At the 1904 Summer Olympics in Normandy, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb, 10 Western Golf Association men teed up for Team USA at Glen Echo Country Club and wound up collecting gold.
“Five of them,” Exmoor Country Club Historian and Deerfield resident Don Holton says, “were Exmoor members.” Exmoor member Chandler Egan captured the silver medal in the individual segment of the Games more than 118 years ago. Egan had won the Western Amateur Championship, earlier that year, at … Exmoor CC in Highland Park.
“Our club goes way back,” Holton, an Exmoor member for 34 years, says.
Exmoor’s rich history, along with 156 of the best amateur golfers in the world, will be front and center again this summer, as Exmoor hosts the Western Amateur Championship—organized by the Western Golf Association (WGA), and the third-oldest amateur golf tournament in the world—August 1-6 for the fourth time overall and second time since 2012.
Vying for medalist honors for the second year in a row is former Hinsdale Central High School star and current University of Iowa golfer/finance major Mac McClear, who missed the cut by one stroke at last year’s Western Amateur at Glen View Club in Golf.
The Red Devil alum has never taken on Exmoor’s layout.
“I’ll be as excited for this year’s test as I was for last year’s at Glen View, because it’ll be another opportunity to compete against big-time players … the world’s top amateurs,” says Mc- Clear (HCHS, Class of 2019), a steady ball striker who twice finished in fifth place at the Illinois High School Association Class 3A boys golf state meet and helped the Red Devils capture three consecutive team state championships (2016-2018).
“I’m looking forward to playing Exmoor.”
Exmoor’s roots date back to 1896, and famed architect Donald Ross designed the course that currently covers the private, full-service club in 1915. Although Exmoor hosted the 1904 event, Ross’s layout first tested a Western Amateur field in 1952, with defending champion and 1947 Masters runner-up Frank Stranahan emerging as champion. Other former Western Amateur champions include Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ben Crenshaw, Justin Leonard, and Curtis Strange.
Stanford junior Michael Thorbjornsen beat Gordon Sargent 4 & 3 in last year’s final.
“Exmoor is a classic golf course, with a variety of holes and imaginative bunkering,” Holton says, adding golf course designer Ron Prichard completed a substantial course restoration in 2003. “Donald Ross constructed holes that reminded him of golf course holes in Scotland, where he grew up. It features excellent par-5s, some of the best par-3s in the Chicago District, and short par-4s that aren’t as easy as they look.
“Of the 12 Donald Ross-designed golf courses in the Chicago area, we like to think of Exmoor’s as an authentic Donald Ross course.”
But more than quality golf will be celebrated at the 120th Western Amateur. An annual goal, shared by the WGA and Exmoor (a charter member of the WGA in 1899), deserves rounds of applause. Since 1930, both have supported the Evans Scholars Foundation to award full tuition and housing for high-achieving caddies with limited financial means.
The scholarship program is named after Charles “Chick” Evans (1895-1979), who became an Exmoor member in 1909 and won the Western Amateur eight times from 1909-1923.
Exmoor members and event sponsors exceeded the club’s goal to raise $500,000 to support this year’s Western Amateur and to fund two more endowed Evans Scholars in the name of Exmoor.
And they reached the lofty goal in January—in record time.
“A phenomenal achievement,” Holton notes.
Exmoor member and WGA Director Tom Kearney started caddying at Beverly Country Club at the age of 11. At 16, after graduating from Brother Rice High School in Chicago, he earned an Evans Scholarship and enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (Class of 1968) as an accounting major.
Kearney played golf for the Illini in his senior year.
“I was still 16 years old in the first month of my freshman year in college,” says Kearney, an Exmoor member since 1978 and a former Exmoor golf chairman and treasurer. “I lived in chapter housing with 90 guys. The scholarship program is an amazing one, providing free housing and tuition all four years for each recipient. But Evans Scholars have to work for meals, and I ended up working as a waiter for a sorority event, where I met Susan (his future wife).
“Outside of being a part of my immediate family,” the Lake Forest resident adds, “the best thing that has ever happened to me was being named an Evans Scholar.”
More than 11,500 young men and women have graduated from colleges as Evans Scholars. Nearly 1,100, including 14 Exmoor caddies, were enrolled in 21 leading universities nationwide during the 2021-2022 academic year.
“The Evans Scholars Program continues to elevate the lives of young people by giving them opportunities to pursue degrees in college … opportunities they wouldn’t have had without developing a sound work ethic and learning all kinds of life lessons through caddying,” Holton says. “Exmoor has always been an enthusiastic and consistent supporter of the Evans Scholars Foundation.”
Exmoor gets to stage another prestigious golf tournament, and it will do so with attention to details and class. In other words: par for the course. About 400 members, Holton estimates, will volunteer as walking scorers, reception committee members, transportation aides or “Home Stay” hosts for players. The six-day tournament begins with stroke play (72 holes, August 1-3, to determine the Sweet 16) and ends with match play, including semifinals and the final on Saturday, August 6.
“Saturday will be a fantastic day of golf,” Holton promises. “We’re excited to see the top amateur golfers in the world play a course we know so well. For spectators it’ll be a rare opportunity to walk alongside players, and behind them, and see outstanding golf up close. No ropes. No barriers whatsoever.
“They’ll get to hear players and caddies talk between shots,” he adds. “They’ll get to see high-quality shots, while standing only 20 feet away.”
As an Iowa sophomore in 2021, McClear became only the fourth Hawkeye to take medalist honors at the Big Ten Tournament. He has reached a ranking of 101 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, and, in his junior season, he shot an eight-under-par round of 64 at the Puerto Rico Classic in February.
McClear played his home course, the par-71 Hinsdale Golf Club in Clarendon Hills, last summer and must have made history— Exmoor’s salient quality—by carding a 58. He made 13 birdies. Thirteen.
“My Dad (Chris), who was always by my side when I started playing golf, didn’t believe me when told him what I shot,” McClear recalls.
It was a masterful feat.
It was Olympian.
Exmoor Country Club, 847-432-3600, is located at 700 Vine Avenue, Highland Park. Visit exmoorcountryclub.org for more information. For more information about the Western Golf Association and the Evans Scholars Foundation, visit wgaesf.org.