A Matter of History
In 1843, President John Tyler granted, through purchase, a large tract of land to a man named Marcus Gormley. In 1897 a piece of the property was purchased by a group of Chicago businessmen who had come together to form a golf club.
The land stood atop a ridge and overlooked a broad oak savannah plain and in the distance, a wetland area. This portion, known as the “Skokie”, probably got its name from a Potawatomi Indian word for swamp or marsh. From this came “The Links of Skokie Country Club”.
There have been 4 course layouts here.
The first, designed by a member, had 9 holes. All that remains today is the small pond on No.18 and the routing of No. 8.
In 1904, the members hired Thomas Bendelow to design an 18 hole course. An acclaimed architect in his day, it should be noted that he also designed Medinah No. 3 and Olympia Fields Nos. 1 and 2.
Skokie is known as a “Donald Ross Course”. The legendary designer came to Skokie in 1914. With his signature “fore bunkers” 20 to 30 yards short of the green, lofted shots to mounded greens were promoted.
In 1922 Skokie was chosen to host the U. S. Open. Called the “National Open” at the time, a first-ever admission fee of $1 was charged. With the best golfers of the day including Walter Hagen, John Black and Bobby Jones, it drew 15,000 spectators, the largest crowd in Open history to that point.
A 20-year-old former caddie named Gene Sarazen won the tournament with a birdie 4 on the par 5 18th hole.
At the Skokie Centennial in 1997, Mr. Sarazen stood on the 18th green to address the membership. Standing on the terrace, on the slope down from the clubhouse and extending out to the putting green were most of the club’s 300 members. They were dressed in formal attire to pay homage and listen to the man who had meant so much to Skokie Country Club and who had become a legend in the history of the game. Emotion was palpable.
With the sunset at his back, Mr. Sarazen stood up to the microphone, “My grandfather won the U.S. Open here in 1922.” When the laughter passed, the 95-year old champion continued -“Boy, the trees sure have grown!
In 1938, the Club acquired land adjacent to the lagoons in the southwest “footprint” of the course. That land and real estate transactions in the north section enabled a substantial reworking. The architectural team of William Langford and Theodore Moreau were hired. Fresh from their “masterpiece” at Lawsonia Links in Green Lake, Wisconsin, they redesigned much of the layout with respect paid to the integrity of Mr. Ross’s intentions. With the exception of some modifications by the firm of Rees Jones in 1981, the current course is much as Langford and Moreau left it in the late 1930’s.
In 1999, the membership overwhelmingly approved the engagement of Mr. Ron Prichard to update the course. His extensive experience as a Donald Ross disciple was impressive and work began immediately. Mr. Prichard redesigned the greens and bunkers to the original Ross specifications and oversaw the removal of trees of poor or insignificant value. The result is classic Donald Ross.