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A Golden Valley country club, a famed architect, and a plea to trafficking in endangered species

The architect hired to restore the embattled club was caught by an undercover agent selling items made from crocodiles and sea turtles.

The architect hired to restore the embattled club was caught by an undercover agent selling items made from crocodiles and sea turtles. Wikipedia

At this time last year, the Golden Valley Country Club was heavily in debt, wrought with agitation in its membership ranks, and entertaining the prospect of a sale.

The predicament wasn’t unusual. As members gray and tastes change, these presumed bastions of opulence are often found in retreat these days. Among the young, the country club life no longer possesses the allure it once did. Since the 1990s, the number of golfers ages 18-34 has dropped by one-third.

Instead of selling, the member-owned Golden Valley club, founded in 1914, would plot its own rebirth. It hired a new general manager and contracted with Keith Foster to bring life back to its dated course.

Foster is among the country’s more noted course architects, with a specialty in restoring those from the “Golden Age” of golf. Golden Valley’s course, originally designed in 1928 by another famed architect, A.W. Tillinghast, needed a facelift. Foster was just the man for the job, having rehabbed two on Golf Magazine’s Top 100 list.

Yet Foster also had a sideline business. He and his wife had operated The Outpost, an antique shop in Middleburg, Virginia. It was the kind of place that sold “unique” furnishings and gifts – with a heavy emphasis on unique.

Last year, an undercover agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came calling, finding dozens of violations of the Lacey Act, which governs trafficking in endangered species.

Foster, as it turns out, had been importing artifacts and items made from sawfish blades, turtle shells, ivory, zebra hides, crocodiles, and rare birds. He wasn’t particularly subtle about it, readily admitting to the agent that he was stretching the boundaries of legality.

“Rest assured,” he told the undercover. “I’m gonna bring more in. ‘Cause I’m the only fool in the States that probably wants to risk it.”

The feds would eventually find more than 175 illegal items on sale. Foster used false labeling through a shipping company to avert government attention.

In late December, he pleaded guilty, and now faces a max of five years in prison, plus a $275,000 fine.

Needless to say, he likely won’t be doing much restoration work come his sentencing in March.

The Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland has already given Foster the ax. Golden Valley General Manager Louisa Bergsma could not be reached for comment, but she’ll likely have no choice but to find another architect as well.

In the meantime, the historic club in suburban Minneapolis will keep hoping to catch a break.