In an earlier post about Al Capone’s connections with Lemont, I mentioned a lost golf course. There has been a lot of recent interest in this topic, so I’m going to tell you more about it.
The photo on the right above is the clubhouse of the Palos Golf Club. As you can see, it is no little outpost, but a building that would interest someone like Al Capone as a hangout, since it was in an isolated area and provided comfortable amenities to someone with expensive tastes.
The land, farmland which had been cleared of forest by early settlers, was purchased by the Cook County Forest Preserve in 1918, and 10 holes were opened in 1921. An exhibition match was played there in 1924 by Chick Evans, who was defeated by Jock Hutchinson. In 1925 or 1926 it was opened as an 18-hole course, and it hosted the United Golf Association Open, the USGA Amateur, and the Women’s Amateur championships in 1940. The entrance was off 107th Street across from Saganashkee Slough, an unincorporated area where Sag Bridge (now part of Lemont), Palos Park, and Palos Hills meet.
The course was listed by the USGA as Palos Park Golf Course, as an 18-hole, 6220-yard, par 70 course, described as hilly (an understatement!), with one water hazard, seeded greens, and dirt tees. Charles (Chick) Evans set the amateur record of 71 there in 1921. Green fees at the time were 50 cents on weekdays (75 cents for all day). Caddies were available for 75 cents. The course was popular in its day, unseen from the road, and carved into the side of a hill, which prompted golfers to say it was a great course for players who had one leg shorter than the other.
The course was closed in late 1941 or early 1942, when the Manhattan Project Atomic Pile No. 2 was moved from Stagg Field at the University of Chicago to Red Gate Woods and the newly-constructed Argonne National Laboratory. Obviously, the top-secret atomic bomb complex and public golf course could not exist side by side. It is clear from looking at both photos above that reforestation of the area, converted from farmland, would have been far from mature, and that the secret complex would have been easily seen across areas of open land. Another aerial photo is said to exist that shows the course, with Argonne’s reactor complex whited out in the photo.
You may be wondering what kind of golfer Al Capone was. According to his caddie, he was terrible, but he loved the game. He relates that a slew of bodyguards followed Al around the course. “He could drive the ball half a mile, but he always hooked it, and he couldn’t putt for beans.” Al was kind and generous to his caddie, who on occasion dropped a ball from his pocket near where Al’s ball disappeared and pretended to find it. He also tells a story about how Al shot himself in the foot one day when he was lifting his golf bag and a revolver inside went off. If you have interest, refer to this article that was written in November 1972: http://www.golf.com/tour-and-news/al-capones-caddie-talks-about-working-chicagos-most-famous-gangster.
Other golf courses in Lemont have survived since opening in the 1920s, notably Cog Hill’s four courses and Gleneagles two courses, but today both the original site of Argonne and the golf course are gone, and the land has been reclaimed by forest. Some people claim they have been able to find suggestions of the old bunker formations and signs of the foundation of the clubhouse, others that there is little there but leaves. Nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project has been buried in a clearing in the woods, designated by a marker near one of the many Forest Preserve trails that traverse the area today.