Just down the road from the Woodruff Post Office and behind the big Army tank everyone in the area uses as a landmark is something newer, bigger and not the norm in the Northwoods: A 26,000 square-foot fitness and golf center.
Lakeland Fitness & Golf, 669 Veterans Parkway in Woodruff, opened its doors in June 2020 to offer local residents, seasonal residents and tourists to the area a high-end fitness and golf experience.
It is the brainchild of John P. Weis, co-founder, and his wife, Shelly Weis. The two grew up in families that traveled to the Minocqua area to vacation each year, and after the couple married, they continued the tradition.
“Even when we were living in Atlanta, Kansas City and Minneapolis, we vacationed in the area,” John said.
Weis sold the company he founded, Quest Analytics in Appleton, about four years ago. It was around the same time the couple moved north to live full-time in the property they bought six years ago.
“It was always the dream — that one day, we would be here full time,” he said.
Upon doing so, Weis traded software for fitness, “not a normal path, to be sure, but it was about doing something to give back to the Minocqua community,” he said. “We made a good return on selling our business, and when we came up here, we wanted to give something to the community that provided us so many enjoyable moments vacationing. So, we asked the question, ‘What’s missing?’ ”
Community members happily chimed in with ideas. They quickly ruled out anything that was a chain, particularly a chain restaurant, and then struck upon the idea of building a really nice fitness center.
Their initial idea was for a 5,000 square-foot property, but then the golfers in the community who don’t go south for the winter said they’d love an alternative to hitting golf balls into the net in their, so a golf simulator figured into plans. That quickly led to needing more than one golf simulator, because you can’t have tournaments with one.
“Our plan quickly expanded to four simulators in addition to the fitness center,” Weis said. “The area where you walk in features a putting green, food and a variety of bar-style table tops so people can bring a beverage along if they want. Now, we hear things like ‘My winter goes so fast as I see my friends (to use the simulator) two to three times a week.’ Come October, the golf simulators are full all the time.”
A lifelong racquetball player, Weis knew he wanted racquetball courts and the ability to offer wallyball. Talking to the senior population in the area revealed a need for a safe walking area, as their only option was Walmart unless they got to the school before 6 a.m., so a walking track was added to the plans.
“The older population said that because we sand up here and don’t use salt, nothing melts, so they couldn’t walk outside from mid-October through the end of winter,” Weis said.
Conversations with women in the community revealed a desire for the cardiovascular equipment separate from the heavy weights, so they didn’t feel as self-conscious doing their workouts alongside the men weightlifting. Weis put all the cardio equipment upstairs and positioned the women’s locker room by the back stairs.
“We still have some weights up there — kettlebells and dumbbells — but they have their own area, so we satisfied that need,” he said.
Weis’ background entered the equation in the technology incorporated into the equipment. He invested in all smart equipment that not only features a picture of the body part worked by a particular piece of equipment, but also a digital monitor that tells the user how many repetitions to do and uses a clock to advise the user when to do their next set. Now, Marshfield Clinic often sends patients doing rehabilitation to Lakeland Fitness & Golf.
“Here, they can use the same machine they would at the clinic for a $15 day pass instead of hundreds of dollars there,” he said.
All of this input resulted in a 26,000 square-foot facility intended to open in January 2020. A number of delays postponed the opening to June 2020, “not exactly the best time to open a fitness center in the Northwoods because everyone wants to be outside,” said Weis. “But it was better than during the height of COVID.”
Weis was quick to institute a number of precautions including at-the-door temperature checks, masks worn by staff and weekly deep cleaning.
“It paid off. We took cleanliness seriously, and we still do,” said Weis.
The equipment is spaced apart, an outgrowth of Weis' experience working out in equipment in hotels and other places across the United States the past 25 years, often sandwiched into too-small spaces.
“Even when our lot is full of cars, people come in and say, ‘Where is everyone?’ You don't have to step on somebody when you want to jump rope or do other activities,” he said.
These days, the facility draws clients from not only Woodruff and Minocqua, but also Rhinelander, Tomahawk, Eagle River and Arbor Vitae, offering memberships as well as day and week passes and punch cards. Ten team members comprise the staff, including personal trainers focusing on core strength and mobility specifically aligned to golf. They cater to a membership of about 700 members with Weis anticipating a jump to 1,000 members come January, and that number does not include individuals coming in using day passes. Weis anticipates that jump after hosting a grand re-opening on June 25, drawing a few thousand people to the event that featured food, music, raffle prizes and more.
“We brought in the Woodruff Fire Department to cook brats and burgers and serve beer, water and soda, thinking, ‘If we can raise $500 or $1,000 for the fire department, even better.’” said Weis.
They blew that goal out of the water, raising $25,000 toward the purchase of a 25-foot fire and rescue boat/tritoon equipped with a 500 gpm fire pump and two hose reels. The boat is available to use throughout the Lakeland Area, including the Woodruff Police Department, Oneida County Dive Team and any area fire departments in need.
“There was a fire on an island last year, and the fire department had a two-year goal to get one of these. We put them ahead of schedule,” Weis said, “and we definitely got exposure to the community.”