Where is the Golf Center of the World? It's not where you think

By Dave Mitchell, Contributor

Silver Lakes NorthORLAND PARK, Ill. -- This could easily be the million dollar question on the TV show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Ask just about anyone where the self-proclaimed "Golf Center of the World" is located. WORLD, mind you. It is fair to say the guesses would range from St. Andrews, to Augusta, to Pebble Beach, to Pinehurst or perhaps the Sun Valley in Arizona.

The answer is none of the above. Remember, the key phrase is "self-proclaimed."

Ready?

Orland Park, Illinois.

Most people familiar with the continually evolving and expanding Chicago suburb, 30 miles south west of the city, already know about the claim, even if golf isn't their game. Look to the town's water tower, which resemble a golf ball sitting atop a green tee, with the proclamation in bold green letters on the side.

The boast is a hold-over from the days when the argument that Orland Park was the "Golf Center of the World" could be made. And villagers decided to hang on to the claim, despite the fact the pursuit of the sale price at the millions of square feet of rapidly expanding shopping space, has long overtaken the pursuit of the little white ball on the equally rapidly shrinking open lands. In fact, there isn't even a municipal course to be found in the town.

Patty Vlazny with the Orland Park Historical Society says the slogan was adopted by the town 40 years ago.

"The motto was adopted by the Chamber of Commerce and a town businessman, Robert Johnson, in 1964," she says. "Later, I assume that same year, the village board adopted the slogan, and it was painted onto the water towers."

At the time of the phrase's inception, there were more golf courses and fewer people. The boast is based on the tabulation at the time that there were more golf holes per capita concentrated in and around Orland Park than anywhere else in the world.

Orland Park Water Tower As of 1991, there were still 1,100 holes in the area. But since then the population has exploded, to make the "more holes than people" claim today, the town would need about 53,000 golf holes or about 2,944 18-hole courses!

Realizing the original reasons for the claim no longer exist, maintenance of the towers could have impacted change. But Vlazny says a recent repainting of the towers only resulted in a freshening of the letters, and nothing more.

"We could have changed the slogan, but it was decided we would still be known as the "Golf Center of the World."

Why not? After all, is the Chicago Tribune really the "World's Greatest Newspaper"? Or, is the Ringling Brother's Barnum and Bailey Circus really "The Greatest Show on Earth"?

Today, Orland Park, only has several golf courses remaining within the borders of the community. However, the area at large has 21 courses within 10 miles of the town, including the famed Cog Hill Golf and Country Club, with its four courses including "Dubsdread", home of the Western Open. In fact, the Coghill brothers, after playing at a course in the area, scouted for land for their own course. They chose Lemont, north and west of Orland, specifically the McLaughlin farm, and bought it with money borrowed from Orland State Bank. Other notable courses in the area include the Odyssey County Club in nearby Tinley Park, a short and wet course, and the Cook County-operated George W. Dunne National Golf Course in Oak Forest, a not-too terribly long venue, but as woodsy as Odyssey is wet.

Orland Park Water Tower By the time the Coghills got their development on the drawing board, the greater southland of Chicago was becoming well known for world class courses, including Olympia Fields, the home of the 2003 U.S. Open, Flossmoor Country Club, and the Burnham Golf Club, a favorite of notorious high-handicapper Al Capone when it opened in the 1920's. The key to this kind of development was the availability of open land, and the railroad, first spanning to the south of the city, and later to the southwest.

When the railroad came to the settlement known as Sedgewick in 1879, its new "Sedgewick Station" forever changed the character of the community. The town, renamed Orland Park after incorporation in 1892, swiftly grew into a commercial and shipping center serving surrounding farms. And there was plenty of farmland.

The courses still within the boundaries of the town include the private Crystal Tree Golf and Country Club. You have to be a member or the guest of a member to play here. You'll also find White Mountain Executive, a course built on a hilly terrain with wide fairways, the fairly new Acorn Meadows, and the 72 year old Silver Lake and its three courses, the Rolling Hills, as well as the long North course, and the shorter South course. There is even an opportunity for the off-season or virtual experience with Indoor Golf Links of America located in an industrial park at the south end of town.

Besides the mega-shopping in the area, there are some great forest preserve trails in Oak Forest and Tinley Park. Oak Forest combines the forest and golf at the Cook County Forest Preserve's George W. Dunne Golf Course, just west of Orland Park. Tinley boasts the Tweeter Music Center just to the north of Odyssey Country Club, one of the area's newest courses. And if it's a Sunday, the brunch in the elegant Odyssey Ballroom is complete, pricey, and fabulous.

Back to Orland Park's main attraction - retailing.

Take a drive down LaGrange Road, or peruse the local phone book, and you will quickly realize the golf retailers have taken root. All the name-brand stores are here, most within a decent fairway-wood from the town's centerpiece Orland Square Mall. In addition, there are the pro-shops at the courses in the area, and several other stores that offer golf supplies, new and used, as part of their sporting goods catalog.

With all this in mind, I wonder how tough it would be to wrench in the word "store" to the town slogan. How does World Golf STORE Center sound?

Dave Mitchell, Contributor


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