Naperville Country Club Celebrates 90th Anniversary
Naperville Country Club, host to many a legendary golfer and recent winner of several prestigious design awards, celebrates its 90th anniversary this year.
When a group of Naperville businessmen who, enamored with the new recreational sensation sweeping the nation, applied to the State of Illinois to form the Naperville Country Club in 1921, they established a tradition that would help define the business and social lives of many Naperville families for generations. 2011 marks the 90th anniversary of the venerable golf and social club that was founded during the golden age of golf in the U.S.
“The club has been one of the building blocks of the community- a center of family, business and community moments, including receptions, weddings, charity events, Rotary meetings, high school tournaments, engagements, baby showers, client meetings, company outings and golf with Dad,” says Club Manager and Superintendent Tim Anderson. “This is essentially a family-owned and operated small business, and it has proved to be one the most successful in the city, operating in the same location for 90 years.”
As the United States was entering the prosperity of the “Roaring ‘20s,” the Naperville community was growing as well. Boasting municipal services including electricity, gas, water and sewer, paved roads, an established public school system, Nichols Libraryand North-Western College, the city also had a thriving business community including several banks and retail operations and anchored by Kroehler Manufacturing. When a small group of local golfers placed an ad in the Naperville Clarion in December of 1920, asking interested parties to attend a gathering at City Hall, they were surprised to have nearly 40 residents show up.
The group, headed by Herbert Matter, Sr., Charles L. Swartz; James L. Nichols, Jr., Ezra Miller and Henry E. Rennels, set about acquiring land. They settled on 130 acres of broad pasture with rolling hills and Hawthorn and Black Cherry trees belonging to Delcara Sleight, avid golfer and daughter of Delcar Sleight. Delcar had owned a large spread of land in what are now the North Central College area and the Highlands, and had acquired the parcel south of the Burlington & Quincy tracks, known by the community as “the top of the hill” from farmer Jacob Brossman in 1868. Delcara Sleight would become the first female member of the Club.
One hundred twenty two charter members paid $100 each and $25 annual dues to get the club started. C.B Kroehler bought the first 10 corporate memberships. By March, a newspaper account noted that the grounds committee, chaired by banker August Germann of Naperville Savings and Loan, was “actively clearing the grounds of stone, brush and old fences.” Theodore Boecker, Jr .of Boecker Coal and Grain loaned a team of horses to help clear the fairways. The original nine holes with sand greens and pasture turf fairways gave way to an 18-hole regulation course designed by Tom Bendelow, known as ‘the Johnny Appleseed of American golf,’ for the fee of $30. Bendelow, one of the nation’s leading golf course architects, would build over 650 courses, including renowned Medina #3, South Olympia Fields and St. Charles Country Club. Naperville’s course, featuring sloping grass greens, minimal fairway bunkers, a train platform on the 4th tee and a well for irrigation, was completed in 1927. Planned tennis courts, skeet shooting range and pool were never competed.
The original clubhouse was nothing more than a wooden shack, but the industrious women’s Porch Committee saw to it that a large porch was the center of social activities, with swings, easy chairs, hanging baskets and victrolas. Herb Matter, Sr.. became the first club president. In addition to working in real estate, Matter would write a column for the Naperville Sun from 1978-96.
Fran Barenbrugge, 84, joined the club in 1956 as a young executive and entertained clients there. He says he and his wife found their entire social life revolved around the club for many years. In addition to golf, he describes weekend pitch tournaments with 40-50 men playing. He also remembers escorting his wife to dances and bridge nights.
“I would take my five boys to hit whiffle balls on Sundays so my wife could go to church.” Barenbrugge remembers. “All the boys played for their high school teams, one went on to play for Western Illinois and one was the captain of the NIU team, so I guess it paid off.” Barenbrugge’s son Dirk later became a second generation member, taking his father’s advice about entertaining customers over golf.
With the exception of the installation of an automated irrigation system in 1966 and the loss of 32 trees to vandals in 1977, the course remained substantively unchanged until after the deluge of 1996 that brought 17 inches of rain to Naperville in 24 hours. When portions of town west of the club flooded, members began talks with design consultants Arthur Hill, Steve Forest and Associates. The result was a redesigned course that was constructed in 2006 featuring the rerouting of 13 holes, the reconstruction of tees and bunkers, a new irrigation system, Halfway House, maintenance facility, parking and pond reconstruction.
The construction included the cataloging and relocating of 150 trees, the addition of 200 new trees, the incorporation of native areas and the establishment of wetland areas. The new course also has increased wildlife, including deer, coyote, foxes, numerous birds, red tail hawks and blue heron. A Grand Opening Celebration was held in May of 2008. Since then the course has gained national recognition, named Golf, Inc. magazine’s Renovation of the Year for private clubs, receiving Golf Course Industry Magazine’s Heritage award for Best Reconstruction and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois Merit Award for Special Projects. The project was also a nominated finalist for Golf Digest’s Renovation of the Year, and earned Steve Forrest Golf Course Architect of the Year honors by Boardroom Magazine.
In addition, Superintendent Tim Anderson was named Master Greenskeeper by the British and International Greenskeepers Association, an honor bestowed on just 49 professional superintendents in the world and only 14 in the United States. Golf Pro Jim Arendt, an active member of the PGA Quarter Century Club, has been recognized by the IPGA as a Senior Master for his career-long dedication to the game of golf.
“This course is a testament to the relationships and faith of the members,” says member David Tierney. “The committee brought together about 150 years of combined golf experience. When you only get to do this kind of project once every 40-80 years, you want to get it right. I think the course makes the most of the beautiful terrain, and really is a nice walk in the park. The course embraces the land so it looks like it was meant to be here.” he says.
Gregg Beggs, who joined in 1969, remembers sledding with the kids in the winter and golfing with them in summer, although he says they only golfed to humor him.
“I still remember my son standing on the 5th green and asking if it was time to go in yet.”
He describes the patio on a summer night as the most beautiful place to be in Naperville. He finds his life punctuated with scenes at the club he can play back in his head, among them his now 21 year old granddaughter running down the clubhouse hallway as a little girl, in a raspberry coat and a white muff. “It’s like it was yesterday.” he says.
Kids and grandkids were not the only bright spots members recall. Long-time Napervillian Bev Frier joined the club in 1967 in anticipation of her first husband’s recovery from illness. Once she was widowed, friends “fixed her up” with club member Bill Frier in 1973 and encouraged the courtship. The couple was engaged six weeks later.
“I think some of my best times have been there, even though I’m not much of a golfer,” she says. “I go for the social life and the exercise.”
On her 80th birthday, girlfriends decorated her golf cart with balloons and streamers, presented her with a basket of 80 pastel golf balls, and placed pictures of her on every tee box throughout the course.
Says Frier “I look back on my friendships and experiences at Naperville Country Club as among my very favorites. It’s really been a big part of life here.”
Naperville Country Club has hosted several celebrated golfers, including Lee Trevino, Jim Colbert, Chick Even, Fuzzy Zeller, Big Cat Williams and Padraig Harrington. The Club is home to the North Central College Men’s Golf Team and The Rotary Club of Naperville, Sunrise, and is host to several charity events each year, including the annual Women’s Holiday Boutique, Patriot Golf Day for Scholarships for children of soldiers killed in battle, and the Rally for a Cure Breast Cancer Awareness Auction.
Naperville Country Club has an active caddie program, and has sponsored four Evans Scholars, Joe Devaney to Miami of Ohio, Ryan Stone to Northwestern, Allison Cooney to Marquette and Adam Loritz to Miami of Ohio. Named for golf great Chick Evans, the
program provides full four-year tuition and housing to students who have successfully participated in a caddie program, have excellent academic preparation, strong character and demonstrated financial need. Evans Scholars are nominated by their clubs and club members contribute to the scholarship program. There are currently 9,200 alumni of the Evans Scholars program. The program at Naperville Country Club is coordinated by member Mike Nasset.
The club is a member of the Western Golf Association, The Chicago District Golf Association, The Chicago Women’s District Golf Association and the Illinois PGA, as well as several professional associations.