Madden’s on Gull Lake
Madden’s on Gull Lake
Sales: $20 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 721110 Hotels (Except Casino Hotels) and Motels; 713910 Golf Courses (Except Miniature, Pitch-n-Putt)
Minnesota-based Madden’s on Gull Lake is a premier family and golf resort that has served guests for over 60 years and has remained one of the longest family-owned, independent resorts in the region. The resort features comfortable and contemporary conference facilities amid the relaxing atmosphere of towering pine trees and miles of shoreline. Situated on over a thousand acres in the heart of Minnesota’s resort country, Madden’s owns and operates three golf courses, including its championship course known as The Classic. The three main lodging facilities, Madden Inn and Golf Club, Madden Lodge, and Madden’s Pine Portage, together accommodate up to 575 people daily. The resort features both fine and casual dining, tennis, boating, waterskiing, massage and fitness opportunities, shopping, croquet, swimming, volleyball, basketball, lawn bowling, badminton, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and numerous children’s activities through the resort’s supervised kids program.
Lumber and Railroad Dominance: 1800s and Beyond
In the mid- and late 1800s much of the central lakes territory of the newly incorporated state of Minnesota with its towering white pine trees was devoted to the timber industry. Lumber was harvested and floated through various rivers and stream beds or carted off by wagon load to population centers for building the nation. With increasing industrialization railroads were added to move people and freight more efficiently, and towns and cities grew up along the rail lines. Lumber camps and railroad ports were Brainerd’s mainstay, and the community of settlers in this north central Minnesota town were generally connected in some manner to either the lumber or railroad industries. With the passage of time and the rapid change industrialization brought, tourism would become the region’s other great commodity. The pristine landscape, with miles of lakes and forests, became a refuge for people escaping city life.
The history of Madden’s, located north of Brainerd on Gull Lake, is similarly tied to both logging ventures and the railroad. The land that would become part of Madden’s had been originally claimed from Native Americans, taken over through treaty for development purposes by the U.S. government. Throughout Minnesota’s early years the peninsula and surrounding lake-shore passed through several hands. The government initially gave the land to the Northern Pacific Railroad who eventually sold it off to various logging interests.
Short of developing logging roads through the peninsula next to Gull Lake, the territory did not see notable change until 1909 when a businessman named T.H. Harrison bought the land with plans for its residential use. Harrison purchased the real estate, planning to sell off parcels of prime shoreline to residents of Minneapolis for vacation property.
Harrison believed that streetcars would soon be moving city dwellers to the central lakes region. Harrison dreamed of a stream of vacationers leaving the city by streetcar traveling up past Lake Mille Lacs to their final destination on Gull Lake. Unfortunately for Harrison, the streetcar line was never extended very far north of the city and he passed away before he could see the acreage surrounding Gull Lake transformed.
It was his son John Harrison who would continue his father’s legacy and begin in earnest to bring change to the peninsula. After T.H. Harrison’s death in 1914, his estate including his property holdings were left to his wife, with his son John appointed as trustee.
John, eager to pick up where his father had failed, created a partnership in 1926 with a Kansas City real estate developer by the name of Chester Start. Start and Harrison formed the Pine Beach Golf Course Corporation and the Pine Beach Corporation in 1926. The developers wasted little time, and a new golf course was opened for business the following July.
While the predicted streetcar line was never built, the mass production of the motor car aided the developers to a far greater degree than the two could ever have imagined. Affordable automobiles allowed the general population a freedom of travel never before experienced. For the urban population of the Twin Cities heading “up north” instantly became a favorite and frequent jaunt among the prosperous city dwellers in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Anticipating the need for hotel accommodations at lakeside, Harrison and Start formed another corporation in partnership with several other investors known as the Pine Beach Hotel Corporation in 1928. Among the other partners were several local Brainerd area businessmen and Arthur Roberts, a moderately successful hotel operator from Rochester, Minnesota. The Pine Beach Corporation deeded some land to the Hotel Corporation and plans were drawn up and completed by 1929. The hotel opened for business the following year. Arthur Roberts became the sole owner and operator of the hotel in 1930 when he bought out the other partners and renamed the enterprise Roberts Pine Beach Hotel.
In 1931 a young vacationer named Jack Madden summered at the Pine Beach Hotel on Gull Lake. Upon his college graduation, Madden made plans to return to the area and manage the clubhouse and golf course. Madden and his uncle Tom Madden leased the property for $500, hiring Jack’s younger brother Jim to assist them in the club and caddy for the golfers. Unfortunately, the timing of the Maddens’ lease at Gull Lake could not have been worse. The economy had just begun its tailspin into what became the Great Depression.
The hard economic times during the 1930s took a toll on the development plans at Gull Lake. Many of the affluent city dwellers were ruined or close to ruined financially and vacations and luxury junkets were the first of many cutbacks that they would make.
The first year the Maddens took over the clubhouse the family actually lost money on the lease but the Maddens continued to believe that the clubhouse could be profitable and made plans to buy the property from Start and Harrison. Start and Harrison were willing to negotiate terms for the sale of the golf course with no money down. The new owners incorporated the business in 1934, though Start maintained a stake in the company for a few years.
The early years of the Maddens’ work on Gull Lake were characterized by small-scale additions to the property. In 1936, Jack Madden and Chester Start built Mission Point, a simple vacation resort featuring three small cabins, several garages, and a maids’ quarters. Madden was intent on greatly expanding the vacation site, planning subsequent stages of development as he went along.
In 1937 Jim Madden became a full equity partner in the business at Pine Beach when Tom Madden turned over his interest in the business to Jim. Operations continued to expand despite a wartime shortage of building materials and, in 1941, the Maddens, convinced of their ability to manage things on their own, bought out Chester Start’s share of Mission Point.
Growing the Resort: 1941-60s
With full ownership in the Madden family, development at Pine Beach began in earnest. In 1942 the brothers added on to the existing cabins at Mission Point and renamed the residential spot The Lodge. Shortly after becoming a partner, Jim Madden was called to serve in World War II and had to put his contribution to the business on hold. During Jim’s absence, Jack and Peg Madden continued to run The Lodge and golf course.
In 1946, Jim Madden returned from military service and the brothers continued the expansion and remodeling of the facilities on Gull Lake. The Maddens bought out the Malcolm Hotel, a facility that was originally built in 1923 and that had been used throughout its years for a variety of purposes. The Malcolm Hotel had been a hotel and boarding house, an Elks Club, and a private residence. The Maddens renamed the hotel the Pine Edge Inn.
The 1946 remodeling included the old golf clubhouse which was turned into guest rooms. A new wing with a coffee shop, dining room, and kitchen was also added. The project was completed for the following summer season with guest quarters expanded by an additional 20 rooms.
In 1948 and 1949 the Maddens built two new dining rooms known as the Prime Rib Room and the Garden Room. The economy had bounced back solidly from the Depression and wartime and the Maddens, having managed to keep the business afloat, were now poised to further expand and grow their small resort.
In 1954 the Maddens opened the 20 rooms known as the Voyageurs Resort. This area included an office and VIP suite for special guests of the resort. In 1957 a former desk clerk, John Arnold, returned to Madden’s as a partner in the resort. Arnold had developed crucial experience related to the hospitality industry in his years at both the St. Paul Athletic Club and Northwest Airlines. Arnold had worked at the Athletic Club as assistant manager and was the director of foodservice at Northwest Airlines, two areas of expertise that would help make Madden’s all the more comfortable for its guests.
Spend the day on the water. Or any way you like. There’s a reason we’re Minnesota’s Classic Resort. One visit and you’ll know why. No two rooms are alike here. Some say that’s part of our charm. But no matter where you lay your head at the end of a busy day, we’ll make you feel special.
Paying tribute to the history of the region Peg Madden, returning inspired from a trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in California, lent her creative hand to the family business by opening Lumbertown, USA at Madden’s in 1959. Peg Madden recreated a replica of early life in the region with a model village made up of storefronts and decorated with antique artifacts. Madden’s contribution of Lumbertown USA served to illustrate for Madden’s guests and visitors the colorful life in the logging camps and primitive towns that the lumber barons set up for their workers. The area also provided an educational component to the recreation and leisure the resort already furnished.
The Maddens also opened their first convention facility in 1959, known as Town Hall. The resort had hoped to attract large groups of businessmen by offering an environment where work could be mixed with the leisure of golfing and boating.
A par 3, nine-hole golf course was opened in the early 1960s but the single most historic event of the decade took place in 1964. On July 4th with the grand opening of O’Madden’s Pub scheduled to take place, a fire broke out and burned the original Madden’s Inn and all of the additions to the building.
The Madden family, Arnold, and the resort staff worked through the night and, remarkably, were able to open for business the following day with a few minor room changes. Jack Madden later commented that although the fire seemed a disaster at first, in retrospect it was probably a good thing for the business overall. Madden vindicated the event by admitting that the old Inn was a horrible building from the start and the resort took the opportunity to build a much nicer facility in its place.
A new golf course was also built in the 1960s and the partners bought the Roberts Pine Beach Hotel and renamed it the Madden Inn. Another 18-hole golf course was begun during the same period called Pine Beach West and was developed in sections. The first nine holes of the course, known as the Sylvan, opened in 1968. The golf course was accompanied by a new clubhouse with four apartment-type suites and a pool.
In another attempt to expand Madden’s Resort, the owners bought the old Ruttgers Pine Beach Lodge and renamed it the Pine Portage Resort in 1969. The family and John Arnold also purchased the Green Hill resort and 80 acres of property owned by Les and Ruth Goetting that same year.
The 1970s brought a few additions to resort life including a renovation and addition to the Town Hall Convention complex and a new restaurant name, the Lumber Baron Steak House. In 1973 the second nine holes of Pine Beach West opened, though the course was not completed until 1975. A cookout area and tennis course rounded out the amenities later in the decade.
In early January 1978 Jack Madden suffered a heart attack while vacationing in Florida. Madden died on January 6th, leaving behind a lifetime of work dedicated to the recreation and rejuvenation of others.
The Next Generation: Renovation and Luxury in the 1980s
The 1980s were a decade known for the demand for personal luxury. The societal demand for indulgence had an impact on the resort industry as well. Throughout the 1980s Madden’s redecorated and renovated the vast majority of its buildings. Over 90 percent of the facilities were upgraded in some manner. The grounds at Madden’s stayed competitive by offering more features consistent with a luxurious lifestyle. Croquet lawns, health spa features, and shopping opportunities were all added to the facilities at Madden’s. The resort also became a venue for championship croquet matches within the United States. In 1986 a new Town Hall Conference Center opened for business with over 42,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and the resources to host large business conventions.
The corporation added a new family partner in 1989. C. Brian Thuringer, Jim Madden’s son-in-law, was made a part-owner. Thuringer had managed the Pine Edge Inn for eight years before his partnership became official.
In 1991 a new tennis and croquet club was built which served as the recreational hub for activities at the resort. A pizza and sub shop was also opened for Madden’s guests. In 1997, Madden’s opened its crown jewel of golf opportunities, The Classic. Madden’s championship course was ranked by Golf Digest as the third best new upscale course in North America, and Golf and Travel picked The Classic as its 27th of the best top 40 resort courses in the nation.
Madden’s was known for its golf clinics and schools as well. The Chris Foley Golf School at Madden’s offered a variety of classes and clinics throughout the season. Men, women, and children were scheduled for classes and weekends devoted to helping improve their game.
- Jack Madden graduates from college and summers at Pine Beach, a golf course and resort established in 1926.
- Jack Madden and his uncle Tom Madden lease the Pine Beach Golf Clubhouse for the summer; two years later they purchase and incorporate the resort under the family name.
- Jack Madden and Chester Start build Mission Point.
- Jack’s brother, Jim Madden, takes over Tom Madden’s interest in the enterprise; Jack Madden buys out Chester Start’s share of Mission Point.
- The Madden brothers buy the Malcolm Hotel and rename it the Pine Edge Inn.
- John Arnold becomes a co-owner.
- Madden’s, as the business becomes known, buys out Rutger’s Pine Beach Lodge and renames it Pine Portage Inn; company also buys The Green Hill resort and 80 acres of adjoining property.
- Brian Thuringer becomes a partner.
- Tennis and Croquet Club opens.
- The Classic, a new championship golf course, opens.
- Jim Madden dies after a long illness.
In March 2001, the last of the original Madden’s owners passed away. Jim Madden died at his home after suffering from a long illness. His business legacy was a premier Minnesota resort which during that year would host 75,000 guests, all of whom would likely identify with the company’s musings on what, in the final analysis, constituted a “Classic” resort: “Maybe it’s the tradition that families have made this their getaway for over 50 years. Maybe it’s the memory of your first time on water skis. Or the crackling fires on Mission Point. Whatever it is, you’ll find it here. Ready and waiting for you to create your own classic memories.”
Premier Resorts Ltd.; Izatys Golf & Yacht Club; Breezy Point Resort.
Merrill, Ann, “James Madden Dies; Ran Resort on Gull Lake,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 12, 2001 p. 5B.
Rahn, Mike “Madden’s Mirrors the Growth of Our Area’s Resort Industry,” Lake Country Journal, n.d.
—Susan B. Culligan