Feature Interview with Andrew Lewis
August, 2020

Andrew Lewis lives in Chicago, IL with his wife and six-year-old twins.  During the week, he leads a team of corporate strategy, operational improvement and communications professionals for a global pharmaceutical company, and on the weekends he struggles to shoot anywhere near his 6.8 handicap index at his clubs in Chicago and/or Traverse City, MI.  Andrew’s interest in golf course architecture was sparked by his time playing The Course at Yale, thanks to which he stumbled upon GolfClubAtlas.com. Andrew is the present Grounds Chair as well as Vice President of the Board of Governors at Beverly Country Club.

1. Let’s talk about Beverly’s history during the 20th century. When was the club founded and what events has it held?

Beverly Country Club has a long and proud history that extends back to its formation in 1908.  Originally laid out by former club professional George O’Neil, the course hosted its first tournament of note in 1910 when the Western Open was contested and won by Chick Evans.

As a brief aside, I would note that the connection between Beverly CC and Mr. Evans extends beyond that tournament win.  Many would know that in addition to his accomplishments on the course, Mr. Evans also established the Evans Scholars Foundation through the Western Golf Association, which awards full tuition and housing scholarships to deserving caddies with limited financial means.  This scholarship has special meaning at Beverly CC thanks to deep involvement of many at the Club; more than a dozen current members have served as Directors of the Western Golf Association, including luminaries like Mike Keiser, Bill Shean and Bill Kingore, who is a long-serving WGA executive.  To date, the Club has produced 348 Evans Scholars Alumni from the program’s total of 11,050 – the most of any club in the country and a fact of which we are especially proud.

Now, back to the tournament history.

Following Mr. Evans’ win on the original O’Neil layout, noted golf course architect Donald Ross developed a master plan that was implemented over the coming years and effectively serves as the backbone of the course as presented today.

Notable championships and champions on the “Ross course” at Beverly CC include:

  • 1930 Western Amateur – John Lehman
  • 1931 U.S. Amateur – Francis Ouimet
  • 1937 Women’s Western Open – Helen Hicks
  • 1960 Women’s Western Open – Joyce Ziske
  • 1963 Western Open – Arnold Palmer
  • 1965 Women’s Western Open – Susie Maxwell
  • 1967 Western Open – Jack Nicklaus
  • 1970 Western Open – Hugh Royer, Jr.
  • 2000 Chicago Open – Luke Donald (won as amateur)
  • 2009 U.S. Senior Amateur – Vinny Giles
  • 2011 Western Junior – Connor Black
  • 2014 Western Amateur – Beau Hossler

Looking ahead, the course at Beverly CC unfortunately is too short to host professional men’s tour events.  But we certainly hope to remain relevant in the world of events and tournaments for accomplished amateurs of any age and perhaps professional seniors.

2. Describe the course as it existed on opening day in 1908.

The “O’Neil course” that constituted the original layout was considered a strong test of golf that made great use of natural landforms throughout the property, most notably a ridge that cuts across what was then (and is now) the front nine.  The course measured 6,050 yards with a bogey of 80, as the concept of par had not yet been widely introduced.  With hickory shafted clubs and Haskell balls – not to mention holes that measured 565! and 600!! yards – this was a very long course indeed!

The original O’Neil course.

Even between 1908 and 1915 – prior to involvement from Donald Ross – the original O’Neil design at Beverly CC underwent changes.

The “Ross course” largely followed the original routing, with a few notable changes, detailed as follows.  The master plan – the location of which is regrettably not known – was implemented over a series of years due to other priorities for the Club’s financial resources.

Thanks to the acquisition of additional land on the northern edge, Ross was able adjust the O’Neil routing of the front nine as follows, which allowed him to lengthen and toughen the holes and make more dramatic use of the ridge:

  • Move the location of the first green further west along the ridge
  • Eliminate the former second hole, a short par 3 that played back away from the ridge toward the first tee – interestingly, the mounds that surrounded the old O’Neil second green are still visible
  • Shorten the former third hole (which played 600 yards!) but toughen it through bunkering and a new green
  • Create new third and fourth holes – a long par 3 and a dogleg-left par 4
  • Combine the former fifth and sixth holes into a single long hole (now the seventh)
  • Create a new par 3 sixth hole
  • Combine the former eighth and ninth holes into a single, longer hole

On the back nine, Ross left the O’Neil routing mostly intact, but did make one important change that gives Beverly CC its reputation as having a fearsome closing four holes.

The fifteenth and sixteenth holes always played as longer par 4’s, but were originally followed by another long-ish par 4 and a short-ish par 3.  Ross changed that by creating the diabolical seventeenth hole – a longer par 3 that is sometimes best played by laying up short of the green – and the challenging eighteenth hole – a stout par 5 with a severely canted back-to-front green.

Newspapers that covered Mr. Ross’s visit ran headlines that read:  “Ross Promises Beverly Boys a Fine Course” and “Donald Ross Gives Beverly Fine Getaway.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Interestingly, this 1932 topographical plan of the Ross routing was drawn up by the architectural firm of none other than Chick Evans!

3. Describe the course as it existed in 1995.  What was the club’s ethos in 1995? What was its reputation regionally?

 Beverly was widely respected as a difficult and attractive parkland course, probably in most Chicago golfers’ top ten in town, but there didn’t seem to be any buzz about Beverly outside of the locals.

By 1995, the course played as a boxed-in, over-treed bowling alley thanks to well-intentioned but questionably executed tree planting, especially in response to issues posed by Dutch elm disease.  This made the course very hard because one could not advance the ball out of the rough toward the green on many holes, relying instead on the “Beverly Punch” – a sideways blast with a low iron just to get back into the fairway.  This left players with a lot of added strokes, not that the Membership much cared about it, because it was the “toughness” of Beverly that appealed.

In terms of ethos, Beverly was a club filled with traders, lawyers, contractors, politicians and businessmen.  More than half of the members lived in the Beverly neighborhood or nearby southwest suburbs.  Beverly was a lively, socially active place, whether on the course, in the pool, in the dining areas or the bar.  Very few had difficulty in making their F&B minimum.

4. A small cadre of members recognized something was amiss.  How did they gain permission from the board to contact Ron Prichard in the late 1990’s?

There were a few members who became interested in golf course architecture, the study of which was starting to “catch on” across America at that time, and clubs that had sort of forgotten about their architectural roots to consider how they might recapture their place in that history.

In addition, “good” and “difficult” were becoming less synonymous and width, angles and the sense of defending par at the green – original principles that date back to Ross and his contemporaries – were coming back.

At Beverly CC, a small group of members led by Rick Holland, Paul Richards, Mike Floodstrand and Terry Lavin embarked upon a gradual education process, which culminated in the creation of a Restoration Committee which was composed of various factions in the club and tasked with working with Ron Prichard to consider what to do.

Not surprisingly, the Committee had great difficulty in gaining consensus.  This led Mr. Prichard to suggest that he redo the “most vanilla hole,” the fourteenth, to bring his proposed plan to life.  He argued that if the Club liked his work there, it would like the rest.  This was a great sales job because at that time, computer renderings of bunker reconfiguration, tree removal and fairway alignment were not the type of thing one could simply whip up on an iPhone.  It gave the Membership the tangible expression of potential that it needed.

But despite the overwhelming appreciation for the new 14th hole, club politics remain club politics, and continued battles over various details of the proposed restoration led to a fair amount of compromise that effectively allowed only around 70% of the recommended changes to be realized.  Individual trees became sacred cows, and very few had any affection for ANY changes to hole fifteen, widely held as the best hole on the course.

In the end, the compromised restoration represented progress.  Members were pleased, and the Club began receiving national attention amongst the architecture through commentary from critics like Brad Klein and Ron Whitten, and chatter on golfclubatlas.com and within the Donald Ross Society.  But work remained.

5. What were Prichard’s first impressions?  

I’m reluctant to put words in the mouth of such an accomplished craftsman and artisan – not to mention skilled player! – so I had an email conversation with Mr. Prichard to solicit his recollection.

He began by noting that Beverly is an early Ross course, and early Ross courses have certain visual and playing characteristics, many of which were absent at the time his relationship with the Club began.

He commented that the course had tree-crowded fairways but also, as a result, minimally effective fairway bunkering. There were no optional methods of play – the golfer had only to hope to hit the center of the fairway.

The bunkering at the time was in disrepair and didn’t reach close enough to the putting surfaces, although at many greens he could see that space for meaningful putting surface expansion was still available.  Sand was not flashed at all in the bunkers, hence one easily could end up with a ball in the sand, “frozen” right up against the green side face.

The fairways didn’t reach the leading edge of any bunkers – in fact most fairway bunkers were outside the perimeter edges of the fairway.

Mr. Prichard closed by stating that at Beverly CC, the greatest challenge and obstacle throughout his work was resistance to proper tree removal. It took years to finally recognize that, and the truth is, that push came from a small number of committed Members. Brad Klein also deserves recognition for his effort, but it really came down to the Membership embracing the concept of removing trees.

6. Walk us through the steps required to allow Prichard to commence work. What period did Phase 1 cover? What was accomplished in Phase 1?

The major accomplishment during the work in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was the restoration of the original Ross design intent of playing corridors that offer angles into the green.

This was guided by a thorough review of historic artifacts and photos, as well as Mr. Prichard’s extensive knowledge and scholarship on Ross courses.

Key aspects of the work included:

  • Removal of many, many trees;
  • Widening playing corridors;
  • Reclaiming green surface;
  • Shaping features (e.g., bunkers) with era-appropriate look and feel; and
  • Generally regaining the scale of the property as it existed during Ross’s time.

7. What was the membership’s reaction?  

Upon reopening in 2004, the Club intended to execute against the Master Plan that Mr. Prichard had developed with further ongoing tree removal, further widening of playing corridors, and restoration and/or enhancement of other features.

However, that didn’t happen.  The first phase of work was viewed by some as such a success that more was not necessary, and certainly the advocates of the first phase were understandably fatigued from that effort and perhaps just wanted to enjoy the course for a while.

It all became a moot point, though, when the financial market collapse of 2008-2009 took hold.  Like clubs across the country, Beverly saw its membership roster shrink and cash reserves dissipate.  The Club’s Board prudently prioritized membership and financial stability and put further course restoration work on hold.

8. What period did Phase 2 cover? What was accomplished in Phase 2?

By 2013, the Club’s membership had stabilized and, what’s more, the Club’s “architectural IQ” had continued to increase.  More members took an interest in what had happened before and what could happen next.

The Club invited Mr. Prichard to return and make recommendations on a staged approach to updating the Master Plan, this time supported by Tyler Rae and once again with the involvement of Brad Klein.  I’d also note that our Superintendent, Kirk Spieth, has been an integral part of the team.

This led to a series of smaller projects that were executed over a few years, and which started, of course, with trees.

It was immediately clear that not only was further tree removal necessary in order to consider plans for Phase 3, but that tree removal was necessary to recapture gains made during Phase 1.  Not to sound trite, but people forget that trees grow and, when left unchecked for a decade, can begin to suffocate playing corridors once again.

That is not to say that the course had re-grassed into its pre-2004 state.  The work done during that time had held up nicely, and the added availability of light and air circulation had led to incremental gains in turf health every year.  But more could be done.

As such, the Club embarked upon a tree management exercise the following winter and felled around 400 trees that were sick/diseased, inhibiting turf growth and health or prohibiting the appropriate expansion of playing corridors.

The Club also extended irrigation lines to stretch into the former tree line – now that the grass had access to light and air circulation, water was the missing ingredient in growing uniformly thick rough.

And finally, green surface expansion that had begun in the early 2000’s was concluded, adding some 10-15% of surface area throughout the course.

This work – which one would rightly consider catch-up work to compensate for neglect on pruning that should have been done annually over the past decade – set the stage for a full proposal to update the Master Plan.

9. That is the course that I played last fall and that is currently profiled on GolfClubAtlas. I thought it was extremely good then, one of Ross’s top dozen or so designs. How did you gain support from the members to launch into Phase 3 in 2019-2020?

As noted above, the Membership’s architectural IQ had increased substantially since 2004.  More members had seen more great courses on their own and thus realized how special Beverly CC really is, and people like Paul Richards, Rick Holland and Terry Lavin had continued to beat the drum of enlightenment for the rest.

The Club could now see the scale of the land and corridors and sightlines it afforded, and acknowledged that we needed to update the scale of our hazards and features accordingly.  Also, the Club realized that equipment technology gains had made the placement of certain bunkers obsolete.

The process this time followed the general template from before.  We assembled a Committee to serve as a sounding board, conducted an aggressive campaign of Membership engagement and education, dispelled misconceptions and card-room rumors as quickly as possible, heavily leveraged the expertise of the Architects and our Superintendent to sell the case, and took a prudent approach to financing.

In the end, the vote came through with overwhelming support to proceed.