Legend has it that golf architect Tom Bendelow, who was known as the “Johnny Appleseed of American Golf,” often designed courses in one day by carrying a bag full of stakes and a hammer.
Bendelow developed a knack for visualizing the hole while he walked. He would drive a stake for the tee, some for the fairway and another for the hole. With no earth-moving equipment in that time, which was a century ago, Bendelow built courses, like Woodstock Country Club in 1916, around their natural attributes.
The Scotsman obviously knew what he was doing. Woodstock Country Club, now 97 years old, stands today basically unchanged from what Bendelow envisioned. Bendelow’s design, the course’s charm and the members’ sense of “not screwing up what was really good to begin with,” as club professional Allen Brown puts it, has served Woodstock Country Club quite well.
In 2010, Golf World had the club atop its top 25 list of nine-hole courses in the country. In June, Brown learned that Golf Digest had selected Woodstock Country Club as its No. 1 nine-hole course in Illinois. The private club, with about 130 members, is located along Country Club Road east of Woodstock.
“It’s been a nice thing for us,” said Brown, who has been club pro for 16 years.
“It’s something we’re proud of, and promoting a nine-hole course, it’s a huge advantage. We have a course here that, condition-wise, I’ll put up against anything. I’ve learned so much from [superintendent] Bob Kronn in the last 10 years. We have some of the best greens in [McHenry] County, if not the best.”
Kronn, whose late father Ben was a superintendent, has worked in golf for more than 40 years. His son, Bob Jr., is the superintendent at Boone Creek Golf Club, a few miles east of Woodstock Country Club.
“The layout itself is fantastic,” Bob Kronn Sr. said. “We haven’t done any big changes since it was constructed in 1916. What we do now is like turning the clock back to keep it close to the original design.”
Club president Charlie Boe agrees that Kronn, in his 11th year at the club, should get a great deal of the credit.
“It started with the piece of ground that we’re on and Tom Bendelow got us off to a heck of a start,” Boe said. “Bob Kronn has done a fabulous job of getting the best out of that course and bringing back the natural beauty. He has it in tip-top shape.”
Dundee-Crown boys golf coach Bob Sweeney and his family have been members at the club for 12 years. Sweeney finds the course challenging and his daughter, Erin, who played a lot of golf there, wound up playing at NCAA Division I Winthrop in Rock Hill, S.C.
“With the rolling hills, there never seems to be a level lie,” Sweeney said. “You have to make all different kinds of shots. Although it’s only nine holes, it’s a tremendous challenge for golfers. It prepared Erin for other places.”
Sweeney added that the sense of community among members makes it special and that Kronn, for the work he does with the course, is a “genius.”
The attention from Golf Digest will not hurt, especially since there is sometimes a stigma attached to nine-hole courses.
“I’m not going to say we weren’t forthcoming, but there was a time when, if you didn’t ask, we didn’t tell [it was nine holes],” Brown said. “We wanted to get people here because that’s what we had to do. If it came out in conversation, we wouldn’t get some people through the door. Most people think nine-hole courses are par-3s that you play with a bag of wedges.”
Many years ago, there was discussion about adding nine holes at Woodstock County Club. There also was a club vote to buy another location and move, which, Brown said, failed by a narrow margin.
“One of the biggest reasons we have this is [the members] have always understood who and what we are and never tried to be something we’re not,” Brown said.
Although it’s a nine-hole course, there are different tees when golfers want to play a second nine. Brown says it give players a different look and slightly different yardage. Some look at the scorecard with the par-70 and 5,968 yards and say, “It’s kind of short.”
“Then you ask them how they did and they’re pretty quiet,” Brown said. “It stands up to all levels of play. The fairways are narrow, so it’s important that you keep it in play off the tee and keep yourself in position.”
Ron Whitten, the golf architecture editor for Golf Digest, likely had a large hand in the No. 1 ranking. A few years ago, Whitten was researching courses that Bendelow designed. Whitten was on his way to Big Foot Country Club in Fontana, Wis., when he called Brown and visited Woodstock Country Club.
“It’s a labor of love for us and the membership,” Brown said. “[The membership] deserves it too. They understand what we have, and have done a great job preserving it.”
Woodstock Country Club
Where: On Country Club Road, east of Woodstock.
What: Named No. 1 nine-hole course in Illinois by Golf Digest.
About the club: Designed in 1916 by Tom Bendelow, a noted golf architect who designed many top courses, including Medinah.
About the course: For members and their guests who want to play 18 holes, it is par-70 and plays 5,968 yards (74 and 5,500 for women). There is a different tee box for the second nine to give holes a different look.