As far back as the late 1800s, the United States military came to the conclusion that for its fighting force to be effective when needed, not everybody needed to be “on the job” every minute of every day. Today, the military explains that thinking this way: “Being mission ready requires downtime to relax, recharge and have fun.”
What “fun” meant in the late 1800s is up for debate. (A stroll through the park, perhaps?) In more modern times, however, it’s meant providing programs that lift the morale among “service members, their families and other eligible personnel.” The overall operation is designated MWR, and that stands for “Morale, Welfare and Recreation.”
In all, there are almost 5,000 leisure and support programs available. These include classes in car repair, painting, photography, music and woodworking. Depending on where the service members are stationed, there’s scuba diving, flying, boating and horseback riding. Aquatics, fitness and sports are additional activities the members can take part in. And that includes bowling. In fact, there are over 50 MWR-affiliated bowling centers around the world.
And then there’s golf.
Remember the classic World War II motion picture “From Here To Eternity,” star- ring Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed, Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr? In a scene toward the end, Clift’s character (Robert E. Lee Pruitt Jr.) is attempting to get back to his military unit in Hawaii after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Where is he making this attempt? On a golf course! How does he meet his unfortunate demise (like so many of us have)? In a sand trap! Reportedly, the course where that scene was filmed is today’s Waialae Country Club in Honolulu (built in 1927 and originally called Waialae Golf Course). What’s that got to do with MWR? Nothing. But … there are three other golf courses in Hawaii that are affiliated with MWR.
In all, there are more than 140 military-owned golf courses in nearly 40 states na- tionwide and around the globe. Of those, there are a total of 29 golf courses owned and operated by the U.S. Navy around the world (see sidebar). Talk about getting with the program!
Somewhat surprisingly, the only Navy-owned course in the Midwest is the Veterans Memorial Golf Club at the Great Lakes Naval Station right along Lake Michigan in North Chicago, Illinois. For those out-of-towners who might not know, this Naval facility (officially designated Naval Station Great Lakes) opened in 1911 and is now the Navy’s largest training installation and home to its only boot camp. Today, it supports over 20,000 sailors, marines, soldiers and Department of Defense civilians that live and work at the installation.
The golf course on the property, originally called Willow Glen, opened as a nine-hole layout in the mid-1940s (architect unknown). For many years, it was only available to military personnel — active, reserve and retired. In the 1960s, however, another nine holes were added by architect Dick Nugent, an Illinois native and the eventual designer of over 60 golf courses, including the highly regarded Kemper Lakes layout in his home state (former site of the annual Kemper Open on the PGA Tour) and the very exclusive nine-hole Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Michigan.
In the late 1990s, the front nine of to- day’s Veterans Memorial was reworked and remodeled by architect Paul Loague. In the early 2000s, Loague did a similar rework of the back nine, although there’s a frequent feeling from golfers that it’s a bit more “links style” than the front. To aid in the new look and beauty of Vets Memorial, more than 100 trees of all types were planted (including Willow). As a finishing touch to the project, the old clubhouse was torn down in 2006 and a beautiful new one was built in 2008. Best of all, this golf course has since become open to the public, with weekend rates just $57 for civilians (military members pay just $46).
Today, this very attractive and gently rolling layout is more popular than ever. There’s a 9,000-square-foot putting green and practice range. For a hot meal or a cold brew (or both), there’s Buckley’s Restaurant right on site. As planned, the parkland-style golf course winds its way through and around plenty of mature trees, strategically placed for challenge as much as aesthetics. On one hole, in fact, there’s a tree in the middle of the fairway some 200 yards from the tee! There are also a couple of creeks and five ponds of various sizes to take in but stay out of, as well as the nearly 50 bunkers!
Yet, if there’s one thing that the newly renovated Vets Memorial lacks — at least by today’s standards — it’s length. But then, that’s debatable, too. From the tips, it measures a “mere” 6,642 yards. However, right across Lake Michigan from Vets Memorial sits one of the most admired courses in America: Crystal Downs Country Club in Frankfort, Michigan. It’s a course that annually ranks among the top 25 in the country and it only measures 6,500 yards from the back tees. No doubt short hitters are grateful that three other sets of tees are available at Vets Memo- rial, the shortest coming in at 5,006 yards. As is often said, “length isn’t everything.”
Looking for an affordable, fun, playable but challenging tract set among very different surroundings? Then think about a visit to the Veterans Memorial Golf Club at Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago, Illinois. That’s not an order sailor … but it is a good idea.
For more information or tee times, please visit navymwrgreatlakes.com or call 847-688-4593.
A Golf Course in Every Port
U.S. Navy owned/operated golf courses around the world:
A.C. READ GOLF COURSE— Pensacola, Florida
ADMIRAL BAKER GOLF COURSE— San Diego, California
AEROPINES GOLF COURSE— Oceana, Virginia
ATSUGI GOLF COURSE— Atsugi, Japan
BARBERS POINT GOLF COURSE— Kalaeloa, Hawaii
CARNEY POINT GOLF COURSE— Naples, Italy
CEDAR POINT GOLF COURSE— Patuxent River, Maryland
CHINA LAKE GOLF COURSE— China Lake, California
DEER COVE GOLF COURSE— Williamsburg, Virginia
EAGLE HAVEN GOLF COURSE— Virginia Beach, Virginia
GALLERY GOLF COURSE— Oak Harbor, Washington
GLEN EAGLE GOLF COURSE— Groton, Connecticutt
GULF WINDS GOLF COURSE— Corpus Christi, Texas
JACK DENNIS GOLF COURSE— Rota, Spain
MAMALA GOLF COURSE— JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
MONTEREY PINES GOLF COURSE— Monterey, California
NAS JACKSONVILLE GOLF CLUB— Jacksonville, Florida
NAVY-MARINE GOLF COURSE— JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
PALM TREE GOLF COURSE— Yigo, Guam
SEA N AIR GOLF COURSE— Coronado, California
SEABEE GOLF COURSE — Port Hueneme, California
SEWELL’S POINT GOLF CLUB— Norfolk, Virginia
THE LATERAL HAZARD— Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
TRIDENT LAKES GOLF CLUB — Kings Bay, Georgia
UNSA GOLF CLUB— Annapolis, Maryland
VETERANS MEMORIAL GOLF CLUB— North Chicago, Illinois
WINDY HARBOR GOLF CLUB — Jacksonville, Florida