Farwells 6: Birth of Golf in Chicago

                              And a Country Club in Lake Forest






By Megan McKinney


Charles Blair MacDonald, “Father of Organized Golf in the United States.”


In tandem with Charles Blair MacDonald, Charles Farwell’s son-in-law, Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, is credited with introducing the sport of golf to Chicago and the Midwest, if not to the United States.

Chatfield-Taylor and MacDonald were also pioneers in the culture surrounding golf; they did not create the American country club—the Philadelphia Cricket Club was established in 1854, four decades earlier—but they definitely created the format for the Chicago suburbs.



The Philadelphia Cricket Club continues to border the Pennsylvania city with tennis in Chestnut Hill and golf in Flourtown.


Hobart established what was originally known as the Lake Forest Golf Club. And Charles founded the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. However, it was Hobart’s father-in-law, Charles Farwell, who made it possible for them to do so.

When Hobart hosted a group of Englishmen who were visiting Chicago in preparation for the World’s Columbian Exposition, the men complained there were no golf courses in the area. Chatfield-Taylor responded by consulting the Chicago-born MacDonald, who he knew had become enamored with golf while attending St. Andrews University in Scotland.



St. Andrews Links in Scotland, “Home of Golf” internationally.


Hobart and his wife, Rose, began by inviting Charles to visit Fairlawn, her father’s Lake Forest estate during a spring weekend in 1892, and the frustrated Charlie was delighted to accept. He had spent 20 years unable to engage in his favorite sport in the Chicago area because he could find neither courses nor golfers. This was a magnificent opportunity for him to lay out a seven-hole golf course on the grassy grounds at Fairlawn with tomato cans, which he sunk in the earth as holes. The course MacDonald created on the Charles Farwell property stretched over 20 acres and even provided the hazards of an ornamental pond and bluffs out over which the property looked to the lake. Voilà! The Chicago area’s first golf course at the intersection of Lake and Deerpath Roads.



Fairlawn, the site of the Chicago area’s first golf course.


It wasn’t long before MacDonald fulfilled his destiny by establishing the renowned Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, giving him not only a venue in which to play but also attracting such exalted figures as Marshall Field, George Pullman and Potter Palmer with whom to enjoy the game.

Meanwhile, Hobart, Rose and their friends had begun playing golf at Fairlawn. Because anything Rose Chatfield-Taylor did was acceptable, the golf-appropriate skirt she wore was adopted by other women, making both the skirt and the game fashionable. As enthusiasm for the game mounted in Lake Forest, Hobart organized a group to form the Lake Forest Golf Club on property belonging to Leander J. McCormick in 1894.

The McCormick farm, located approximately where Lake Forest Country Day School is today, provided space for an enlarged course of nine holes, now with grazing sheep as hazards. A derelict farmhouse, known as the “sheep shed,” served as a locker room and was as close as members came to having a clubhouse.



The sheep shed on the McCormick farm.


It was soon time to move on. The year 1895 was a big one for golf in Lake Forest. The growing club was officially organized, with 150 members and Hobart as president.



Onwentsia’s charter members.


The incipient club’s swelling membership was photographed above, still at the McCormick farm but soon to move. President Hobart Chatfield-Taylor is standing to the far left in a straw boater, with his hands in his pockets. Beautiful Rose is sitting just to the right of the center tree.

By the end of the year, the group had purchased the 175-acre farm of architect Henry Ives Cobb and his wife, Emma. The Cobb farmhouse, far grander than the McCormick sheep shed, would be their clubhouse for the next 25 years. At last, they had a proper 18-hole golf course and the handsome residence of a great architect to house the club, which they would rename Onwentsia.  


Finally, Lake Forest had a suitable country club in a permanent location.


Charlie MacDonald might have continued to make do with frequent trips to Scotland to satisfy his need for golf courses and companions who knew the game; however, the enthusiasm, which had begun at Fairlawn and was sweeping Lake Forest, encouraged him to rent farm acreage west of Chicago in the suburb of Belmont, now Downers Grove.

Only a few months after laying out the seven-hole tomato-can course at Fairlawn, MacDonald had created a nine-hole course in Belmont, to which he added another nine within a year. In July 1893, he chartered the Chicago Golf Club, the first club in the United States to have an 18-hole golf course. 

The next step was to buy 200 acres in the farmland near Wheaton, and, during the months Hobart and his Lake Forest enthusiasts were trading up from a sheep shed to a great architect’s handsome farmhouse, Charlie was creating an alternate historic club, which would also continue to prevail today.


farwell-chicago-golf-club-2Chicago Golf Club.

By the turn of the century, the great titans of Chicago industry were regularly making the trip out to Wheaton for golf, sometimes several times a week.

On New Year’s Day 1906, John V. Farwell’s former apprentice, and later business partner, Marshall Field, journeyed out to the Chicago Golf Club with his nephew Stanley Field; attorney Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s son; and James Simpson, a Field protégé who would one day become a president of Marshall Field & Co. It was piercingly cold and the ground was high with several feet of snow, necessitating red golf balls.

Field complained of a sore throat on the following day but, ignoring it, played two more rounds of golf that week. He had business in New York and was eager to keep a scheduled trip, although he still had not shaken what appeared to be a severe cold.



The snow at Wheaton necessitated red golf balls.


Field’s condition worsened in the drafty train, and his wife, Delia, wired ahead to Pittsburgh to have a doctor meet the train and accompany them to New York. The party proceeded to Holland House at 30th St. and 5th Ave., where the Fields kept a suite; a team of doctors gathered, including New York specialists and Field’s personal physician, Dr. Frank Billings, who rushed from Chicago.



Holland House, the Fields’ New York hotel.


But the diagnosis was ominous; the patient had contracted pneumonia, a virtual death sentence in the elderly (Marshall Field was 71). At 4 o’clock in the afternoon of January 16, Marshall Field died. 



John V. Farwell.

We began this series with a segment titled A Gathering of Giants, in which the young Marshall Field and Levi Leiter were mentored at Cooley, Farwell & Co. by John V. Farwell. It was an exciting, dynamic time in Chicago, a period during which entire industries were created within a few blocks of each other. A time and place never to be equaled.

The few mid-19th century giants who were still living at the time of Marshall Field’s death in 1906 were considered old by standards of the time. Cyrus McCormick had died in 1884; George Pullman in 1897; P.D. Armour, 1901; Potter Palmer, 1902; Charles Farwell, 1903; Levi Leiter, 1904—one a year at the turn of the century—and John V. Farwell would follow Field’s death in another year and a half, on August 8, 1908. The mid-century gathering had become a passing of giants.

It had been a matchless time and place. And, among the towering figures who created the magic of the last half of Chicago’s 19th century, the Farwells were unsurpassed.


This segment concludes The Farwells of Lake Forest, Megan McKinney’s series of articles on this remarkable dynasty.


Author Photo:

Robert F. Carl