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Golf - History

Golf Course History

The Chicago Golf Club in 1892 was established by a group of Chicago businessmen on the site of the current Downers Grove Golf Course. The founding father of the Chicago Golf Club was Charles Blair Macdonald who was, according to Golf Journal, "a true and imposing pioneer of golf in America." Macdonald has been credited with having great influence in establishing the United States Golf Association, the development of golf course architecture in America, and "defending the faith" as taught to him at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Early in 1892, Macdonald, motivated by England's Sir Henry Wood, Commissioner General to the Chicago World's Fair, persuaded thirty of his Chicago Club colleagues to contribute ten dollars each to design and construct a nine-hole golf course. The site that was chosen was a sixty-acre stock farm owned by A. Haddow Smith. A. H. Smith was a Lanarkshire golfer who had immigrated in 1890 to the United States from Musselburg, Scotland, where the game of golf was first played in 1774. When Smith heard of Macdonald's plan, he enthusiastically offered his land as the location for the new golf course.

The golf course was completed and ready for play in the late spring of 1892. Thus America's first golf course west of the Allegheny mountain range had been established. When the inaugural season had ended, Macdonald convinced Chicago Golf Club members to add nine more holes to the course. Therefore, in 1893, the first eighteen-hole golf course in the United States was established on this site.

By 1895, Chicago Golf Club members had become so taken with the sport that they decided to build a new eighteen-hole golf course on two-hundred acres of land located near Wheaton, Illinois. The Chicago Golf Club is still in existence there today.

From 1895 to 1968, the site of the Downers Grove Golf Course was owned by several different individuals and was operated under the name of Belmont Country Club. In 1968, the course was purchased by the Downers Grove Park District and was renamed the Downers Grove Golf Course.

Chronology of Key Events

  • 1892 Charles Blair Macdonald, with $10 contributions from Chicago Club colleagues, laid out nine holes at Belmont, Illinois, during the summer.   
  • 1893 During the spring, Macdonald added another nine holes, making Belmont the site of the first 18-hole course in the United States. In July, the Chicago Golf Club (at Belmont) was granted a charter by the State of Illinois.   
  • 1894 The Chicago Golf Club moved from Belmont to Wheaton, Illinois.   
  • Mid 1890s The Belmont site was briefly known as the Illinois Golf Club.  
  • 1899 In March, the site was incorporated as the Belmont Golf Club. The 9-hole course occupied 47 acres of hilly terrain with both natural and artificial hazards.   
  • 1920s The first clubhouse burned down.   
  • 1930s The course was purchased by the Slepicka family.   
  • 1968 Downers Grove Park District purchased the course for $750,000.   
  • 1976 The second clubhouse burned down.   
  • 1977 The third clubhouse was built.   
  • 1992 The Downers Grove Golf Course celebrates its centennial anniversary.   
  • 1993 Renovation projects remodeled and upgraded several holes and rebuilt all greens to USGA specifications.   
  • 1994 New driving range and learning center opened in June and ground was broken for a new clubhouse.
  • 1995 Present clubhouse opened


Charles Blair Macdonald, founder of the original Downers Grove Golf Course site, is widely recognized as the father of Chicago golf and has been called the father of golf course architecture. Recorded in golf history as the winner of the first U.S. Amateur in 1895, he is credited with bringing to this country the rules of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, and with introducing the out-of-bounds rule. Macdonald also was one of the principal founders of the United States Golf Association and served as USGA committee representative to the Royal and Ancient in 1908 during discussions regarding the rules of golf.

As an architect, he created such masterpiece courses as the National Golf Links of America on Long Island (1911), the Mid-Ocean in Bermuda (1924), and the Yale University Club at New Haven, Connecticut (1926). It is written that Macdonald never accepted a fee for designing a course, but did it for the love of the game. 

Macdonald was born in Canadian Niagara Falls in 1856. He acquired both an education and an affection for golf when he was a student at St. Andrews, Scotland, from 1872 to 1874. When he returned to the U.S. in 1874, there was not even one golf course in this country. He referred to these golfless years as the "Dark Ages." 

Macdonald left Chicago in 1900, settling in New York and becoming a partner in the Wall Street brokerage firm of C.D. Barney. In 1939, he died in Southhampton near the National Golf Links.

2455 Warrenville Road•Downers Grove, IL 60515•(630)963-1304•Copyright © 2004

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