Downers Grove Golf Club offers a challenging history

When you get the green light to start a series of nine-hole golf courses in the Chicagoland area, there’s only one place to start: Downers Grove Golf Club.

The reason is simple: it is the site of the first 18-hole course in the United States. It started as a nine hole in 1892 after Charles Blair MacDonald convinced 30 of his Chicago Golf Club members to win $10 each.

The course became the first American course west of the Allegheny Mountain Range. The group was so enamored with the game that they made history by adding nine holes the following year.

It remained the Chicago Golf Club in its original location, from 1892 until the 1894 season.

In 1894, members built a new Chicago Golf Club at Wheaton on 200 acres, and the Downers Grove site returned to nine holes.

Nearly 130 years later, residents can play on one of the toughest nine-hole courses in the state. Five holes – our 2, 4, 7, 8 and 9 – are nearly identical to their original designs. No. 7 remains exactly as it was in 1892 and is considered by many to be the signature hole.

“It’s amazing how many people come here for the first time and say, ‘I didn’t know that. How did I not know that?'” said Ken McCormick, general manager since 2019 and graduated from Lincoln-Way High School in 2003.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

The founding members would no doubt be proud of the challenge the course presents to all golfers as well as the immaculate shape in which it is maintained. Playing 3,280 yards from the blue tees, Downers Grove records with a 72.4 rating and a 133 slope.

“When you think of a municipal nine-hole course, you think of it as a (shorter) executive property,” McCormick said. “That’s not who we are. Our nine rivals the nine holes of any 18-hole course.

“We have those who come here just for the story and are very, very good golfers. We have zero to ‘plus’ handicaps playing here. But we also have a lot of beginners.

“It’s a great mix of people.”

The Downers Grove Park District purchased the course in 1968 and renovated it in the early 1990s. Two of the biggest changes included:

• Transform consecutive par 3s into what is now the third par 5 hole.

• Changed the sixth hole from a right dogleg over the water to a passable left dogleg par 4.

McCormick praised the park district for investing money in the facility and allowing longer tee time intervals to maximize everyone’s experience.

Regarding the course, there is no easing in your part. The first two holes are long, difficult par 4s with problems everywhere.

“The price bites you right away,” McCormick said. “If you can get past No. 1 and No. 2 – for most people – you have a pretty good chance of scoring.”

Be careful on the third par five (especially from the blue tees), play smart on the #5, don’t go past the seventh green hole and enjoy the great view of the par three eighth tee.

Then, pick up a birdie at nine, grab a post-round drink, and soak up some history as you view various articles and posters around the clubhouse.

For beginners, it will be a memorable day. And one that you will probably repeat over and over again.

Family fun

McCormick launched a family golf special in 2019 to help develop the game and build long-term course loyalty. After 6 p.m., up to three kids (17 and under) play for free with a paying adult ($15 to walk). Children who play at least four holes receive a free drink at the fountain.

“There’s no better time to play than golf at dusk,” McCormick said. “The sun goes down and generally the wind calms down. And you have (the same) type of golfer there, who might have a junior or a family member who understands that someone might try to teach the game to someone. …

“We encourage golfers to get out there, get an affordable rate for (beginners) and direct them to a time that is most beneficial for them to learn.”

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