First held in 1931, the Pine to Palm is the youngest of the three “resort circuit” tourneys, which also includes the Birchmont International at Bemidji and the Resorters at Alexandria. For the most part, the tournaments have been held in consecutive weeks, first the Birchmont, then the Resorters and then the Pine to Palm.
Pat Sawyer, one of Minnesota’s leading amateur players at the time, won the Championship in the first two Pine to Palm Tournaments and defeated his brother (Dick) in the 1932 Championship Match. Sawyer bested Edgar Bolstad in the first Pine to Palm final in 1931 and Bolstad is also a familiar golf name in the state. Edgar’s brother (Les Bolstad) was a longtime head men’s golf coach at the University of Minnesota.
One of the best-known Pine to Palm Champions is James McLean. McLean, whose home is at Wahgunjah, Victoria, Australia, defeated Mike Podolak in the 1998 Pine to Palm final to complete an excellent season. Earlier in the year, McLean had won the NCAA Division I Individual Championship at the University of Minnesota and then added the Minnesota State Amateur and the Minnesota State Open Championship to his list of laurels.
Mike Podolak, who lost to McLean in the finals, is one of the Pine to Palm’s all-time best performers. Now playing out of Oxbow, N.D., Podolak has also won two Pine to Palm titles (1982-93), has been the tournament runner-up three times and has been the tournament medalist or shared the medalist laurels seven times. Winner of numerous North Dakota amateur championships, Podolak also won the United States Mid-Amateur Championship when the event was contested at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Duluth, Ga., in 1984. That earned Podolak a berth on the 1985 U. S. Walker Cup Team and Podolak helped the US golfers post a victory over the Great Britain-Ireland team at Pine Valley, N. J. By winning the U. S. Mid-Amateur, Podolak also earned a spot in the field for the 1985 Masters Tournament at Augusta, Ga. Podolak holds the best Pine to Palm win-loss record, which is 66-17.
In detailing Pine to Palm history, the name Ken Pinns always comes up. That’s because Pinns – in 1965- achieved a feat that nobody else has ever accomplished. Pinns won the championships of the three “resort circuit” tourneys all in the same year. He scored 16 consecutive match play victories and defeated Keith Jorde of Hereford, Tx. (5 and 4) on the Birchmont final, topped Neil Croonquist of Minneapolis (1-up) to win the Resorters championship and capped his string with a 1-up win over Dave Hanten of Huron, SD at the Pine to Palm. In winning the three titles, Pinns scored five victories each in the Birchmont and Resorters tourneys and six at he Pine to Palm. This is because the title flight is made up of 32 golfers at Bemidji and Alexandria and is made up of 64 at Detroit Lakes.
Five golfers have the distinction of winning the Pine to Palm Tournament championship three times each. They include Virgil Roby (1933-34-35), Jack Rule (1958-59-60), Bill Von Wald (1973-74-75), Bill Israelson (1976-77-80) and Jim Strandemo (1983-87-89). Rule, who won his three titles when the championship flight consisted of 32 players, gained the finals in 1961 before losing to Dayton Olson and established a record of 19 successive victories. That was ended in the next decade when Von Wald won three straight times, when the title flight consisted of 64 players, and reached the semifinal round in 1976 before losing. He won 22 straight title flight matches, a Pine to Palm record. Strandemo, one of the three-time champions, holds the record for the most successive championship flight appearances at the Pine to Palm. He played in the tournament for the first time in 1973, qualified for the championship flight that year and made it every year until losing out in a championship flight playoff in 1999.
John Harris, winner of the Pine to Palm title in 1972, won the 1993 U. S. Men’s Amateur Championship and has played on the U. S. Senior Tour for many years.
Tom Lehman, winner of the British Open Championship in 1996, was the Pine to Palm Medalist in 1980. He lost in the second round of the match play that year to Jeff Teal, who was a University of Minnesota golf team member with Lehman.
The Pine to Palm Senior Division was added to the tournament in 1967 and has proven to be an increasingly more popular part of the tourney with each passing year. In 2009 the Mid Am Division was added for those 35 and older to compete within their age group. In 2010 the Super Senior Division provided some of the best competition amongst the 65 and over participants.
Currently collegiate golfers have dominated the Pine to Palm Championship Division. They are Mark Halverson (University of Minnesota) in 1995, Laine Brantner (University of Iowa) in 1996, Bill Thompson (University of Minnesota) in 1997, James McLean (University of Minnesota) in 1998; Andy Doeden (Texas Christian University) in 1999 and 2001; Cory Blenkush (DePaul University) in 2007; Ben Freemen (Drake University) in 2008; Tom Hoge (Texas Christian University) in 2009; Beau Hanson (University of Arkansas – Little Rock) in 2012/2016; Jon Trasamar (University of Minnesota) in 2013; Ben Welle (University of Kansas) in 2014; Alex Kline (Grand Canyon University) in 2015; Chris Swenson (Bemidji State University) in 2017; Jackson Foth (University of Kansas) in 2018; Andrew Israelson (North Dakota State University) in 2019