The Man Who Brought Golf to Chicago and America (Conclusion)

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

In the closing ceremonies at the 2012 Ryder Club held at Medinah Country Club, it seemed as if everyone in Chicago was thanked for staging, attending, and promoting the sports event in Illinois. But perhaps the most important person in Chicagoland golf wasn’t even mentioned at any of the ceremonies. This is the second and concluding part of this series. Read Part 1.

The Man Who Brought Golf to Chicago and America (Conclusion) 1
Charles Blair Macdonald

IT WASN’T UNTIL 1888 THAT GOLF finally made it to America, and to Yonkers, N.Y. The game then traveled to Lake Forest in Chicago.

It was in the spring of 1892 that Charles Blair Macdonald designed a 7-hole golf course on the lawns of the home of Senator Charles B. Farewell. The course was built for Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the arrival to the city of young college men from England who played the game.

That summer of ’92 MacDonald would also lay out the 9-holes of the Chicago Golf Club in Belmont, Illinois, and, the following spring, add another 9-holes to make Chicago Golf Club the first 18-hole course in America. From those humbling beginnings, Macdonald by 1901 proclaimed himself: Father of American Golf Architecture.

With friends Macdonald bought 205 acres in Sebonac Neck, Southampton, and began to design National Golf Links of America. He wanted to build a course in the style of the British links, with the “strategic interest, playability, and charm of the Old Course at St. Andrews,” writes Tom Doak in his Foreword to George Babto’s wonderful, The Evangelist of Golf, The Story of Charles Blair MacDonald. And that is what he did.

As Geoff Shackelford writes in Grounds For Golf: The History and Fundamentals of Golf Course Design, “he took concepts proven in the British Isles…and allowing those classic design ideas to be recreated…using proven ideas effectively while adding his own distinct twists.”

It would take until 1911 before the National Golf Links officially opened, but Macdonald continued to tinker with the course, moving bunkers, tees, and even greens through 1929.

In 1939, he died at the age of 83 in Southampton, close to his masterpiece. Through all those years he was also a central figure in codifying the rules of the game with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the American Golf Association, later renamed the United States Golf Association.

No, they didn’t remember him at the Ryder Cup in Chicago, but perhaps in 2014, back in Gleneagles, Scotland, where this game all began, and where C.B. Macdonald first learned to play with a baffy and a niblick, they will.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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Neil Sagebiel

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