time, Ironman was the only other golf course besides Detroit Country Club in town.

The Smiths purchased the property in April of 2000 and it took about two years before the underlying value of the back nine forced a change in their plans. Besides the land value, the course on holes 10-18 had flooding issues, along with increasing traffic for patrons who had to cross Richwood Road to play a full round.

Smith and two partners developed the back nine into Sunrise On Little Floyd lake homes in 2008 along with adding a revenue stream with Sunrise Storage units in place of the driving range.

"When that opportunity came and I had two partners who wanted to get in on it, I felt twinges about breaking it up, but to me, the real nine holes was the front side," Smith said.

Both investments were struck by bad timing. Smith's initial purchase was headed toward the fiscal year of the 9-11 tragedy and subsequent economic downturn. The Sunrise development happened just before the housing market crash at the end of 2008.

"The reality is the economy went down and with economy goes fringe elements like recreation and golf was one of them and we just got smoked," Smith said.

Mathias, his wife and two daughters spent last season working the course and did not take any money for themselves.

"It kind of got to the point where it is bittersweet because it's a beautiful piece of property and we loved caring for it but there was so much money that has to go into it with equipment, updating sprinkler systems and the buildings themselves are in dire need of repair," Mathias said. "It was an overwhelming amount and it would never pay itself back."

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

(218) 844-1442
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