The origin of Elmcrest Country Club goes back to 1929 when C. C. Carter started work on building a clubhouse and golf course.
He opened Kenwood Golf Course in the spring of 1931 with 9 holes. In the fall of that year 18 holes were completed. Ellis Park Golf Course at that time had 9 holes.
Kenmore was a public course and was described by the Cedar Rapids Gazette as "well planned".
In an April 14, 1934 feature on parks and golf courses in Cedar Rapids, The Gazette said, "the newer Kenmore course consists of 18 holes of golf that will please anyone who has been bitten by the golfing bug".
Sometime prior to the fall of 1947, according to Carl Nelson, one of the founders of Elmcrest, "David G. Bleakley, a non-golfer, originally presented his thoughts and ideas to me concerning a new country club and how it would benefit the city of Cedar Rapids. The war was over! Veterans had returned home and all were anxious to reestablish their lives and careers. There was a new vigor and enthusiasm to catch up and improve on the years they spent away from their wives and families. The war had indeed disrupted their personal goals. The idea of a new private Country Club that was within their financial reach surely was appropriate and timely. Hence, a dream of a few entrepreneurs was becoming a true reality. Elmcrest was "on its way".
Nelson and Bleakley contacted friends and business associates about the idea. This group, which included Roy K. Bey, Ray T. Moore, Charles Sovem, John Locher, Harvey Lynch, Howard Helscher, Ray Spielman, Merlin Reese, Art Swartzentruber, Frank Morris, David Elderkin, Dr. Harold Jirsa, Clarence Bohlander, - Nelson and Bleakley formed a committee which met at various locations around the city. An action plan was created to establish a new golf and country club to be known as "Elmcrest."
Articles of incorporation were drawn up and signed on September 17, 1947, and approved by the Secretary of State on September 17, 1949.
Signing the articles of incorporation were Nelson, Bleakley, Bey, Swartzentruber, Moore, Locher, Helscher, Joseph Frederick, Walter Nesper, Herbert Kirkland, Ira Brooks, J.J. Jacobs, David M. Elderkin, William Gray and Frank Pfaff.
The newly incorporated Elmcrest took over the Kenwood course using the original pro shop for a clubhouse for the next two years. A fifty-year lease with option to purchase was negotiated with the owners of Kenmore Golf Course.
A clubhouse and swimming pool were built in 1949.
In all, 150 members took on an obligation of $80,000 to do this. Original officers were Howard Helscher, president; Ray T. Moore, vice-president; and David G. Bleakley, secretary-treasurer.
Original directors were Helscher, Moore, Swarzentruber, Nelson, Nesper, Bey, Pfaff, Bleakley, Elderkin, Frederick, Locher, Brooks, Kirkland, Gray and Sovem.
Elmcrest's progress was rapid from that time forward. In the 1967 Yearbook "History of Elmcrest" it was said, "Elmcrest's beginnings have been spoken of as a model of postwar Country Club organization. Certainly, few organizations have combined in as short a time, and with as little financial stress, the full membership and complete Country Club facilities presently enjoyed by Elmcrest members."
Foresight and diligent efforts were evident in the next few years of Elmcrest's growth. Furnishings, equipment and improvements were steady, as funds were made available through the combined efforts of the membership.
In August of 1966, Elmcrest dedicated its new cocktail lounge. Named Char-Mar, in honor of Charlie Burkhart, the golf professional, and Marcel "Marsh' DeMartelaere, greens keeper, it replaced a patio between the Fairway Terrace dining room and the Walnut Lounge cocktail room. The window wall overlooked the back nine. By 1969 an addition was made to the front of the Clubhouse.
Social events flourished at Elmcrest including dances, special dinners and many popular golf events, all made possible by active member committees.
But this atmosphere of enjoyment, social companionship, golf and other recreation was soon to be marred by tragedy and a new, even more difficult struggle to make Elmcrest a continued success.
In a statement made July 15, 1993, describing the founding of the Club, Carl Nelson said, "I am forever thankful for the opportunity to help establish Elmcrest from the beginning and to see it grow to the fine Club it is today".
The new clubhouse was opened Wednesday, June 22, 1949, with an open house. The opening dance was that Friday, followed by other activities climaxing in a fireworks display on July 3rd. Joe Sanders and his orchestra of Chicago played for dancing.
John Locher was president and Dr. Harold 0. Jirsa was vice-president at the time. Wes Matthiessen was club manager. Marcel DeMartelaere was the first groundskeeper, starting in 1947 and retiring in 1977.
Charlie Burkhart was the club's golf professional, having been associated with the course since 1934.
Following Wes Matthiessen as club manager were Giff Hampton, Bob Brake, Ron Ameche, 1967-69; Richard Lawrence, 1970-72; Plato Neocleous, 1973-74; Hans Weisstanner, 1975-79; Joseph Meyer, 1980-81; Bernie Mahan, 1982-83; Bob Greenleaf, 1984-86; Tom McCarville, 1987-95; Jack L. Morgan, 1996-01; David Sampson, 2001-03, Robert A. Harschnek, 2005-06, Vernon D. Wright, 2006-13.
Elmcrest has been fortunate in having few, but excellent golf professionals. They are Charles Burkhart, Larry Hartzell, Ted Lewis and the present professional, Larry Gladson.
Marcel L. DeMartelaere served as superintendent of grounds until 1975. Robert C. Wright was acting superintendent with Mr. DeMartelaere as greens consultant in 1976. Dennis Andrew served from 1977 to 1989. Rick Tegtmeier served from 1989 to 2006. Clayton Krieger from 2006 to Present.
Don Farley served as tennis professional from 1973-74, followed by Craig Petra in 1975. Campbell Watts was named tennis professional in 1976-02. Cam served as the Elmcrest Tennis Director from 2002-06. Spencer Eells was named Tennis Professional in 2002 and Tennis Director in 2011. Phil Williams joined the tennis staff in the fall of 2011 as the Head Tennis Professional.
At 2:30 a.m. Sunday, March 8, 1970, a resident returning to his home on thirty-fifth street N.E. saw flames roaring through the roof of the Elmcrest Country Club clubhouse. Firemen said by the time they arrived, the flames had burned through the roof and the building was "totally involved".
As firemen moved to fight the flames, the first-floor dining room was engulfed in fire.
At first, according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, officials were concerned that the Elmcrest assistant manager, James Craig, might have been trapped in the building. Craig lived in an apartment on the second floor. However, he was not home at the time.
Three alarms were sounded by the fire department and additional off-duty personnel were called in to fight the blaze. A northerly breeze apparently saved the nearby golf shop from catching fire.
All that was left, as firemen controlled the blaze about 5 a.m., were partial walls and a stone fireplace. Firemen did manage to enter the office area near the front of the building to save many of the Club's records.
Norman "Bud" Kessler, club president at the time of the fire, estimated damage at $250,000. There had been no organized activities at the Club that Saturday night and the bar had closed at I a.m. Sunday. It was less than two hours later that the fire was discovered.
The 450 members of Elmcrest had no clubhouse, but the golf, swimming and tennis activities were not affected. President Kessler and the board of directors met that Sunday night and "decided to direct their efforts toward rebuilding in the same place".
Two days after the fire, a progress report from the board of directors went out to Elmcrest Country Club members.
Noting that an even more beautiful Elmcrest can arise from the ashes, the report noted that there was $300,000 in fire insurance coverage and $100,000 coverage on contents. Several committees had already begun work, the report noted, contracting architects, planning a temporary clubhouse and other matters.
At the same time, the board promised the year's golfing would be "the best ever" and pool and tennis activities would continue.
Two days after the fire, the board was asking the members "to watch for the date of the big grand opening of the new clubhouse!"
By the March 23 report to members, five private clubs had offered Elmcrest members the use of their facilities and the Cedar Rapids Country Club had offered its clubhouse for the May 15 Elmcrest President's Ball.
By that date, the board had also decided to proceed with plans to rebuild the -clubhouse on the present site. (One committee was looking at an option to entirely relocate the country club, but that eventually did not work out).
A temporary office had been opened by March 23 and the board had decided to start immediately on construction of an addition to the bathhouse near the pool. That facility, later called the Bittersweet, would house bar and limited food facilities plus seating space, in spite of the fire, no resignations had been received by that time and at least two new member applications had been turned in.
By the April 15, 1970 newsletter to Elmcrest members, construction of the new Bittersweet was on schedule and expected to be completed by May 15. At the same time, Brown Healy Bock Architects had been retained to develop preliminary clubhouse plans. Ralph 'Dick" Kuehl was chairman of the Clubhouse Building Committee.
The report to members cited the hard work of the original founders of Elmcrest and said, "Now there is a new test of vision and determination to be faced. The burden of Elmcrest leadership has fallen on new shoulders, but not less able or willing".
An insurance settlement was reached April 30, 1970.
On November 5, 1970, bids were opened on the new clubhouse and pro shop. They totaled over the $750,000 maximum limited approved by the membership and some deletions were made. However, by early 1971 they had been added back on due to a financial program that induced special assessments and the sale of bonds. Club President Norman Kessler and Building Chairman Ralph Kuehl turned the first spade of dirt on November 16 and construction began November 23, 1970. O.F. Paulson was the general contractor,
The new clubhouse was officially opened at a members-only formal dedication ceremony on Saturday, November 20, 1971. At the ceremony, Ralph Kuehl, who had succeeded Norman Kessler as president, pointed out the great cooperation the members had given the club since the fire. "We cannot dwell on history ... but must look forward to the future and the future for Elmcrest is a very bright beginning as of this evening."
True to his words, Elmcrest continued to grow and prosper becoming one of the finest country clubs in the nation.
By 1986, Elmcrest was looking at new changes. As noted at that time in "A Renovation for the Future: In order for Elmcrest to remain a viable club, it must constantly serve the wants and needs of its members. And it must continue to offer the services that are in step with the expectations of prospective members. Elmcrest must change as the lifestyles of the community change".
As a result, extensive remodeling was done, during 1987 and 1988 to the Cabaret, Bar, Dining room and Office area. In the background, and during all the years of its operation, Elmcrest continued to make improvements to the golf course and other recreational facilities. The golf course continued, and continues, to fulfill that 1935 comment that it consists of "eighteen holes of golf that will please anyone who has been bitten by the golfing bug".
Following membership approval at a special mid-year meeting, construction of a new building to replace the Bittersweet was approved. This facility, which especially benefited swimmers, tennis players and youth, was completed in 1991 - again confirming Elmcrest's dedication to its diverse membership.
At the same meeting Elmcrest voted to adapt the club to changing social conditions and approved women participating members.
And later in the 1990's, Elmcrest began extensive long range planning under the chairmanship of Don Aanestad to ensure the club continues, "to offer the services that are in step with ... expectations".
This planning resulted in an extensive remodeling program being launched during the presidency of Roger Lemke and completed during the term of Dwight Kuster in 1995.
Not only was the clubhouse extensively remodeled and beautified and an attractive (and proven to be very popular) patio added, but also a unique dome was constructed at the tennis courts providing winter play and winter facilities for exercising and golf practice. A new, efficient watering system for the golf course was completed at the same time.