Jim Souhan
See more of the story

The 3M Open this week will bring the PGA Tour back to Minnesota while honoring local golf luminaries like Tom Lehman and Tim Herron.

Decades before the 3M Championship became the 3M Open, a local golfer stopped by 3M headquarters to pitch a local tourney. That golfer deserves to be remembered, as well.

Joel Goldstrand played on Worthington High’s 1957 state championship golf team. After a life-changing bit of serendipity, he would play on two national championship teams for the University of Houston, leave law school at the University of Minnesota to join the PGA Tour, finish 12th in the U.S. Open at Hazeltine National in 1970, become the pro at Minneapolis Golf Club and then become one of the most prominent course designers in state history.

During his career, Goldstrand, now 79, impressed Jack Nicklaus, became one of the PGA Tour’s longest drivers, became the first to use Ping irons made by his friend Karsten Solheim and pioneered the reversible nine-hole golf course. He also helped introduce Bible study to the PGA Tour.

On a trip to California for a golf function a few years ago, Nicklaus greeted Goldstrand, then put his arm around the shoulders of Goldstrand’s son, Lee.

During the 1961 NCAA championships, Joel noticed after eight holes that he was mistakenly carrying his 1-iron. It was raining and the cover on his golf bag had kept him from seeing it. He called a penalty on himself which, at the time, was assessed at two strokes per hole.

The 16-shot penalty knocked him out of the scoring and Houston fell to 11th, tying with Nicklaus’ Ohio State team. On a recent weekday, Lee looked across his father’s kitchen table at Joel and his wife, Solveig. “That was pretty amazing,” Lee said. “The best player of all time admired you for that.”

Joel Goldstrand’s life in golf might have been different if not for a tournament in Iowa the summer after he graduated from high school. While playing in Iowa, he impressed a standout golfer named Jack Rule, who hooked him up with legendary Houston coach Dave Williams.

Al Geiberger, who would later become known as “Mr. 59,” had decided to spurn a scholarship offer from Houston to play at USC.

Goldstrand had agreed to play for Whitey Skoog, the former Gopher and Laker, at Gustavus. Williams offered Goldstrand a scholarship. He called Skoog, drove to Albert Lea and took a train to Houston.

“That was like John Wooden calling and asking if you’d like to play basketball for him instead of a small school in Minnesota,” Lee Goldstrand said.

After college, Joel went into the Army, sold insurance and spent at year at Minnesota’s law school. He noticed players who hadn’t performed as well as he had in college were succeeding on the PGA Tour.

So he joined the tour and began driving his family around the country in a Buick Electra, chosen because the trunk could fit golf equipment and a family’s worth of suitcases. They drove back roads, stayed in motels and once decided to detour through Phoenix because they had heard about these strange “Ping” putters.

“We looked up ‘Mr. Ping’ in the phone book,” Solveig said.

Ping founder Karsten Solheim invited them to his house. They stayed the night and became lifelong friends, with Solheim sometimes sleeping on their motel couches, among the suitcases, spare golf clubs and children’s toys.

Goldstrand even played a prototype club with a bent shaft on tour before it was ruled illegal. Solheim devised an iron that bent near the grip, making the club extra stable through impact.

Solheim would become known as the inventor of perimeter weighted clubs, but this design went a bit far. “The first time I hit those clubs, I said out loud, ‘These have to be illegal,’ ” Joel said. “Eventually, that turned out to be true.”

Joel became the first PGA player to use approved Ping irons.

The PGA Tour of Goldstrand’s era wasn’t the private-jet-and-rich-sponsor affair it is today. He had sponsors — local business people in Worthington who helped him pay travel expenses. “What a great investment opportunity,” Lee said with a smile.

Joel played in one Masters, missing the cut. On a drive through Georgia years later, he decided he wanted to visit Augusta National again. He drove down Magnolia Lane and introduced himself to the security guard, who smiled and told him how to turn around and leave.

Raising children on the road was draining, so Joel accepted the head pro job at Minneapolis Golf Club. “I dreamed up the idea of having a tournament — the Minnesota Masters at Minneapolis,” he said. “I went to 3M to see if they would sponsor it, and they did.”

A cease-and-desist letter from the Masters forced a name change, and it became the Minnesota Golf Championship, in which Lehman played as a high schooler.

Joel won his own tournament the first three years of its existence.

He spent his winters coaching Lee’s basketball teams and designing golf courses. He began with the Farmer’s Golf & Health Club in Sanborn, Minn., a nine-hole gem that reminded him of the small, nine-hole layouts on which he learned the game.

“In the early days, there weren’t companies that specialized in building golf courses,” Solveig said. “So the farmers would come in, check out the instructions on the wall and go move dirt.”

Goldstrand has designed or renovated more than 100 golf courses, including the Pines at Grandview Lodge, the Links at Northfork and St. Croix National.

He often worked on small-budget, small-town courses that reminded him of the sand greens and long days of his youth. His parents owned a shop in Worthington. He would stock shelves all night so he could play golf while the sun shined.

He began playing at age 5 with a handful of wood-shafted clubs, and wound up in the Minnesota Golf Hall of Fame. One of the fathers of Minnesota golf is glad that the PGA Tour is coming back to Minnesota, and that the current players don’t have to raise their kids in motels.

“But my parents still vacation that way,” Lee said. “They drive around the country, taking the back roads.”

Joel leans across his kitchen table and asks, “Why would anyone want to drive on the freeway and miss all of these beautiful small towns?”

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com