John Ruemmele holds a photo of himself and brother Tom from when they were working on golf course construction. Ruemmele is a parishioner at St. Patrick, Hudson. (Photo by Joe Winter)

Joe Winter
Special to the Catholic Herald

John Ruemmele of Hudson for years had successfully operated a very large dairy farm, but just over two decades ago added to his resume real estate coordination and in part, golf course design.

Then, in recent years, he has been “chasing cancer,” which brought yet another change for he and his family – and kept him away from occasional treks around the links he helped create at the award-winning Troy Burne course. Ruemmele had sold virtually all of his farm land so it could be constructed, and also be much like a nature preserve, and it’s now about golfers and not so much green acres, banquet hall wedding guests when hosting such events and not harvesting hay.

In the last couple of years, the medical conditions got worse. Wife Barb recently began staying at a local nursing home with near-constant care, and John’s prostate cancer has not been quelled – so he has in recent months been seeking an experimental treatment that’s showing promise, trekking to a Twin Cities medical center. Both have long been on the pray-for-us bulletin list for St. Patrick’s Parish in Hudson, where they’ve attended for decades.

Ruemmele recently took time to reflect on that first change, even though his speech is now a bit halting, a spiritual and emotional and physical transfer, providing hundreds of acres for the then state-of-the-art golf course, and giving guidance for building it, gleaned from years on the fields, in a way that preserves rare habitat.

Its main and now lauded designer, pro golfer Tom Lehman, is well-known as a staunch and longtime Christian and obviously shares some of the same stewardship of land ideals, working them into his many such jobs. He and Ruemmele crossed paths a couple of times out on the budding fairways, as the fields formerly plowed now were turned into one of Lehman’s first-of-many design overtures, and they had passing exchanges about such things.

Remnants of native prairie lands remain from past centuries when these areas were only forested in patches, but featured very tall grass and dozens of sometimes unusual looking, multicolored and thorny flowering flora, some rare.

With prairie comes unique habitat marked by scattered cedar trees – grasslands in-between, much as golf courses have their fairways – that are home to a rare kind of shrike with peculiar hunting habits.

Ruemmele is a cerebral man with a farmer’s love of the land, and for years now has now been in semi-forced semi-retirement, residing in a farmhouse across County Highway F, halfway between Hudson and River Falls. A third partner in the former farm effort who was also an active St. Patrick’s parishioner, his brother Tom, has lived nearby.

Ruemmele says the golf course that is a result of the farmland conversion is an epitome of stewardship of the land. The usages have things in common, such as the need to keep the land in stellar and original, beautiful and largely natural condition, to the planning that leads to successful management of rainwater runoff and aids the environment, which becomes crucial when projects of the two types — including his past farming – are large-scale. The existing wonder of rolling hills needed only tweaking, affecting playability and keeping the natural appeal.

As the transfer was made from farm to fairways, spectacles were produced and also refashioned for the eye to behold, in a way that was truly spiritual, he said.

“Areas of the golf course and subdivision are where I would take in the views and privacy when doing fieldwork.” Going from one end of a field to another on his tractor, he would take in the equivalency of several holes, with his mind shifting to course layout as the time to sell the farm neared.

The freeing up of time from selling the land, and distancing from the long hours in the fields and farm, gave he and especially Barb more ability to attend things at church, and do much more volunteering, at least before the medical issues took over. Some activities have been close to their hearts, especially pro-life issues and in particular for Barb, the Fr. Solanus Casey sainthood cause.

Ruemmele would soon get up to speed, as he has stayed active in various ways, despite hanging up the farmer boots. “I happened to pitch an approach shot to the No. 13 green, which ended up a few feet from the pin. Golf course pro David Tentis happened to be setting up course that day for an event, and when seeing the shot yelled “pro.” (“I was really very lucky,” said Ruemmele in relaying the story.)

“I experienced balls skipped across the ponds on No. 2 and No. 12 by party members,” he noted. No. 13 was quite a follow-up for Ruemmele, a 194-yard straight shot. (He has not really been a fixture, at least recently, at the annual area, golf charity event to benefit St. Patrick’s).

Sage advice from Ruemmele that could also hold true for many other golf courses, in the region and basically anywhere: If a hole seems to play too hard, use a tee box closer to the fairway. On Troy Burne, straight and short is better than crooked and long.

At that juncture, a high-end golf course was being considered as part of the land sale. There were very few such courses available in the southeast quadrant of the Twin Cities in 2000, but with the direction of owners and management, Troy Burne quickly became a destination course,
Ruemmele said. “Incidentally, the name Troy Burne was put together by Tom Lehman (Troy Burne was his first golf course consultation job and he now has done others in many states). Troy is from the town of that name. Burne is from Bourne, a Scottish word for flowing stream, with the “o” removed to enhance pronunciation.” In any tongue, a stream runs through it, where cattle used to drink.

“We with very little background in golf watched with interest as Hurdzon and Fry (the golf course architects) and Tom Lehman laid out the eighteen holes,” he said.

The land was used carefully with lots of open space, and the hundreds of acres were in their entirety part of the farm. “My brother Tom and I were in partnership for 36 years,” Ruemmele noted. “Glen Rehbein, the golf course builder, wanted a course challenging for top-end golfers as well as playable by other golfers.”