Fore Fathers—Naperville Country Club Reflects on 95 Years of Growing Up Alongside its Hometown

June 2016 View more

For many golf aficionados, Augusta National Golf Club, home of the venerable Masters tournament every April, stands as the most historic and storied course in all the land. More than just an immaculate golf tract, the 1933 club is a place so rich in history that it has come to embody the purity and tradition of not only the game itself, but of the genteel, mannered region it calls home. It is, for a wide swath of members and global observers, a gloriously preserved and widely celebrated representation of an idealized portrait of the American South.

NMAG0616_FeatureCC_clubhouse with cars then_bw_800pxWhile Naperville Country Club may not be able to boast Augusta’s championship pedigree, worldwide acclaim or famous pimento cheese sandwiches, at a local level it very much serves as a similar complement to its hometown and, at the ripe old age of 95, can actually boast a dozen years of seniority over Georgia’s crown jewel. General Manager and COO Tim Anderson believes that, much like places such as Saints Peter and Paul Church, Edward Hospital, the Riverwalk, Naper Settlement and others, Naperville Country Club is the kind of civic institution that has become so entwined with the history of the community and its residents over the years that it has become hard to imagine one without the other.

“When I think of a community I think about the building blocks and cornerstones that serve as a solid foundation for the city and its residents, and I certainly see Naperville Country Club (NCC) as one of those building blocks here,” said Anderson. “NCC represents a small family-owned and operated business that, much like the city, has evolved, adapted and survived for 95 years, which is no easy task.”

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A Suburban Oasis

The first golf club in town, Naperville Country Club, initially opened as a nine-hole course on a 124-acre parcel of wooded land just east of the sleepy but budding downtown in 1921, before quickly expanding to an 18-hole layout designed by renowned course architect Tom Bendelow.

“All of the other courses in the area, over the years, have been conceived and built as subdivision golf courses, with sites selected based on the ability to build and sell homes around them,” Anderson explains. “The site for Naperville Country Club, on the other hand, was specifically chosen and developed as a secluded piece of property with rolling terrain.”

Upon that tucked-away parcel, Bendelow’s original design stood the test of time for decades before the course underwent a radical 2007 transformation focused on lengthening several holes and rerouting others in order to update the layout, modernize the course’s irrigation technology and keep up with advances in the game. Such dramatic changes at the club in some ways mirrored the evolution of the community around it, as Naperville grew from a quaint small town into a large, multifaceted city and one of the premier destinations in the western suburbs. Just like its hometown, however, Anderson says Naperville Country Club has managed to retain much of its initial charm over the years and throughout its myriad of changes.

“The city and the club have grown up together,” he notes. “Both can trace their roots back to a simpler time, and just like the city, over the years, the club has evolved to remain current and relevant in the lives of its members.”

NMAG0616_FeatureCC_Harshberger Family_bw_800pxOne longtime reminder of those simpler pastoral times is the familiar red pump that has served as the official Naperville Country Club icon on signage and course flags since 1986 and harkens back to the well constructed by original settler Delcar Sleight in 1869 to provide a water source for his grazing sheep. These days, one is much more likely to find golfers than livestock wandering the course, including not only members and their guests, but occasional U.S. Amateur and local high school competitors as well.

Beyond the Greens

But while golf has long been, and will continue to be, the centerpiece attraction of Naperville Country Club, Anderson says the club’s lush fairways and well-manicured greens are only one part of the story when reflecting on the attraction of a retreat that has survived and thrived for nearly a century. Members are just as likely to stop by to enjoy an intimate dinner for two, or a drink with friends on the sweeping back patio, as they are to tee it up for a round of 18 holes. It is this social aspect of the experience that Anderson says stands as the most enduring legacy of the club’s longevity, and once again reflects a spirit of community and conviviality that is one of the defining traits of the city it calls home.

NMAG0616_FeatureCC_17th scenery_800px“I think that at its core the club continues to serve the same role that always has—a place to recreate, relax and socialize,” said Anderson. “The club is the sum of its members and the membership comes from within the community, so the club is really a reflection of Naperville. It’s a community of people looking for an oasis from the stress of daily life, and a place to build memories with their families. In the modern, fast-paced world that we live in, these things may actually be more relevant than they were back in the 1920s.”

Indeed, with its well-situated clubhouse long a popular local choice for member functions and non-member rental events alike, there have arguably been just as many memories of weddings, anniversaries, baby showers and graduation parties as there have of long putts and holes-in-one over the club’s 95-year history. Figure in the dozens of charitable events the club hosts throughout any given year, and it’s easy to see how Naperville Country Club has blossomed from a simple golf course into something so much more vital and encompassing to its community.

“This is a place where many life-changing events have been celebrated and countless family memories have been made,” Anderson notes with pride about the facility. “Our hope is that Naperville Country Club is a common thread that is woven into the memories of the many members and guests that visit us. The club needs the community in order to survive, and hopefully in return, the club provides the community with a venue that helps expand their lives and creates great lifelong memories.”