Madden's on Gull Lake is like a mini-city

Visitors to Madden's on Gull Lake can stay on campus and not have to leave for their whole stay. It's like a mini-city, said Abbey Pieper, vice president of the resort. Everything visitors need is there. There's the bakery, restaurants, spa, bars...

A catered event at Madden’s on Gull Lake. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
A catered event at Madden’s on Gull Lake. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Visitors to Madden's on Gull Lake can stay on campus and not have to leave for their whole stay.

It's like a mini-city, said Abbey Pieper, vice president of the resort. Everything visitors need is there.

There's the bakery, restaurants, spa, bars, recreation and laundry.

Baked goods are made on site and a garden supplies fresh produce for chefs.

It's everything any vacationer could need or want. In fact, it could keep a small city bustling for quite some time, Madden's officials said.


"These people uproot from their homes and come to the lake," she said. "This is where we exist. We need to support their stay."

That's always been a priority, though the length of stay at the resort has changed.

Back in the day, vacations used to be much longer, Pieper said.

The infrastructure of the resort is built with the long vacation in mind. Guests can get anywhere on the resort in a five-minute walk or less.

"They can park their car when they come and not turn it on again until they leave," Pieper said.

For the most part, that's what people do.

Although some take the resort shuttle to a few key community attractions, like the mountain bike trails or Nisswa.

"Once they get here, they don't have to leave the grounds," she said.


No matter what the sport - swimming, boating, fishing, or water skiing - Madden's can provide it to those who stay there.

There's fun activities for the family, Pieper said.

Madden's also features tennis, croquet, lawn bowling, trapshooting, biking and much more.

Not only is it a vacation destination, she said, but it's a wedding venue, meeting and conference center, and even a romantic or spa getaway destination.

"Do it all or absolutely nothing," she added.

Having the capability to offer guests everything and anything they could need is vital, she said.

In one way, it's vital to stay unique in a land full of resorts.

On the other hand, it's important to satisfy guests to keep them coming back.


Madden's is good at both, Pieper said.

For example, just this month a group of people stayed at the resort who had been coming for decades.

It's "old-timer week," and most had been coming to Madden's for 60-plus years.

"Here, we're family-run and it's really important to us," Pieper said.

A lot of people find that quality important, she added.

Additionally, the resort prides itself in keeping a lot of services there instead of outsourcing it.

Like the baked goods.

"We could easily outsource baked goods, but we don't. We make them from scratch. It's important to us," she said.


The next challenge is telling the story of Madden's, Pieper said.

"It's hard to get people to realize everything we offer," she said. "So often we have to educate them about what we are about."

But determining how much to say, as to not overwhelm the average person, is the trick.

"We first built this on gold, but we have expanded on that," she said. "We have such a big story to tell and we have to work on not saying too much. It's a balance."

Pieper is sure that it can be done.

Resort name: Madden's.

Year founded: 1929.

Owners: Brian and Deb (Madden) Thuringer


Little known facts: Madden's pastry chef and bakery supply all the baked goods served on the resort. A horticultural staff raise all the bedding plants for all the gardens on the property. Madden's is open mid-April to late October.

Amenities: Three sand beaches on a mile-plus of Gull Lake shoreline, 63 holes of golf with three pro shops, two practice ranges, lakeside spa, five restaurants, two bars, full service marina, Tennis and Croquet Club.

Number of employees: 40 year around; 400 seasonal.

Number of rooms: 287.

Size in acres: 1,000.

How many can sleep there at full capacity: 1,100-plus.

Madden's history:

It all began back in 1909 when entrepreneur T.H. Harrison made plans to build a resort at that spot. Eventually, his son, John, and a partner, Chester Start, built a golf course and then a hotel. Prospects looked rosy; visitors had started traveling by motor car to Gull Lake.


But when 1929 arrived, the project faced financial doom when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. By 1932, Harrison and Start were in deep financial trouble and leased out the golf course to Jack Madden and his uncle Tom for $500 for the season.

Even at that modest price, the Madden's couldn't make their lease payment. It was an era when caddies were paid 25 cents a round and when many workers earned as little as $20 a month. Vacations were an unaffordable luxury during hard times.

That might have seemed like the end of the resort dream for the Madden's. But Harrison and Start were desperate. They agreed to sell their course and clubhouse for no money down.

After that start, the Madden's built a tiny three-cabin resort called Mission Point, a partnership with former course owner Chester Start. These modest housekeeping units were far different from what Madden's guests find today.

Mission Point's owners at first didn't know what to charge when their first vacationers checked out, according to Jim Madden, Jack's brother. By 1941, the two brothers, Jim and Jack, had become the sole partners in Mission Point and the Pine Beach Golf Course.

During World War II, Jim Madden reported for active duty, and Jack and wife Peg ran the resort which had been renamed Madden Lodge. They ran the Lodge, the golf course and another recently acquired property, the Pine Edge Inn in Little Falls.

After the war, the golf complex expanded and a former desk clerk - Brainerd native John Arnold, became a partner in the operation. At about the same time, a new facility named Madden's Voyageur was built on the west shore of the Pine Beach Peninsula, adding 40 more units to the resort.

Then in 1964, disaster struck. A devastating fire completely destroyed the golf course clubhouse. The fire proved to be a blessing in disguise.

"Fires are always a disaster," said Jim Madden, reflecting on the calamity afterward, "but we came back from the ashes very well. It may have been the best thing that happened to us." In fact, Madden's response to the fire has become a point of resort pride. Jim Madden describes as one of the highlights of his hospitality career, the fact that Madden's was open for business the next day.

Madden's redesigned and rebuilt the golf club which today hosts two restaurants, two lounges, a golf pro shop, and front desk.

Soon after the fire, Madden's also bought the adjacent and historic Pine Beach Hotel. It was incorporated into the combined Madden Inn & Golf Club. In 1969, Madden's bought Ruttger's Pine Beach Lodge on the peninsula's west shore, giving Madden's ownership of all resorts at the base of the Pine Beach Peninsula.

Jack Madden passed away in 1978 after a brief illness. Jim Madden died in 2001. C. Brian Thuringer, who had managed the Madden-owned Pine Edge Inn in Little Falls, joined the resort management staff in 1973. He and his wife, Deb, now own the resort.

Since the 1960s, Madden's began catering to business groups, conferences and conventions in order to expand the open season. To accommodate those groups, the Town Hall Conference Center was built in 1986.

History source:

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