Area Golf: Thompson, Cuyuna Rolling Hills might be perfect match
Terry Thompson is his own worst critic.
The members of the renamed Cuyuna Rolling Hills Golf Course in Deerwood are grateful for it.
Thompson along with his wife Linda and brother and sister-in-law Tom and Kathy Thompson purchased the former Cuyuna Country Club Dec. 27 after the former membership-owned course struggled financially.
The timing was perfect for Terry Thompson, who recently retired as Aitkin's chief of police. With the time, Thompson was eager to start a new chapter. But running a golf course and a police department aren't as different as one might imagine.
"I was in charge of all the public relations for the department," said Thompson. "I started the DARE program and the bicycle safety program in Aitkin. The PR part is easy. I was also in charge of a half-million dollar budget and I supervised six, sometimes seven employees.
"Plus, in my career, if I had a specialty for an investigation it was embezzlements or white-collar crimes. That helps me understand business. The financial part was somewhat easy for me. That would be my knack. Am I a guru with finance? Probably not. Am I going to learn things as we go? Absolutely."
Thompson said the amount he's learned in the last six months is staggering. On June 26, the 50-year-old was digging trenches to improve water drainage on the front nine. The day before he was working in the kitchen and bar, after mowing the rough. He struggles with bartending and that's due to his former job, but he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty out on the course and members have noticed.
"Terry is doing a fabulous job and is putting in an awful lot of time and work trying to make the course better," said Jim Harker, who has been a member since 1963. "It's going to take time and hopefully the weather and the people will give him that time. He wants to make it a really nice course and he's on his way to doing that, but the weather has not been very cooperative. I think we just have to give him more time to get things accomplished. So far he's doing an excellent job."
Thompson's list of improvements started in the clubhouse during the winter. Along with painting and reorganizing, the kitchen was brought back to code and reopened for league nights and tournaments.
Rain, however, has not been kind to Thompson's plans.
"I know that because of the financial issues in the past they couldn't give the course a lot of TLC," said Thompson, who was a member of the course the past six years. "So it's going to take years to get it where I want it to be. I want it to be really nice. I don't want to say perfect, but that's what you strive for. The weather has really been kicking our butts this year, though."
Thompson has made promises to members and in turn the green-fee paying customers, whom he hopes to attract more of now that the course is fully public. In talking with the man, while in the midst of digging a ditch, you get the sense keeping those promises means more to him than anyone else.
"I promised all the members that I would improve the golf course," said Thompson. "I have a vision of what I want to do, but I'm only going to promise that I'm going to improve it. When I tell you my vision it's not an absolute. When I promise something that will get done."
Despite the course's immediate needs, Thompson's big picture includes turning the par 4 seventh hole into a par 5 and the eighth hole, currently a par 4, into a par 3. He also wants to switch the nines — Hole 10 would become hole 1, and hole 1 would become hole 10.
"The goal is I need more members," said Thompson. "I need more play and I want to make it more user-friendly. Over the years, the course has tried to make it a little more user-friendly and that's maybe one of our challenges. When I look at a course like Eagle's Landing (near Fort Ripley), which has grown leaps and bounds over the years, it is very user-friendly. People like to swing away, and if you don't golf a lot, you're probably going to spray the ball a lot. On the front nine here, you can get away with that a little more. On the back nine, you can't."
To help attract more play from the ground up, Cuyuna Rolling Hills is offering free junior clinics from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays.
"The members have been great," said Thompson. "Really supportive. They're excited for the change. I want the members to feel like this is their course. My personality is such that I wouldn't say, 'No, this is mine.' People can call this their course. They can be part of this course. I want that."
And it sounds like the members want Thompson.
"I'm really happy Terry took the initiative and wanted to tackle this," Harker said. "Since this all happened, it wouldn't have been long before we had another Pine Meadows on our hands. We would have lost a beautiful course. I think this is a beautiful course. It's not easy, but it's well laid out. Terry, I think, has the initiative and the know how. I think it's a good situation and things are going to improve."
Cuyuna Rolling Hills
What: 18-hole championship golf course
Where: Half mile east of Deerwood on Highway 210
Contact: (218) 534-3489