Golf was unheard of when Israel G. Smith purchased a quarter section of land (160 acres) at about $1.25 per acre on the northwest outskirts of Chicago in the early 1840's. For his $200 investment, he became the first non-Indian settler in what, nearly 40 years later, would become Norwood Park Township.
By 1897, there were at least nine golf links in the Chicago area. By 1900, there were 25 courses in the area, two dozen of them private clubs. So as the enthusiasm of the game spread, seven men began to formulate what was known as Irving Golf Club in 1901. Eventually, 40 men joined the Club, 40 acres of land were secured along Addison Street and St. Charles Avenue (now Kedvale Avenue) and the Club was incorporated in 1902. Initiation was $10 and dues were slated for $2 a month.
In the next several summers, golf in the Chicago area would continue to grow, matching the manic pace of the city itself. By 1904, the Irving Golf Club was feeling the breath of the rapidly expanding metropolitan beast on its neck. The cozy 40 acre site had proven to be convenient, but the property owner saw a subdivision in its future. In turn, that meant Irving Golf Club had to move or succumb to the pressure of the city sprawl. Other Clubs had already moved, some had folded, but as the membership grew to 75 members, most of that group wanted to continue playing somewhere close to home. But where?
The death of Israel G. Smith made the search easier. When he died in 1904, Smith’s heirs decided to lease the farm that he had founded over 60 years before. This was the Irving Park Golf Club’s opportunity. When Smith’s farm was put up for lease in 1904, Harry G. Zander was among the first to know about it. One of Irving Park Golf Club’s seven founders, Zander was a real estate agent and kept an eye open not only for his clients, but for his Club, and moved quickly when he found the Smith farm up for lease.
The Smith heirs leased 70 of the acres to the Irving Park Golf Club, along with the original Smith mansion just off Smith Road (now Gunnison Street). It would become the clubhouse for a time, and later, after some renovation, the caddie house. Generally speaking, the Club would control all the land between Smith Road on the north and Montrose Avenue on the south, and from Ridgeland Avenue (now Narragansett Avenue) west to about the halfway point of the current property. The western edge of the property was something of a zig-zag route as another farmer who had claimed some of Smith’s land was not about to give it up for a mere golf club. Still the 70 acres was a vast improvement on 40 acres, and the sand based land was ideal to host a golf course of character.
Harry G. Zander had delivered a plum property, and at favorable terms. The acreage, house and a barn were leased for $848 a year. The only potential drawback: The Club was prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages on the premises. That did not, it is believed, stop the members from bringing their own drinks to the Club.
Thomas O’Neil, the Edgewater Golf Club professional, designed the original 9-hole links, which abounded in natural hazards, including the old “Glenwood Beach” Union Ridge that used to be the old shore line of Lake Michigan. Using not much more than the natural contours of the land, O’Neil, starting in the fall of 1904, came up with a 3,133 yard layout that included one of the longest holes in the country, the 535 yard second. O’Neil realized much of the potential of the available property, using the given tools available a century ago, he instantly had one of the more genuinely challenging golf courses around. Opening on May 30, 1905 the new Irving Park Golf Club was in full swing.
O’Neil’s course would suffice for four years, and which time the membership, with the adjacent Smith farm land to the immediate west available, decided to expand the course to 18 holes. A second lease was signed in November 1908 for the newly available acreage. The Club would now encompass 103 acres, and pay $1,198 yearly.
David McIntosh, the head professional at Westward Ho, was brought in to perform the job O’Neil had done four years earlier. McIntosh had to consider O’Neil’s original nine and modify the hole’s as he saw fit to give the membership not just a back nine, but an 18-hole course that played like a single entity, not two separate nines. McIntosh and the Club took their time in constructing the course to ensure they got things right and allowed the grasses to take root. The opening of the new course was pushed back thanks to a difficult summer growing season, but to everyone’s delight the new golf course was officially opened on October 16, 1909.
One month prior to the opening of the second nine holes, the Club petitioned to change its name to Ridgemoor Golf Club. The petition to officially change the name to Ridgemoor Golf Club was granted on September 9, 1909. The reason behind the change was clear. This was no longer Irving Golf Club. It had left the Irving Park neighborhood. It had grown beyond nine holes. It was a full 18, on a ridge. What better conjured up word, then, that would both identify the location of the Club and ancient Scottish heritage of the game played there? Ridgemoor sounded right, and Ridgemoor Golf Club it would be.
Ridgemoor flourished over the next several years, gaining notoriety for a pristine and challenging golf course while building the ranks of membership to nearly 300 members. There was only one more thing left to do, ensure the survival of the Club by purchasing the land it rests on. Having gone through one move, the membership surely didn’t want to go through another one. The purchase would be more expensive. The Club, reincorporated as and renamed again to Ridgemoor Country Club on March 15, 1913, bought 151 acres, or almost the entire quarter section of land originally purchased by Israel G. Smith, for $82,500 on October 2, 1913. Of which, $15,000 was a down payment and the rest on a series of notes payable to Smith’s seven heirs. Not a bad return on Smith’s $200 investment. Not a bad deal for Ridgemoor, either.
Although the golf course has been worked on numerous times, by numerous people, throughout the years it has largely remained the same. William B. Langford was brought in to do a remodeling assignment in 1921, and again with Theodore J. Moreau six years later, Ed Dearie made some adjustments to the course in the 1920's and 1930's, A.W. Tillinghast consulted on the maintenance of the course and designed the new 18th hole in 1935, Larry Packard gave the course a facelift in 1967, then Larry and son Roger Packard teamed up for more work in 1976, Bob Lohmann entered to put the 12th hole “quirk” to rest in 1988, and finally Rick Jacobson completed a course renovation in 2015.
Golf has always been the forefront of Ridgemoor, and the greatest competitive moment in Ridgemoor’s history came to fruition in 1942. The Hale America National Open was arranged to replace the United Sates Open that was canceled due to World War II, and would be staged at Ridgemoor Country Club. Sponsored by the Chicago District Golf Association, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, the Hale America, raised over $20,000 for the Navy Relief Society and USO, and achieved legendary status thanks to its winner. Ben Hogan’s 17 under par 271 across the four days, including a course record 62 in the second round, captured the Hale America by three strokes over Jimmy Demaret and Mike Turnesa.
In later years, Hogan would sometimes argue that his win at the Hale America was a de facto fifth U.S. Open win, joining victories in 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953. That said, Hogan regarded his win at Ridgemoor with pride, and the Club, having hosted the only Hale America to be played, and having Hogan as its winner, has always felt the same way.
Ridgemoor has a long, rich history that fosters a spirit of camaraderie that continues to this day. Whether you belong to Ridgemoor for golf or social aspects, you are among friends.