Club Profile: Kalamazoo Country Club
by John Block
On August 11-12, the 6th Golf Association of Michigan's Women's Championship will be held at Kalamazoo CC. Here is a profile and brief history of one of West Michigan's best country clubs.
It may not be the most scenic or challenging course around, but Kalamazoo Country Club has its own subtle charm that makes one want to keep coming back for more.
First time players often make the mistake of looking over the entire scorecard instead of playing the course one hole at a time.
That first glance can set one's mouth to watering in anticipation of birdie putt after birdie putt. That doesn't happen despite KCC's modest yardage of 6,388 when played from the tips to par of 71.
KCC is a throwback to the days of classic courses, back to when players were required to hit fades as well as draws instead of simply overpowering a course.
KCC can be overpowered, but it doesn't happen often. Too much power can cause problems. Golf is a mental game, and that is never more apparent than at Kalamazoo Country Club.
The course became a reality in 1909 when the 75 charter members purchased the original land from the Albert White farm.
The original budget for the course was $15,315, which included board and care of horses.
The first nine holes were opened for play in 1910. While under construction, the members played their golf on a four-hole temporary course.
In 1922, additional land was purchased and a second nine was constructed and put into play in 1923.
Tom Bendelow, who designed the famous Medinah No. 3, is credited with the original design of KCC.
Golf was the only game at the country club for the first 40 years of the club's existence. In 1949, the club decided to become a full family operation and to remain open on a year round basis.
A swimming pool was built and was followed by tennis courts and platform tennis courts.
For a number of years, the club operated a toboggan run and a ski area with a rope tow.
In 1959, more land was purchased for the construction of a third nine, an executive layout, which has become a popular addition, especially at crowded times for use by golfers of all ages.
Over the course of time, KCC has been played in many different ways. The present alignment of holes was started about 1952.
Since then, the original 18 holes have remained basically the same, although there have been alterations and reroutings.
For instance, the fourth hole was once a par five. A land purchase allowed for a change and it became a challenging par four.
A new green was built for the par five fifth to make the hole play longer and because the original green had a problem of retaining moisture.
The addition of the tennis courts dictated a change in the playing of the 13th hole.
Overall, though, KCC has been a pretty stable lace. There have been five greens superintendents and nine head golf professionals.
John McCamley was the first superintendent -- they were known as greenskeepers back then. He was followed by Sylvester Dustin, John Dustin, Roy Peck and present superintendent John Fulling.
George Knox was the club's first head professional. He was succeeded in order by William Watson, Thomas Morris, Morris Wells, Andy Robertson, Frank Kennett, George Wells, Walter Biber and Dick Stewart, the current golf manager.
Sylvester Dustin left KCC in 1921 to go to Grand Rapids and build Cascades Country Club. Wells, who designed the first nine holes at Klinger Lake Country Club in Sturgis, went to Cascades with Dustin.
Life has generally been good at KCC, but the club has weathered its share of storms. The Depression years of 1930-33 were trying. The club was hit hard and many members were forced to resign, leaving only a small nucleus to carry on, but they managed to survive and the club flourished.
In 1949, when the board of directors wanted to winterize the club for year round operation, many members again resigned in protest.
But through a cooperative effort by the membership, work went on, improvements were made and the club continued to flourish.
There was another crisis in the mid 1980s when a plan to purchase land to enable the club to lengthen and redesign the 11th hole was tied to a proposal to tear down the old clubhouse and swimming pool and rebuild.
Again there were resignations, but the club went forward and the new clubhouse construction has proven a good investment.
There is still some controversy about the 11th hole, which had to be redone a second time, but by and large the club weathered the storm magnificently.
The latest change at the course was to kill the fairways and replace them with bent grass.
No one really knew what to expect, but under the leadership of Stewart and Fulling, the work went ahead with a smooth transition. There were a few grumbles, but the majority of members today are extremely pleased with the transformation.
Last fall, Fulling and Stewart embarked on a plan to expand and improve the practice area. That will be unveiled this year. The work on the practice area required some changes in the executive nine, including the building of one complete new green, but that, too, is seen to have enhanced that course.
Because it has always been a forward-thinking run course and kept in perfect condition from a playing as well as esthetic standpoint, KCC remains popular with the membership as well as guests.
The course annually hosts a West Michigan PGA one-day tournament and the field is always one of the largest of the season.
KCC volunteers its facilities to host Kalamazoo city tournaments for the men's and women's golf associations, and these, too, are among the most popular in terms of participation.
Perhaps the highlight tournament of each summer in Kalamazoo is the club's own Invitational, a scratch two-man better ball competition.
The Invitational was born in 1954 after several KCC members were turned down from another club's best ball event.
Members George Zupanic, Larry Halleck, Dudley Cutler, Tyler Riggin, Henry Kennedy and Harry Rapley are responsible for the Invitational coming into existence. Rapley is still involved with the tournament each summer.
The tournament has become a tradition, drawing some of the best players from across Michigan and nationally.
Many former state amateur champions, including the likes of Chuck Kocsis, Steve Maddalena, Melvin (Bud) Stevens, and Bill Newcomb have participated as well as college stars such as Gary Hallberg, Rick Ferhr, Dan Pohl, Jack Nicklaus Jr. and Davis Love III before turning professional.
While Hallberg, Fehr, Pohl and Love have made good livings in the professional ranks, none won the Invitational.
That's because KCC, though appearing inviting has hidden teeth.
Though the course is relatively short -- all the par fives are reachable in two, some with iron second shots -- accuracy is a premium. A little off line is costly. Better to be really wild. There's a chance for recovery for shots that are way off the mark.
Power hitters can get in trouble by hitting the ball too far. In addition to the many trees, KCC's rough and hilly, rolling fairways reward position more than power.
The greens are not easy to read, and though not overly large, if the approach is not in the right quadrant, three-putts are not uncommon.
KCC is a course for the thinking player.
A lot of other courses have bigger reputations, but KCC gets a lot of repeat players because it is always an enjoyable and a new experience.
Course Record: Sam Snead, Tom Gauntlett 63
Best Players: Gauntlett, Dan Maudlin, Bert and John Cooper, Sue Campbell
Signature Event: Invitational Better Ball Championship
Toughest Holes: 4th, long par four, dogleg right. Out of bounds to the right. Takes a good drive to make the corner, then a 7, 8 or 9 iron (if the drive is perfect) to a green, well-protected by sand bunkers. 16th, long par four, long drivers can reach bottom of hill, others will have downhill lie with shot of 160 to 140 yards to green on top of another hill. It's difficult to judge the exact distance of the second shot and getting approach shot close to hole is rare.
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