Area Golf: Boos remembered as the creator of golf mecca
May 28 is the unofficial start of golf at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa.
It's not when The Pines or The Preserve golf courses will open, but it is the date for the annual Fred-Mark golf tournament. This year's event will have special meaning as the Fred in the name's equation—Fred Boos—passed away at his home April 13.
Along with heavy emotions, this year's event could also have a new name.
"I think we're just going to call it the Fred or we may call it the Fred-Fred," Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View said. "I'm kind of leaning toward the Fred-Fred because that would make more sense and we're going to have a blast with it.
"Fred loved to compete. He lived to compete. He couldn't live without it. It was both a blessing and a curse because he was very good. He won a lot of stuff, but it was also the bane of his existence because he was never satisfied if he didn't win. In Fred's world, there was no trophy for second place."
Boos rarely finished second in sport or in business. It was Boos' vision that turned the Brainerd lakes area from a fishing hot spot into a golf mecca. If the lakes area is indeed a top 50 golf destination as proclaimed by Golf Digest in 2010, then Boos is the reason.
It was his vision that created The Pines Golf Course, which opened in 1990, and created a golf course boom that has drawn golfers from around the globe.
"While we were building The Pines, we knew we had something special and Fred was extremely excited about that," Ronnei said. "All along we were constantly making decisions on how to improve the course while we were building it. Fred's genius was putting himself in the place of the customer. That's truly what his genius was. He said 'What would I want if I was a customer?'"
Multiple tee boxes, favorable forward tees, lush greens and fairways, elevation changes and natural surroundings awaited the first few groups that played the 27-hole championship course designed by Joel Goldstrand.
And at the center of it was Boos.
Eric Peterson, director of golf at the Pines at the time, recalled the early days of trying to accommodate so many players
"We were on old paper tee sheets and I remember having people call and they were resort guests who needed to play and we were writing them in the margins and trying to accommodate as many people as we could," Peterson said.
At heart, Fred was a competitor and a salesman and when the early praise rolled in it was the best of both worlds, said Ronnei.
The Pines was named one of the top five best new resort courses in the country, but more interesting was a how it changed the area's perception.
"Not only did our business improve, but we started hearing people say, 'OK now I can retire in the Brainerd lakes area because there is more good golf.'" Ronnei said. "Madden's had some good golf already, but it was resort golf and it was busy and hard to get on. That was when they just had East and West.
"People started to alter their decision on when they were going to retire because of the quality of golf The Pines brought to the area. I think that's a pretty major thing when you can change the demographics of the area by opening up a new facility."
The Classic at Madden's opened shortly after, followed by Deacon's Lodge in Breezy Point and the two championship courses at Cragun's Resort. Other stand-alone operations popped up as well and the Brainerd lakes area was golf heaven in the Midwest.
Staples-Motley High School head golf coach and Minnesota Golf Association staff member Glen Hasselberg said Boos was a natural at promoting area golf. But Hasselberg said Boos also had his pulse on what was happening at the youth level. While his course and Grand View Lodge brought many people to the area, he was keen on developing the game in the area.
"The area and the game of golf are certainly going to miss Fred Boos," Hasselberg said. "With what he has contributed over the years, he's done a great job of promoting golf in the lakes area. Freddie, for sure, needs to be recognized as the start of championship golf in the lakes area."
Two years ago, Boos was inducted into the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame. Ronnei said it was Boos' most cherished honor.
While the lakes area was his home, Boos' influence spread throughout the state. In a statement released Monday, the MGA said:
"The MGA family is saddened with the news of Fred Boos' passing. Fred was a strong supporter of the MGA, first as a director from 1993 to 1999, and second, for conceiving the MGA Net Team Championship, hosted annually by The Pines and Preserve courses at Grand View Lodge.
"In 2014, Fred was inducted into the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame in large part for his legacy of developing The Pines in 1990. Within less than a decade, the Brainerd area became the center of golf-related tourism in Minnesota and one of the leading golf destinations in the United States. Golf-related tourism has grown from $50 million in 1990 to now $480 million annually. That growth and its importance to the economic impact of Minnesota's golf industry is the Boos' legacy."
Following the opening of The Pines, Ronnei and Boos then moved to sounding boards for other properties interested in bringing in championship-style courses to their business. Ronnei guessed about 15 substantial conversations were had following The Pines and he said it was needed. He said the demand outweighed the supply at the time.
"We peaked out one year at The Pines with playing 41,000 rounds of golf on 27 holes, which is almost impossible," Ronnie said. "That same year we did 28,000 rounds at The Preserve. We did 69,000 rounds of golf in one summer, which was too many. The golf course took a beating and the play was really slow, but at the same time, it changed our business because frankly we were making money and selling real estate and it started a whole new chapter of our business, but it also changed the area.
"People who never thought about bringing their conferences up here or vacationing up here or retiring up here were now doing so. All that changed."
Tom Kientzle, former course superintendent and builder of The Pines, said those early days were crazy.
"My favorite line for those days was that we built a lemonade stand in the desert," Kientzle said. "His passing is an end of an era. He started the golf boom."
Kientzle drove the course with Boos by his side more than 100 times in those early days. Each time, Kientzle came back with a to-do list.
Brian Thuringer, fellow golf enthusiast and retired president of Madden's Resort, said Boos' passing creates a void in the lakes area.
"Fred is going to be missed," he said. "At the time, courses were getting longer and when he built The Pines that certainly raised the bar. We had the opportunity after that to build a course (The Classic) because we had a great piece of property but Fred was a marketing genius. Fred had a big personality and he was a very gracious competitor."
That competitive nature lasted until his dying day. On April 12, Ronnei had a voice message from Boos about something that needed to be done at The Pines before it opened for the season.
"This is the day before he passed away," Ronnei added. "He never stopped thinking about golf or the resort business.
"The Pines probably had more events than any public golf course in America and that's for two reasons. No. 1, Fred thought up a lot of them himself and No. 2 he wanted to compete in them. He needed one more chance to win something. After his health started to fail him, and he couldn't play as well as he used to, he invented the state putting championship because he could still putt."