A Tradition Since 1915
The Kearney Country Club owns one of the oldest continually played golf courses in Nebraska. The club was founded on leased grounds west of Lake Kearney in the Summer of 1915 by local businessmen, young professionals, and the Elks fraternal order. It was originally known as the Lake Kearney Country Club but the word “Lake” was dropped when the club incorporated as the Kearney Country Club in 1916. Few, if any, of the original members had ever played golf and didn’t necessarily plan for golf to be the primary club activity. The original members were influenced by the sport and leisure movement of the early 1900s and their intention was to create an outdoor recreation area suitable for swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, tennis, golf, horseback riding, and a host of other activities. In 1915, building a golf links might have been the easiest and cheapest use of the land. The original members, therefore, scratched out a rudimentary seven-hole links from the natural environment on the rolling hills and valleys of the country club grounds. The course sported native buffalo grass fairways, natural bunkers and hazards, and hard-packed dirt greens.
In 1916, Charley Johnston, a Scottish immigrant who was an accomplished golf course architect and golf pro at Happy Hollow in Omaha, improved the golf links and expanded the KCC course to nine holes. Johnston is responsible for adding the #2 par-three water hole. The club quickly expanded its membership to over 80 members during its first few years of operation and hired J.S. Egan as its first full time golf pro. Egan of Omaha served as both the grounds supervisor and golf pro during the 1916 season but left for a more lucrative offer at the end of the season.
Membership and interest in golf declined after the United States entered World War I in 1917 but diehard members kept the club alive. To attract more members the club reincorporated in 1918, generating enough funds for the club to purchase the grounds and an unoccupied mansion that sat on the property. Members worked throughout the spring and summer of 1918 to remodel the mansion into a suitable clubhouse and to improve the club facilities and grounds. The club went without a golf pro until 1920 when it hired John Caldwell, a Scottish immigrant who had grown up on the St. Louis golf courses. Caldwell had trained under and learned the golf trade from Willie Anderson, a four-time U.S. Open champion. Under Caldwell’s leadership, the KCC emerged as one of the premier courses in Nebraska. In October 1920, the club purchased 40 acres of land west of the club house, paving the path for the first 18-hole course in Nebraska outside of Omaha or Lincoln. With over $2,000 in donations from club members, Caldwell expanded the course from 9 to 18 holes in the Spring of 1921. KCC’s 18-hole sand green golf links operated from 1921 to 1946 when the course converted to grass greens and was shortened to 12 holes.