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Owners of the River Falls Golf Club say they feel privileged to be the caretakers of an iconic course with so much history.

Owners tee off new chapter in golf course history

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Most people familiar with the River Falls Golf Club, 1101 County Road M, would count its yearlong makeover as "extreme."

Hanson Bros. Golf Holdings, LLC, bought the course about a year ago, along with the Hudson Golf Club, both of which are semi-private courses. The company, headed by the Hammond-based Hanson family, began working on improvements last May.

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Doug Hanson, RFGC's general manager, said about the noisy construction, "It was hard on some of our members."

But the changes are undeniably significant -- upstairs, downstairs, inside and out.

The main entrance to the building only leads up now. Before it was the only way to access the lower level.

Now people can descend via a new stairway in the pro shop, a new elevator, or via a redone ramp outside the building.

A walk up the newly carpeted and remodeled entrance stairs leads to more open space on either side.

To the right is the ballroom, newly configured to eliminate the nooks and crannies and create more of a "great-room effect."

Hanson said the new owners refurbished the original dance floor after realizing many members feel sentimental about it.

New chandeliers give the ballroom a bright, elegant look. A new audio-visual system with a drop-down projection screen helps create a good space for meetings and conferences.

The ballroom still features floor-to-ceiling windows with a view.

Hanson said the room comfortably accommodates about 270 people but could "squeeze in" as many as 300.

Patrons will notice the difference in the now-bigger main-floor restrooms -- redecorated with new tile, fixtures and equipment. Hanson said the now-gutted kitchen will also be redone.

The pro shop grew to about four times its original size and features all types of golf equipment and officially licensed Badger and Gopher merchandise.

"My dad really likes Badger sports," Hanson smiled.

Doorways in both the pro shop and the ballroom lead into the redone bar. The new owners re-oriented it east instead of south. It sports six, big flat-screen TVs; a granite bar top; new tables, chairs and barstools; a small galley; a cash machine; new beer coolers; and access to the outdoor patio overlooking part of the course.

He said The West Wind Supper Club and River Valley Catering owner Kevin Pechacek is "doing" the food for both the River Falls and Hudson Golf Clubs. Hanson said the family has not decided on a name for the bar.

A large, new L-shaped patio wraps around two sides of the building and features a cedar pergola-style structure over an outdoor grill area. Before, the outdoor area was made of paver bricks, which many club members took home as a keepsake.

Hanson said the lower level looks drastically different, too.

"The downstairs is a warm and inviting space," he said.

The space features expanses of tile in separate bathroom, locker and shower facilities for men and women. Hanson said his brother Brian is a gifted tile artisan.

Each set of facilities includes new showers, toilets and sinks, as well as a large room lined with rows of solid hickory lockers.

Outside the men's area sits a small lounge with overstuffed chairs. A larger lounge sits within the women's restroom and includes a sofa and other furniture. Hanson said the bigger lounge would be an ideal dressing area for a bridal party.

Improvements also include an entirely new heating and air conditioning system, as well as a new roof on the clubhouse plus mechanical, electrical and plumbing improvements.

He says the remodel revealed the building's undeniable and very solid structural integrity.

The current clubhouse was built in the 1960s, followed by an addition in the 1970s and 1980s.

Hit the course

The owners built a new 220-foot by 80-foot maintenance building to replace the old one that measured about 50 feet by 30 feet.

Hanson said after improvements, only the new maintenance building and two cart barns will remain. They will be screened from view using berms and landscaping.

Golfers will pick up carts right next to the first hole, many of them new electric carts, said the general manager. Gravel areas created for construction, will revert to grass.

Hanson said, "We want the aesthetics to be as pleasing to the eye as possible."

He said the driving range overhaul should be completed in 6-8 weeks and will include berms, trees and yardage islands. During the interim, the course will use the old driving range.

Hanson said one of the big complaints new owners heard about the course is how the clay ground would become a "hard pan" after heavy rains. That means when too much water affects the ground, golf balls don't bounce like they should.

So RFGC will install a new irrigation system throughout the course.

Hanson thinks all the improvements should be completed with a few weeks and said, "I think people will be pleasantly surprised."

Iconic history

When asked, Hanson said the company has not yet begun to tally project costs -- mainly because many of the tasks aren't finished yet and because the Hudson and River Falls club improvements were lumped together as one project.

He said the company consists of himself and his three siblings: Brian, Debbie (Delander) and Jon, as well as their dad, Chris.

He said the purchase and improvement of both golf courses has been a team effort among them all.

Hanson said his family "did it" because they have a sincere love of the game and saw a good business opportunity. He said, "no," the family can't guarantee itself or anyone else that both ventures will make money, but it has faith the country will rebound from the deep recession.

He shows an item found during renovations: An original stock certificate signed by former Wisconsin governor Warren Knowles, also once president of the RFGC.

The certificate is numbered "1" and was signed on May 15, 1929.

He said the family is pleased to be involved with something so iconic in the community. They wanted both places to be very nice but not presumptuous or pretentious -- a place where people could relax, play golf, feel at ease and have fun.

"We just feel honored to be the caretakers," he said.

People can get more information about RFGC and read more about its history on the website: www.hansonbrosllc.com/rfgc/html. They can also visit the club or call 715-425-7253.

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