South Gleason Park GC & the city of Gary, Indiana both mean a lot to a lot of people, for a lot of reasons!
This golf course and this city have seen more good times, and bad, than just about anywhere in the United
States. This year, under the direction of the parks department, and golf course manager Bob Farag – a series
of once-a-month “Welcome Back” days have inspired a resurgence of activity at this (85) year old course, and is symbolic of the effort being put forth by many in this historic city – once dubbed “The City of The Century”.
Gary, Indiana – A Brief History
In the early years of the 20th Century, the United States Steel Corporation acquired thousands of acres along the southern shores of Lake Michigan in Northwestern Indiana, and went about the difficult task of establishing a harbor, leveling the inhospitable “dunelands” on this property, and building what turned into the most efficient and modern steel-producing plant in the world. As difficult a job as this must have been, the true challenge of acquiring, housing, and feeding the necessary workforce proved to be the most difficult of all. Thousands of immigrants from all over the world flocked to this former “frontier” area, creating a melting pot unlike any seen before.
In 1906, the new town was named Gary – after the renowned lawyer, judge, and then current chairman of US Steel, Elbert H. Gary. As Gary grew in population, it absorbed bordering communities in all directions – from the shoreline community of Miller Beach, all the way south to the area now known as Glen Park.
World War I – with its insatiable need for steel – brought full employment to the area, and Gary, (as well as) US Steel prospered. Through the following years after the war, labor conflict, a constantly fluctuating economy, ethnic and racial tensions, and housing/services needs stretched the area many times to the breaking point. The depression only served to deepen these problems, with survival being the main goal of most residents.
With the start of World War II, as steel production was once again in great demand, full-employment – (including many of the women of the area) – returned. The early post-war years saw growth, optimism and prosperity for many. A “downtown” area finally took shape, with large buildings going up – including the Hotel Gary, and the Gary National Bank building, numerous storefronts along Broadway, and all manner of services and accommodations became readily available.
Through the entire history of Gary, the city was a much sought after target for its voting populace – with visiting presidents including Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Truman, and Kennedy among others – who fought for the support of the citizens and local politicians alike. And, starting very early in the city’s history, politics became a “full contact sport”.
Many well-known “celebrities” have called Gary home – including Academy Award winning actor Carl Malden, astronaut Frank Borman, athletes like Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, middleweight champion Tony Zale, Dick Barnett, Heisman trophy winner Tom Harmon, and of course, the multi-talented performer Michael Jackson. And the song “Gary, Indiana” – from the famous Broadway play “The Music Man” – was known worldwide.
Automation, low demand, and foreign competition in the steel industry greatly effected production/jobs at US Steel, starting in the late 60’s and early 70’s - and therefore the economy in the area suffered greatly. With the movement of many people into south Lake County, and elsewhere, looking for employment, tax dollars left as well – and Gary once again fell upon hard economic times.
Currently, the citizens of Gary, along with their civic leaders, are looking forward – not back – to a future that will include diversity in the workplace, well-trained and educated young leaders – (many acquiring their education at the campus of Indiana University Northwest) – to a time when Gary can once again drive this part of Northwest Indiana.
South Gleason Park Golf Course
South Gleason Park GC is an (18) hole golf course, built in (1927) as part of a large recreation area which came to include: baseball diamonds, tennis courts, soccer fields, a “wading” pool, a football stadium, beautiful walk-ways, an area reserved for ice skating, a further (9) hole course, (known as North Gleason Park GC), and a driving range/practice area. Today, the driving range is still open, the tennis courts and (3) hole practice area are being resurrected, and the football stadium is being used for a multitude of other activities. The North Gleason Park GC is closed, and Indiana University Northwest was built on most of the rest of the park land.
The park and golf course(s) were named after William Palmer Gleason – who served as plant superintendent at US Steels’ Gary Works for (30) years, and, was head of Gary’s Parks Department for many of those years. “Gleason” (as it is better known) has survived economic downturns, flooding, indifference, etc. al. – but still stands up well to the test of time!
Gleason, originally built in the “Scottish Parkland” style – with small, back to front sloping greens, and moguls rather than sand bunkering, has not changed character – (even with all the improvements to the tees, better drainage, new ponds, mature trees, etc.) – in its (85) years. That being said, however, many who grew up playing the “fast”, unwatered, fairways and greens will find a new challenge playing the course now that a modern watering system is in place. If you have not been back recently, the course will seem “longer” on every hole! Although you will be able to fly your approach shots onto the greens – rather than using the old “bump” & “run” – these approach shots will be a club or two longer than in years past. So don’t worry, it’s not all age catching up to you!
The carts are in good shape (with covers), yardage markers are accurate and highly visible, the rough is tightly mowed, (3) sets of tees allow for all levels of talent to enjoy, the greens are maintained at a moderate speed, and the fee structure is excellent. Picnic tables are available, outings are always welcome, lessons are available though Darryl Baker at the driving range, the golf shop has whatever you need, and the front “porch” to the historic clubhouse “feels” like golf.
The clubhouse at Gleason – (also built in 1927, and now given landmark status) – is home to the “Tee Time” Restaurant; open 7:00AM – 11:00PM daily, and serving great hamburgers & hot dogs (with a special fish fry every Friday) is a great place to relax, (thanks to Chandler, Amelia, Ninna, and the rest of the staff), enjoy a cocktail and hear some golf “stories” from the past. And, the clubhouse has been home to some special people, like former golf professionals Wally Kolodziej, Johnny Bulza, William Douglas, and more; And, has seen visitors like – boxing great Joe Louis & the fantastic Olympian Jesse Owens!
But the history of Gleason is not written in its age or characteristics, but is embodied in the memories of the countless thousands who have played here – many for the first time. Including the many junior golfers who probably got their first taste of competition in the famed Lake-Porter Junior Championship – an event that usually boasted upwards of (150) or more participants each year! Gleason was also the long-time home to many high school golf teams (such as Gary Roosevelt, Lew Wallace, Emerson & Wirt), the Gary High School City Championship, the famed Par-makers Golf Association, the Gary Amateur, and much, much more.
This city, and this golf course, have lived through major wars, wildcat strikes, discrimination, political jockeying, financial collapse, a depression, and recent flooding – but the city, and the course, are both still making strong efforts to move forward. Big steel may have built this city & golf course, (and U.S. Steel is still a strong and vital part of this area), but the true strength of Gary has always been in its people. With the strong leadership of the newly elected mayor – Karen Freeman-Wilson, the leadership in the parks department headed by Lorie Latham, the determination of golf course manager Bob Farag, and the staff – with its many dedicated volunteers, Gary and Gleason Park GC are showing signs of progress. South Gleason Park GC now has the right people in place, at the right time & with everyone’s support, a few good bounces, and the wind at their back, the future looks bright! So, if you are planning an outing, thinking of a site to hold an event, or just deciding where to play next – give Gleason a chance. I know Bob and his staff will be there - right out front – to say “Welcome Back.”
For Further information about South Gleason Park GC, call the course at (219)980-1089. Gleason is easy to find: From the intersection of 80/94 & Broadway – go south about ½ mile to the campus of Indiana University Northwest – then go right (west) (1) city block – you can’t miss it. The address is 3400 Jefferson Street – Gary, IN 46408. And, for a true history lesson on the city of Gary – give the book the “City of the Century” a try. This book, by author James B. Lane, will really open your eyes to what this city has gone through – and, is available at any Lake County, IN library branch.
Still time to join Greg Richards and his many friends as they honor the life of Verta Richards on Saturday Sept. 15th at Indian Ridge GC in Hobart, IN for the 2nd annual “Verta Richards Foundation” golf outing. This event raises money for the study of pancreatic cancer, and will include breakfast – (9:00AM shotgun) – snack on the course – and a great dinner. Call for details (219)942-6850.
And on Sunday, Sept. 23rd, the first annual golf outing to raise money for ALS Research is being held at White Hawk CC in Crown Point, IN. The event includes breakfast and dinner – (10:00AM shotgun) – and a lot of fun – contact White Hawk CC at (219)661-2323 –or- log on to www.francesalsgolf.weebly.com for info.
What A Start – Girls golf got underway with a bang as Chesterton High School’s Girls golf team fired a team total (309) at the Kankakee Valley Invitational. Medalist Kelly Grassel – (Are you ready?) – toured Sandy Pines Golf Club in Demotte, IN, in an amazing (63) strokes! Wow – sign her up! Also, it’s great to hear that our buddy Nina Nipcon (Rich & Kelly’s daughter form Palmira GC) is off to such a fine start for the Marian Catholic HS team – keep it up!
Don’t miss Turkey Creek GC’s annual Fall Golf Outing being held on Wednesday Sept. 12th. Go on out to Merrillville for some fun on a fine course – with lots of surprises. Call Will Richards for details (219)769-0597.
Early heads up for the “Fall Senior” being held at Balmoral Woods GC in Crete, IL – to be held Sat & Sun October 13th & 14th. This event is the senior (50+) companion event to the Will County Amateur, and is always hotly contested. Call Balmoral at (708)672-7448 for further info.
Congratulations to the new Lake-Porter Champions! Held this past month at Palmira GC in St. John, IN, the division champs were: Championship Div. – Nick Grubnich, Mid-HDCP Div. – Tony Holquin Jr., Senior Div. – Frank Katsinis, Super Senior Div. – Tom Czechanski, Women’s Div. – Caroline Kupchik, and Junior Champ – Victor Alvarez – Great job by all.
Go sign-up for the 1st annual golf scramble to benefit the “First Tee” youth golf program being held at Lost Marsh GC in Hammond, IN on Mon. Sept. 24th. The day will include a putting contest – lunch – and a free golf clinic by professional Dan Gabey – with a noon shotgun start – For info contact Abigail Gazda at (219)718-8318 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please join Michael Stewart & myself on Thursday Sept. 13th for “Golf Talk on WJOB1230AM. Call us on the air at (219)845-1100 as we discuss region golf –or- to view the show, log on to www.wjob1230am.com. And remember every Thursday “Stew” and all the WJOB gang meet up at Freddy’s Steakhouse on 165th & Kennedy in Hammond, IN – to spin some records, have a few laughs, and maybe tip a cold one.
August must have been a whirlwind for young (15) year old Lydia Ko of New Zealand – first she wins the Women’s USGA Amateur – and in a matter of weeks she follows up that championship with her 2nd LPGA victory – at the Women’s Canadian Open!
September golf is here – enjoy- courses are less crowded, the shop staff usually has more time to fit you for clubs, give lessons, etc. Go on out and play a new course, or play (2) balls on your favorite layout – nobody will mind! And then go on in to the 19th hole & watch the world’s best decide the Ryder Cup – being held the last week of September at the Famous Medinah CC in Suburban Chicago – can’t beat that!
As always, I appreciate any comments, suggestions, questions, stories, etc. Please contact me at our e-mail address: email@example.com or leave me a voice mail at (219)947-4313. And to read past golf course reviews – or to just visit Golf Plus newspaper online – visit our website at golfplusonline.net.
Special thanks this month to: Bob Farag and his entire staff in the golf shop – including Gwen & Kim, superintendent Nate Small & his staff Abe, Kelly, Don, MC, Mac & JQ (and all the volunteers) – course look great – Darryl, Jimmie, Larry, and all the nice people at the course; Rusty Lashenik, Jimmy Vaughn & Wally Kolodziej Jr. for their insights; Angela & Kelly at Palmira; Michael Modrzejewski for all his hard work, and last (but definitely not least) my lovely wife Mary for her patience & support.
Last Shots: Somehow I misspelled the name of the wonderful woman – SUSAN G. KOMEN – in last months article – my bad! Especially knowing the importance of this particular name, and how it has helped so many. And, I am happy to report that the 14th annual SUSAN G. KOMEN Golf Outing to support the cure (held at Duck Creek GC) was able to raise a whopping $2,500 – assisting with (4) women’s needs in their community – Congratulations & I apologize for the error
See you next month!