BUILDING A GOLF COURSE:Â PART 3 – VIEW OF A FUTURE
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
Valley View Golf Course was closed to the public on Tuesday for a traveling senior tournament that brought 30 two-person teams from around the region to the 9-hole playing ground set on 80 acres located just outside of Freeman city limits. That’s 60 people who wouldn’t have otherwise decided to make the Freeman community — albeit one mile to the south — their destination on July 11, 2023.
Bringing people to town from afar may or may not have been a motivating factor in the grassroots effort more than three decades ago to see a golf course built in Freeman, but it is inarguably one of the course’s greatest impacts on the community — look no further than the traveling senior tournament on Tuesday.
“We’ve got people from all over the place coming out there,” said Michael Walter, who is in his second consecutive term as mayor of Freeman and was in the same chair 30 years ago, on Saturday, June 26, 1993, when Valley View opened for its first season. “The golf course is a big plus for Freeman — without a doubt.”
In fact, the mayor believes of three primarily quality-of-life amenities the city owns — golf course, swimming pool and public library — “I think it’s the best one we have. It’s the biggest draw.”
And, in the larger historical picture, it’s really quite new.
While building a golf course in Freeman had been talked about in the years prior, pursuit of the project didn’t really get its footing until February 1991 when a small group of enthusiasts began talking about the idea. That led to the formation of the Freeman Area Golf Course Association, the purchase of farmland from Darryll Graber a mile south of Freeman, the hiring of an architect and the physical construction of the course beginning about a year after serious talks began.
“I hadn’t lived in town very long — I started here in 1990 — but it originated out of the Freeman guys who played golf at ParMar,” said Dean Dreessen, president and CEO of Merchants State Bank who was a lynchpin in those key conversations that ultimately led to the construction of Valley View. “I got caught up in it and we thought, ‘Let’s build our own golf course; we can do this.’”
In addition to serving as the first president of the Freeman Area Golf Course Association’s board of directors, Dreessen was among those who were all hands on deck when it came to volunteer labor.
“I can remember when they started moving dirt, there was a Good Friday that a volunteer group of people showed up to start dismantling the building site where the No. 8 green is now,” says Dreessen. “We’re talking taking out fences, cutting down trees, taking little buildings down, all piled up to be burned and buried — a huge group of people that just rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
“That was a tip-of-the-spear moment.”
Another one, Dreessen says, was when a semi showed up with bags of peat moss that were going to go into the greens, “and there’s 10, 12, 14 men who showed very early in the morning before work to unload it.
“And probably the biggest moment for me was when Roger Aman and I started trenching in all the water lines,” he continued. “We took two weeks of vacation; Roger had the trencher and he would start trenching as per the map and I would follow behind him and clean out the trench, and every 80 feet dig out a halfmoon where a sprinkler head went, and then run and get the pipes that were supposed to go in for that particular line, catch up with more digging so we were ready at 5 o’clock or 5:30 when a lot of people got off work and came out. And there would be a great crew to slap pipes together, put the sprinkler heads in place … and I can remember Ted Pidde Jr. taking a pickup and a custom-built rack to hold all these phenomenally large spools of wire, and he had guys with him that would put these wires into these holes, hooked up to every one of these sprinkler heads that would go to these satellite stations, and we’d get about a hole a day done. And all those trenches had to be filled up.
“The volunteers pulled every one of those plastic bags apart and put that peat moss on the greens,” Dreessen said. “The volunteers put all the sprinkler heads in place. The volunteers hooked everything up to the satellite dishes. The volunteers worked the ground so it was ready for seeding. The volunteers put all the perimeter fences in place. There are people who are no longer with us today who worked awful hard out there.
“The collective effort was phenomenal,” he continued. “Everybody did what they did well.”
“It was just a good time,” remembers Neil Zachariasen, who served on the original board of directors alongside Dreessen, Aman, Pidde Jr., and LaVerne Waltner and was another key volunteer in those early years. “We had a lot of community help and everybody pitched in and did what they could. It was fun — a lot of fun.”
“Everybody couldn’t wait to get off work,” says Pidde Jr.
Even after the course was built, that passionate effort continued.
Dreessen notes the remarkable contribution that came in the form of time, trees and financial contributions from Dr. Bruce Beier, who worked to plant tree farms and fairway edges that have helped define the course — especially in later years.
“He pretty much had cart blanche access,” Dreessen said. “I would always tell him, ‘Plant as many trees as you want. I hope you make the golf course harder. Because the harder the course gets, the more the cream will rise to the top.’
“I think Doc had two ideas in mind,” he continued. “I think he wanted to better define the golf course as to where the fairways were and how holes were designed to be played, but he also wanted to be fair. Because the golf course was being built for the community and a lot of people in the community probably had not picked up a golf club until Valley View was built. And we wanted them to have an enjoyable experience.”
The years and decades that followed saw growth in multiple ways. Trees matured, course upkeep was refined, casual observers picked up the game, and golf programs were started at both Freeman schools that gave kids access to the game who would have never otherwise had it. But there were also financial struggles from the start, leading to the dissolution of the Freeman Area Golf Course Association, the eventual sale of the property to Back Nine LLC — the Steve Friesen and Doug McCune families — and the negotiations between Friesen and McCune and city leadership that led to Valley View Golf Course becoming a municipality with the city of Freeman in 2018-19.
Michael Walter wasn’t involved in city government when those negotiations took place, but he affirms the city’s decision to purchase Valley View Golf Course.
“I was very much in favor of the city buying the golf course,” he said. “Was it a smart move? Absolutely.”
But significant challenges have ensued — and remain. That, when this series closes next week.