Tamarack Golf Club has sprawled and flourished from humble origins that continues to thrive five decades later.
Named for the only tree that grew there, the once clay-covered farmland sports a more scenic landscape of grassy greens and fairways, numerous trees, sand traps and ponds.
The Shiloh golf course is this year’s recipient of the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce’s of Heritage Award.
The course began as a vision of businessmen who just wanted a place to play.
Bill Adrian, who worked as a local business manager for Local 101 Plumbers, partnered with Bud Dahm, a mechanical plumber and heating contractor, and Leo Lubkuecher, a sheet metal contractor, to bring 21 other stockholders together to form the corporation that would fund and create the Shiloh golf course that is still ideal for all levels of play.
“Even from the back tees, it’s still a challenging golf course,” said Steve Liter, Tamarack Golf Club General Manager and PGA professional.
“You have to be on your game to shoot good golf here.”
But Tamarack is not your typical golf course success story by any means, said Liter, who has worked at Tamarack for the past five years.
“A golf course like Tamarack would have normally changed ownership several times over the 50-plus years has been in operation,” he said.
Tamarack has been owned by the original 22 original stockholders and their families, since its inception in 1965.
“That’s unusual,” Liter said.
Liter attributed the golf course’s success to the courses stockholders and families, who have have made a series of good and smart business decisions.
“The golf industry business is not the easiest business to be in, especially over the last 10 to 20 years,” Liter said.
Liter has worked in the golf industry for over 40 years. He has played and managed his share of signature golf course designs, including his most recent position at Stone Wolfe Golf Club in Fairview Heights, which opened in 1996 and was designed by pro golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
Oscar Pearce of Shiloh has played at Tamarack for the past 50 years. He said he continues to play at Tamarack because of its reasonable cost.
“Right now, Tamarack is one of the nicest golf courses in St. Clair County,” he said.
Pearce said the management is also very friendly.
“Why would a guy not play here?” he said.
Pearce, however, estimated he might have lost over a pickup truck load of golf balls at the course.
“I just play for the fun of it,” he said and laughed.
At one time, Pearce said he was a pretty good golfer. But, he said he was never a scratch golfer.
“You can skip that part (about my score),” he said and laughed. “I’m 84, and I play like a guy who is 84.”
Pearce said Tamarack’s new management has been terrific.
“They know how to run a good business,” said Pearce who has played exclusively at Tamarack for the past 15 years. “And they want the players to have a good time. This is a very nice play to come. I feel like I am part of the family.”
Oscar and his friends come and drink a cup of coffee daily at Tamarack. He earlier was a member at Tamarack for 30 years. While he does not play golf as much as he used to, he still plays.
“I just play,” he said and grinned.
Liter believes the rapid growth in golf courses came about as a result of information posted by some golf organizations who said golf was growing faster than it was.
There have been a number of golfers who also have since left the game.
“Families don’t want to take five to six hours to play a round of golf,” Liter said. “The cost of playing at some places has been a barrier. The game’s degree of difficulty is also a factor. A lot of the recent course developers have gotten away from practicality of the game. They have built some courses so difficult, golfers couldn’t even enjoy it.”
There are now a number of golf courses in the area, making it even a more competitive industry.
“It’s getting increasingly more difficult to make money in the golf business,” Liter said.
Tamarack sits on the same 145 acres, which was farmland, when Tamarack’s original board of directors, bought the property in 1963. They also brought in Peter Dye, a renowned designer of golf courses that are known for their unique landscaping and pedigrees, to design the course.
When the original stockholders bought the property, there was not a tree on the course, Liter said.
That is just one of the many changes that has taken place at Tamarack over the years.
The cost to maintain a golf course has increased by 100 percent over the past 15 years, Liter said.
The cost of chemicals, fertilizers, demand for products, demand for skilled labor, and equipment have continued to go up.
“It’s hard to keep up with that, especially if your rounds of golf are going in the other direction,” he said.
Tamarack Golf Course opened on June 12, 1965, as a semi-private venue. The 18-hole, 6,300 yard course is still open to the public.
The clubhouse remains mostly the way it looked the day it opened in 1965 and the course layout remains the same, with a few minor enhancements along the way.
About 15 years ago, zoysia grass was planted in the fairways in place of the original blue rye mixture to provide a better playing service, Liter said.
The golf course has remained competitive in an industry that has become over-saturated, Liter said.
About 31,000 rounds of golf are now played each year at Tamarack, which has endured and remained a course anyone can play, he said.
Liter believes the business plan, which Tamarack’s board of director wrote over 50 years ago, could still be in effect today.
“Someone could look at and say this is what we want to do,” he said.