The Downers Grove Golf Club Marks its 130th Season

By Valerie Hardy

The historic Downers Grove Golf Club is celebrating its 130th season. It was originally the Chicago Golf Club and established in 1892, when Charles Blair MacDonald – who, according to Golf Journal, was “a true and imposing pioneer of golf in America” – persuaded 30 of his colleagues to each contribute $10 to design and construct a nine-hole golf course. The site selected was 60 acres of farmland owned by A. Haddow Smith, a golfer from Scotland who had recently immigrated to the area. When the course opened, it was the first one west of the Allegheny Mountains. After the course’s inaugural season, MacDonald convinced the Chicago Golf Club members to add nine more holes. With the course’s expansion in 1893, it became the first 18-hole golf course in the United States. However, the following year, the Chicago Golf Club members were so taken with the sport, they decided to build a new course on more acreage near Wheaton. Shortly thereafter, the original course in Downers Grove reverted to nine holes. From 1895 to 1968, the site had several different owners and operated as The Illinois Golf Club and, later, the Belmont Golf Club.

The new driving range shelter opened in 2018 keeps golfers more comfortable on hot or cold days

The Downers Grove Park District purchased the property in 1968 and renamed it the Downers Grove Golf Club. Over the years, many golfers have played the course; perhaps, however, none more famous than Lee Trevino, a “PGA Legend, who conducted a clinic at the course,” said Ken McCormick, General Manager of the Downers Grove Golf Club. You do not have to be a World Golf Hall of Famer like Trevino to play a round at the Downers Grove Golf Club, though. Opportunities abound for golfers of all ages: instructional golf camps for children ages 3-18; private, semi-private, and group lessons for junior and adult golfers of any skill level; and morning and twilight leagues Monday-Thursday and two men’s clubs on Saturday mornings. The Downers Grove Golf Club is also the home course for the Downers Grove North High School golf teams. When leagues, school tournaments, or special events like the annual Couples Scramble are not running, tee times are available for reservation.

McCormick said, “We encourage golfers to visit over the coming year to see the great improvements we’ve made and to learn about this significant site and its part of golfing history.” The Downers Grove Golf Club’s recent improvements include the addition of a driving range shelter, which includes seating, heaters, and ceiling fans to “provide a great experience all year long, with an escape from the heat in the summer to a comfortable environment to work on your game during the winter,” McCormick said. The shelter has also virtually eliminated the need to cancel golf lessons or camps due to inclement weather. The range also features a practice putting green, sand trap, chipping area, and new private lesson tee “to create a premium experience throughout the property,” McCormick said. The interior of the clubhouse is newly renovated and the pro shop expanded, and a patio renovation will begin this fall. “Our goal is to bring additional amenities to the course and allow our guests to stay after their round and enjoy the experience in the clubhouse and on the patio overseeing the ninth hole,” McCormick said. There has been an increased focus on food and beverage this season, and in addition to relaxing with a snack or drink from the clubhouse, on certain dates, golfers may purchase items from various food vendors scheduled to be at the course. The Downers Grove Golf Club is open to the public daily from sunrise to dusk – weather permitting. The course typically opens for the season the first week in March and remains open contingent on the weather (it was open until Christmas the past two years).

Downers Grove Golf Club BY THE NUMBERS:

24 hitting stations at the driving range

650 approximate number of league players per week during peak golf season

50 employees at the course, including starters, rangers, range attendants, bartenders, pro shop attendants, beverage cart staff, and grounds superintendent, assistant superintendent, and crew

2 full-time golf teaching professionals – Jim Festle & Tom Olms

10 number of minutes between each tee time the hole on which the most golfers have shot a hole-in-one (check out the plaque in the clubhouse for a list of the lucky players who have
gotten a hole-in-one at the course)

44,717 the record-setting number of rounds played on the course last year

*Photos by 726 Visuals