St. Cloud Country Club’s head golf pro is Chad Gustafson, who ascended to the position practically from birth.
His father was a head golf pro at Forest Hills in Forest Lake for 27 years.
Gustafson had a standout career at Forest Lake High School, graduating in 1997. He then played at Gustavus, being a Gustie when a tornado tore up the campus in 1998. He graduated in 2001.
“I lived at a buddy’s place in LeSueur for three weeks,” he said.
He has spent the past three years at St. Cloud Country Club and has worked hard with the rest of the staff and members to pull off the annual high school invitational Thursday.
“We take a lot of pride in this event,” Gustafson said. “We work to grow the game.
“We’re supposed to be stewards.”
It’s also good public relations.
There were 18 girls’ and 18 boys’ teams competing in a steady, light rain. Conditions weren’t ideal, but a steady stream of players thanked Gustafson, general manager Tom Olson and the staff afterward.
“It’s a good field,” Gustafson said of the tournament, which was won by the Pequot Lakes girls and the Sartell boys. (Watch out for the Pequot Lakes girls in the state tournament). “This is our outreach to the high school kids in the area, our showcase.
“We want them here because it’s a good place to be.”
But the country club’s tournament is one of the best deals imaginable for high school teams. It’s free.
Organizers decided it was worth it to get teams on the private course.
Free golf tournaments are a rarity for high school teams. Other invitationals teams participate in generally come with an entry fee, usually $200 or more, paid by the school. Indirectly, that’s paid for by the participants through their student activity fees.
Many programs use their invitational tournaments as fundraisers, but not the country club’s tournament. Call it a great public relations opportunity.
Besides golf, there’s also a free picnic lunch served by club members, who also worked the course to make it an enjoyable experience for the participants.
Gustafson thinks the game is in good shape, though numbers nationally show decline in the number of golfers. He said there were 96 kids signed up for their junior league and clinic last year and that number will be surpassed this year.
Obviously, the country club isn’t cheap. But the junior league sounds like a remarkably good deal.
For $60 for members and $80 for nonmembers, golfers get six half-hour group instruction sessions, plus six rounds of golf this summer.
A full-fledged junior membership is $365, which is more than many places, but reasonable. That’s for the entire summer of nearly unlimited golf.
“Junior golf out here is going like gangbusters,” said Gustafson, noting juniors can play the course all day Monday, Thursday and Friday, before 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Juniors also can play after 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
“Most golf courses, especially private ones, have got to reach out and be stewards of the game,” he said. “Allowing the kids a chance to play here should help us in the future.”
That’s the hope.
This is the opinion of Times prep sports coordinator Tom Elliott. Contact him at 259-3661 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @sctimestom.