Volume One Special Coverage: Pulling Together While Staying Apart

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Into the Rough

hard times spell end for Hillcrest Golf & Country Club

Luc Anthony

IT AIN’T EASY BEING GREEN. Hillcrest’s tree-lined fairways will soon be replaced by housing.
IT AIN’T EASY BEING GREEN. Hillcrest’s tree-lined fairways will soon be replaced by housing.

A golf course disappeared this summer. Perhaps you noticed, though the best real indicators were the somewhat taller and unkempt grass and one of those red and white “Acquisition Realty & Development” signs near the front of the property, the kind that’s been in front of Woo’s so long that you no longer notice it. That was Hillcrest Golf & Country Club. “Was” is the operative word; as I type and you read this, it is becoming streets and housing.

There were a lucky few who said goodbye to Hillcrest the only way one can to a golf course: playing a final round. A dozen longtime Hillcrest golfers played through in April, even though the course officially closed last year. Now the construction is beginning on senior and residential living places, and you will soon get to drive your car where you once drove your ball.

If you like the notion of additional green space in our society, having acres designated as an all-grass-and-trees play-space seems like environmental progress. You then realize the amount of water and fertilizer and mowing that goes into maintaining a golf course, and perhaps you get second thoughts.

Golf courses have a unique history of development and removal. If you like the notion of additional green space in our society, having acres designated as an all-grass-and-trees play-space seems like environmental progress. You then realize the amount of water and fertilizer and mowing that goes into maintaining a golf course, and perhaps you get second thoughts. Then a developer looks at the land and proposes that the play-space is more valuable with houses; monetarily speaking, there is no question that is true. The golf course gets dug up and paved over, and you raise your kids or spend the sunset of your life on the par-five 13th hole.

I suppose I mourn somewhat for Hillcrest. Green space is getting reduced, and enviro that I am, that is usually a net negative. On the other hand, when that course is located closer in to town as opposed to being in the outer zone of sprawl, this seems a valid trade-off for the inevitable development that is happening all around the Altoona area. To be practical, Hillcrest was losing money and memberships were declining.

The other considerations are the memories, and that is where most look at Hillcrest’s closure with sadness. It was opened in 1926, and even though it was private until a couple of years ago (making it public was a necessary move to keep the course financially viable), many people golfed the course. It was a fine course, stretching long beside Highway 12 and deep down towards Otter Creek. Even though I am not a golfer, I spent a day there each August the past few years for an annual radio station event, and recent years brought me there for the now-defunct Fischers’ on the Green restaurant. The fact that popovers were a stronger draw for me to Hillcrest than putting should give you an idea about my golfing enthusiasm.
I grew up next to a course that suffered a similar fate: the former Lowes Creek Golf Course (now Pine Meadow). Even though I was only a block and a half away, I rarely made the trek up the street. Continually slicing my tee shots into the rough at a 40-degree angle and usually needing five or six putts to get the ball in the hole soured me on the sport. Perhaps doing a lot of standing around on humid days made me desire something more immediate and comfortable; I haven’t hit the links since a jaunt to Hickory Hills in 2000.

I no longer play the game and have only the occasional desire to give it another go, yet I do miss what is now gone. The front nine of Lowes Creek – the half of the course on which I did most of my golfing over the years – became a subdivision while I was away at college in the late ’90s. My first time at Hillcrest was in the summer of ’88 with my new youth golf bag, taking part in a kids’ summer golf program.

Since my enduring memory was accidentally switching one of my then-new clubs with someone else’s iron, you again see why the sport was not meant to be my favorite. However, a memory is still a memory. You may have a memory of a hole-in-one at Hillcrest, or just a beautiful day after the spring thaw finished. Memories that need to make way for that mid-sized sedan. Fore!

Lasker Jewelers
Lasker Jewelers

Pulling Together Partners

The following organizations are currently supporting Volume One’s work in the community during the pandemic:

Lasker Jewelers

L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire Inc DECI

University of Wisconsin Eau Claire

Pablo Group

Wisconsin Independent Network

Middle West Management

Bon Iver

Royal Credit Union

Silver Spring

Evergreen Surgical

Charter Bank

Chippewa Valley Technical College

The Murty Henriksen Family

The Larry and Marie Past Family

The Dan and Kerry Kincaid Family

Anton and Rae Schilling-Smets

Brady and Jeanne Foust

If your organization is interested in supporting Volume One during this difficult time, nick@volumeone.orgcontact us.