by Dennis Dalman
So far, at age 58, Jeff Westerlund has only made one hole-in-one while golfing, but he’s made countless thousands of other holes in nearly four decades – donut holes, that is.
He bagged his hole-in-one at the Oak Hill Golf Course near Rice, hole number 6.
The former owner of St. Cloud Bakery, Westerlund, a resident of LeSauk Township, was recently named as the new manager of the Pine Ridge Golf Course in Sartell.
His goal as manager is to make the course more welcoming to young people by encouraging them to try the game with the advent of a Youth League, complete with lessons.
“We’ll also have a youth league, along with our men’s and women’s leagues,” he said. “And we’ll have a lot of special events. On Friday nights, we’ll have a couples night for $25 a couple. Two rounds of golf, a cart and a free hug from Jeff the new manager.”
Westerlund may get no takers on that latter offer, but – what the heck – anybody who knows him knows he’s an outgoing friendly fellow more than willing to hug a total stranger at the drop of a hat.
Westerlund loves nothing better than to crack jokes and let loose with verbal high jinx. During an interview last Sunday with the Sartell Newsleader, the winds were gusting and raging throughout the day. Westerlund commented on the unusually strong winds.
“So many people have told me to go fly a kite,” he said. “Today’s the day, I guess.”
Westerlund said he’ll initiate many changes and fun things to do at the golf course, though most have not been finalized yet.
One major project will be to tile the driving-range area. In previous years it was so soggy it had to be closed many times. The City of Sartell will work with Pine Ridge Golf Course to install drainage tile to prevent the water problem.
Managing a golf course seems like an odd outcome for someone like Westerlund who used to think golf was the dumbest, most pointless activity anybody could possibly do. As a teenager in St. Cloud, Westerlund loved to go fishing from Sportsman’s Island in the Mississippi River. Not too far from the island was the St. Cloud Golf Course. While Westerlund relaxed and fished, he would occasionally spot stray golf balls go flying by him. He’d pick up most of them, later clean and shine them up, and sell them for a quarter each.
“What a dumb thing to do,” he often said of golf. “What a goofy sport this is!”
Later, go figure, his first “real” job was as a caddie at that same golf course. He still thought it was dumb, at first, but by his late teens a mentor explained the game of golf to him and how it can be such an exciting, challenging game. Westerlund decided to have a go at it, and it wasn’t long before he was completely hooked like a helpless fish. Within a year or so, his dream job was to become a manager of a golf course. That dream was long deferred – 40 years to be exact – but now it’s come true – to Westerlund’s astonished satisfaction.
“You meet the most interesting people on the golf course,” he said. “Golf is like life. It’s the game of life. I’m a blessed man to do this – a job I always wanted to do. I heard they were looking for a new manager, so I thought this would be the job for me because I love golf, I love people, I love youth and I love to try to help people.”
The Pine Ridge Golf Course is owned by Dan Dohls and Ted Klein, who are also the co-owners of Boulder Ridge Golf Course in St. Cloud. Klein and Dohls lease the Sartell property from the city, which purchased it from a private owner some years ago for land that became Pinecone Central Park. Pine Ridge is a nine-hole course with special features that include a night-lighted driving range, until 9 p.m. nightly.
Last year, the course experienced a “geese problem.” Westerlund said big flocks of geese would land on the course, strut around and leave their “deposits” on the grass. Along to the rescue came Marley, Westerlund’s trusty dog that is half yellow lab and half German shepherd. Marley delighted in chasing the geese off the course with Westerlund following in his golf cart.
“Marley is now our mascot goose dog,” Westerlund said.
The dog was adopted from the Tri-County Humane Society, a place Westerlund prizes because he is so fond of dogs. He’s served as a foster parent to dogs that are pregnant in the Society’s animal shelter. He takes the dogs home and cares for their newborn pups until they are six weeks old. Then he brings the dogs and pups back, ready for adoption.
After Westerlund graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School in 1975, he worked at St. Cloud Bakery and took a sales-and-management class at St. Cloud Technical School, where he earned an associate’s degree. Not long after that, he bought the bakery and became its owner-manager, a job he did for 37 years.
Many old-timers who grew up in St. Cloud can instantly remember St. Cloud Bakery’s mini pies for which the bakery was locally famous. Their brand name was Lakeland, and each came in a foil “plate” about four inches wide, wrapped in a wax-paper-type covering that made a crinkling sound when the customer picked one up. The snack pies (cherry was the most popular) were sold at local grocery stores throughout St. Cloud and the general area. The bakery was also highly regarded for its 23 varieties of cookies and 34 varieties of fresh-baked pies, sold right out of the ovens.
“No two golf courses are the same,” Westerlund noted. “Golf is a great game. It has its hazards, its ups and downs. But all of a sudden, you can make that one putt or that one shot that’s so good. But it can be a humbling game. It’s a game of self-discipline. I like to say to people, ‘Grab your club, come out and play nine holes and get relaxed for about two hours. You’ll meet the most interesting people.’ Like I always say, it’s the game of life.”
Former Pine Ridge Golf Course Manager Rachel Heinz will graduate in May with a nursing degree and hopes to find a job in the nursing field. This season, Frank Gruska of St. Cloud will continue to be the course’s golf pro, his fifth year.
Westerlund has lived in LeSauk Township since 1987 and is now serving his second four-year term as a supervisor on the LeSauk Township Board. He has three grown children: Adrian, Alec and Abby.