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On late Friday morning, as Sousada Grande drove home on Excelsior Boulevard in Minneapolis with her infant girl in the backseat, she heard a loud bang. Then, little pieces of glass showered her face, chest, arms and thighs.
A moment later, she spotted a hole and cracks across the windshield of her 2018 Mercedes-Benz. The backseat where the 11-month-old baby sat was also covered with tiny pieces of glass. So was the dashboard, the passenger’s seat and the floor.
“I freaked out,” Grande said. “It was almost like a bullet coming straight towards my face. It landed right in the middle of my viewpoint.”
Grande was only a couple of blocks away from her house when the incident happened. So she continued driving as she FaceTimed her husband, Olvin, to show him the scene unfolding inside the car.
When Olvin witnessed the damage, he immediately guessed that it hadn’t come from a rock or a gunshot, as she’d initially suspected. It was an errant golf shot from the only course on Excelsior Boulevard: The Minikahda Club.
Grande called the club. What should have been a conversation with the golfer and the club, an apology perhaps, and an exchange of insurance information turned into something bigger — and eventually drew hundreds of people to the small claims court of public opinion: Facebook.
The club deflected her inquiries while the golfer, Pat Smith, finished his round. One employee told her that “there’s a no-phone policy on the golf course,” she recalled. “But Pat Smith was notified, and he said he’ll get back to you when he’s done golfing.”
On Tuesday morning, the club’s general manager, Louisa Bergsma, responded to Sahan Journal, “This was a very unfortunate accident. I personally attended to Sousada, and our team strived to respond with care and compassion. We are very grateful that there were no serious injuries.”
Grande, who has a Ph.D. in STEM education, was born in a Thai refugee camp. Her biography, posted as a rising star alumnae of the University of Minnesota’s School of Education and Human Development, lays out her credentials. Grande speaks English, Laotian, Spanish and Thai. Her list of professional teaching and education awards and achievements fills up a solid page.
For certain circles in old Minneapolis, the Minikahda Club needs no introduction. The club was founded in the late 19th century by a group of rich young picnickers, who transformed the land overlooking Bde Maka Ska into a destination for the city’s moneyed establishment. The private club, which costs $75,000 to join, offers luxurious services year round, including golf, tennis, swimming, skeet shooting, and dining and events.
On its website, the Minikahda Club praises itself as an institution that provides “the membership a superior social and recreational experience based on the values of family, fellowship, integrity, respect, and inclusiveness.”
That respect, Grande said, doesn’t extend to people of lower socioeconomic status—even when the club’s golfers blast their balls through the windshield of people driving on the streets.
An hour or so passed while Grande waited to speak with Smith. By then, Grande had dropped off her daughter at home. But she was still sitting in the car outside her house. She said she didn’t feel safe getting out of her car and then later getting back into it with glass scattered everywhere. Instead, she said she wanted to exchange auto insurance information with Smith while she still sat on the driver’s seat.
Grande told the managers that she couldn’t wait for Smith until he was done golfing and that she was on her way to the golf course to find him. “If I show up at the golf course, you’ll have blood and glass on your property,” she said to the manager on the phone. “It won’t be pretty.”
When Grande got to the site, she found a manager waiting in front of the building. “Ma’am, you’re on private property; please move your car,” Grande said one of the staffers told her. There was no greeting, she said. No concern for her. Or the baby. Or the car. “It was almost like, ‘Get out of here,’” she said.
At around 1:20 p.m., two hours after his flying ball blasted into the windshield, Smith called Grande while she was still waiting at the golf course.
“Hey, this is Pat Smith,” he said to Grande on the phone. “I was going to get back to you later. I’m golfing. I already told you.”
“I need to see you,” Grande said to him. “I need to talk to you. I need some information.”
He hung up. The Minikahda Club declined to make Smith available for comment.
In the evening, an agent called Grande on behalf of Smith, confirming that his client does have auto insurance that covers the damage to her car. On Monday, the Mercedes-Benz was towed to LaMettry’s Collision in Richfield.
Meanwhile, Grande has been sharing her interactions with Smith and staffers at the Minikahda Club on Facebook, where the story has attracted comments from neighbors, caddies, and other golfers.
“In many clubs if you do something that harms a person and property you don’t get to finish your round of golf or continue like nothing happened,” Ned Talley wrote in a review of the club. “Making someone wait for your member is adding insult to the injury.”
“As a former caddie, I learned very quickly how different and out of touch this place was,” wrote Jay Rattanavong. “I see nothing has changed since ’97.”
Grande said she hopes the incident will lead to meaningful conversations about holding golfers accountable for their mistakes.
“All I want is a commitment with a defined timeline for safety measures to be put in place,” she said. “My baby, my husband, my family members who visit, the neighbors should not have to avoid Excelsior Boulevard all together because they might get hit by a golf ball.”
By Tuesday afternoon, in the wake of Grande’s experience, the Minikahda Club’s nearly 5-star rating on Facebook had flown off course to a less estimable number: 1.7.