A Big Draw and Little Fade
a discussion with the man that made Eau Claire famous for golf
Growing up a block-and-a-half from Lowes Creek Golf Course amongst the “golf” streets on the south side of Eau Claire, you would think I would have developed into a lifetime lover of golf. Not so. Golf always proved a frustrating sport to play. I’d be the one taking six putts on the green to get the ball in the cup.
I have not played a round since 2000, and never missed it since. However, if there is one person who could get me back into the sport, it is the man responsible for making Eau Claire a regional hub of notable golf: Bill Rolland.
The reason western Wisconsin is known for its golf is Rolland, who formed the Chippewa Valley Golf Association in 1958. I recently had the chance to sit down with him to get a history lesson in area golf, and find out what makes the game so integral to the area.
Golf was more of a summer sport prior to the 1950s, during a time dominated by the likes of Toby Tyler and Einer Pedersen. What allowed golf to spike in popularity – nationwide and in the Valley – was the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and the success of Arnold Palmer, two figures who brought the sport to mainstream culture.
Rolland himself turned professional in 1952, and formed the CVGA six years later to help avoid local tournament conflicts and to promote championship play. Expansion to more area clubs followed, and the beginning of the golf cart era in the 1960s – including early models from Northwestern Motors in Eau Claire – helped bring more seniors to the sport (though maybe not speeding up the game as much as Rolland expected).
Being open to both professionals and amateurs makes the CVGA unique in America, and has contributed to golf’s thriving in the area. By the 1960s and 70s, the region was a veritable hotspot of golf in the Upper Midwest. This era saw golfers such as Tom Puls, Joe Springer, and Jeff Michaelson rule the local scene, as more state attention came to the Valley.