EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of an occasional series, Old Haunts of Holland, that will spotlight businesses that once held a special place in the heart of Hollanders and now hold a permanent place in our local history.
HOLLAND — In the early 1900s, Holland was filled with wealthy, influential men that operated luxurious hotels, outlandish theme parks, impressive menageries and other lucrative business ventures. In 1921, those men got together and decided they needed somewhere to relax.
And thus, Holland Country Club was born.
‘No one is ever too old or too young’
Located at 51 Country Club Road, where today a condominium development named The Villas of Holland sits, Holland Country Club was considered a much-needed social organization.
The 126-acre property was purchased for $18,000 in October 1921. The cornerstone for the new club, quarried by Waverly Stone Company, was moved into place in August 1922. Once the laying was complete, work began on the clubhouse.
Plans for the club included an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, croquet grounds, horseshoes, volleyball, softball and an athletic field. In its first year, the organization had amassed 110 members from Holland and seven from Zeeland, each with dues of $250.
By 1927, all 18 holes had been named through a contest among members. Winning monickers included Grand Canyon, Lookout, Warm Friend, Wooden Shoe, Wedding Cake and Last Splash.
“The naming of the golf holes aroused a good deal of interest,” an article in The Holland City News read. “Each of the names has real meaning for those who play the course. A great many names were submitted, some of them so appropriate that it seemed a pity to the committee that they could not all be chosen.”
Four hanging bridges welcomed members when the course opened for its first season of play in 1923, historic writer Randy Vande Water wrote in a country club newsletter in the 1990s. The bridges were “attached to strong steel cables securely anchored on each side of the stream.”
During that first season, regular lunches were served 6-7:30 p.m. for $1 per plate, with Sunday lunches 1-2 p.m. for $1.25 per plate. Sandwiches were available at all times, and special meals could be ordered by telephone.
Members and their immediate family were allowed to play on a single membership without additional fees. Sons of members between the ages of 21 and 25 were asked to become Junior Associate Members for $25. All club privileges were extended to guests “visiting for a week or two,” according to the organization’s first-ever newsletter in 1923.
Despite their hard work, officers of the club were nervous about members learning to play.
“It is a new game for most all of us,” club secretary Willis Diekema wrote in that newsletter. “And any awkwardness which we may display at the start will surely have lots of company.
“Simply because you have never played before, do not feel you cannot learn the game. No one is ever too old or too young to learn to play golf, and your membership in this club will be twice as enjoyable if you are a playing member.”
Passing through the decades
The club survived the Great Depression handily in the 1930s, rebounding with its best-ever season in 1937 after restructuring in 1935.
In 1945, following America’s victory in World War II, the local American Legion decided to purchase the Holland Country Club. The organization sought to convert the site into a veterans memorial and “dedicate it to the men and women from this area who served in World War II.”
Plans included revamping the clubhouse for year-round club activities with improved maintenance on the golf course and renewed focus on tennis, archery, winter skiing and tobogganing.
“The hillside was a very popular location in the winter,” wrote Vern Hoeksema, a former president and caddy of the club, in a letter published in The Sentinel in 2015. “It seemed that we always had snow, and it was the place to be with toboggans, sleds, skis or large innertubes. On good days and conditions, one could make it nearly to the river.”
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It was proposed that each of the 18 golf greens be made commemorative of the battlefields and naval engagements in which servicemen from Holland played an important part. The finalized purchase was announced in January 1946, and the club was renamed the American Legion Golf Course.
“Over the years of their ownership, remodeling was done to the main clubhouse and new locker rooms and a pro-shop were constructed,” Hoeksema wrote.
The club operated in this manner for 22 years, until the American Legion began leasing the clubhouse space to The Holland Tavern Club. The club purchased the property in 1979 and restored the original Holland Country Club name.
Significant renovations to the clubhouse and grounds came in the decades that followed; until the course that survived the Great Depression came face-to-face with the Great Recession.
On the decline
After nearly nine decades, Holland Country Club was brought down by the financial catastrophe of 2007-2009.
The organization lost 30 golf members and 50 social members by the end of 2008, bringing its total to just 120 golf members and 100 social members, according to Sentinel archives.
Members of the club rejected a proposed merger with Macatawa Legends in Holland Township in 2007, hoping selling stock in the club would raise enough money to reverse its financial woes.
Lew Gorbach, then business development director of Grand Haven Golf Club, told The Sentinel many people cut commitments to private clubs as the economy declined, instead playing at several different courses as finances allowed.
Shortly after the membership drop, board members learned the club’s two largest summer events — Hope College’s Bob DeYoung Classic and the Holland Chamber of Commerce Outing — wouldn’t return in 2009. When the club failed to secure outside investors to pay off its $1.5 million debt, Macatawa Bank foreclosed on the property.
“There are a lot more restaurants with banquet facilities established in our community,” Hoeksema wrote. “Which gave more options for people to join or use. The economic downturn of 2009 was the final condition, as the bank called in the loans. Could this historic community organization have survived again? We will never know.”
There was hope an investor might approach the bank to reopen the club as a private entity, but none came forward. Despite appeals from the community, Hope College and the city of Holland declined to purchase the property for golf courses of their own. And just like that, the 88-year-old, member-owned club ceased to exist.
‘The only thing remaining’
The vast majority of the property was eventually purchased by the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Department, which reshaped the land into the first county park in the city of Holland. Dubbed…
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