Royal renovation wrapping up at former Tartan Park site

The Royal Golf Club built on the former Tartan Park facility in Lake Elmo is expected to open its restaurant at the end of August, but the golf course is set to open next spring. Pictured above is the opener hole of the new 18-hole layout. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

The clubhouse and restaurant are on track to open next month, but more patience will be required for golfers eager to tee it up at Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo.

Director of golf Jim Leary confirmed this week that the new golf course — crafted on the former 27-hole Tartan Park facility — will likely not open for players until next spring.

“Our guys are very pleased with how it’s growing in, but we want it to be absolutely perfect,” Leary said. “We want to let the course mature and the grass to take hold. By waiting for next spring we’ll be opening under optimal conditions.”

Leary said they’ve set the soft target opening date of Aug. 25 for the restaurant and clubhouse, which is nearly unrecognizable to those familiar with the previous clubhouse, despite occupying the same footprint.

The new open layout of the clubhouse facilities, which will be open to the public, feels even more spacious thanks to the large windows that allow plenty of light.

The 13th hole at Royal Golf Club finishes near the clubhouse before moving onto a stretch of holes that occupies what was formerly the Red nine at Tartan Park. (Gazette staff photos by Stuart Groskreutz)

“The club house is totally redone,” said developer Hollis Cavner, who purchased the property from 3M in March of 2016. “It’s wide open now.”

The new 18-hole golf course is spread over portions of the former Blue, White and Red nines on the property. The late Arnold Palmer and 10-time major champion Annika Sorenstam, along with architect Thad Layton of Arnold Palmer Golf Course Design, laid out the King & Queen Course, which features five sets of tees and ranges from 4,025 to 7,097 yards while playing to a par of 72.

Previous visitors to Tartan Park will recognize many of the playing corridors, but the makeover has been dramatic.

“I just think we took a great piece of property and we preserved as much as we possible could of it while making an incredible golf course,” Cavner said. “When people see the golf course, there is a wow factor to it every hole. Annika did a tremendous job and Arnold did a great job.”

The new front nine makes use of what was primarily the White nine. The second nine uses the land that previously occupied four holes on the Blue nine and five holes from the Red nine.

The new bunkers feature white sand and were placed with purpose — just enough to impact play without going overboard with unnecessary eye candy.

“It’s changed. There’s not anything we didn’t do something with,” Cavner said.

The par-5 finishing hole hugs Horseshoe Lake on the left and finishes in view of the clubhouse, which offers expansive outdoor seating on an upper level deck.

The area below the deck offers additional seating outside the relocated pro shop, which has more than doubled in size.

The clubhouse views are more dramatic, but players will also see more of the lake while playing holes 10 and 11 (formerly Nos. 1 and 2 on the Blue nine) because of the buckthorn and brush that was removed.

Housing is on the way, but the residential units will remain on the periphery of the golf course. Trees were removed to make the course more playable, but it was not done indiscriminately according to Cavner.

“We’re trying not to take any more trees than we have to for housing and stuff like that,” Cavner said. “We told the builders the trees were here first, figure out a way to build around them. We are trying to get rid of stuff that could be diseased or have the potential and the bad trees we’ve been wiping out, but the big oaks and stuff like that you can’t replace. We literally are building a retaining wall around one just to keep it, because even though it’s not in anybody’s yard or anything else, it’s just too pretty to lose. We took out about 1,700 trees so far, but we’re putting back 4,200 so it’s a big net gain.”

This is the par-4 fifth hole at Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo.

The practice facility has also been enlarged and enhanced and the six-hole short course could open as early as this fall.

“We built a massive practice area,” Cavner said. “It’s a double-ended practice range now, over 350 yards long. We’ve added the par-3 and all that stuff. We’re putting in a pool and fitness center at the top of the hill looking out over everything and we’ll have an indoor teaching center you can hit out of all winter long.”

The lighted short course will feature holes less than 110 yards and be free for kids. It’s located adjacent to the driving range and covered teaching area and just below the pool and fitness center.

“The kids can play and the adults can just grab a wedge and putter,” Leary said.

Younger players will be more than an afterthought on the 18-hole course as well. The shortest set of tees will exist on actual tee boxes, not just markers placed in the fairway.

As the CEO of Pro Links Sports, Cavner runs several PGA Tour Champions events and is leading the push to bring a PGA Tour event to the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. But he said there are no plans to bring anything of that scale to Lake Elmo.

Sorenstam is hosting a prestigious collegiate women’s golf tournament at Olympic Hills Golf Club this fall and that event is slated to be held at Royal Golf Club starting in 2018, but Cavner’s focus is on catering to families and the local community with this project.

“We could have built something to handle anything, but we didn’t,” Cavner said. “We did just the opposite. We built it to be a great golf course, but we also built it for families and kids. We’ll do the NCAA event with Annika, but other than that I don’t want anything. We built forward tees for beginners and kids and built a six-hole par-3 course that’s free to kids. Nobody in the world is doing that.”

Updates to the clubhouse, along with more efficient irrigation and other changes to the golf course will make Royal Golf Club more eco-friendly.

“We’re very proud that there’s no runoff,” Cavner said. “Everything we used is biodegradable and there’s no runoff. We put in retention ponds to keep anything from our site from going out and that’s why we did all the biodegradable stuff.

“We’re keeping all the nature trails and everything else. We still have plenty of room on the site (for wildlife) that they don’t have to leave.”

Despite all of the changes to the golf course and clubhouse, Cavner embraces the Tartan Park history and the many 3M employees who called it home.

“We could have blown it up easier, but we wanted to keep the heritage of the place,” Cavner said of the clubhouse. “It would have been cheaper to tear it down, but we wanted to keep the heritage together. Some of the old pavilions that they built there years ago were tongue and groove wood. We took those apart and are moving them and putting in little mini parks, because they were so cool and the workmanship — you couldn’t find the stuff they built years ago. We’re redoing a lot of that and keeping the heritage part, but the golf course has really changed.”

Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]