After turning from Haddow Avenue into the parking lot of the Downers Grove Golf Club, it quickly became apparent that this course is extremely proud of its important link to American golf history. Established in 1892 as the original home of the Chicago Golf Club, the addition of nine holes the following year made it America’s first 18-hole course, and the signage at the entrance, the front of the scorecard and every nook and cranny of the prairie style clubhouse reinforces these facts. Founder and architect Charles Blair Macdonald moved the club to a new site in Wheaton in 1895, and that resulting course still exists as one of the most exclusively private and revered courses on the planet (currently ranked 26th on Golf Digest’s World rankings).
The original site reverted back to nine holes and relative anonymity under several owners as the Belmont Country Club until 1968, when the Downers Grove Park District took over ownership and operation of the course, and remnants of the initial layout can still be found on several of the holes 120 years later. What I discovered on my first visit to DGGC earlier this year was a challenging full length parkland style track filled with mature trees, varied topography and elements of prairie that provided an appealing mix of scenic holes packed into the compact west suburban neighborhood footprint.
The course is tucked away just west of Belmont Avenue and north of the Downers Grove train station, hidden from view behind the Henry Puffer Grade School, but the effort to find this nine hole gem was definitely worthwhile. The course plays to just under 3,300 yards from the back set of 4 tees (2,500 yards from the forward set), and the 23 sand traps and water in play on 7 holes contribute to the sizable 72.6 / 131 rating / slope from the tips. I asked the starter at the first tee for some words of advice, and what I expected to be a 30 second summary turned into a passionately delivered detailed description of each and every hole. The first three (two 400 yard par 4’s and a short par 5) run up and down a ridge that bisects the course from east to west, with a creek curling across (#2) and around the edges (#’s 1 & 3) of the fairways, all nicely framed by a variety of hardwoods and evergreens.
It was on the 4th and 5th tees that I wish I had paid more attention to the starters’ advice, as placement of the drive on these two short par fours is critical. The 375 yard 4th is a slight dogleg left, but the blind drive over the edge of the prairie needs to be far enough right to avoid the towering trees blocking access from the left side, which I painfully discovered. The same holds true on the next tee, as the 331 yard par 4 has environmentally protected wetlands bordering the right side, but there is more room there than it appears, and anything left is 2nd shot jail as the trees will reject most attempts at the green from that angle, which I once again experienced first-hand (though I did scramble for bogeys on both holes).
The par 3’s (the 183 yard 6th and 192 yard 8th) are both substantial, with the wetlands right, OB left and 3 traps surrounding the green on the 6th, and a deep bunker fringed with thick grasses to the right on the 8th hole. The 420 yard par four 7th is sandwiched between the par 3’s along the north end of the property, with a tight drive between the OB left and water right on the way to the elevated green. The finish is a short par 5 (482 yards) that plays much longer and harder than the distance would indicate. The drive from the Blue and White tees requires a carry across a pond that will most likely be into the southerly breeze (my drive didn’t make it), then up and over the ridge and uphill again to the sloping putting surface.
The green fees at Downers Grove is a very fair $20, with a $1 premium on weekends, and a 10 dollar bill will get you an additional 9 hole replay. I walked during this visit, and the hills provided a workout to where I might consider paying the extra $10 to rent a cart the next time. An added bonus is a 24 station driving range and practice area conveniently located a few steps from the clubhouse. The overall conditions were very good, with only a few signs of damage from the harsh winter noticeable, and the fluffy white sand in the bunkers around the 5th green was certainly a surprise at this park district track.
This course is not one I would recommend for beginners, and the wide range of skill levels playing on this busy Saturday afternoon and the 8 minute tee time intervals contributed to our round lasting a bit over 2-1/2 hours (the scorecard recommends a 2:20 pace), and I can imagine that this could be the norm when the course is crowded. But all the work staff I encountered, including the starter, the young lady manning the beverage cart and the gentlemen working in the clubhouse were super friendly and accommodating, so I didn’t mind spending a few extra minutes at the course, and the ‘Thank you for your business’ I heard after paying for the round felt genuine and was much appreciated. When you combine that level of customer service to a really nice facility, you can be assured that I’ll be returning for another round at the Downers Grove Golf Club.
Downers Grove GC
2420 Haddow Avenue, Downers Grove
4 tees, 3,280 / 2,515 yds, par 36
72.6/131 – 68.0/119 rating / slope (men)
69.8 / 118 (women)
M-F $20 walk / $30 ride
SA-SU $21 / $31, $10 replay rate every day
Driving Range and Practice Area on site
8 minute tee time intervals