Gleneagles CC: The Time Machine

I spent every summer from the time I was 15 until the time I was 20 working on the ranch of an old man named Herm Bachrodt. It was the best job I ever had working for the best man I have ever known.

Herm was an old timer’s kind of guy. The kind of guy who played Sinatra in the morning and always greeted you with a firm handshake. He told you the truth whether you wanted to hear it or not, never changing tone or breaking eye contact. I never got the sense he drank much, but my guess is that when he did, it was always something classy and always neat. He was the kind of guy who appreciated longevity and hard work. History and craftsmanship. The kind of guy who would have fell in love with a place like Gleneagles.

Built in 1924, Gleneagles Country Club features two separate 18-hole courses in the Lemont area of Chicago. Neither course is the kind that stick out on paper as special, but there is something about the place that makes it feel exactly that.

I pulled into Gleneagles on a wet day in June of 2016. I was on a work trip and as is the rule with all good work trips, you don’t leave home without your clubs. The intent was to knock out meetings early in the day and play somewhere unique in the evening. I initially had my eyes set on Cog Hill, another Chicago course known for its history and things seemed to be falling into place. There was one hiccup upon arrival though, everyone in the area must have had the same idea I did, to play Cog Hill.

I was told the only way I would be playing Cog Hill that day was to 1) get paired in a foursome 2) go off the back and 3) wait for the men’s league to filter out. Not quite the experience I was looking for. I pulled out my phone to search nearby courses. It was getting late and I was running out of options. Gleneagles showed up first meaning Gleneagles it was.

The second you enter Gleneagles, you know you are somewhere unique. It’s not quite definable, but it’s there. Maybe it’s the mystique of the vine sprawled entry sign. Maybe it’s the handmade shed they call a clubhouse. Or maybe, it’s the fact that this small property holds such an interesting part of golf history.

As I paid my green free ($20), I was asked what brought me to town. “Work” I said, “I’m from Kansas”. “Oh, so you’ve never played here”, responded the Pro. “Nope, but I’m glad I get the chance”. “Well”, said the pro, “We hosted the 1958 & 1959 Chicago Opens. Both won by Ken Venturi. You’re young so you may not remember him, but we’re still saddened by his passing around here. Much of the course looks the same as it did back then…and it’s all yours. Have fun”.

If Herm Bachrodt were ever an old timer’s type of guy, Ken Venturi was the definition of an old timer’s golfer. And if I hadn’t understood why I liked this place so much, I had just found my answer. Not only did I know who Ken Venturi was, he was firmly seated in the top few spots of my favorite golfer pyramid.

Having read, The Match​, an incredible book if you have never read it, I had spent hours after finishing it researching Venturi. Everything from his near victory as an Amateur at the 1956 Masters to his nearly life ending win at the 1964 US Open to his late night rendezvous with The Rat Pack. Venturi, Sinatra, and Martin in New York City…can you imagine? If Ken Venturi’s name had been printed in it, I had read it and like Gleneagles, Ken Venturi had an aura about him that wasn’t quite explainable.

Now, nearly 60 years later, there I was, about to walk the same finely manicured fairways that he had.

Something funny happens when you play a round of golf by yourself in a place you have never been. You see things you normally wouldn’t. Almost feel them. Your mind starts to wander. Somewhere along the way, you quit caring about score and start thinking about life. Start looking for meaning. Every now and then, you find it.

For me, my mind went to 1958 and the start of Ken Venturi’s back-to-back wins at the course. I envisioned myself as one of the spectators watching the likes of ​Venturi​,​ Palmer​, ​Player​, and some chubby amateur named ​Nicklaus​. I could almost hear the roars and see the people moving hole to hole. I could see the veterans poking fun at that chubby Ohio Amateur only until they saw his ball flight. If they only knew what was coming.

Then, my mind transitioned to being one of the players. One of the guys. There I was. 24 years old. An adult. A father. A husband. By all definitions, somebody supposed to be reasonable, and I’m hitting golf shots alone on a course in the middle of Chicago acting like I was going head-to-head with Ken Venturi. It was quiet. That kind of late summer evening quiet where only the bugs are making noise, but the crowd was roaring in my head. Ward and Venturi, almost fittingly, fighting it out until the end. (If you’ve read ​The Match, ​that will make sense.)

As I approached the 18th hole, I was sad that it was almost over. I’d spent 3 hours on an old golf course and at no point did it ever feel like I was actually there. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what I shot or what I did on any given hole. None of that really mattered. If golf could ever be a religious experience, that wet day in June was certainly mine.

Being the last person in, the pro was waiting for my return to lock up for the night. He asked me what I thought.

“Unbelievable”, was the only word that seemed fitting. He didn’t say anything after. He just kind of smiled. Almost like he knew that was going to be the answer, then he thanked me for coming by.

On my way home, I had a hard time coming to the realization of what had just happened. It seemed so weird. So abnormal.

Then I thought of Herm.

I feel lucky to have known a man like Herm Bachrodt. At the time, it had been almost 6 years to the date of his passing. Next month will mark 8. Every now and then, I’ll run across a situation or a memory that brings him to the forefront of my mind.

I think about the things he would say, the suggestions he would have, and the witty remarks. He was the ultimate leader, the ultimate friend, and I miss him dearly.

At the same time, I think about Gleneagles and that unique experience in Illinois.

Maybe it was the kid in me reliving my childhood of game winning home runs or last second shots. Maybe it was finding something that brought me back to that 70 acre Kansas ranch. Maybe it was my real life version of heroes get remembered, but legends never die.

Whatever it was, I’m glad that it happened and I hope someday you find yourself in a place like Gleneagles.

A place so magical that it takes you back in time.

Michael

5/10/18

Im a Dad, Husband, Travel Enthusiast, LSU Fan, Aspiring Entrepreneur, & Inconsistently Consistent 7 Handicap who likes writing and a nice glass of bourbon.