The Homewood, Ill. club has started a program linked to its arboretum status where people can dedicate a tree on the property with a plaque by making a $100 donation to the South Suburban Humane Society or the Homewood Science Center. Veterinary surgeon Claude Gendreau bought the struggling club in 2008 to save the land from redevelopment.
For a few years after Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, Ill. was purchased by veterinary surgeon Claude Gendreau, it was an annual money loser as the area slowly recovered from the recession, the Chicago Tribune reported. But as word spread about the course’s classic design by noted golf architect Donald Ross, its popularity among golf aficionados made it a destination.
Now it’s breaking even, Gendreau told the Tribune, though he doesn’t expect to recoup the money he spent to acquire Ravisloe and fix it up. Still, Gendreau loves the course, and his favorite hole is 13, a par 5 and Ravisloe’s longest fairway. But he’s never played it, or any of the other holes at his golf course.
“When I have time to go there, I enjoy the property rather than being frustrated on the course,” he said. “I can ride around and enjoy the beauty of it.”
Gendreau doesn’t golf, the Tribune reported.
“I haven’t had the time to pick it up. I might someday,” the 82-year-old said, “but I have more time-consuming things to do.”
That mainly involves operating on injured dogs, repairing cruciate ligaments and fractures at his veterinary facility in Highland, Ind., the Tribune reported. He still finds the time to visit the course two or three times a month, mostly on Saturdays, to take in the scenery.
The components of that scenery, both constructed and planted, have garnered some major accolades for Gendreau, the Tribune reported. Late last year, Ravisloe’s clubhouse and golf course were added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in June, the property became the first golf course to be accredited as an arboretum by the Morton Register of Arboreta, a global listing based at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill.
The arboretum accreditation was the reason for a recent open house, when visitors had the opportunity to head out on a golf cart to check out the course’s more than 3,000 trees, the Tribune reported.
It’s a far cry from the wide-open spaces encountered by members of the Standard Club of Chicago when they established Ravisloe in 1901 on former hayfields adjacent to the Illinois Central Railroad, the Tribune reported. Donald Ross was retained to reorganize the course layout in 1916, and in the 1930s the course underwent a massive tree planting program, according to materials provided by General Manager Bob Carpenter.
By 1995 more than 2,200 trees were cataloged on the property, comprising more than 70 species, the Tribune reported. Since Gendreau purchased the property, hundreds more trees have been planted, including 15 to 20 new species.
At least three of the trees likely predate the golf course, including two silver maples with a girth of more than 2 meters, and a cottonwood of more than 2.5 meters, the Tribune reported.
It’s impossible to know the exact age of those giants without cutting them down and counting their rings, but they’re definitely old, Carpenter told the Tribune.
His favorite tree is a younger specimen, albeit still stately, of bald cypress near the end of the first hole—a conifer with needles “as soft as can be” that turns colorful and sheds leaves in autumn, the Tribune reported.
Carpenter isn’t a fan of all the trees, though. He’s gradually getting rid of all the Siberian elms on the property, trees he called “not good,” the Tribune reported.
“They’ll drop limbs on a calm day,” he said.
The trend at Ravisloe is toward more trees, the Tribune reported.
“This year we added 51 trees, and we will keep adding every year,” Gendreau said. “There’s a lot we can do to improve the property.”
The parklike setting is one of the reasons Gendreau bought the property, the Tribune reported. A longtime conservationist who wrote a book encouraging efforts to mitigate global warming “before it was in the news.”
“I’ve been aware of the damage the industrial revolution has done to the earth for a long time,” he said.
The owner of several farms, he was skeptical of the opportunity to buy Ravisloe when it was put up for sale in 2008, the Tribune reported.
“So I drove onto the property and said, ‘Oh my God, I can own this instead of just farmland?’” he said. “I had no idea what I was purchasing when I bought it. I’d never been on a golf course, never knew how golf courses are rated. I just found out so many things that are better than I had anticipated. Every year I learn something more about how special this property is.”
Before pursuing the arboretum status, Gendreau and Carpenter got Ravisloe listed on the National Register of Historic Places through the National Park Service, the Tribune reported. It’s one of only 26 golf courses listed in the country, and one of only three in Illinois, according to Carpenter.
The club’s name is derived from an early plan by the Standard Club of Chicago to purchase land for its golf course along the Calumet River owned by the Ravisloot family, the Tribune reported. The property plan changed, but they kept the name when the course instead was developed along the Illinois Central in what would become a private golf Mecca that included Olympia Fields, Flossmoor, Idlewild and Calumet country clubs.
Like Idlewild, Ravisloe’s members were primarily Jewish, the Tribune reported. The membership rolls contained famous Chicagoans such as Julius Rosenwald of Sears Roebuck, shoe magnates Simon and Norman Florsheim and Louis Eckstein, who developed Ravinia in Highland Park.
Elaine Rosenthal, who won the Women’s Western Open three times in the 1910s, was perhaps the club’s most accomplished golfer, the Tribune reported.
The effort to get Ravisloe listed on the National Register was “more complicated than it would seem,” Carpenter told the Tribune, noting the process took about nine months. With the help of a firm that specializes in these kinds of efforts, he said the examined the contents of old computers and unearthed boxes of old documents from storage, including some from the clubhouse’s signature tower.
“It’s pretty neat,” Carpenter said. “There’s only three in Illinois, Olympia Fields, Chicago Golf Club [in Wheaton — the oldest 18-hole course in North America] and us.”
Neither of the recent accolades include financial benefits, though Ravisloe has started a program linked to its arboretum status where people can dedicate a tree on the property with a plaque by making a $100 donation to the South Suburban Humane Society or the Homewood Science Center, the Tribune reported.
“We had three people out here today picking out a tree to dedicate to someone,” Carpenter said Friday, noting about 23 trees had been sponsored so far. “It’s a good start.”
But the listings might do some good in helping to keep Ravisloe as open space, continuing Gendreau’s mission he started when he saved the closed course from potential redevelopment in 2008, the Tribune reported. He’s also prepared some 70 pages of legal documents that should help preserve Ravisloe as a golf course long after he’s gone.
“It can’t be sold for any other purpose until 2045, and there’s plenty of money in a fund to keep Ravisloe going for many years to come, and hopefully beyond that,” he said.
Owning Ravisloe, he said, offers “a sense of pride,” the Tribune reported.
“I like what we’re doing there,” he said. “I feel good to be part of that.”