Keokuk Country Club
From what I can tell from information on the web, the Keokuk Country Club was organized around 1899 or 1900. The clubhouse building was constructed in 1913 with remodels in the 1950’s and 1990’s. A pool was built in 1937 thanks to the Walter Miller family, and tennis courts were added in 1982. The Pro Shop was moved from the clubhouse to its own building in the 1990’s. Later on in the year 2013 , the Keokuk Country Club ceased operations and became Lake Cooper Golf and Dining, which seems to have failed rather quickly, and is now known as the Lake Cooper Event Center. As I read today on the web, the clubhouse building and the golf course are up for sale, I do not think that you can actually golf at the course and the only event listed, as far as I can tell, is a ‘Vendor Sale’ event held last April (2017). Another owner at one time, or presently the owner, seems to be Lake Cooper Pastime Properties, LLC.
And what a shame, the memories and the fun that I had at the KCC are forever part of my childhood in Keokuk. We started by going to the public pool (on Plank Road), which was a lot of fun in itself, large pool, separate diving pool, well maintained and a good staff. In the mid 1960’s, my family became members of the KCC and from then on we went there to swim and play golf, mostly to go swimming. The pool wasn’t as modern as the public pool on Plank Road, but was still nice. Not as crowded, and being a member, all you had to do was show up and enjoy yourself, no admission fees.
As kids, we were excited as school neared the end of another year, and the opening of the KCC pool was near. On the first day of it opening, we would climb on our bikes and ride out to the club and hit the pool for an afternoon. This continued for almost every day that it was nice all the way through the summer. For me and my friends and family, there was no other place to be. We literally would go swimming for hours.
Besides the pool, there was the 9 hole golf course, which at the time of my youth, I considered to be the nicest golf course I had ever seen, very well maintained, very impressive. While I was by no means a good golfer, we would hit the links every now and then, sometimes only playing the first 4 holes before quitting to go swimming some more. The course was well planned out, and was next to creeks and woods, a very placid setting. I always felt so relaxed and serene on that course. Later on in the early 80’s, a tennis court was added on the grounds.
Inside the clubhouse was a very nice relaxing setup off of the bar area, where you could sit and enjoy a fantastic view of the Mississippi River upstream for several miles, along with a view of the 1st hole tee and fairway. There was a dinning section with an endless window view of the pool and the golf course. The food was always great, really good buffets on the holidays and special events. The rest of the building was huge, built to handle celebrations and could accommodate hundreds with maybe a band for dancing and celebrating. At the time I went there, the Pro Shop was part of the clubhouse in the lower level right next to the pool area.
A normal day at the KCC when I was kid would be to eat a lunch at home, then either get a ride, or ride my bike out Middle Road to the club, change into my suit and hit the pool with my friends. After swimming and diving off the low and high boards for awhile, you could sit on the manicured to perfection lawn above the pool area for awhile, talking to friends, catching some sun and checking out the girls. It seems everyone wore the same suits back then, guys wore the black swim trunks that resemble speedos, while the girls wore the black one piece suits. Everyone was on the swim team back then and that was supposedly the best suit to swim in competitively. Anyway, after sitting and sunning, we might head over to the snack bar and get a drink or fries, or just chat up the bored workers in the snack shack.
Another favorite hangout was above the putting green watching the folks practice their putting game, or we could stroll over to the 1st hole tee and watch the doctors, lawyers, bankers, factory managers, and the Grand Ave. elite hitting their first shot off the tee. For a few years a room was outfitted for the kids with a television set up (and it had cable !!!) in a corner room in the clubhouse. I know I spent many an hour in there watching ‘Gilligan’s Island’, ‘Green Acres’ and other reruns on KPLR channel 11, out of St. Louis. And it was always like 70º in that clubhouse, you could not work up a sweat if you wanted too… If we were really motivated and it wasn’t too hot, we would go out on the golf course, and roam around in the woods next to the fairways, looking for lost golf balls. Sometimes even go into the creeks and looking in the water, we always managed to find quite a few, which we would then try to sell to the pro in the shop. I saw a few men take the pro job, and then leave for a new guy to replace him, some were nice guys, others not so nice.
Every now and then, the KCC would sponsor a dance, or a get together, for the teen crowd, and I went to one where I entered the door expecting a band and dancing, and there was chairs set up and the kids were watching a 16mm film of the Masters Golf Tournament… Weird… There probably was music and dancing and refreshments, but that is what stuck in my mind. Most of the time was spent in the pool and around the pool, a very carefree life and existence, no worries and always brings back pleasant memories. Never once saw a fight or anyone acting crazy. Every now and then my folks would take us to dinner there, usually when a relative was in town, very enjoyable experience.
The KCC sponsored a swim team that had competition with other clubs nearby. You would have different swim classes to compete in and we would travel to the meets to participate, or the other clubs came to Keokuk. All very much fun. Four times a year KCC had the Walter Miller swim meet (I think that is what they called it), which was a competition among the members of the club itself. At the end of the season a banquet was held, and trophies and awards were handed out to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place swimmers in each category. Almost everyone got some sort of small trophy or ribbon. I still have one small trophy I got one year.
Every year the KCC sponsored a golf tournament called Wallagazoo, and the boys my age would offer our services as caddies to the golfers. We managed to make a few bucks and the tips were good if you did a good job. One year, I caddied for the guy who won !
And for me it all ended pretty much when I turned 16 and had a license, I still went out to the pool from time to time for a quick swim and then left for other activities. Every now and then I would join my folks for a dinner there for a birthday or something and then I quit going altogether when I moved out of my parents house.
Even though I lived in town for the next 30+ years, I took my kids to the public swimming pool and when my brother came home for a visit, he always wanted to drag me out to the KCC for a visit and a swim, which I did a few times. He also had some very fond memories of times spent there at the club. He always managed to contact a friend who let us go there as one of their guests, and almost every time we were confronted by a club big-wig, wanting to know why we were there on private property. We explained we were guests of so and so, and they would make a call, and then it would be smoothed over. Everything seemed to be the same there, except for the high dive board being gone and we were the only people there using the pool… Attendance at the pool had seemed to drop significantly and I just stopped going when my brother asked, didn’t want the hassle every time.
To be a member was to either be a family or a single membership. The fees were not cheap, but it was worth it. You could get a golf membership or a swim membership or both. I think my folks were members for about 20 or so years.
A lot of events went on at the club, family reunions, high school proms, local civic monthly meetings like the Rotary Club used the facilities, dances, wedding receptions. We saw it all as members, sitting by the pool we once saw a groom from a wedding reception get thrown in the pool by his best man and other guys, pretty funny.
So now the Keokuk Country Club is just a good memory, it managed to stick around a long time. After closing, the Lake Cooper Golf and Dining was opened, but ran into some red tape real quick and they left. The Lake Cooper Event Center then opened and I have no idea how well that is going. According to it’s Facebook site it seems pretty dead in the water.
I also noticed that the golf course and clubhouse seem to be for sale, you can purchase the course separately from the clubhouse. Here is the rub…
As nice as the former Keokuk Country Club golf course is, it is still only a nine hole course. Deer Run in Hamilton is an 18 hole course, open to the public and a lot cheaper. You can get a membership there, or just pay the green fees. There used to be a course near Nauvoo called Great River Road Golf Course, and it was the same thing, 18 holes, cheaper, but they closed in 2014. Also in Keokuk is the Elks Fairview 9 hole course, which is pretty much the same as the other public courses.
I don’t think a serious investor would want to buy a 9 hole course when the standard today is 18 holes. And the clubhouse is absolutely beautiful, but the renovations and upkeep on a 100 year old building must be pretty extreme.
Two other memories… Outside the Pro Shop and next to the pool was a telephone, free for all to use. Once you got done swimming you could call home for a ride or even your folks would call and ask to speak to you to tell you it was time to come home or something. I can still remember the phone ringing and one of the kids answering the phone, and then shouting out ‘Phone call for Jimmy Smith’ or whoever… I remember that phone number written down on every phone book we ever had.
And also going out there in the wintertime to sled down that hill next to the 4th hole fairway. We would walk to the top, sled down and then walk back up over and over. Probably the best time I can recall sledding there was in the 70’s with my friends and a fire was going at the top of the hill, and it was dark, and so much fun, someone brought a bottle of spirits, and a little bit of green, and what memories !!! Nothing but laughter and good times !!!
I hope Keokuk can find a use for the old KCC.
For more on Keokuk, see these stories