Prepared for the Members of Exmoor Country Club upon the 120th anniversary of the grand opening of the Club and the “First Games of Golf.” — Donald R. Holton, Historian, Exmoor Country Club, June 26, 2017.
Everyone – yes, everyone – remembers their first visit to Exmoor Country Club. For some, it was the winding entrance road into our grounds, the lightning-fast greens of our golf course, or the memory of fine wines and cuisine enjoyed on a moonlit night on the Terrace.
Club founder William A. Alexander couldn’t get the place out of his mind. In the fall of 1896, a local news account said, “he got on a saddle horse and rode to the ridge” to survey the Francis Stupey farm for a new golf course.
The vista from the high ground must have quickened his pulse. Here was an ideal parcel for a golf links –- with its wide sunny pasture, stands of old growth oaks, elevations changes, a pond and two natural springs that bubbled through layers of clay that typify the earth near Lake Michigan.
Mr. Alexander moved decisively, investing part of his fortune, along with Charles Fullerton, to buy 93 acres and build a clubhouse and golf course which –- within one year –- would become Illinois’ third golf club and the rave of Chicago’s sporting crowd: Exmoor Country Club.
Exmoor Original Clubhouse: 1897
Mr. Alexander and his wife, Maude, chose the name for their new club with intention, hoping to convey images of the English countryside. In 1896, a popular British novel, “Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor,” captivated readers with its story of forbidden love between young Lorna and a dashing suitor from a rival clan, all set in West England on the windswept heath of Somerset and Dorset.
And so it began: fashionable, British and emphatic. Exmoor!
Fast forward to 2013 – 117 years later – when Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering presented Exmoor President Dwight Ekenberg with a special award, honoring Exmoor as the oldest continuously operating organization in Highland Park.
Given the vicissitudes of the past century –- five major wars, economic depression, political and social change, and a deadly pandemic that swept the North Shore in 1918 –- the mayor’s award represents more than recognition of years gone by.
It compels us to look deeper for the reasons that have enabled Exmoor –- a voluntary organization that requires ongoing financial commitments by its Members –- to thrive, year after year, with much the same goals, aspirations and activities, as the day the Club was founded.
Mr. and Mrs. William A. Alexander The wife of our founder, Mrs. William (Maude) Alexander, organized the Women’s Western Golf Association in 1901 and became its first president. The Alexanders donated the sterling Alexander Cup awarded annually for more than a century to the association’s national amateur champion.
By the numbers, it’s an impressive record. As of this writing, Exmoor has existed for more than 43,000 consecutive days, a period spanning all or part of three different centuries. Nearly two million rounds of golf have been played by thousands of Members and guests.
We’ve been served by 15 general managers, 11 head golf professionals, four tennis professionals, six greens superintendents and hundreds of loyal and devoted employees. We’ve lost track, no doubt, of the countless weddings, graduation parties, and celebrations of all kinds that have created lasting memories at Exmoor.
A Club with such persistence must be doing something right. In fact, like most successful organizations, Exmoor has earned a reputation – a brand, if you will – for executing well on a number of fronts.
One key to success is that the Exmoor name has stood for something, primarily, high standards of excellence in all aspects of our operations.
The Club also stands for personal values – of mutual respect, good sportsmanship and the importance of family.
We have also earned a reputation for good citizenship and service to others, such as helping deserving caddies and our local community, especially in times of local emergency and war.
Memorial Brass Plaque of 1919, Heritage Hall
These values have been applied consistently, decade after decade, across a range of social and sporting activities, to yield the Club we have today – one with a rich tradition of club life and deep pride among its members.
Golf. The goal of our golf program, from its first days, has been to help our Members learn and enjoy the game of golf. Our golf professionals (the first four were from Scotland) have emphasized skill development while promoting fun, competitive play. Local youths were recruited for our caddie program on the opening day of golf, June 26, 1897, and today, our support for caddies through the Evans and Murphy Scholars programs is exemplary and stronger than ever.
Exmoor Members have been leaders in golf. The boardroom of the Western Golf Association displays five original oil portraits, which honor five men –- only five –- who have contributed most to the success of the WGA and the Evans Scholars since 1899. Four of these portraits are of Exmoor Members: Jerome Bowes, Jr., R. Arthur Wood, Theodore Butz and Chick Evans.
The Club has promoted amateur golf at the highest competitive level, hosting national golf championships – 17 since 1904 – all organized with the United States Golf Association, the Western Golf Association and the Women’s Western Golf Association. In 2018, we will host the PGA TOUR Champions Constellation Players championship, a major professional event.
Charles (Chick) Evans (left) with friends on the west lawn of Exmoor in 1909, the year Mr. Evans joined our membership He played on the Club’s team that won permanent possession of the Marshall Field trophy in that year. Chick would go on to golf fame for winning two U.S. Amateur Championships, the U.S. Open and an unprecedented eight Western Amateur Championships. He founded the Evans Scholars Program in 1929 that has enabled hundreds of deserving caddies to attend college on scholarships. Exmoor Members have long been financial contributors to this organization – 366 in the last recorded donation year alone.
Our golf course is a prized club asset and bears a rich heritage of famous architects like C.B. Macdonald and the renowned Donald Ross who transformed our links in 1915 to the classic, championship golf course that it is today.
In 2003, golf architect Ron Prichard completed a course restoration which, combined with subsequent improvements, has returned our course ever closer to Mr. Ross’s original creation as one of the Midwest’s most outstanding, championship golf courses.
Members have also distinguished themselves and the Club by their competitive victories. Exmoor is the only club with three Members who have won the U.S. Amateur Championship since it was first played in 1895: H. Chandler Egan, S. Davidson Herron and Chick Evans. Five young Exmoor Members led the WGA team to victory in the team golf competition at the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis. What other golf club in America has five Members who have won Olympic gold medals in their sport? None.
Sports Offerings. Exmoor has responded to the changing needs of its members. Tennis came to Exmoor in 1910, curling and swimming in 1936 and platform tennis in the 1970s. In recent years, members have enjoyed cross country skiing, ice skating, and now, pickleball! We take pride in the success of U.S. Olympic curling team Captain Ann Swisshelm, along with many Exmoor teams — both men’s and women's — which have won state, national and international team curling titles
Exmoor’s Olympic Gold Medal Winners of 1904: H. Chandler Egan (shown), Nat Moore, Clement Smoot, Ned Cummings and Walter Egan.
Social. No club can throw a better party than Exmoor. Our social calendar is full and varied, with formal and informal events of all kinds. The success of our special events is a testament to our highly regarded management team and the capable staff they lead so effectively.
Modern Facilities. Members hosting family or business related events find a range of attractive rooms and venues to match their needs, along with attentive staff planning and a wine and food program that wins constant praise. Our West Porch and Dance Patio are incomparable locations for special occasions. Driven by members’ support of a long-range planning process, the new Oakhouse has given our club a competitive edge among area clubs, with its year-round, multi-use capabilities.
Community. Exmoor members have always believed in a larger purpose for their club, one that extends to the community in which we are privileged to reside. In 1918, the Spanish influenza was killing dozens of North Shore residents each week, and the Highland Park Hospital (which Exmoor members helped to organize) was overwhelmed.
The Dance Patio on the evening of the Heritage Invitational, 2014.
At an emergency meeting, Exmoor President F. Edson White rose to announce that Exmoor would offer its clubhouse to serve the sick and dying. Members vacated the clubhouse, and General Manager Clara Mackin met with local nurses to train Exmoor staff how to care for more than 130 patients who filled beds in every corner of the building. As the crisis abated, Highland Park’s mayor proclaimed that Exmoor saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished.
Links. Today, Exmoor is stepping proudly towards its 125th anniversary in 2021. It is fun to look back, but what do members in the 21st century have in common with those of the 19th century?
We share with our founders, and all members since, more than a place of recreation. We share a heritage: of sports played with effort and integrity, of relationships built on friendship, and with a love of our families, our club, our community and our country.
In these ways, each member is linked – one to another, year after year – by a chain of common experience, binding us all, from then to now, and hopefully for years to come.