For ten years of my life I worked at Joliet Country Club, first as a caddie and later as a bag room attendant. To this day, despite all of the courses I have played in my life across the country, it is still my favorite place to play a round of golf. It may always be. Located on Spencer Road on the outskirts of Joliet, a suburb about 30 miles south of Chicago, Joliet Country Club is nestled among a railway, farmland and one of the roughest parts of the city. Once comprised of a full-service private country club complete with tennis courts, swimming pools and a strong caddie program, JCC now struggles to maintain its status as the only private club in the area.
The tennis courts are long gone. The caddies have been replaced by electric golf carts. A massive clubhouse sits where the 18th tee once stood, punctuating a long driveway that begins from the road and covers the old finishing hole. In a way, the landscape reminds those of us who remember the "old club" of a time when that same parking lot was always full and membership was booming. Years later and due to economic struggles both local and nationwide, Joliet Country Club almost appears forgotten.
I've always had strong emotional ties to this course. I literally grew up on its grounds, both as a person and as a fan of golf. In some ways my career as a golf writer started here when my opinions where shared more often with my friends instead of on a computer screen. I once wrote a book about my experiences at the course; a book only a handful of folks read. Perhaps it is better that way. Perhaps those stories are better left in the hearts and minds of those who still treasure them.
Doug Bauer is the head professional at JCC, and you will be hard pressed to find a better professional in any industry. He served as more than just my boss for a decade; he and his assistants became friends and mentors whom I still cherish to this day, albeit from a distance.
Adam Tatro, one of the best friends you could hope to have, is the current Assistant Pro. Like me, Tatro grew up on the fairways of JCC and learned most of what he knows about the golf industry there. His knowledge of the game is only surpassed by his talent, and to this day I believe he still owns the course record (66 -- twice).
What I found most appealing about JCC was the number of members from cities other than Joliet. It almost seemed like these folks and their families would drive from towns like Hinsdale, Chicago, Orland Park and others to get away from life. The seclusion offered by the course's surrounding treelines and hills must be comforting to those lucky enough to experience it.
I am saddened to see how Joliet Country Club's membership has dipped over the years because it is, by far, the best golf course in the city. Both challenging for the better player and welcoming to the novice, the course offers three sets of tees on a layout that includes immaculate fairways, fast greens and a character unique to the area. People are missing out.
I will forever cherish my experiences at Joliet Country Club and can hope that one day, hopefully in the near future, I will join their membership with my family. It is a hell of a place to teach your children how to play golf.