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Golf on the lake

MENTOR, Minn. -- Four years ago, a bright early-spring day gave Scott McFarlin the itch to hit a few golf balls onto frozen Maple Lake from his home's shoreline.

Maple Lake, Minn.

MENTOR, Minn. -- Four years ago, a bright early-spring day gave Scott McFarlin the itch to hit a few golf balls onto frozen Maple Lake from his home's shoreline.

"Surprisingly, I could see the white balls in the snow," he said. "So I felt I may as well go on the ice and hit them again.

He did just that, prompting another inspiration: "I might as well have a course."

Using an ice auger and chainsaw, he hollowed out holes in the ice for cups and homemade flagsticks, tee markers and yardage markers. This year, the 18-hole layout on the lake's south end even acquired a name -- Maple-gusta Golf Course.

The name is a reference to Augusta National, the site of The Masters, professional golf's most prestigious tournament. Each Maple-gusta hole is the distance of the corresponding hole at Augusta National. So, No. 1 is 445 yards away from the portable fish house that serves as the "clubhouse," No. 2 is 574 yards and so on. Both layouts measure 7,425 yards, more than four miles.


That distance is why most Maple-gusta golfers use a four-wheeler as a substitute for a motorized cart. The ice depth is 30 inches, plenty for a semi-truck, much less an ATV.

The Masters and Maple-gusta have something else in common besides distance -- they both last about a week.

Maple-Gusta's annual short lifespan is because of the rate of snowmelt. The snow can't be too deep or else the golf ball will be buried and lost. However, too much snowmelt means a wet and slippery surface. Last year's melt was so rapid that Maple-gusta didn't open.

"A 2-inch snow depth is perfect," said McFarlin, 61. "The ball bounces and sits right on top of the snow. It's easy to find, especially on sunny days."

As golfers might imagine, winter rules prevail, as the moist snow is used to tee up the ball in the fairway (or is it the rough?).

With iffy footing, cumbersome jackets, a cold ball and only a yard or two of roll, the homemade course plays considerably longer than Augusta. But McFarlin says his has one advantage: "There are no hills."

On warm, sunny days, up to 30 people play the course, which is free and open to the public. A semi-regular is Bump Erickson of Fertile, a golfing buddy of McFarlin's during the more traditional season. Erickson wears boots with studs on the bottom, providing firm footing.

Even though he's golfed in Mexico and Arizona this winter, Erickson was still out in his studded galoshes Friday under a cloudy sky and temperatures in the 30s. Asked why, he said, "Since there's snow on the ground, this is a good alternative.


"Plus, there are no water hazards."

McFarlin has only one regret about his invention.

"I'm afraid my property taxes will go up now that I've living on a golf course," he said.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Scott McFarlin
Scott McFarlin keeps an eye on his drive at "Maple-gusta," an 18-hole golf course on Maple Lake near Mentor, Minn., Friday. Each hole is the same distance as The Augusta National Course that is the home to the Masters. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

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