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Area Golf: Bringing the tour to the lakes area

Nate Brasel of Pine River-Backus hits an approach shot at Deacon’s Lodge in Breezy Point this spring. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

A month ago, a 75-year-old man named Ron Sanders had the area golf scene abuzz.

Now, a month later, he's hoping to turn wishful thinking into the first step of his five-step process of bringing the Tour to the Brainerd lakes area.

The Tour is the PGA's developmental tour in which future PGA players cut their teeth to earn a spot on the PGA Tour.

The more important question is: Who is Ron Sanders and why does he think he can create this opportunity?

In 1983, he helped launch the first cellphone system in the United States. In 1989, he was the managing director who brought wireless communications overseas to Eastern Europe. He became vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Budapest, Hungary.

He returned to the U.S. to work on a dream project of bringing a PGA Senior Tour event to the Twin Cities.

Sanders worked in developing the State Senior Open to what was known as the Vector One Classic. The event started with 62 state senior qualifiers in its first year. In 1988 it hosted morning and afternoon tee times, brought in nine senior PGA Tour players, added junior clinics, sports celebrities and embraced the idea of bringing the Senior PGA Tour to Minnesota.

Over the years, a seed was planted in Sanders' head to bring the Senior PGA Tour to Minnesota, and after 25 years as a regular Tour stop, Sanders was honored for the groundwork he did to start the tournament. The recognition ignited a fire in Sanders, who now lives in Sartell.

"Living in St. Cloud and Sartell, I know there is no major, major happening in St. Cloud or central Minnesota," Sanders said. "So I got my juices flowing and I said, 'You know, we can make this happen.' I've been spending the last 30 days focused and working my butt off at this point to find out if the community has enough support to do one. It all starts with the money, just like any other sport.

"Do we have enough support between the St. Cloud and Brainerd areas?"

That's step No. 1 of Sanders' five-step plan.

The second step is planning a date for a Founder's Day Golf Presentation, which he has set for Oct. 20 at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake.

"If I can't find people to be early founders, then the rest of it is just a waste of time," Sanders said.

He'll then send out invitations to prospective sponsors, followed by phone calls and creating a fall meeting date.

At that time, he would hope to have agreements prepared to sign after the meeting's conclusion.

Sanders believes it would take about five years to see an actual Tour in the lakes area.

"We aren't going to get to Tour stage for at least three to five years," Sanders said. "At the moment, what we need is some seed money and then I would plan a smaller event for 2018. My view is that if I can find the $100,000, $200,000 to $500,000 sponsors, we would have them there when we have an official event, but we would have lower entry points and it would go up from a little pro-am, to a bigger pro-am until we had an official Tour event."

Madden's head professional Glenn Hagberg was impressed with his meeting with Sanders.

"The Classic could host it," Hagberg said. "Ryan Sharpe, who is our lead guy at The Classic, caddied on the Tour. I asked Ryan what he thought about this and he's pretty analytical and the wheels started turning in his head and he said yes we could host one. The two biggest challenges would be locker room facility and parking, but there are ways around that.

"It seems like this area should have a tournament with the quality and the caliber and amount of golf in this area, it just seems like we should have a tournament that represents the brand of the Brainerd area."

Chuck Klecatsky, director of golf at Cragun's Legacy Courses, believes his site would have no problem hosting the event. The key would be finding the distance on the course for the event. The logistics surrounding the event would not be a problem for Cragun's.

"The golf course, although not super long, we feel like the challenge of it is up to the requirements," Klecatsky said. "The gives a list of requirements and we seem to qualify."

Deacon's Lodge, from a length standpoint, would be in the same situation as Cragun's, and Grand View Lodge could be another viable option with all its first-class facilities.

"I've concluded that the St. Cloud area doesn't have a facility to host this and that's why I've been spending so much time in the Brainerd area," Sanders said. "You have the golf to bring the Tour players up here. There are all kinds of side activities, fishing, racing. I have a whole bunch of things in my idea bin, but it's all about finding the sponsors first."

Jeremy Millsop
My career at the Brainerd Dispatch began May 11, 1999 after graduating from North Dakota State University. My areas of emphasis includes local high school sports, Central Lakes College, the lakes area golf mecca and once a year I dabble in the NHRA when the Lucas Oil Nationals come to Brainerd International Raceway.
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