Wakonda Club borrowed its name from the native Indians. In 1922, the curator of the Historical Department of Iowa wrote:
“This aboriginal word was found and mapped as the name of a stream which flows from southeastern Iowa to northeastern Missouri into the Mississippi and it came from the Indian apprehension of omnipotence. Manito was God whose power was Wakonda. The wind and hills were part of Manito but the winds were put in motion and the hills were kept in place by Wakonda. The floods and forests of Wakonda River fed the hungry and its quiet banks afforded rest. The ancient habitations and the modern homes along this Indian Jordan were part of Manito but through the power of Wakonda the wikiups have vanished and by his grace our modern homes remain.”
The organization of the Club was first reported in the Des Moines Register of February 28, 1922. Clyde L. Herring was named president of the newly organized Club and the other officers were F.O. Thompson, F.W. Hubbell and Homer A. Miller.
Construction work on the clubhouse started in March 1922. The original construction cost was estimated to have been $175,000. Work on the golf course had started ( according to early reports) in 1920 after the land was purchased in 1919 from George Peak. It was originally planned for 210 acres…to include a 27-hole course, (9 holes north of Park Ave., which was later sold), bridle paths, polo grounds, swimming pools (one inside, one outside) and lakes. The total cost (clubhouse and grounds) was about $650,000. The original clubhouse contained sleeping quarters, guest rooms and a “dancing salon.”
On March 14, 1922, it was announced that 23 members had stalls for horses. The Wakonda Saddle and Polo Club was formed…and two stables, housing between 40-50 horses, were built on the area now used as a practice range.
The golf course was opened for the first time on July 4, 1922. The swimming pool (or bathing pool as it was then called) had opened earlier in the summer of 1922.
The original membership included 350 resident members.
The formal opening of the clubhouse on December 16, 1922 was a great event. During the evening, the diners were set upon by a band of Indian masqueraders who performed a war dance among the tables. A girls’ chorus sang, and Judge Ray Harrison led a band that played for the first dance in the clubhouse the same night.
Here are highlights since then:
1923: Wakonda acquired the capstan from the battleship Iowa, which had been sunk in Panama Bay in March 1923 as a part of the U.S. Navy maneuvers.
1930: An underground watering system (perhaps the first in Iowa) was installed on the golf course…at a cost that exceeded $20,000.
1932: Wakonda was the only one of the private Des Moines clubs able to get a beer license.
1936: There was a fire which caused several thousand dollars in damage. A section of the roof burned. Also, that year the caddies went on strike (for the first time) demanding higher wages.
1936: The 150 caddies had second strike. It is interesting to note that the caddies’ fees then were $1 for 18 holes.
1938: The Board of Directors passed a resolution that male golfers must wear shirts.
1939: Wakonda hosts NCAA Classic, showcasing the top colleges in the country.
1939: A third caddie work stoppage.
1944: The Club files a petition in U.S. District Court for insolvency. It took four months to reorganize.
1947: Wakonda hosts the Western Amateur.
1948: The clubhouse burned to the ground. A bolt of lighting started the fire. A new clubhouse built, costing $350,000.
1955: Wakonda hosts the Trans Mississippi Championship.
1956: Wakonda hosts the Women’s Western Open.
1963: In September the United States Amateur Golf Championship was held at Wakonda…with Deane Beman winning. The America’s Cup Tournament was held at the same time, too.
1972: The 50thAnniversary of Wakonda Club was celebrated on October 13th. It was a gala evening with three hundred sixty members enjoying the music of Count Basie.
1975: Arnold Palmer participated in the first annual Multiple Sclerosis Exhibition, followed by his “army” of 3,000 fans.
1976: Jack Nicklaus gave a golf exhibition at the Club in July, which attracted over 5,000 persons in the gallery…with the proceeds again going to the John Ruan’s MS charity.
1977: A new refreshment stand was built on the golf course north of the fifth green. Also, Wakonda suffered winter kill on the greens due to extremely cold winter and poor snow cover. A new lighting system for evening play on the tennis courts was installed.
1980: A new swimming pool was constructed, the men’s and ladies’ locker rooms were air conditioned, the golf carts paths were rebuilt and an annual replacement program of golf carts were initiated.
1983: The Board of Directors approved a $2.1 million program for clubhouse improvements and construction. It was completed in 1984.
1989: After 25 years of service, Walter Neneman retired as the Club’s General Manager.
1991: Another major redecorating project was completed at cost of $300,000, after the results of a questionnaire mailed to the membership indicated that a majority disapproved of building a new clubhouse.
1994: Record flooding the previous summer results in major renovation project for the entire waterway system on the Club’s grounds over a twelve-month period.
1997: The Club celebrated the 75th anniversary on July 12. Over 450 people enjoyed a historical video review of the Club on a large outdoor screen.
2007: Wakonda hosts the 90th Western Golf Association Junior National Championship.
2008-2009: The north part of Wakonda’s property was sold to Hubbell Real Estate Group. Wakonda used the funds to reduce its debt and renovate the golf course, including removing 200 large trees, regressing fairways, tees and greens.
2013: Wakonda becomes the host of the Principal Charity Classic after being played for many years at Glen Oaks. The current contract runs through 2023.
Today: Wakonda is one of the premier country clubs in the Midwest. The challenging golf course is annually judged by various polls and experts to be one of the best in Iowa.