There’s a town called ‘Golf’. We tracked down its fascinating history

One of two signs that greet visitors to Golf, Illinois.

Sean Zak

GOLF, Illinois — “Next stop, Golf.”

We’re on a double-decker Metra train humming northbound from Chicago. Those three words mean the same thing as when they were first uttered back in the 1920s, but not a person on board acknowledges their oddity.

A few minutes later, the speaker starts again: “Now approaching, Golf.”

Golf is not approaching you, to be clear. You’re approaching Golf. The ‘Golf’ train station is located at Golf Road, which runs along the village called Golf. Golf, Illinois.

A handful of passengers disembark. In the process of hailing a ride or finding their vehicle they walk by the Golf Police Station, a private nook of the train station with the lone Golf police SUV parked out front. Sitting inside is Dennis McEnerney, Golf’s enthusiastic Police Chief, who wields a heavy Midwest accent. He rolls down his window and calls out to town President Rob Farr, who just parked outside the Golf post office and town hall. “Hey Mayor!” McEnerney shouts. “We’ve got a visitor.”

Mayor, President or whatever you want to call Farr, he technically is the man in charge of this half-square mile that looks, in many ways, like the quintessential Midwestern suburb. It’s not hard for him to memorize the names of Golf’s 500-ish residents and the exact addresses of the 140-or-so homes. You can cover the majority of Golf in a 30-minute walk.

“It feels a bit like going back in time,” Farr says as we enter the town hall office building. He’s not wrong.

Farr grew up in Glenview, the adjacent town of about 50,000, and like many people who have called Glenview home, for many years he had no idea that ‘Golf’ existed. It’s been there for nearly a century, though. Established, of course, by needy golfers.

Albert Earling was the president of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad company in the early 1900s, a status that afforded him his own railcars, the posh, private jets of 100 years ago. Earling was a member at Glen View Club, one of the oldest clubs in America, and would hitch his private car to the back of northbound trains, unhitching at a special siding station the railroad company had created for these trips. He told colleagues he was “going to golf,” and before long it was decided that the station would bear the name of this singular purpose.

You’ve arrived at Golf, Illinois’ train station.

Sean Zak

This fits neatly into the history of golf the sport and Chicago the city. Many of the town’s elite clubs were purposefully settled near train stations in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before vehicles became the dominant form of transportation for the wealthy. The Golf Station was the other way around, established to serve members of a golf course that was already in place.

Fares on the train north to Golf, just 17 miles north of Chicago’s Union Station, were just $0.11 back in the 1910s. The one-way trip took 30 minutes, maybe five minutes longer than today. Waiting for golfers at the station were horse-drawn buggies that ventured down what is now Briar Road to the edge of Glen View Club. They’d cross a stone bridge (which still stands today) and make their way up the hilly property to the elegant, Scottish-style clubhouse.

This is what golf in America looked like a century ago: wealthy citizens flexing their wealth. (Worth noting: It can still look that way.) An affluent group of members who lived directly east of the club, in Evanston, wanted their own easy access to the property (and also a reprieve from their “dry” hometown), so they pooled funds for their own railroad track to run perpendicular to the trains arriving at Golf Station. “The Dinkey” train, as it would be affectionately named, made daily trips to the club beginning in 1907. The $0.20 fare was nothing for the 30 members who footed the bill to make this miniature four-mile railway happen. It was popular enough that non-members started using it over time, although the only people allowed to reach the end of the line were members themselves. The concrete buffer stop at the end of the Dinkey line is now buried beneath the club’s 6th hole. Golf history hidden in the turf like a secret.

The second-hand rail car purchased by Glen View Club members for $1,500 back in 1907.

Image courtesy of “The History of Glen View Club”

“The relationship between Golf and the club is very symbiotic,” Farr explains. (Glen View Club was annexed into Golf in the 70s.) We’re seated in the 500 square-foot town office, a room dominated by one massive painting on the wall. It’s an imposing relic of Golf history that shows much of the community’s history.

Edward R. Diedrich only wanted to buy one acre, as the story goes, but what he found nearby was a 30-acre plot that the owners refused to split up. Diedrich put his real estate and marketing hats on, bought the estate and began parceling it off for other members or interested parties. Ads ran in the Chicago Tribune in the mid-1920s that promised Golf was “destined to become the most attractive home section north of Chicago.” The going rate for housing lots in the ’20s was $15,500.

Golf history includes a little golf history, up in the top left corner of this painting.

Sean Zak

Thanks to Diedrich’s work, Golf was officially established as a village in 1928, hosting its first mayoral election via a 45-person voting populace that April. Diedrich’s real estate shop would serve as the only business in town during the 20s and 30s as Golf reached its fill on population. But in the 1950s, a very fitting operation moved into town. The Western Golf Association was launched in 1899 with Glen View as one of its 11 founding clubs, and, as Farr put it, “They came to town and were like, ‘We want to move to Golf. We’re going to amp up the Evans Scholar initiative. Having a postmark of Golf would be really cool.’”

Led by its president Carleton Blunt, the Western Golf Association pledged funds towards a much much bigger and better town hall building, which it would share as an office space and help establish a fitting HQ for the Evans Scholar Foundation that benefits caddies with education grants. (Chick Evans, the founder of Evans Scholars, was a decorated amateur golfer from the Chicago area and a member at Glen View. The Chick Evans Golf Course is across Golf Rd. from Glen View Club.) In exchange for free tenancy in the newest building in town, Golf the village had to promise one thing: they won’t change the name. Easy enough. Atop the facade of the gorgeous red-brick building now reads “Evans Scholars — Village of Golf.”

Like any golf addict from the Midwest, Carleton Blunt’s mind went to warmer places during those frigid winter months, so in 1957 he moved to Florida with a number of residents from Golf who wanted winter recreation; they founded the Country Club of Florida. Since he was surrounded by so many like-minded folks from Golf, Illinois, Blunt used his money to name himself mayor and incorporate a similar village in the Sunshine State: Golf, Florida. It’s about twice the size of its Land of Lincoln predecessor with about half as many residents. Golf, Fla. was made strictly for the wealthy, though. No taxes, no assessments, and residency exclusively for club members, invite only. Best we can tell, those are the two towns in the world named Golf. (Important sidenote: There are no villages named Basketball, Football or Hockey.)

Mayor Farr has been in the lead post for two years now, bringing his wife and kids to Golf for much the same reason as those train-riders of a century ago: to be closer to his golf club. As a partner at an accounting firm in Chicago, it’s a smooth ride on the train downtown. In Golf, he plays a major role in the town board sessions held on the second Monday of every month. For his efforts he is paid an annual salary of $1, which makes him laugh. “We’re sort of stuck in time,” he says. “Which is great.”

There may be a post office, but there’s no mail delivery in Golf, so Farr and all other residents make weekly stops to their PO boxes. They fill out requests for the police chief to check on their homes during vacation. There are village postings signs with the names of town officials at each entrance to the community. The listed speed limit is 20 mph, and radar machines will tell you if you’re flirting with a ticket. Every December the town rents out a Metra train for its “Polar Express” ride to Lake Forest. “Santa gets on and passes out candy canes and bells to the kids,” Farr says with a laugh. “It’s a little less believable now that there’s a Jimmy Johns at the Lake Forest train station, but thankfully none of the kids have figured that out yet.”

The post office in Golf, Illinois is attached to the town hall, just across the street from the Golf train station.

Sean Zak

This is that time of year where you often catch Midwesterners shrugging their shoulders to say, “Well, it’s that time of year.” Golf clubs are ushered into the attic. Golf shoes receive a final cleaning before getting tucked away. It’s sleepy time in the Glen View pro shop. Snow fell all week in the Chicago area, shutting down Glen View Club for winter and even the municipal course across the street. Chief McEnerney and Mayor Farr can chide each other all they want about rounds they owed each other in 2022, but the truth is they won’t be pegging it again until 2023. Workers hung Christmas lights outside the clubhouse at Glen View Club but could only managed to stand outside for so long. The wind chill had dipped below 20 degrees. But interestingly enough, this was prime moving season for Illinois’ state golf governing body.

In 2019, it became clear that the Western Golf Association had outgrown the space it built for the town of Golf some 70 years ago. It was time to move out. But WGA president John Kaczkowski was keen to wait until they found the right buyer. As Farr remembers, the chances of finding a golf-related body to buy a building were remote, but “[Kaczkowski] was like, ‘There’s not going to be a tarot card reading or massage parlor [moving in to Golf.]After three years of looking, they found a very convenient buyer: the Illinois State PGA was looking for a new home.

And so my maiden voyage to Golf coincided with the end of the golf season and Day 1 of a new Golf era. Workers literally plugged in their phone lines and started setting up computers in their shared office space. The trophy cabinets in the foyer were empty; they won’t stay that way for long. In addition to realizing their bathroom doors are now adorned with placards of men and women swinging golf clubs, IPGA staffers began to realize exactly what many golf-loving residents have learned over the past 94 years: it’s pretty neat to have “Golf” included in your home address.

Perhaps the preceding paragraphs have you dreaming about that same thing. Unfortunately, there’s no room to build in Golf, but there is one house for sale: a 5-bed, 5-bath mansion listed at $1.7 million. One perk that comes with footing that bill: you’ll receive a directory for everyone who lives in Golf on your move-in day.

This is part of our Muni Mondays series highlighting stories from across the world of municipal golf. Or, in this case, a municipality named Golf.

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