The North Shore Country Club
At the turn of the century brought a blossom of country clubs to the Chicago area, and the North Shore Country Club was prominent among them. The popularity of established clubs like Onwentsia, Glenview and Wilmette encouraged men of means to search well-placed pastures with a potential for golf course design. Several of Wilmette's more ardent devotees did just that when they decided to form a club of their own along the shores of Lake Michigan in 1900.
For a surprisingly low rental fee, they leased a large tract of land capable of accommodating their five-hole layout. Only one road ran through their new golf course and it was of small consequence. Automobiles were barely out of the newfangled noisemaker stage, and many believed they were a novelty with a limited lifespan. Certainly they wouldn't produce any noteworthy traffic for members to contend with on Sheridan Road, then little more than a dirt path. Little did they know Chicago was a burgeoning city and the lakefront was equally prodigious in its growth. Sheridan Road became one of the more popular shoreline thoroughfares and the side streets that sprung from its trunk soon threatened the tranquility of the members' play.
When the problem of shrinking property was compounded by the destruction by the fire of the original clubhouse (at the current intersection of 9th and Ashland in Wilmette), the decision to move became an obvious one. The question of were, was far more perplexing. After a lengthy and considerable search, a worthy plot of 40 acres was found just west of the railroad depot in Kenilworth. It offered the advantages of adaptability for course design and availability at a reasonable cost.
Actually, reasonable might be an understatement. Parsimonious club officials struck a deal with the local government to pay back taxes on the land in lieu of rent. A five year lease was signed at an annual cost to the membership of only $120 per year. Shortly after the signing, the club was incorporated as the North Shore Golf Club and the construction of the nine-hole course was begun. Those early years were more than satisfactory and despite the obviously increasing value of the land, the financial arrangements were mutually agreeable for both parties and the rental option was renewed for an additional five years.
Toward the end of their first decade at the Kenilworth site, reality shook the unsuspecting members of North Shore. As they contemplated buying the property and refurbishing the club. North Shore President Hobart Marshall met with the land's owner and found the purchase price more in line for what others were paying for valuable lake front property -- $100,000 or an annual rental of $4,000.
At a time when dues were only $25 per year, the members were understandably aghast at the financial proposal before them. Marshall didn't make the pill any easier to swallow when he informed his fellow club directors the suggested improvements to the course and construction of a new clubhouse would add $15,000 to the price. Before they had a chance to gulp, the membership gamely approved the purchase and remodeling plan rather than face the prospect of life without golf. Immediately, a new membership drive was begun to help offset the costs. By 1917, the job was done and on November 3rd of that year the opening banquet was held in the new clubhouse. A long and prestigious history was anticipated in North Shore's new home. It would last less than six years before it was time to move again.
Several of the more financially farsighted directors of the club saw the way land values had skyrocketed and recognized the club's land as far to valuable to be maintained simply as a golf course. Nevertheless, to sell their club was a heart tugging proposition for the members, but it made it considerably easier by the generous offer of a local real estate developer to purchase the club for $262,000.
Before they could accept the offer, however, another new home had to be found for North Shore. Fortunately, Edgewater Golf Club, one of the oldest clubs in Chicago, held an option on a 170-acre piece of farm land held in the northern suburb of Glenview which was useless for growing corn but ideally suited for a golf course.
Edgewater was located on the northwest side of Chicago, one of the fastest growing areas in the city. The club's director recognized the financial potential in moving, but saw no immediate need to do so. Thus, the land became expendable. For slightly more than the profit they realized from the sale of the Kenilworth course, the members of North Shore had a site that was more than four times larger. Having made this significant step to the future, the design of the new course and clubhouse could be entrusted to no one but the best. The prestigious British firm of Colt, MacKenzie and Allison was commissioned to do the work, and they turned out a product that has undergone relatively minor changes in the last 60 years.
The golf course and clubhouse were officially opened on Decoration Day of 1924, and by the end of that first year North Shore's new home was host to some 300 members. With the new venue came a jump in dues and initiation, but the Great Depression was still in the future so any financial burdens took a back seat to the enjoyment provided by the fresh setting and a championship test of golf.
The new North Shore was a track to be reckoned with, a stern challenge for even the best of players. The only thing that prevented it from becoming nationally renowned was a problem that plagued many courses in the area -- lack of moisture. Without a wet spring, the dry season in Chicago left golf courses burned out and withered. North Shore's condition was no worse than 100 other clubs in the district when such a drought occurred, but the membership had a history of settling for nothing but the best and this was no time to cut corners. The only logical solution, an underground watering system, was fully discussed and approved. One hundred and ten thousand dollars later, North Shore was guaranteed green.
The new watering system also benefited the community. It was capable of supplying water to the entire village of Wilmette in the event their reservoir went dry. The 140-foot water tower that fed the system was North Shore landmark that also provided the clubhouse with drinking water. Yes, North Shore was one of the most modern facilities in the nation and ready to host a national championship. It didn't take long.
In 1928, the Western Golf Association, located just a drive and a 3-iron south of North Shore in Golf, brought the Western Open Championship to the club. It turned into a battle of the brothers Espinosa.
Abe and Al Espinosa were two of four brothers who made their living as golf professionals. Al's 71 set the pace in the qualifying trials, but it was older brother Abe who won the championship. Playing with Chick Evans the first round, Abe posted a respectable opening 74. He took the lead for good in the second round when he shot a course record 69, 3-under par, and then grimly hung on through the final 36 hole day to take the crown that Walter Hagen had held for two years running. Abe's toughest tee down the stretch came from brother Al, who pulled within two strokes with nine holes to play. Abe's steady game had wavered on the outward nine of the final round, while Alhad played even par golf and watched his come back toward him.
Abe appeared in real trouble when he bogeyed the 10th and 12th, but at the same time Al was having problems of his own. The oldest of the Espinosa clan finally collected himself and played even par golf from the 13th, which was good enough for a three stroke victory over the fast closing Johnny Farrell, who earlier in the summer had staged a come-from-behind charge that brought him a playoff victory over Bobby Jones in the U.S. Open.
Now that North Shore had proved it capable of successfully conducting a major championship, the members were ready for the big show. The 1933 US Open had the name of North Shore Golf Club on the lips of golfers everywhere, and it turned out into a truly historical event.
They were all there -- defending champion Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Farrell, Ralph Guldahl, Craig Wood, Johnny Revolta, Billy Burke, Harry Cooper, the Espinosas, Denny Shute, Olin Dutra and Horton Smith. The best professionals in the world had made the pilgrimage to North Shore in quest of the Open title, only to serve as witnesses to the last stand of the amateur king. Amateurs had been prominent contenders in the Open for years, with winners like Ouimet, Travers, Evans and Jones. When Johnny Goodman reached out and snatched the 1933 title from the professionals, few suspected that he would be the last amateur winner of the Open.
A former caddie from the wrong side of the tracks in Omaha, Goodman first caught the eye of golf enthusiasts when he knocked off Bobby Jones in the first round of the '29 Amateur at Pebble Beach. He established himself as one of the better amateurs when he made the finals of the'32 Amateur at Baltimore C.C.. But when he came to North Shore for the Open Championship, the odds against this taking the title back to Nebraska were considerable.
Johnny's starting 75 was nothing spectacular, but a second round 66 brought Goodman the lead and the headlines. In the third round, Goodman played in front of the largest gallery of his life, one which waited in anticipation of the amateur folding. Yet, Johnny played a steady round of 2-under par 70 and found himself six strokes ahead of the field with eighteen holes separating he and the Championship Trophy. Pressure didn't take its toll at the start when Johnny opened the last day with par eagle-birdie, but the closer he got to the 18th hole the tougher the task became. He struggled in with a 76 and had to wait and see if Guldahl could par the last hole to force a playoff. He didn't and Johnny Goodman went into the record books as the last amateur to win the Open.
For North Shore, The Championship was an unqualified success and left them with a taste for more. The USGA was obviously pleased because they awarded the 1939 Amateur Championship to the club.
Thomas Sheehan, Jr. had the writers working when he set a new qualifying record of 139, but from then on the show belonged to Marvin "Bud" Ward of Spokane. He was 11-under par for the 170 holes he played and in his last two matches he one-putted 29 greens. With each match, he played better. By the time he met Ray Billowsin in the finals, he was playing flawless and came away a 7 & 5 winner.
The North Shore of 1983 will have a different look than it did in the 1930's. While the design of Colt, MacKenzie and Allison has remained constant, the course has been lengthened with the construction of serial new tees and made more difficult with the addition of three strategically placed lakes. Some of the greens have been enlarged, placing a premium on putting.
However, length and accuracy will again be the key ingredients for the 1983 Amateur champion. The course will play a long, 988 yards, but the tree-lined fairways will make this championship more than a driving contest.
North Shore, like many clubs in the Midwest, lost most of its American elms when they were ravaged by the Dutch elm disease that attacked the nation’s tree population. Today, more elms, maples, willows and statuesque oak trees stand in their stead, demanding that pinpoint accuracy be as important as length of the tee. As if the trees were insufficient, North Shore also is well stocked with bunkers and often uses sand as a collar to the greens. Contestants in the Amateur Championship will find North Shore's creeping bent fairways edged by the same high rough that plagued competitors 60 years ago. Warren H. Ward, a veteran member of the club, recalled that the players in '33 referred to the North Shore rough as "broccoli" and more than one player who came out of the knee-high rough was left with long strands of grass clinging to their clubs at the finish of a swing.
Several holes will offer viewing excitement for the gallery. The third hole, a beautiful 190-yard carry over water to an undulating green, will be an early test, and the fourth is along and difficult four par. But the most difficult challenge will be the two finishing holes, both of which are difficult par 4's with trees on one side and out of bounds on the other. The 17th also features several fairway bunkers to negotiate, and playing to the 18th green under heavy pressure will be like trying to hit a dime in the Sahara desert.
North Shore was a fitting test for Open and Amateur contestants in the 1930's, and those conditions haven't changed in 1983. Years from today when competitors recall their experience at North Shore, they will remember using every club in their bag and being tested to the fullest. The player who has the game, the nerves and the stamina to withstand the challenge will be the winner and author of another chapter in the great history of what is now, North Shore Country Club.