THE HISTORY OF OUR CLUB
Des Moines Golf and Country Club - From Challenges to Championships
Few, if any, private organizations have had a more turbulent history than the Des Moines Golf and Country Club, which has stubbornly fought its way through catastrophe, depression and the pains of progress to stand today on the threshold of its one-hundred and eighth year. The Club is a strong, outstanding organization, loyally supported by its largest membership in history, and enjoying one of the midwest’s largest and most beautiful clubhouses.
Des Moines Golf and Country Club will again be a focus of global attention when it hosts the 2017 Solheim Cup. This milestone caps a 120-year journey that began when members leased a modest 40-acre piece of ground at the end of a street car line to introduce golf to Des Moines. This modest beginning led to the Club eventually developing a world-class facility that ranks among the top private country clubs in the U.S.
On September 28, 1897, a group of locals gathered in a sporting goods store to explore the idea of building a golf course. One of them, Harry Polk, offered a parcel of land his father, Jefferson Polk, owned along the west edge of Des Moines. The trade was that the Club had to pay the $150 annual property tax bill. The membership managed to construct a haphazard 18-hole course that later was redesigned by Warren Dickinson, a local golfer, golf course architect and one of the founding members of the club. He also is the only Iowan to ever serve on the USGA Board of Directors. He revamped the original layout into a nine-hole course with fairways, trees and bunkers. In August 1900 the club at that site hosted the first Iowa Golf Association Amateur Championship and in 1901 the second.
In 1903 Dickinson became the club's president. He informed the members that the club had secured a 20-year lease on land north of its existing site and would turn the original course property back over to the Polk family. The new location was adjacent to the city-owned Waveland Municipal Golf Course. Thomas Bendelow, who traveled the country designing more than 600 golf courses came to Des Moines to design the new Des Moines Golf and Country Club. At its new location, the Club became a founding member of the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association hosting the Trans-Miss tournament in 1909. It was also at this location that the Club invited the USGA to host the 1911 United States Amateur at a combination of the new Des Moines Golf and Waveland Golf Course.
Time to Move
In 1921 that Club members learned their 20-year lease on the Polk Boulevard property would not be renewed.So in 1923, the club purchased the 147-acre Ashworth Estate just west of the city limits. The new location sported a Georgian-style clubhouse, tennis courts and a large swimming pool that made it a favorite spot for families. Joe Brown, came on board in 1937 and began a 40-year career as head golf professional. Brown was also one of the nation's top players and played on the PGA Tour part time against some of the top names in golf including Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Joe was limited to playing the early season in California and Florida in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. In 1951, he finished fourth at the Bing Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-am. He returned to Des Moines every spring and was a daily fixture at Des Moines Golf and Country Club for the rest of the year. Brown was ahead of his time and introduced golf to generations of children. Every Friday was junior golf day with Brown giving free lessons to junior golfers. He was a stickler for proper golf etiquette, requiring junior golfers to be in fifth grade or older to assure they could follow the rules and pay attention. He also established a large caddie program so teens could spend more time on the golf course while earning money.
Warren Dickinson and Joe Brown were both early inductees into the Iowa Golf Associations Hall of Fame. Over the years 8 other members or staff members have also been inducted.
The club thrived in its new location. Membership climbed to nearly 300 members and the club quickly became the home of some of the Des Moines area's most impressive social gatherings.
Tragedy struck on April 14, 1946 when an attic fire raced out of control andwithin two hours, the clubhouse was destroyed. It took more than three years for the club to obtain permission to rebuild its clubhouse. In the meantime, a locker room was constructed inside the old club house basement and the club's social activities were relocated a few blocks away, In 1949, a $235,000 brick and glass clubhouse was constructed at the site of the destroyed clubhouse. The club's membership grew to more than 325 people.
In 1958 members learned the Iowa Highway Commission was planning to build an interstate highway through the middle of the Club’s golf course. Ultimately the club purchased 471 acres in Dallas County. Initially members considered constructing an 18-hole golf course, pool, tennis facilities and a clubhouse surrounded by homes. Instead, Club leadership opted to eliminate the homes, build two 18-hole golf courses, and launched a drive to double the membership.
Bill Byers, who served as the Golf Course Superintendent for 49 years played a lead role in developing the 36-hole golf course. In the mid 1960’s club leaders interviewed several top golf course architects. "Pete Dye came to the surface as an up-and-coming architect who had some great ideas. His method of design was certainly different than other architects at the time," Byers recalled. "One of Pete Dye's strong points was to use what Mother Nature had put there and build the golf course around those features rather than artificially build new features." Considered the “Father of Modern Golf Course Architecture” Pete’s use of pot bunkers, railroad tie bulkheads and smaller greens that often utilized false fronts were all evident in his work at Des Moines Golf. The courses remain the only Dye designs in Iowa and one of only a few locations where Pete designed all 36 holes on one site.
The first golf course opened in 1968 and the second in 1969. The original is the championship course that hosted the 1999 U.S. Senior Open and will host the 2017 Solheim Cup. A $2 million, three-level clubhouse opened in 1970.
National and Global Accolades
As the club continued to grow and the suburban community of West Des Moines blossomed around it, club members decided it was time to shine a national spotlight on the club and the community by bringing a national event to Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
In 1994 president Mike McDaniel formed a committee led by Robert Murray to start reaching out to contacts who might consider the club as a site for a national golf tournament. On August 31, 1994 David Eger the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition, made an official visit to inspect the Club and its golf facilities. Murray was quoted as saying “I became encouraged at that point”. Eger liked what he saw, and the USGA notified the club in October that it would be awarded the championship.
The greater Des Moines community did not disappoint. The tournament pulled in more than 252,800 attendees during the tournament week, including 25,000 for the Monday practice session and 51,000 on the final day of play. Those attendance records still stand.
The atmosphere generated by the U.S. Senior Open success has continued in the years since. Club membership has climbed to record levels. In 2008 the Club brought back Pete Dye and one of his associates, Tim Liddy, to develop a golf course master plan for the golf courses. Working with Rick Tegtmeier, who succeeded Byers, Liddy oversaw the renovation of the entire 36-holes from 2013-2016.
In 2013 the Club was awarded the ultimate prize in women's golf -- the 2017 Solheim Cup, a three-day match play competition pitting the top LPGA pros from Europe against the top pros from the United States. When LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan announced the event he stated the Solheim Cup was looking for a venue that could do big and do big well! He said they found that at Des Moines Golf and Country Club. This international event puts Des Moines Golf and Country Club on the world stage. And the members wouldn't have it any other way.