Legendary Chicago Amateur tournament turns 100 this summer

By Brendan O'Brien, Contributor

CHICAGO -- The long lineage of golf in the windy city will be celebrated this summer with the playing of Chicago's 100th City Amateur golf tournament.

The storied tournament, taking place July 16 - 18 at Jackson Park Municipal Golf Course on the city's south side, will bring together the best amateur players throughout the city and surrounding area.

"It is the biggest amateur tournament in the true sense of the word. Anyone who has their own set of clubs.can come out and compete," said Stella Nanos, KemperGolf General Manager of the Chicago Park District golf courses.

The tournament field typically is as diverse as the city itself, featuring golfers of every age, skill level and walk of life.

"We have. 14-year-old kids that are so nervous they barely can pull their club back and we have guys that have been playing it for 30 or 40 years who are in their 70s who come out just to enjoy.the course and competition," Nanos said.

The cross-section of players was never more apparent as it was last year when renowned four-time champion Al Ballard was paired with one of the area's best young players Andy Jeninga, who went on to win the tournament.

"What struck me last year was really no one I played with in other tournaments played in the City Amateur, but yet they were still able to produce a remarkable field," said Jeninga, a sophomore at Georgetown University. "I played every day with Ballard. He worked the night shift the night before the first day of the tournament and went out and shot a 67."

Ballard has played in nearly every Chicago Amateur during the past 40 years.

"It was where I started playing golf basically for tournament purposes and kind of grew on me," said Ballard, who plans to play in this year's event.

Although the 64-year-old has enjoyed an illustrious amateur career, it is the disappointment of eight second-place finishes that he most vividly recalls.

"I remember the ones I lost since I lost more than I won," he said. "Having a two or three-stroke lead coming to 17 and 18 and blowing it. I don 't remember the ones that I have won so much the ones that I thought I should have won and I lost."

Ballard is excited about this year's event.

"I hope to win," the Chicagoan said.

Jackson Park, considered by many to be the birthplace of the game in a city that loves its golf, has been rejuvenated during the past few years.

"Jackson Park has evolved and gone through so many different phases through out its history," Nanos said. "Right now it's at another peak as far as conditioning."

Since 1993, KemperGolf Management of Northbrook, Illinois has managed all Chicago Park District golf facilities, including Jackson Park. Along with the improved course conditions, the anniversary will provide a fresh beginning for the tournament.

"It seems like the people at Kemper have realized they have this crown jewel that hasn't been polished for the past decade or so," local golf historian Tim Cronin said. "This could give it a little push."

Jackson Park was built as a nine-hole course in 1899. Another nine holes were added a year later. Since Jackson Park was the only public course in the area and free to play until 1920, it truly brought the game to the people.

"It is a fascinating course because it is right there in a park and the park is 'transversed' by city streets," Cronin said. "You cross the street for five, six, seven, eight and nine and you cross the street again for 10, 11 and 12.you finally end up several blocks from where you started. That is why there are no carts at Jackson Park, because people would just be driving them away. As so the theory goes."

From the sounds of traffic whistling by on Lake Shore Drive to the sometimes harsh conditions offered by neighboring Lake Michigan, the urban golf setting will provide players with a unique setting. Although the 5,463-yard par 70 course is a short track, it packs a punch to players who are not accustomed to municipal golf.

"If you want to play a 'muni,' you have to come to Jackson Park and play it with rough that is uneven and greens that are slow," said Cronin, the golf writer at the Daily Southtown, a local Chicago newspaper. "Sometimes you will have a good fairway and sometimes you won't. They really keep it up good now."

Jackson Park was Jeninga's home course while in high school, giving him an advantage over the rest of the field who might not be aware of the unique playing conditions.

"There are numerous nuances that you just don't know unless you play there enough," Jeninga said. "If you go from playing a high-end course in the suburbs to Jackson Park, you might be in for a surprise. Jackson Park is well kept and has made great strides, but it is kind of a different flavor of golf."

Most of the front side runs along a neighborhood street and abuts a couple of playgrounds.

"There is definitely a lot of strange stuff that happens at Jackson," Janinga said. "There are a lot of random noises, a lot of honking and people getting mad when they are driving."

Competitors must qualify at one of four sites before the tournament. Qualifying rounds will be held at Columbus Park Golf Course on June 13, Robert A. Black Golf Course on June 27 and at Jackson Park Golf Course on July 10. A qualifying round at Water's Edge Golf Course in Worth was played on May 23. The top 100 qualifiers will play 54 holes without a cut during the stroke-play event.

The winner of the tournament will earn an exemption into the 2005 Illinois Open and have their name engraved on the Mayor Daley's Cup.

"This year is going to be huge with the introduction of the Mayor Daly's Cup," Nanos said. "It is a three foot silver trophy that will stay on site and keep the history of the tournament from now forward."

The list of past tournament winners is a who's who of the game's influential and legendary. Charles "Chick" Evans, founder of the Evans Scholarship for caddies, won the tournament four times, including a championship in 1944 when he was 54-years-old.

"He was a great talent on the golf course, winning the U.S. Open, two U.S. Amateurs and a Western Open," Cronin said. "Now, Chick Evans is known much more for his philanthropy than he was as a player. He was the best American amateur until Bobby Jones came along."

Other past champions include Ireland's Joe McDermott and members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame Bill Shean and Joel Hirsch.

Brendan O'Brien, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Champion

    Jack Lambke wrote on: Jun 23, 2017

    My father pass away in '89, and I believe that he was a Champion in the 30's......Mike Lambke.
    Can you verify ?


  • Al Ballard

    Vince Militante wrote on: May 3, 2013

    I beat Al in last years Chicago Senior Championship. He had been a friend for 30 years. He beat the year before and was always a gentlemen. We shall miss Al. He was not the same person when his wife passed several ago. I know they together now. Vince


  • Al Ballard

    Tom Benjamin wrote on: Jul 31, 2010

    Al Ballard was a competitor of mine some 40 years ago. I have fond memories of playing him in the quarterfinals of the Chicago City Amateur in 1971. If anyone knows Al, please let him know that I would love to reconnect with him. My email is: tabskypilot@msn.com


    • RE: Al Ballard

      Rodney Woolford wrote on: Apr 11, 2013

      Al Ballard is dead ,my friends and I are trying to get more info , please let me know what you know , thank you . Rodney Woolford , Friend of Al !


  • Prior champions of each 100 years

    Jim Harty wrote on: Jul 23, 2010

    I have been unable to find a listing of
    prior champions !! My father passed
    away many years ago and I have reason to believe he may have been a former champion?? Approx 1925-30 ?? Could you
    please e-mail me a list of those names?
    Thank you very much--Jim Harty !!


    • RE: Prior champions of each 100 years

      Larry Trotter wrote on: Oct 23, 2010

      My uncle Arthur E.Coates (Chubby) was a ISAC around 1935+-, when he taught me how to play...75 years ago.
      I would like to have his record verified. LT


    • RE: Prior champions of each 100 years

      michael wrote on: Jul 23, 2010

      given that this article is six years old we probably won't get an answer. but i am looking for the same information for the same reason! on the same day! too weird. Kemper Sports or Chicago Park District may have the answer though.


Comments Leave a comment