The golf grounds at Theodore Wirth Park date to 1916, with nine holes and called Glenwood. The course was expanded to 18 holes and the first stage of the historic clubhouse was completed by 1919.
The huge urban park was renamed in 1938 in honor of Wirth, a visionary for recreational areas as the superintendent of Minneapolis Parks for 30 years.
Those 18 holes were remodeled recently to make room for a “loppet” area for skiing and skating, and that was bustling on Friday morning. A midiron away, cold weather finally had ended this outstanding Minnesota golf season and all was quiet.
This included the putting green, 38 yards by 26 yards, frosted over and attracting only a tree rat (aka squirrel) that was looking for debris to improve its winter housing.
The putting green sits on a plateau between the clubhouse and the bridge over Wirth Parkway that leads to the first tee. Slow traffic circles below on the parkway, but the plateau has the look of a peaceful place where an individual could work on a putting stroke.
Unless it was late on a Sunday afternoon from spring to fall, when devoted members of the WPA had gathered for the weekly showdown.
The Works Progress Administration did contribute to park improvements during the Depression, but this was the Wirth Putting Association, a diverse group dedicated to getting their hands on as many quarters as possible from fellow competitors.
Eddie Manderville and Richard Parker are given credit for starting the tradition. Parker died a few years back, and last week “Fast Eddie” died at 88.
Manderville played in U.S. Senior Opens, he played in state championships, he played on the Resorters tour, he won the Gross Invitational and dozens of other tournaments, and he was on the Wirth putting green many hours a week, attempting to remove quarters from his best pals.
Steve Lasley was at the top of the list of pals. Known to others for his basketball playing and coaching, his fame with Manderville and other golf buddies was tied to the nickname “Shorty Fats,’’ or “Shorty’’ for short.
The nickname comes not from his stature but from this: “Shorty’s a great chipper,” Kevin Stucki said. “First time I saw him chip, his right leg started moving, shaking, I thought he was getting ready to run, and then he chipped within a foot of the cup.”
Thus “Shorty” — because once Lasley was around the green, the putt was going to be short.
Stucki moved to Golden Valley in 1982, not far from Wirth, and heard the gaggle of the putters one evening, and sauntered over to check the action.
The likelihood was that Manderville saw Stucki and said quietly, “Feed the fish,” meaning that this new guy could be lured into the putting game and cough up a few bucks in quarters before he knew what hit him.
Stucki became addicted to what he found immediately. He got so into it that he tracked down a change-making belt and wore it while putting, thus able to deliver quarters to anyone wanting to buy in.
Most Sundays, eight or 10 guys were making the circuit of nine cups. If you left a first putt outside the leather of a putter, you paid everyone inside the leather. And if you had a second putt left and everyone else was in the hole, it would cost a feast of quarters, and that’s when full-blown harassment ensued.
“That 4-footer, where a miss meant paying everybody … that’s when the coughing, sneezing, change jingling in pockets really took place,” Stucki said.
Manderville had one rule when playing daily golf: Never for free. There always had to be a game. When he played at Rolling Green, or Hollydale, and for years at Rush Creek, Fast Eddie’s usual partner was Harvey Borseth, another tremendous player.
They would take on twosomes of other outstanding golfers, but there was also what Eddie called “the game within the game,” when he was also playing vs. Harvey.
Eddie had 11 holes in one, to the point his license plate read “HOL-IN1.” He had two holes in one in a single round on Wirth’s par-3 course in August 2013, at age 81.
He played there often in later years, with Lasley and former Gophers basketball player Mario Green among frequent partners.
“We formed the ‘Executive Players Club,’ where we played on par-3 and short courses,” Lasley said. “A while back, we changed the name to the ‘Manderville Executive Players,’ in honor of Eddie.
“Eddie was a great putter. And if he was going to be playing you for money, Eddie didn’t give you lessons. So, I just stole everything from him — tried to copy that excellent swing, tried to copy that putting stroke.”
Lasley paused, laughed and said: “Except chipping. That was all me. That’s how I became ‘Shorty Fats.’ ”
Manderville could travel the country to play golf, and play serious rounds with Harvey at Rush Creek and elsewhere, but there was always the Wirth putting green calling to him.
“I did some camping and I had four lanterns,” Shorty said. “If it was going to be a long night on the putting green, I’d bring my lanterns, and we might putt for quarters until midnight.
If it got to be 1 or 2 a.m., Lorraine Manderville or Elizabeth Lasley might ask, “Where the heck have you been?”
The answer was “putting,” and with Fast Eddie, and Shorty Fats, or other members of the WPA, that was the Gospel.