Roger Anderson is blunt when explaining why he wanted to buy Pike Lake Golf and Beach Club.

“I want the golf course to stay here forever,” he said last week. “It’s been a community asset for more than 100 years.”

After three years of court proceedings, Anderson finally took ownership of the course and adjacent beach in March. Ever since, workers have been hurrying to renovate the clubhouse and remove trees in hopes of opening up the nine-hole course around Memorial Day weekend and a new bar and grill shortly afterward.

The course, which dates back nearly 100 years and had been owned by the Minnesota branch of the American Automobile Association since 1931, has been closed since 2016.

That’s when the court process began for the site, which Anderson says has a remarkable history that includes being a stagecoach stop in the 1800s and, at one time, featured water slides and a ferris wheel and was referred to as the Atlantic City of the North.

In 1982, the Minnesota State Automobile Association signed an agreement to continue to own and operate the course and related facilities, but that document was superseded by a later state law that retroactively allowed similar agreements to lapse after 30 years.

After three years in the courts, judges at the Minnesota district and appellate levels agreed AAA could sell the property to Anderson, who paid $1.75 million for the 68 acres. Petitions to the Minnesota Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court were not heard, finally ending the legal wrangling.

“We ask the community to be supportive of the fact that we’re doing everything we can to make sure this golf course stays here forever and the beach is open forever,” Anderson said.

In order to do that, Anderson and his fellow owners — wife Dianne and sons Travis and Anthony — need the St. Louis County planning commission to sign off on the deal.

The interior of the Pike Lake Golf Course clubhouse is undergoing renovations. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
The interior of the Pike Lake Golf Course clubhouse is undergoing renovations. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Two conditional use permits will be discussed at Thursday’s public meeting of the planning commission. Anderson wants to receive approval to build five twin homes on the water, seven twin homes in the woods, an apartment complex as well as storage units alongside the boathouse, all of which Anderson says meet existing zoning requirements. No special permits or zoning variances are being requested.

Anderson expects approval to be granted.

“I’ve been working with (the commission) for three years and haven’t heard any objections yet,” said Anderson, who has lived on the lake for 22 years. “I look at the conditional use permit as a formality.”

The sale had the blessing of the Pike Lake Area Association, president Larry Modean said.

“We’re happy someone is investing in it and taking care of it and that it’s someone who cares about the area. That’s a big plus,” Modean said. “The fact that (Anderson) and his wife are local and they have kids around this area is really good.”

Four full-time carpenters and electricians have been working on the clubhouse for the past month and three full-time employees are working on the grounds along with the Anderson family.

Mark Carlson, who left Nemadji Golf Course last year after 45 years at the Superior course, is taking over the role of golf director.

Among other changes being made include selling alcohol in the clubhouse and at the beach due to a special events permit granted to the owners. Patrons will be allowed to walk around with alcoholic beverages everywhere except the parking lot, Anderson said.

“This entire thing is unique,” Anderson added.

At the moment, course renovation is limited to removing trees on the course, including some 100-foot pines, that Anderson says are soaking up water from the greens and tee boxes.

Trees around Pike Lake Golf Course have been removed, including some 100-foot pines. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Trees around Pike Lake Golf Course have been removed, including some 100-foot pines. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

“We’re making the golf course a golf course again versus a tree farm,” he said. “In order to make the golf course viable, you need to give the golf course a chance. Honest to God, I don’t think there’s been a tree cut here in 25 years.”

Cutting down long-standing trees often can cause a flap with residents, but Modean says it’s understood it was needed to improve the course.

“You always have mixed feelings about it, but they have professional people running the golf course and they know what they’re doing,” he said. “That’s one of the things that has to happen to make it work.”

Certain holes will be reconfigured once housing is approved. Plans include turning the eighth hole into the first hole, the third and fourth holes being shortened and Nos. 5 and 6 swapping directions.

Everything is dependent on building housing units along the course.

“Our thoughts are if the rent from the housing pays the property taxes and the insurance and the debt service, a nine-hole course can be here forever,” Anderson said. “If you don’t allow the housing, there’s no means of supporting the course.”

Roger started Harbor City Masonry 40 years ago and still owns the school-building company, while Dianne owns Demolicious, a recycling yard in West Duluth.

As business owners, the Andersons understand the need to make a profit. Yet Roger says the most important thing is to give something back to the public to enjoy. That’s why he is leaving 500 feet of Pike Lake shoreline untouched in order for the public to pay $3 per beach visit.

“It’s the stupidest thing in the world to have a golf course here. The shoreline alone is worth $2 million,” he said. “But don’t kid yourself, I’m doing this to make a buck. The end result is it can’t be a wash.”