No discussion of the history of golf in North America can be complete without the inclusion of Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois. One of the five original members of the USGA, the club has held numerous national championships and shaped the development of golf in the United States, while also hosting nearly every top professional to ever play the game.
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No golf clubs existed in the United States before 1888, but by 1893, there were 16. Only one of the clubs was not located on the East Coast – Chicago Golf Club, which was originally located in the town of Belmont, now Downers Grove. The club moved to Wheaton in 1895 and took its name from the Chicago Club, which was founded in 1869 and is a private social club located on Michigan Avenue. Some of the original holes remain from the original 9-hole layout at Downers Grove Golf Course.
CB Macdonald : The Father of American Golf Architecture
Chicago Golf Club was founded by renowned course designer, 1895 U.S. Amateur Champion and World Golf Hall of Fame member Charles Blair Macdonald, who was born in Canada in 1856 and grew up in Chicago. At 16 years-old CB Macdonald was sent overseas to study in St. Andrews, Scotland. It was there where Macdonald would become enamored with the game of golf and would later serve as the impetus for his book “Scotland’s Gift, Golf: Reminiscences by Charles Blair Macdonald“.
Upon his return to Chicago, Macdonald was committed to organizing a golf club in Chicago. His first foray was a seven-hole course that ran along the Lake Michigan shore in Lake Forest during the summer of 1892. This original site proved popular with many overseas visitors, including those to the 1893 World’s Fair who were already familiar with the game. However, Macdonald ultimately felt that the site was too limited and unchallenging.
On July 13, 1893, the Chicago Golf Club was incorporated with a 2,800-yard 9-hole course on 60 acres of land in Downers Grove. A year later, Macdonald purchased 200 acres of land in nearby Wheaton and built the country’s first 18-hole course.
The original length of Chicago Golf Club was 5,877 yards, but was expanded to 6,032 yards by 1900. The official distance from the black tees is now 6,877 yards.
CB Macdonald modeled his design of Chicago Golf Club after the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Always a traditionalist, Macdonald preferred grass-covered mounds, rolling terrain and pot bunkers over hilly terrain and trees.
Macdonald believed the greens were the soul of the golf course and he took great pains to make the putting surfaces at Chicago Golf Club spectacular. In 1897, the club became the first to use bent grass on its greens. That same year, the club also built a central watering plant with a steam engine and an irrigation system to pump up to 100,000 gallons of water each day to the club’s 18 greens. Also in 1897, Chicago Golf Club hosted both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open in the same week.
The club would continue its tradition of innovation with the first mowing machine on a golf course, which was pulled two horses. Club members were also fined $1 for not replacing fairways divots. This focus on course maintenance of pristine playing conditions continues to this day.
The Foulis Brothers Arrive from Scotland
The World’s Fair of 1893 attracted 28 million people to Chicago from all over the world. Among these attendees were many with Scottish, Irish and British heritage who were already familiar with the game of golf and eager to become golf professionals or club makers.
One of those new American transplants was James Foulis, who ran the golf shop at the Chicago Golf Club along with his brother David. James Foulis was born in St Andrews in Scotland and his father worked at Old Tom Morris’s golf shop and clubmaking business.
In 1895 James came to the United States to take up a job as a golf professional at Chicago Golf Club, where he became the first golf professional in the western States. Foulis was a dynamic player, winning the 1896 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island.
In addition to teaching the game, the brothers Foulis would go on to great success in designing golf equipment, including the patented design of the “mashie-niblick”, which would become the modern 7-iron, falling between the traditional mashie (5-iron) and niblick (9-iron). They also invented the bramble patterning for Coburn Haskell’s rubber-cored ball and designed golf courses throughout the Midwest. James Foulis would later design the 18-hole South Course at Hickory Hills Country Club.
The Seth Raynor Renovation
In 1921, golf course architect Seth Raynor was hired by Chicago Golf Club to renovate the course. Raynor trained as a civil engineer at Princeton University and was a long-time protégé of CB Macdonald.
Raynor was not a golfer, but he became a prodigious architect nonetheless. Several of his designs have hosted professional events including Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and the Country Club of Charleston, South Carolina. Raynor also designed Shoreacres, located in Lake Bluff, which was ranked 55th on Golf Digest’s America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses of 2019-20.
Raynor designed over 100 golf courses during his career and often used the same “template holes” including the Redan and Biarritz that came from shaping natural topographies, creating deeper bunkers and elevating greens. After hiring Raynor for the renovation of Chicago Golf Club, CB Macdonald told the membership of the club to leave Raynor alone and let him complete the project as he saw fit.
The original clubhouse was designed by renowned Chicago architect Jarvis Hunt, who also designed the clubhouse for National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York. The original clubhouse burned down two weeks before the course hosted the 1912 U.S. Amateur Championship.
Chicago Golf Club is ranked one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world by GOLF Magazine. There are only about 120 members and the only way to get in is by invitation from a member.
Noted Past and Present Chicago Golf Club Members
- Robert S. McCormick – United States Ambassador
- Charles Blair Macdonald – the grandfather of American golf
- Marshall Field – founder of Marshall Field and Company
- Potter Palmer – Chicago businessman, developer
- Chick Evans – golf legend
- Margaret Abbott – the first American woman to win an Olympic event
- Paul Harvey – radio legend
- Ben Crenshaw – two-time Masters champion
- Roger Cleveland – founder of Cleveland Golf
- Chris O’Donnell – actor
Major Amateur and Professional Tournaments Held at Chicago Golf Club
- 1897 U.S. Amateur – H.J. Whigham
- 1897 U.S. Open – Joe Lloyd
- 1900 U.S. Open – Harry Vardon
- 1905 U.S. Women’s Amateur – Bessie Anthony
- 1905 U.S. Amateur – H. Chandler Egan
- 1909 U.S. Amateur – Robert Gardner
- 1911 U.S. Open – John McDermott
- 1912 U.S. Amateur – Jerry Travers
- 1928 Walker Cup – United States
- 1979 U.S. Senior Amateur – William C. Campbell
- 2005 Walker Cup – United States
- 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open – Laura Davies
Chicago Golf Club – Hole by Hole
Hole #1 – 450 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 5
The first tee is directly in front of the clubhouse. It provides a memorable first experience that you’re following in the same footsteps as Charles Blair MacDonald, Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon and all the greats since the late 1800s.The first fairway is wide enough to help calm your nerves. The fairways were fast and firm when I played in July, so tee shots would often pick up a great deal of roll out.
A crescent-shaped bunker bisects the fairway and the rough on the right side. There are also a couple smaller bunkers of the left, off the fairway as you get close to the putting surface.
The first green is protected by sand traps on all three sides. This is a common feature at Chicago Golf Club, so gauging how much approach shots release will be imperative. I lost more than one shot into a green side bunker after misjudging the release distance.
Hole #2 – 481 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 3
Playing to a diagonal fairway, the 481-yard par four second hole offers a wide landing area for shorter hitters, that narrows the further your ball travels. Four successive bunkers, along with fescue grass border the left side of the fairway.The putting surface is slightly raised with a deep circular bunker on the front left portion. A long strip of traps also serves as a catch basin for shots to the right. I was able to experience both locations after my approach found the right side and my bunker shot released into the left trap.
Hole #3 – 219 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 17
The par 3 third hole plays 219 yards and is known as a Biarritz hole. The massive, square shaped green is bisected by a 3-5 foot deep swale in front and is protected by narrow bunkers on all four sides of the green.The Biarritz favors a low running shot that can run through the swale to emerge on the green. If you don’t judge the distance correctly, you’ll find the wrong side of the valley.
Hole #4 – 536 Yards, Par 5, Handicap 1
The fourth hole is the first par 5 at Chicago Golf Club and it plays 536 yards from the black tees. A slight dogleg left, the tee shot requires a precise distance calculation as there are four scattered bunkers on either side of the fairway. There is also deep fescue on either side. Find any of those hazards and your second shot becomes even more difficult as the fairway narrows the closer you get to the hole.
The fourth green is raised with a collection area in front of the green. The large putting surface offers sand on three sides that will collect errant shots. One member of our group ran their chip shot through the green into the back bunker, while another had the ball come back down the front side of the green after their putt ran out of gas.
Hole #5 – 358 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 13
Unlike many modern courses, at Chicago Golf Club, the tee box for the next hole is often within a short distance from the previous green. The fourth green is just steps away from the fifth tee, which is a 358-yard par four.
The primary challenge off the tee on the 5th hole is to avoid the diagonal bunker on the right side of the fairway. The fairway slopes a bit right to left and deep rough will collect errant shots to either side.
Finding a preferred yardage for your uphill approach shot would be considered your second objective as this square green is large, but heavily fortified. Small, but deep bunkers are waiting to collect any attempt that misses the target. Select your approach club wisely and be sure to consult the highly educated caddies at Chicago Golf Club.
Hole #6 – 395 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 9
Known as “Double Plateau” the par four 6th hole is 395 yards long, and plays parallel to the 5th hole. Finding the fairway is imperative as this approach shot demands respect.The huge green is raised dramatically from the fairway and the putting surface also offers two tiers – explaining the hole’s nickname. The green slopes tremendously from back to front, making it entirely possible to hit the green with your approach, only to see your ball trundle back down 30-40 yards into the fairway.
There’s really no bailout on the 6th hole, with equal penalty available with shots short and long. Deep traps behind the green provide an all but impossible downhill bunker shot, especially if the greens are at their typical speed.
Hole #7 – 207 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 15
The famous 7th is a Redan hole, which comes the French word for part of a fortification. Redan holes typically range anywhere from 170 to 240 yards and are well defended with the green offset close to a 45-degree angle moving from right to left and bunkers all around. Sweetgrass Golf Club in Michigan’s premier Upper Peninsula at Island Resort & Casino also offers a Redan hole.The 7th at Chicago Golf Club plays 207 yards from the black tees and features a green that doglegs from right to left. The green also slopes in the same direction, so depending upon pin placement, more shots will release left.
Long, narrow bunkers frame the green on either side, eager to catch shots that roll off the putting surface. I hit a beautiful 6-iron right of left-side pin placement. However, my six proved to be too much club and rolled into the diagonal bunker on the right. An excellent bunker shot still left me with a lightning fast 20-footer, from which I needed three putts to walk away with a double bogey. This Redan was indeed highly fortified!
Hole #8 – 443 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 7The 8th hole tee box is at one of the lower points on the property, obscuring your view of the most of the fairway and green. However, since the fairway slopes a bit from right to left, there’s plenty of room to be aggressive with your driver.
The green is up on a plateau and is shaped from left to right. Sand is available long and right, so careful consideration must be paid when assessing distance and release of your approach.
Hole #9 – 438 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 11
The 9th hole is a 438-yard par four that once again features a left to right diagonal fairway bunker on the left side of the fairway. If you can carry this hazard, you’ll have a nice look at the hole.
Appropriately named “Pond” because it intersects the only water feature on the golf course, the 9th hole requires an approach over water to a massive square green. Club selection can vary multiple clubs depending on pin placement and the prevailing wind direction. Course architect CB MacDonald must have felt the pond was enough protection as there are no greenside bunkers on the final hole of the outward nine.
Hole #10 – 139 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 16
The pond is once again in play on the 139-yard par three 10th hole that is appropriately named “Short”. This hole may be distance-challenged, but it sure can pack a punch despite a massive putting surface.
The raised green is wide, but not very deep and is wrapped in sand, something you’ve definitely become used to at this point in the round. The surface itself features some severe undulations, many of which can play a major role in club selection depending upon pin placement.
Hole #11 – 410 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 6
The first par four of the back nine is the 11th hole, which is a dogleg left that offers a generous landing area for your tee shot. The deep rough and second cut of fescue start to narrow as you come closer to the green.The 11th plays 410 yards from the black tees and the wide fairway is necessary since you’ll need to pay full attention to your approach shot. The green is uphill, adding to the challenge of distance control. A deep bunker protects the front left of the green and two traps are waiting behind the green for shots that miss the mark.
Hole #12 – 462 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 4
Nicknamed “Punchbowl”, the 12th hole at Chicago Golf Club is a long, straight par four that plays to another raised green. If you can avoid the five scattered fairway bunkers, it’s best to hammer your drive as long as possible to help with your second shot.Once again, your view of the raised putting surface on your approach will be limited. Even more importantly, the punchbowl on the 12th green drains out of the right side, so it’s best to favor the left side with a short iron.
Hole #13 – 180 Yards, Par 3, Handicap 18
At 180 yards from the black tees, the 13th hole is played from a slightly raised tee box to a highly fortified green. Four deep traps surround the putting surface.
The green features a false front with large putting surface that sweeps from right to left. The miss here is the center of the green and anything but short.
Hole #14 – 351 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 14
The 351-yard par four 14th hole is the shortest par four at Chicago Golf Club, but it provides plenty of challenges in lieu of distance. Another right to left diagonal bunker is an aim point for your tee shot.
The fairway squares off past the bunker and actually offers plenty of landing area. A short wedge is preferred for your approach as this green is loaded with danger. One lengthy trap wraps the left side of the putting surface from back to front. There is a small strip of fairway in front of the green to potentially run up a shot. However, over aggressive approach shots will easily fall down into a second sand trap right of the green.
Hole #15 – 393 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 10
The 15th hole is a dogleg right that plays uphill to a raised, square green with bunkers on three sides. Once again, there is a right to left diagonal fairway bunker that serves as a good aim point. A good drive will carry this trap while also avoiding three additional traps that skirt the far left side of the fairway.A false front guards the putting surface, but the option to run your approach up the hill is definitely a possibility. The trouble is back, left and right, placing a premium on precision with your approach.
Hole #16 – 525 Yards, Par 5, Handicap 2
With the driving range to your right, the 16th tee box is a very short walk from the back of 15 green. Named Raynor’s Prize in honor of course architect Seth Raynor, the 16th is a 525-yard dogleg right par five.The preferred tee shot is on the left side of the fairway, opening up a clear path to the green. My tee shot chose the deep fescue to the right of the fairway, which also offers multiple trees that blocked any consideration but a chip laterally back into the shirt grass. Two long, narrow bunkers stretch across the left and right sides of the fairway. They’ll possibly come into play on your second shot. The raised green offers sand left and right, but a clear path to the green with a low pitch shot.
Hole #17 – 465 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 12
The finishing holes at Chicago Golf Club are two par fours that offer wide fairways and ample landing area for a driver. The 17th plays 465 yards, much of which is uphill.
A crescent-shaped bunker intercepts the right side of the fairway, making the proper miss left. Deep rough that borders both sides of the fairway shouldn’t be too much of a consideration.
The real challenge on the 17th hole at Chicago Golf Club is the approach to a square, raised putting surface that is protected by two narrow bunkers in front and two traps on either side. There is also a tightly-mowed run up area in front of the green.
Hole #18 – 425 Yards, Par 4, Handicap 8
The fairway on the closing hole offers three bunkers on the right side that can be carried by most tee shots. There is also a small fairway bunker on the left side, further down the landing area. The 18th green is wide and deep, offering numerous potential pin placements. Similar to the 17th, there is a tightly-mowed area in front, that presents multiple shot options for those of us who are trying to get up and down to save par.