On Nov. 3, Lockhaven Golf Club released a letter announcing it was closing its doors for good.
Maybe for the younger generation in the River Bend, this wasn’t a huge announcement, but for many it was a very sad day.
Lockhaven had already shucked its country club status in 2013 and went public. Dwindling memberships due to aging members and a faltering economy had given a major blow to its once elite status within the community.
My personal experience at Lockhaven is limited. I never played there. It does include a visit there earlier this year to cover a triangular featuring Alton, Marquette Catholic and Jersey high schools — I was hit with a golf ball. It’s a moment I will never forget, but I’ve long heard the stories of the mystique surrounding Lockhaven.
I had friends who caddied there when we were younger and would brag about its beauty tucked away along the River Road at 10872 Lawrence Keller Drive in Godfrey (actually in Jersey County). It was a majestic, elite club that served the River Bend community with a sense of class.
Though its demise has been documented and is what probably pops into people’s minds now when they think of it, I decided I wanted to pay tribute to its regal history. Recently I talked with some longtime members of Lockhaven and former presidents to expand my knowledge and share the country club’s story accurately.
Rewind back to 1955 when local golfing enthusiasts wanted to expand from Rock Spring Country Club (established in 1914), which was just a nine-hole course. They wanted a state-of-the-art 18-hole course that could wow the metropolitan area.
At the time the Riverbend only had Rock Spring, Cloverleaf and the now defunct Muny (later Robert Wadlow Municipal). Lawrence Keller, the president of Alton Banking and Trust, led a group to purchase the land from the Lock Family and break ground on Lockhaven. The Lock family is the origin for the name of the club.
With plenty of industry in the area and money funneling in, Lockhaven was the place to be. At one time Lockhaven had so many memberships, it was closed to new ones.
With a pool, bar and dining area, four tennis courts, patio seating, a driving range, practice green and bunker chipping green, families flocked there. Dad would golf, mom would play tennis, the kids would swim and then everyone would clean up in the locker rooms and head to dinner at night. It offered a full day for the family.
One former member told me that in the early 1960s couples would line the course on Sunday mornings to golf and then cram into the restaurant for dinner at night.
Former president of the Olin Corp., Spencer T. Olin, would even fly in golfing legend Tom Watson on Mondays when the course was closed sometimes. Olin helped sponsor Watson when he played in the PGA.
Watson owned the course record, carding a 61 there once. Legend has it Watson birdied the par-4 Hole No. 5, driving the dogleg left and chipping it in on one of his visits. Onlookers were amazed at the two-shot feat.
Former St. Louis Cardinal Chuck Diering was a member of Lockhaven. Diering, who played center field for the Cards between 1947-51 and was born in St. Louis, would bring other former Cardinal players with him to play sometimes and was said to be a heck of a golfer.
Former Cardinal Red Schoendienst would play in the annual Saint Anthony’s Golf Tournament when it was there most years and former Marquette Catholic standout kicker and Green Bay Packer and Tennessee Titan punter Craig Hentrich would play in the Boys and Girls Club Tourney when it was there in later years. There were plenty of other golf tournaments that would be played at Lockhaven, including the Missouri Senior Golf Championship in the ’60s and later the Illinois State Women’s Championship.
Unfortunately, as industry began to leave the River Bend and members grew older, there was no new blood to inject into the country club. Families changed and had other priorities than spending days there, too.
By 2012 its membership had plummeted to 250 and competition from other golf courses was taking its toll. So when the Nov. 3 announcement came, it may not have been a surprise to most, but it was indeed sad. It closed the book on a big piece of history in the history-rich Riverbend.
It’s unknown right now what will come of the property, but for now let’s just applaud Lockhaven for the good times it gave us.
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