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Ma Cal Grove Golf Course in Caledonia recovering from clubhouse fire, ready for season

April 17, 2019 GMT

CALEDONIA, Minn. — It wasn’t the frenetic scene full of shouting and chaos that movies and TV had led Jeremy Leis to believe it would be.

As he stood in the parking lot of the Ma Cal Grove Golf Course, watching the clubhouse burn down on Feb. 2, firefighters from Caledonia, Spring Grove, and the surrounding areas swiftly and calmly did everything they could to limit the damage to the building Leis had been appointed to manage just one month prior.

“It made me want to throw up that day,” Leis said Monday, about a month-and-a-half removed from the fire that caused total-loss damage to the clubhouse. “It went from … you know you’re in shock at first. I stood in that parking lot from 2 to 6, watching it happen.

“It’s really sad. The only way to look at it now is that hopefully next year it’s a blessing and we’re in a new space.”

No one was injured in the fire, which an investigation determined was started after rags used to clean the grill combusted in a garbage bin.

Ma Cal Grove, a 9-hole course on the southern edge of Caledonia, is run by a nine-member board of directors, which tabbed Leis to be the course and clubhouse operator on Jan. 1. Leis — who had been on the board for about 15 years prior — said the fire only made a challenging task even harder.

“I was hired to do a job that was difficult because I hadn’t done it before, then you add this to it … Yeah, it’s been tough,” he said. “In the days after it happened, I probably had about 200 messages on my phone, texts, calls, social media.

“I’d tell them, ‘Yeah, the course will be fine, we’ll figure out what to do.’ But they’re like, ’No, how are you doing?”

The clubhouse at Ma-Cal housed an office, a kitchen, and a bar/restaurant. For now, Leis is signing up new members and running the course from a job-site trailer donated by Cary Services of La Crosse.

The course at Ma Cal Grove is “in great shape,” Leis said, and golfers are welcome to play.

Leis — the boys golf coach and an assistant boys basketball coach at Caledonia High School — expressed frustration that given the circumstances, he wasn’t able to provide the same services that folks are used to at Ma Cal Grove. But he said that the community has been supportive of the course during a tough time.

“We’ve got a great membership,” Leis said. “That’s how our town is, if you’re going to work for something, they’ll support you. That’s our goal … give people the opportunity to support us.”

Leis and the board are working with an architect on plans for a new clubhouse building on the grounds. It’ll be moving from its original spot, Leis said, after demolition crews tore down the remains of the old structure. Exact details are still being decided, but Leis said it will be of similar size to the old building.

The board recently put together a committee to hold a fundraiser event, but specifics on that are still being hammered out.

Leis was hesitant to put an exact timeline on when a new clubhouse could be complete, but there will be a temporary structure erected to have a bar and host guests and events. That was necessary for the viability of the course, Leis said. He estimated that two-thirds of the revenue Ma Cal Grove generated came from the bar and restaurant, and two-thirds of that figure came from the bar.

Tuesday’s mid-60s temperatures and bright sunshine brought many golfers out of their homes and offices and onto area courses. After a rough start to the year, Leis is hopeful Ma Cal Grove can have a strong season in its temporary digs.

“I’ve kind of slotted May 24th, Memorial Day weekend, as our grand opening,” Leis said. “We’ve have (a local food truck) there, our shed up.

“I can’t wait to have a space to entertain people, that’s why I took the job. I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

From Tribune files: Fires damage La Crosse area buildings

From Tribune files: Fires damage La Crosse area buildings