The Leland Country Club (or Golf Club as sometimes known, depending on its ownership or corporate status) came into being as a golf course about 1914. The course was built as a private venture for public use by Charles B. Wilder of Wheaton, Illinois. Mr. Wilder was assisted by Norman Petersen, also of Wheaton, who remained as manager for many years.
The original nine holes occupied forty-eight acres of what had been a dairy farm. There were two rather distinctive features. The present 3rd green (then the 5th) had a hard clay base with thin sand covering — no grass. Golfers today, used to smooth, soft turf, can imagine it was quite a trick to hold the ball.
Even more unique and well known throughout the Middle West was the 3rd tee for what is now the 1st hole. This was the elevated wooden platform pictured today in the Clubhouse. Raised some seven feet above ground, it was located at the circle drive in front of the present Clubhouse. There was a bench with a railing around three sides which was frequently occupied by those who just wanted to enjoy the marvelous view. New sod was put down every spring, but seldom lasted through the season.
Throughout the 20’s, green fees were $1.00 daily, and $40.00 covered a family membership for the entire season. There were caddies for everyone who wished one at the going rate of 35 cents for nine holes and 60 cents for eighteen. The caddies were teenagers, most of whom walked over and back from Provement (now Lake Leelanau).
There was an active schedule of tournaments for both men and ladies with competitions almost every week. The little “Clubhouse” located just south of the present 10th green contained only a small office and limited toilet and locker facilities. A little later this meager building was merged with the nearby old dairy barn. It is this former barn which constitutes today’s Club living area.
The first real change in the appearance of the property occurred in the early thirties with the moving of the Clubhouse to its present site, substantial enlargement, and the construction of two tennis courts.
In the early 1930’s, the Leland Community Sings, already in existence for over thirty years, had become too big to be housed in residents’ homes and the Club became the host facility. For over sixty years, the Clubhouse has burst with the joyous noise of massed voices on Sunday nights during the summer. A succession of notable Directors led off by L. P. (Uncle Pat) Warren has kept this tradition alive and well. All members of the community, whether or not they are members of the Club, are welcome.
Following World War II, private ownership was terminated when the membership acquired a proprietary interest through the sale of debentures to summer residents. Concurrently, a twelve member Board of Governors representing all areas of the summer community assumed direction of the Club and, with the retirement of Mr. Petersen, hired Donald Challender as Club Manager. This Board with gradual year to year replacement has guided Club affairs in subsequent years.
Soon after Mr. Challender joined the Club, the Governors inaugurated the first major course improvement with the installation of a tee to green irrigation system. This approximate $20,000 expenditure more than anything else changed the course from a cow pasture to a pleasurable links.
However, problems arose in the early 1960’s. Golf everywhere was booming. At our little club of approximately 160 members, summer residents had to wait several years for a family membership only to find, upon acceptance, the nine holes so crowded that play of a full nine frequently consumed three hours. Sunday night buffets became so popular it was necessary to decline reservations above the 130 capacity.
The Governors responded to the principal problem with the opening on July 14, 1966, of the beautiful “new nine” north of Pearl Street, following two years of study, fund raising, and construction. Two years later, in 1968, a third tennis court was built, the Clubhouse greatly improved and enlarged, and the parking lot expanded, paved and attractively landscaped.
It required another three years before all holes were fully integrated into an eighteen-hole course that permitted each nine to begin and end at the Clubhouse according to the original design of Mr. C.D. Wagstaff, well known golf architect of Glenview, Illinois. Further improvement in the Club’s facilities was the addition in 1971 of a golf and storage shop convenient to the Clubhouse and 1st and 10th tees.
In January 1972, Joe Burda was appointed Club Manager to succeed Don Challender, who had served the Club well and faithfully for 17 years.
As the 1973 season closed a new number six hole at 160 yards was opened for play. This new hole eliminated the hazard of playing across the entrance driveway, and because of its design was a wonderful addition to the course. Two additional hard surface tennis courts were opened for play that year, and a tennis house was constructed close by the courts in 1974. The Club’s sixth and seventh courts and a tennis bang-board were opened in 1978.
The south end of the Clubhouse was renovated and enlarged in 1976 to provide more lockers, a suitable manager’s office, and wider passageways. In 1978 the lovely porch dining area was carpeted and enclosed with sliding glass doors and a deck constructed across the north end of the Clubhouse.
A remodeling master plan for the golf course by Rees Jones, Inc. was prepared in 1978 to guide the governors in future course improvements. Reconstruction of the 2nd and 4th greens and a new tee for the 5th hole were undertaken in the fall of 1979, and the 5th green was rebuilt in 1981. A new automatic sprinkling system was installed and in use for the 1982 season.
An attractive improvement was the stone entrance to the driveway in the fall of 1985. In 1987 the kitchen was remodeled and reequipped to facilitate noon luncheons and Sunday buffets and a new maintenance building was constructed bringing heat and water to the maintenance crew.
In 1990, improvements were made to the Clubhouse interior including new restrooms and locker room modifications, together with new tennis decks and pro shop alterations.
As this work drew to a close, Joe & Betty Burda tendered their resignations after nearly 20 years of service. In recognition of their diligent and faithful service the membership voted them life membership in the Club.Bob Hartsell was appointed Club Manager in July 1991, and was immediately involved in the computerization of club operations and extensive modifications to the Main Hall of the Clubhouse. These were accomplished over the winter of ’91 – ’92. Improvements to the tennis courts were made in the fall of 1993 when two (2) Har Tru courts were constructed, replacing # 5 & # 6 and in the fall of 1995, two (2) additional Har Tru courts were constructed replacing courts # 3 and # 4.
In 1994, an electric cart site was provided to the south of the 10th tee, conversion was made from gas to electric carts, the old green barn by the 10th tee was removed, and the deck was rebuilt.
In the spring of 1996, extensive internal modifications were made to the golf pro shop expanding both the retail space and the bag storage area.
In 1997/1998 the Franklin B. Mead Memorial patio and wall were constructed adjoining the Clubhouse. A new ladies tee was built on number 8. Andy Palmer was named Club Manager effective October 1, 1998.
In the spring of 1999 a permanent roof was built over the tennis deck. A storm warning siren was installed in 2000, and the swamp between holes 12 and 17 was cleared-out to provide increased air circulation and improved playability. Cellular phones were banned. A touch-screen handicap system was implemented. In 2001 new carpeting was installed in the lobby, dining porch and locker rooms. The deck adjoining the north end of the Clubhouse was extended thereby providing enhanced viewing and capacity. A Social Committee was established at the Board level to encompass Food Service and the expanding social activities of the Club. An ice making, water dispensing machine was added on the backside of the golf pro shop in the spring of 2002.
Following several years of discussion, a Site Improvement Plan was formulated and approved by the Board in 2000 and implemented in the fall of 2001 and spring of 2002. The plan included rebuilding number 1 and number 10 tees, construction of a new larger practice putting green, a cart staging area and a cart storage barn, the enlargement of the parking lot, and extensive landscaping improvements around the clubhouse.
In 2003, the Club embarked on an ambitious program to install a completely new and more efficient irrigation system for the golf course, to be operational in May of 2004. Because of the large expense involved the Board was required to pass an assessment of $1,000 per Senior member to cover the costs. At the same time, continuous improvements were made to help solve the drainage problems of several of the holes north of Pearl Street.
In 2009, the Club formed a partnership with Bruce Hepner of Renaissance Golf. All of the sand traps were completely redone with five new ones added. Also included in the project were five new Tees and a greatly enhanced practice area at the West end of the driving range.
Both the golf and tennis junior programs enjoyed increasing popularity and participation. Frequently over 100 youngsters were enrolled in each program during any given week.
In 2010 due to the popularity of the clay courts, court #7 was replaced with a Har Tru court givng the club five (5) clay and two (2) asphalt courts. Two additional tennis decks were constructed out of Michigan cedar wood overlooking courts #1, #2, & #7.
In 2012, a new set of Tees called the “Friendlies” were providing a 3900 yard course perfect for juniors and players of all abilities.
In 2014 we celebrated 100 years of golf.
Unique in its location only one-half mile from the center of town and overlooking beautiful Lake Leelanau, the Leland Country Club offers as fine a summer resort private eighteen hole golf course as there is in the Middle West and outdoor tennis facilities among the finest in northern Michigan. It is essentially a family Club for people of all ages who live and vacation in the Leland Community.