Kent Country Club

Geographic coordinates are 42.990837° N, 85.652118° WLatitude: 42°59′27.013″N
Longitude: 85°39′7.625″W
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I had fun researching the Kent Country Club, because I didn't even know it existed until this point. I found that surprising because I’d lived in the area for over four years, and looking at a map you can see it’s a large piece of green space. At the Grand Rapids library I found a book Kent Country Club : The First One Hundred Years by Richard H. Harms) located in the History and Special Collections section, not for checkout. It provides an in-depth history written by and for the people of the club. Among its highlights:

Kent Country Club is the oldest golf club in Michigan. It was built in 1901, after Edward Lowe was inspired by a 1896 trip to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in Scotland. He envisioned a place where GR's affluent could go to enjoy nature. As the "Country Club," a group began leasing property for the First Club location at Fisk Lake on the corner of Plymouth and Wealthy. The property was stocked with wildlife such as deer to provide for a natural atmosphere. Members – both men and women – were elected annually, paying $5 and $2.50 per year respectively. (For comparison’s sake, $2.50 was the daily wage of a furniture factory worker at the time.)

The Club later moved to Creston (the neighborhood previously known as the "Bloody Fifth" due to its city zone and the history of its residents!) The Club bought the farm of Martin Sweet, one of the many farmers in debt during the 1890s. The location was convenient because it was close to the city – members could get to the Club easily via the North Park Streetcar line, which was extended as far north as the Club gates. All Streetcar Company officers were members. Detail: In the agreement with the bank to transfer the Sweet farm, 58 remaining acres of wheat were being preserved until harvest time. To solve the problem of having to work around it while building, the Club simply bought the wheat crop. A rolling green was born!

As Creston developed through the years, there has been some struggle over property use, specifically over roadways and land. A good deal of money rests in the Club (on land that was often bought at bargain prices - see Creston High School), but the Creston area also holds interest for the City due to location and growth trends.

Owners of the Club bought property along the south side of the Club’s land (Kent Hills Road, Sweet Street), which served to protect it from the city's efforts to develop it. Around 1923, the neighborhood’s Citizen's Association proposed extending College Avenue to allow traffic to flow to the northern business district of Creston. A proposal was made to extend College and turn the Club into a municipal club – however, the proposal never made it to the ballot, because before it could get there the Club generously offered to donate a site north of Knapp for the municipal club.

Another dispute arose over extending Sweet Street. The Kent Hills community didn't want to disrupt their property (value). Thus a plan was made to develop the "Keeler property," a strip of land along the east side of the Club (along Fuller). Public utilities were allowed to be put through the Keeler lot, but no roads. These parcels were developed on purpose not to have through-ways, a fact that becomes clear to any curious biker in that neck of the woods.

The results seem to be: Property protected from access by the city...all in a day's work for our Country Club! But there is much to this interesting case, where even more research could be done by curious Grand Rapidians. I think it shows the issues involved in city planning on an day-to-day basis - how public and private interests have been pursued, the process of change itself, and how the results impact the environment. More evidence of the "plastic" nature of our town?


“Fun Facts”

  • The golf term "par" (meaning "new lower score") was an adaptation of the Wall Street term for "standard value".
  • The term "bogey" (one stroke more than par) came from a popular song of the day called "The Bogey Man". Something to do with a goblin making you play bad golf, I think.
  • The name "Creston" comes from the crest of hills that surrounds GR – the residents wanted to name it something nicer to beat the stigma of being from "the Bloody Fifth".Rockelle 14:28, 9 April 2007 (EDT)