History of Rolling Green
The present-day reality of Rolling Green Country Club was far from the wildest imaginings of Dr. Charles Martin Oughton that day in 1911 when he drove from his home in Hyde Park for a first look at the 160 ½ acre farm property on Rand Road, which he had newly acquired through a forced sale at auction.
The good doctor was less than enthusiastic at what he found. The property included two buildings, nearly 100 years old. In Dr. Oughton’s words, “the barn was a skeleton, and that none too shapely,” and the house he described as “a lopsided wreck.”
As to the farm’s agricultural potential, he found the soil to be “wretchedly exhausted, because for many years it was rented out to roustabouts who grabbed everything off it.”
The location, he found, had its drawbacks as well. In those days, Rand Road was the major artery from the northwest into Chicago; his farm made a convenient though unauthorized, last stops on the way. As Dr. Oughton later recollected: “Furtive travelers often stole feed, fodder, fowl, and everything that was not spiked down. It was necessary to harbor vicious dogs and firearms in the barn and house to repel marauders.”
However, making the best of what was probably not a bad bargain financially speaking, the doctor had a new barn built; and the house was jacked, straightened, and repaired, then turned over to a tenant farmer who started a dairy herd and set about restoring the land’s fertility. Meanwhile, the difficulties encountered in coaxing his 1904 Franklin along the imperfect streets and highways which led from the South side of Chicago to the hinterlands northwest of Des Plaines, plus the more serious problem of failing health, eventually led Dr. Oughton to abandon active interest in the farm.
He retired from medical practice, sold his home, and he and his wife left Chicago to spend some time traveling in the eastern part of the states.
For three years they stayed with a relative in Hagerstown, Maryland; and then, in 1923, bought a 300-acre farm on the outskirts of town. To prove there is nothing new under the sun, or across Rand Road, Dr. Oughton’s next step was to engage a landscape engineer and a noted golf architect, Donald Ross, to lie out a sub-division and golf links. He then declared it “an easy task” to build the course, superintending construction and interpreting the blueprints; so easy in fact, that in September he decided to use his Illinois farm for the same purpose. (He had by this time devoted considerable time to learning all books and magazines could tell him about golf courses and the problems attendant on their construction, as well as visiting many of the best links in the country.)
Thus Dr. Oughton returned to Illinois, fresh from the work at Hagerstown, and amazingly built a nine-hole course (on that segment of the farm lying east of Rand Road which is now Old Orchard) in what was probably record time – eighteen working days! The doctor later confessed that he and his loyal friend “Wheels” (H.B. Wheelock, who engineered and surveyed the drainage) worked together from 5AM to midnight. He hypnotized the farmers in the area into supplying free labor and horse teams for grading with the assurance of doubling the value of their land when the course was completed.
Recalling the unusual features of the job, Dr. Oughton noted that sometime before the existing cemetery was established, one of the first women to live in the old farmhouse had been buried in a grove of oaks, near No.8 tee of the nine-hole course. The grave was left undisturbed, but as Oughton commented later in a speech to the club, “Maybe it is due to her fury that so many have you slice into the rough or ditch at this point!”
It was the doctor’s original intention to be sole owner of the club, to erect a building to house a membership, but operate mainly as a daily fee course. However, he was soon persuaded by his own ill health and the advice of his good friend, “Wheels” to change his ideas and listen to the purchase offer of a North Shore group interested in founding a private club.
On June 24, 1924, this small band of North Shore suburban businessman took and option on the Oughton property, formulated an operation policy under a trust agreement, and decided to call their new venture Rolling Green Country Club; named for the rolling terrain. At their first official board meeting in July, they set the figure of $80 for dues for the balance of the year and established a $2 guest fee for Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, and $1 for weekdays. The organizing group had now swelled to 100 men; eventual membership, it was decided, would be limited to 350.
Dr. Oughton, who had been in failing health for some years now, made the somewhat unusual request that the final $50,000 payment on his land be made in gold. The Board complied, and he carried off his golden treasure, which had an adverse effect on his mental capabilities. After recovery, the story goes, that the Dr. was planning to purchase his ticket in the Arlington Heights railroad station; the actual sight of money again caused a mental breakdown.
The following summer, on July 25, 1925, the embryo club received its charter as an Illinois corporation not for profit, and three days later exercised its option to purchase Dr. Oughton’s 160 ½ acres at less than $500 per acre. The Board, under the leadership of Rolling Green’s first president, J.S. Ritscher of Evanston, made a down payment and signed a contract to make to balance of payments over the five-year period.
Meanwhile the new club was flourishing. There were still only the original nine holes in play in 1925 (the nine located east of Rand Road on what is now Old Orchard property), but work had begun on a 6500 yard 18-hole course on the larger piece of land on the west side of Rand. It was laid out; and the work supervised by W.H. Diddle of Indianapolis, one of the country’s foremost golf architects.
In 1925, plans were drawn up and work begun on a $75,000 clubhouse, designed and masterminded by the same H.B. Wheelock who was so invaluable to Dr. Oughton in constructing the original course. He was at the time, it might be noted, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Society of Architects. He also married the doctor’s daughter, Edith.
Plans for this new clubhouse included dining rooms, card rooms, lounges, locker room, and showers for men and women. In addition, a large indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and an outdoor dance floor were planned but never materialized.
In speech by M. J. MacAdams on the occasion of the first birthday of Rolling Green Country Club, Wheelock was lauded as “Godfather to the club from the beginning”; and it was further stated, “nothing was too good for his Godchild.”
The first golf pro, James Fee, was hired in 1925, with the magnificent salary of $1,312; the membership fee was $120.
A glowing brochure published during the 1926-27 season informed prospective members that Rolling Green Country Club is situated on the highest peak of land in Cook Country, adding “the roll of the land makes the game of greater interest to the player, and the natural and artificial drainage makes the course playable even after the heaviest rains.” The booklet further states, “It is comprised of 27 holes that continually test your golfing ability, through changing combinations of the three nines.” The original nine holes east of Rand Road were always open to play for women and juniors.
The now-finished clubhouse was described as long, low, and rambling, with huge lounges, several card rooms, double deck locker rooms, showers, a solarium and sun roof, and swimming pool. Membership at this point was 225 and “ growing fast”, as the brochure pointed out, toward its ultimate limit of 350. Another point of pride: “The actual net worth of memberships is far in excess of the present price due to the fact that many of the contracts were placed by our own members at a great savings to the club. Also, the land is now conservatively worth three times the purchase price.” And indeed, the auditor’s report for that year appraised the value of the 160.5 acres at $200,625.
One statement from that auditor’s report for the period from May 1, 1924 to October 31, 1926 is incredible to anyone building in this present day: “ Due to the savings affected to October 31, 1926 on the cost of improvements, it is the opinion of the management that the actual total cost of the improvements will be less than originally estimated!!!
A sampling of expenses as shown in the audit include the new 18-hole course, $30,626; landscaping, $1,500; new clubhouse and furnishings, $21,251; pro’s salary, $1,312; bookkeeper-steno’s salary, $1,470; grounds’ expense, labor and material, $4,777; all other operating expense, $12,393.
Women’s lib started early at Rolling Green Country Club, for in the spring of 1927, the Board made what was later to prove one of its wisest moves by hiring Minnie Stiff as manager of Rolling Green, and her husband Ed became the club’s engineer. From the start, it was a love affair between the club and Minnie.
Another excerpt from the minutes of the June 4, 1928, Rolling Green Country Club board meeting is calculated to make us moderns weep: A bid received for heating oil cited 6-1/4 cents per gallon for 28-30 weight fuel oil, and 5-1/4 cents for 18-20 weight fuel oil. (Compare present day cost.)
An elaborate 1929 Year Book describes the administrative set-up at Rolling Green: A nine-member board of directors, with three elected each year from the membership at large, four of whom serve as officers for a term of one year. It also includes an interesting description of the golf course, written by J. H. Kincaid, then chairman of the greens committee.
“ There are three water holes of unusual character, and all but two of the dog-leg holes are left handed. On the second nine of the 18-hole course, the greens are small and very tight, which several strokes harder than the out nine, in spite of the fact that it is 20 yards shorter and the par is the same.”
The 18-hole, or No.1 course, he continued, has a total yardage of 6,229 and a par of 70; the nine-hole, or No. 2 course, a total yardage of 2,553 and par of 33, making it “an ideal ladies’ course,” according to Kincaid.
Hole #6, he described as the most famous on the No. 2 course, as the fairway sloped downward sharply to a swamp “once populated only by frogs, but now containing many, many golf balls.” This hole was known as the “Bull Frog,” and from it came the name of the annual invitational golfing tournament known as the “Bull Frog Frolic.” From that hole, too, the first Rolling Green Country Club president, Will Ritscher, derived the name of the Club newspaper, “Croaks from the Bullrushes.”
Still very timely are some of the sentiments expressed in that 1929 Year Book by Charles (Chick) Evans, Jr., honorary associate member of Rolling Green Country Club: “Good advice…there is a condition of mind in which every businessman should try to put himself when he plays golf. Briefly, it is to do his best on each shot, and not wrinkle his brow over the result if it is not good. Golf is a gentleman’s game. It should be played with courtesy and kindness and a careful regard for the rights of others; and it is the rules and etiquette of the game that define these rights.”
In a complimentary vain, Mr. Evans added, “I want to say that your 18-hole course is one of he finest in the middle west. Your clubhouse in correspondingly good.”
In an article entitled “A Trip Through the Clubhouse,” C.L. Barker, then chairman of the House Committee, sought to keep members abreast of the many improvements being made through an imaginary tour of the clubhouse and grounds.
On entering the grounds, Mr. Barker stated, the stained shingle building immediately on the left was the Lodge, providing housing for club employees. It was divided into a women’s dormitory for waitresses, plus a private room for the office girl on the one side and men’s quarters on the other. The old farmhouse, now completely renovated, stood across the street, affording living quarters for the groundskeeper as well as two additional rooms for extra employees.
A little farther down the drive was the caddy house, which included a store where golf clubs and accessories were sold; and connected to it was a pump house containing the filtration plant, built over a concrete reservoir holding 50,000 gallons of water (which is still in use and stands at the left entrance to the men’s parking lot). The picturesque windmill adjacent, Barker noted, and “not merely a touch of local color,” for it operated to help fill the reservoir aided by two pumps drawing from a 625-feet deep well. (It was from these windmills that the present newsletter derives its name “Windmill”.)
The clubhouse itself Barker describes as “low and rambling…invitingly picturesque in appearance,” with high-ceilinged public rooms occupying the one-story center unit and two-storied wings on either side – one for locker rooms, and one with ground-floor kitchen and an apartment upstairs for the house manager.
The lounge and dining room, both with fireplaces, were so arranged that they could be used as one great ballroom, while opening out from the lounge was big, glassed-in, semicircular sun porch. This, too, was furnished with comfortable lounge furniture. And also to the right of the lounge was the entrance to the men’s locker room, showers, and the swimming pool. The locker room was on two levels forming one wing of the clubhouse building with showers on each and space for tables where sandwiches and light refreshments were served.
On the left of the main entrance was the office and the ladies’ locker room, two storied to from the other wing of the building, with its own private porch. The kitchen was right up to date for its time, with an oil burning stove for baking and cooking, refrigeration, and a cold storage room in the basement. In addition to the dining room meals, the staff also provided quick service lunches and snacks in a glass-enclosed grill just off the kitchen.
Nor were the kiddies neglected, for a playground had been built just beyond the entrance to the ladies’ course (now Old Orchard) in a grove of trees, complete with slides, swings, sand boxes etc. In the glowing words of the 1929 chairman of the house committee: “As everyone knows, the formative years are the best ones for learning the ancient and honorable game…By all means, let the boys and girls grow up in a wholesome atmosphere of golf.” He further admonished: “Don’t worry about the children’s diet when you bring them to the Rolling Green you may be sure of finding on the varied menu an assortment of those wholesome foods which Mother prefers to set before them.” – (this was obviously pre-Ray Kroc, before McDonald’s revolutionized juvenile eating habits!) – and ended with the stirring pleas, “Bring the little folks out here into the clear air and sunshine of the real country.”
Among the trivia unearthed about this period was the fact that Alred Overbaugh, one of the original members of Rolling Green Country Club, played in the first Rose Bowl game. It is also interesting to note that of the 213 members listed in the 1929 Year Book were devoted to a map and detailed directions for reaching Rolling Green from the North Shore communities and Chicago via secondary roads, advised on particular weekends.
Founded in 1924, Rolling Green Country Club’s purpose then and now, is to promote the game of golf and good fellowship among its members and their families.
Because the natural beauty and wooded terrain have been carefully preserved over the years, Rolling Green has become a prominent Chicago area golf facility.
Members of Rolling Green are proud of their country club which represents the best in golf facilities, social activities, and congeniality.
Although Rolling Green is primarily a family club, it also offers ample opportunities to entertain business guests. A wide range of activities for both family members and guests of all ages are always available.
Men, women, and children enjoy golf, swimming, cards, dances, dinner parties, skeet shooting, an exercise room, and special brunches. For those who wish to participate in the governance of the club and planning of events, new committee members are always welcome.
Rolling Green is an important part of each member’s life. Members enjoy it, support it, care about it, give their talents for it, and like to share their club experiences.
Belonging is a privilege.