Medinah's storied past adds to allure
In 1954, Calvin Koeppel was a young man growing up in Elmwood Park when his father asked the family if he should buy a house on a lake or join a country club.
The decision was unanimous, and the Koeppels became part of the prestigious Medinah Country Club.
"My dad didn't know what he was doing for us," said Koeppel, as he paused outside the opulent Medinah clubhouse to enjoy the view of one of the club's three meticulously maintained golf courses. "This has become my second home."
The 67-year-old Roselle resident says he's been fortunate to witness golfing history unfold at the 54-hole complex in the unincorporated pocket of northern DuPage County bearing the country club's name.
Seven national tournaments and six major championships have been held at Medinah Country Club since 1930. Harry "Lighthorse" Cooper, Gary Player and Hale Irwin are among the golfing legends who have won there. Tiger Woods won two of his four PGA Championships at Medinah.
This week, another chapter in Medinah's history will be written when the best professional golfers from Europe and the U.S. square off on the famed Course No. 3 during the 2012 Ryder Cup.
"When you join here, you don't just join a country club," said Koeppel, who is serving as one of Medinah's historians for the tournament. "You join a historic country club."
Carved out of 640 acres of farmland in the early 1920s, Medinah was designed to be a country retreat for the Shriners — a fun-loving branch of the Masons best known for their charitable work, red fezzes and parade units.
The centerpiece is the massive clubhouse largely inspired by Byzantine-style temples. Completed in September 1926, the brick building features domes and arches complemented by touches of Oriental, French and Italian architecture. Highlights include the elegant Palm Lounge, the ballroom and the rotunda with its intricately painted ceiling mosaic.
"The guy who built it (the clubhouse) did a great job," said Alvin Reitz, another Medinah historian and longtime club member. "It took him a long time, but he did it right."
Still, the 72-year-old Hoffman Estates man admits the swimming pool is what first caught his attention when his father joined Medinah in 1950.
"I was a kid," Reitz said. "What did I know?"
Now as former club presidents, Reitz and Koeppel both have a deep appreciation for the three courses that dominate almost all of Medinah's land.
The first rounds of golf were played at Medinah when Course No. 1 opened in September 1925. Construction of Course No. 2 was completed the next year.
"No. 2 was supposed to be a lot better than No. 1 because it had a stand of trees," Reitz said.
Then the designer of the first two courses, Tom Bendelow, was commissioned to transform a wooded part of the property into a "ladies course." When Course No. 3 debuted in 1928, it was deemed Medinah's most interesting course. Still, a decision was made to redesign it three years later.
The end result was a course that developed a reputation for challenging even the best golfers. Three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships later, the course has been dubbed: "The Monster."
It was "probably a news guy" who came up with that nickname, according to Reitz.
"It wasn't us," he said. "We just call it No. 3."
Members say Course No. 3, which was updated in 2003 by golf course architect Rees Jones, is a major reason Medinah was selected as a Ryder Cup site.
"The course, obviously, speaks for itself," said Koeppel, adding that other reasons Medinah is a great location for a tournament include its vast amount of available space for parking and tents, as well as its proximity to airports and hotels.
For Medinah, the most significant benefit of hosting tournaments through the years has been national exposure, which has helped sustain the club's membership.
When it opened, only Shriners were allowed to become members, even though the organization never owned the club.
The start of the Great Depression in 1929 forced many of the club's estimated 1,500 members to quit, so the Shriner membership requirement was stripped from the club bylaws in February 1932.
These days, interest in Medinah is so high that the club recently expanded its regular membership limit by 15 spots to 615. All applicants must be sponsored by at least four members and have their applications reviewed by a membership committee.
The club has attracted its fair share of celebrities. Counted among Medinah's members are Michael Jordan and former Chicago Blackhawk Stan Mikita.
"Back in the days that we joined, this club was comprised of small businessmen who didn't want publicity," Koeppel said. "So people had no idea what was inside this facility. It's only because of the tournaments that they know what's in here."
The international attention that Medinah is getting because of the Ryder Cup is on a level it had never experienced before.
"I was here for the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships," said Pete Hermes, Medinah's caddie master and outside service manager. "This is at least 100 percent bigger."
Hermes said everyone working and volunteering at the club this week realizes they are experiencing history firsthand.
"It's really a once-in-a-lifetime event," he said. "We want to leave all these pros and spectators with the best impression they can get."
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