History

WAKONDA HISTORY

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.

     

The Early Days of WakondaWhat a momentous milestone, the 100th anniversary of our Club. Members can be rightfully proud. Wakonda was established in 1922, but the idea for Wakonda came about several years earlier.

The Eminent Golf Pros at WakondaThe Wakonda Club has been blessed with outstanding golf professionals over the last 100 years, including the present pros, Aaron Krueger, Grant Feilmann, Sarah Bidney, and Tyler Christians, as well as an assistant pro who became an ordained priest and another who became the head pro at the holy grail of American golf, Augusta National.

U.S. Carries off the Cup at WakondaThe Wakonda Club is known for having hosted many important and prestigious golf events over the last 100 years, including the Iowa Amateur (1926, 1951, 1960, 1995, 2005, & 2021) the Trans-Mississippi Amateur (1928, 1935, 1955, & 2008), the Woman’s Western Open (1946 & 1956), the Western Amateur (1947), the Western Junior (2007), the Principal Charity Classic (since 2013), and the granddaddy of them all, the 1963 United States Amateur. What is not well appreciated, however, is one of the more prestigious events held at Wakonda - prior to the 1963 U.S. Amateur - was the Americas Cup.

The Great Wakonda FireJust 25 years after Wakonda was founded and the magnificent Tudor clubhouse opened, a disastrous fire burned the stately Clubhouse to the ground, as the news reported, “The swank Wakonda Club on the outskirts of Des Moines lay in ruins…”

Wakonda Tests Golfing Great Ben HoganThe Wakonda golf course has served as the playing ground for many great events. One of the most notable rounds the course has ever hosted was in 1946, when Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, Dick Metz and Ellsworth Vines teed it up at Wakonda.

Wakonda Women's Golf Prominent from the StartAlthough American golf began as an elitist and male dominated sport, women’s golf has been part of Wakonda’s history since its beginning. The interest of women in the sport and the popularity of woman’s golf at Wakonda has been well documented through the years.

NCAA Golf Rooted at WakondaMany are aware Wakonda was the site of the 1939 NCAA National Golf Championship, held at the club in late June of that year, but few are aware that the tournament was the very first NCAA sanctioned golf tournament ever held in the country.

The Sport Kings at WakondaPolo, said to be perhaps the “oldest recorded team sport in history”, has been part of our club history from its founding, with the Wakonda Club fielding a “crack” polo team for nearly two decades.

Wakonda has Hosted Many of Golf's GreatsOur beautiful golf course approaches its 100th season. As Rick Brown, 11-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and author of the comprehensive book on Iowa golf, “Golden Harvest”, has documented, “no Iowa course has hosted more golf royalty than the Wakonda Club in Des Moines.”

Wakonda's Original ClubhouseWe can all be proud that nearly a century ago, not only did the founders of our great club select a special piece of ground, engage a top golf course architect, and chose a unique moniker, but built a magnificent clubhouse.

The Man Behind the Wakonda Club Golf Course, William LangfordWe can be thankful that more than one hundred (100) years ago the founders of our club had the foresight and good judgement to engage a first-class golf architect and landscape engineer to create a magnificent and iconic golf course for generations to enjoy.

Wakonda Club's Formative YearsNinety-Nine (99) years ago, when our club was created, the club founders sought out a special and unique moniker for the Club - Wakonda. Many appreciate the Native American origin of the word, but few understand the meaning of Wakonda.

Wakonda Club's Inaugural Dinner - December 16, 1922A glimpse inside Wakonda Club's Inaugural Dinner, held on Saturday, December 16, 1922.