Appeared in November/December 1995 LINKS
To some people, old fashioned is a cocktail; to others it’s a lifestyle. But to the members of America’s oldest 18-hole golf course, Chicago Golf Club, it is the defining characteristic. The club was old fashioned when it started 115 years ago, it’s that way today, and God willing, it will stay that way forever.
Mr. Chicago Golf Club is the club’s founder and patron saint, the talented, charming, brilliant, respected, distinguished and autocratic Charles Blair Macdonald. He got the club started in 1892, saw it through its early years and then encouraged the club to “modernize” the course in the 1920s by hiring his engineer of choice, the innovative Seth Raynor.
In its early years, this midwest gem was the hostess-with-the-mostest when it came to USGA events. It was the site of three U.S. Opens (1897, 1900, 1911), four U.S. Amateurs (1897, 1905, 1909,1912) and the 1928 Walker Cup, one of the most lopsided in history, with the American team winning 11 to 1. The U.S. team was exceptional, starting with the captain and then-current amateur champion Bobby Jones. His teammates were Jess W. Sweetser, George Von Elm, Chick Evans Jr., Francis Ouimet, Harrison R. Johnston, Watts Gunn and Roland R. MacKenzie.
The whole pace of life is different at Chicago Golf Club. Some would call it unreal, but members know it as the way it’s always been. With its small membership, a normal day of golf might see 60 players. Old fashioned does not negate all innovations, and since its beginning Chicago Golf Club has actually been a leader in a number of important issues.
For example, it is probably the first course to have a central irrigation system for watering its greens and tees. Later, in the 1920s, the club’s watering system extended to the fairways. The out-of-bounds rule supposedly started at Chicago Golf Club. Macdonald’s natural shot was a slice, so he designed the original Wheaton layout in a clockwise direction. A number of his friends drew the ball and therefore would often find their golf balls in a neighboring corn field. In a moment of great compassion, Macdonald relented to something akin to stroke and distance—for a price, one shot.
All the holes at Chicago Golf Club are good, and many are outstanding, but it’s the four par 3s that really sparkle and shine. Nos. 3 and 7 are long, measuring in at 200-plus yards. The shortest of the one-shotters is the 10th, 139 yards over water and usually right into the prevailing wind. The 7th is the club’s famous Redan hole. Standing on the tee for the first time the sight is incomprehensible. The longer you look, the less sense it makes; it’s probably better to just get up and have a go at it.
Old fashioned never looked better than it does at Chicago Golf Club, which represents the absolute truth about the game of golf. Its members can walk the walk and talk the talk. And they have every reason to do just that, for they are the personification of American golf history.
Year founded: 1892
Architects: C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor