From generation to generation
Photos by: Marcello Rodarte
By: Mike Ellis
Golf is a game rich with history and tradition. For some golfers and aficionados, that history and tradition is summarily conflated under legendary champions, picturesque courses and thrilling moments—under Tiger and Jack, Augusta and St. Andrews, Larry Mize’s chip-in and Jean van de Velde’s self-destruction. For others, that history and tradition is more localized and personal—it’s enjoying the game in the company of family and friends within the comfortable confines of the course and club you were raised on.
Hinsdale Golf Club has an extensive tradition of golf—and also as a family-oriented club filled with multi-generational members who respect their forerunners and the environment they sought to preserve.
"I think the one thing that describes Hinsdale Golf Club is that it’s a family club," said Ross Forbes, a former club president and a member since 1976. "There are business clubs around, there are men’s clubs; but Hinsdale has always prided itself on being a family club. There are a lot of legacies—a lot of three- and four-generation families that have been members."
Founded in 1898, Hinsdale Golf Club’s history predates the 20th century. In 1893, Atlee Edwards of Philadelphia came to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Edwards visited his aunt and uncle in Hinsdale, and brought golf clubs along. He showed his uncle how to play the game, and left the clubs behind after returning home. A short time thereafter, Edwards’ uncle and several of his friends laid out a six-hole course near Burns Field on Hinsdale’s north-side and began playing. Several years later, in the fall of 1898, these men applied for and received a charter from the State of Illinois to organize Hinsdale Golf Club, with an express purpose "to promote, foster and encourage the game of ‘Golf’ and such other athletic social games as its members may desire to engage in."
Designed by early Chicago golf architect Herbert Tweedie, the original course was nine holes, bounded by Chicago Ave. to the south, Ogden Ave. to the north, what is now Ill. Route 83 to the east, and the club’s current eastern boundary to the west. The club leased this land from Henry Middaugh, a former DuPage County school director. Shortly thereafter, the club arranged nine additional holes north of Ogden Ave. to become an 18-hole course; in 1907, this course hosted the prestigious Western Open, which was won by Robert Simpson, a native of Carnoustie, Scotland. The course required golfers to cross Ogden Ave. and Naperville Road twice, and was famous for the gaping gravel pits on its finishing hole. In 1909, the club was forced to move, and sought to procure a 133-acre parcel of land adjacent to it. Frank Butler, an HGC member and father of Oak Brook founder Paul Butler, entered into a partnership with two other men to purchase the land from Oliver Stough.
The Golf Course
In the fall of 1910, the new course opened for play. In The Architects of Golf, authors Geoffrey Cornish and Ron Whitten, attributed its design to famous golf-course architect Donald Ross in either 1913 or 1918. But since the course opened in 1910, HGC member Dick Pinto, the club’s unofficial historian, said this theory does not seem to add up.
"As far as we know, the course was laid out by our [club] pro at the time, Scotsman John Adams," Pinto said. "We believe that he had the help of James and David Foulis, club pros at Chicago Golf, who learned the sport from Old Tom Morris in St. Andrew’s Scotland."
Pinto said the club lost all of its records in a 1920 clubhouse fire, and Cornish and Whitten were unable to corroborate Ross’s alleged work at Hinsdale.
"We would welcome any further information on [the connection between] Donald Ross and HGC, and continue to look for it ourselves. Also, we understand
that people may wish to continue to believe this claim to be the case, and respect their opinion."
Other architects, including Lawrence and Roger Packard, Dick Nugent, Bob Lohmann and William Fuller, have also made modifications through the years.
At 6,520 yards in length, HGC’s distance pales in comparison to mammoth 7,000-yard courses stretched for professional usage.—But that doesn’t mean it is without obstacles and pitfalls to challenge players of various skill levels. Small greens and numerous trees allow accuracy to trump power on this golf course.
"The big defense of Hinsdale Golf Club is the size of the greens," Forbes said. "They’re really small—typically 5,000 square feet or under."
Many holes involve radically different strategies from the rough than the fairway, due to the multiplicity of trees. Out of bounds also enters into play on the back nine on the right side of holes 11, 12, 15 and 17—and even 10, 14 and 16 if you have a penchant for severely slicing the ball.
"I think we have a good golf course," Pinto said. "It’s not the longest or the toughest, but it’s a nice, playable course."
HGC’s signature hole, "Andy Gump," is a 196-yard par-3 which plays above 200 yards from the back tees. Its name is derived from a cartoon character of the same name, whose likeness is clearly visible in the elaborate bunker to the right of the green.
"Andy Gump was a cartoon character in the ‘10s and ‘20s," Pinto said, "and the man that drew the cartoon was a good friend of several members. His name was Sidney Smith."
The green slopes severely from right to left, and combined with the length of the hole and the pronounced uphill slope, creates perhaps the most difficult hole on the golf course. Birdie is a score seldom recorded on "Gump."
"I think [the course] is eminently playable for people of all ages," Forbes said. "There are at least three tee boxes per hole, so depending on your skill level and age, it’s fun—it’s not like some courses where there are force-carries, and you have to hit over a marsh."
Many local residents of manifold ages spent portions of their youths as caddies at Hinsdale. The HGC caddy program allows kids to caddy from the time they complete seventh grade until the summer after they graduate from college. On the course, their duties include carrying clubs, washing balls, raking bunkers and removing flagsticks. By spending time on the course with different groups of people with a variety of personalities, caddies not only enhance their knowledge of golf, but also social skills.
"Hinsdale is known for attention to detail, the teaching of etiquette, as well as the rules of golf," Forbes said.
"[Peabody] said, ‘You should treat your caddy like your son,’" he said. "While he was president, he went out of his way to improve conditions at the caddy-yard."
Coordinated by the WGA, the Evans Scholar program provides full-ride scholarships to experienced caddies with exemplary academic records who require a certain level of financial aid. Throughout its history, 61 HGC caddies have completed the Evans Scholar program.
"We feel great about contributing to the Evans Scholar program so that these kids can go to Michigan, Colorado, Illinois [or] Northwestern [on a full-ride]," Forbes said.
Establishing a Family Club
For roughly four decades, golf was the only sport played at HGC; but that changed in 1934, when the club completed a pool and began offering swimming. Three years later, tennis got underway on several green clay courts somewhat akin to the U.S. Open surface from the 1970s. In an area known for producing tremendous tennis and swimming talent at the high-school level and beyond, many a competitive career commenced on the grounds of HGC.
In the 1970s, the club constructed the first platform tennis courts in the Greater Hinsdale area. As the popularity of the sport has rapidly expanded over the past decade, HGC recently finished a modern platform tennis facility, complete with four courts, a fireplace and large-screen TVs.
"It’s always been a family-oriented club, and that’s never changed," Pinto said. "That’s been a constant, and it’s really guided and influenced the club ever since [its early years]."
Besides offering golf, tennis and swim lessons for kids, HGC also launches fireworks annually on the Fourth of July. With a platform tennis facility and a permit to shoot skeet (i.e., clay pigeons) in the winter, Hinsdale is a club that members can utilize year-round.
"Living in Chicago, there are five months of the year when it’s pretty hard to get a lot out of your club," Forbes said, "but with the platform tennis and skeet, there’s a lot of things to do even in the winter."
"The history of the club is special, and I wanted a place that I could bring my daughters to golf," said P.J. Huizenga, whose family joined HGC last summer. "You’ve got paddle and shooting in the winter; you’ve got golf, tennis and swimming in the summer—and there’s a great membership [with] great young families."
Forbes’ daughter Sarah Salmen recently became a junior member, and said her children frequently participate in the sundry activities the club has to offer.
"I spend every day of the summer there," Salmen said. "My boys do swimming and tennis, and my oldest does golf. A lot of the staff has been there since I was a little girl, so I’ve grown up with them too."
The membership application process is not exactly a cakewalk, as Forbes said the club does not merely seek to add members who are willing and able to pay their dues.
"There’s a very distinct membership process," he said. "It’s not to keep people out—it’s very inclusive—, but it’s a situation where you want people to be comfortable.
"The key cornerstone is, we want someone that joins the club to know other members; we don’t want somebody that can just write a check and show up."
An applicant must be invited to join, and multiple vouchers are requisite for approval. Forbes said these vouchers must be detailed—more than simply, "I met the man getting off the train, and he seems like a decent guy."
Despite the thoroughness of the process, Forbes said HGC is always looking to add new members, and offers rates that compare favorably with many other clubs.
"You can’t buy your way in, but it’s a club that really thrives on attracting new families and new members," he said. "I think the monthly dues and initiation fees are very competitive."
The family-based membership is complemented by an experienced staff that enables the club to continue to thrive. Golf professional Phil Campoli, dining room manager Margaret Ferguson, club manager Jim Kravcik and caddymaster Walter Kowalczyk have each spent multiple decades with HGC in significant leadership positions.
"We were drawn into this club, because the people we met happened to be members [here]," said Julie Akers, whose family joined the club last August. "It goes beyond the members—it goes to the staff; the staff is like family. You come in after the winter break, and everybody hugs and welcomes each other back—staff and members alike."
Pinto echoed the same sentiment.
"The club [has an] excellent, long-serving and devoted staff that makes everyone, member or guest, feel very much at home, and anticipates their every wish," he said. "Most of the senior staff has worked for the club for a long time, and has known several generations of members.
"The staff, in many ways, is part of our family."
With many of the members being so well acquainted with their forerunners, upholding tradition is carefully weighed with crafting changes for the future. For instance, when the course was recently rehabbed in 2005, the club made an effort to restore some of its original features while improving upon several greens that required modification. And the pool, which has stood in its present place for the past four decades, will be supplanted this fall and be replaced by a new one that will be completed by next spring.
Comprised of 12 members serving three-year terms, the Board of Directors is entrusted with making such pivotal decisions.
"I think it’s a board that, if you get asked to serve on, it’s a real honor," Forbes said. "You find out very early that there’s a lot of policy and procedure that’s gone before you. But to be an organization of any kind, you need to adapt; you don’t want to turn your back on what’s good about tradition, but you don’t want to have a blind eye towards changing demographics."
Pinto said the family-rooted nature of the club, coupled with the focus on tradition, ensure the next century will unfold as many memories as the last.
"Among our membership, we have always been able to find competent people willing to step up and devote the time and effort, as officers and directors, to the governance of the club," he said, "and the continuance of its many fine traditions, as well as properly planning for it’s future.
"We have a great family-oriented membership, and continue to get new, younger members to ensure the continuity of this tradition in the future."
Top Right: The Akers and Huizenga children carry their clubs up to the first hole.
Bottom Right: Peter Huizenga prepares to tee off.