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Golf Chicago! Remebers Joe Jemsek

Remembering Joe Jemsek
“What was pictured for all to see was a strong, courageous man doing what he believed was the best thing he could do...”By Bill Daniels

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I’m sure that everyone who came into the sphere of Joe Jemsek more than once has a unique story to tell about him. For most of us Baby Boomers the memories are of the mature Joe, an already established icon in the golf industry, known as the founder of quality public golf facilities. But my mind is often drawn to a photo of him taken in 1934 when he won a long-drive contest at the Chicago World’s Fair. The drives were made from the top of a 168-foot tower and so the drives were really long. I remember Joe reminiscing about that, laughing that the British professionals he beat lost because they typically had a low-hooking style and didn’t benefit from the high winds atop the tower, while his high fade carried in the breezes for the winning launch of 501 yards! The photo of a very young Joe, with dark hair swept back by the wind is very dashing and tells of a man on the cutting edge of a then young sport in America.

And few people today remember or even know that Joe was an early pioneer in televised golf in America. In 1949 he started a 30 minute weekly show entitled “Pars, Birdies and Eagles”, that ran for 14 years. And in 1952 he started All Star Golf a syndicated program matching the day’s best pros in head-to-head matches, distributed across the country. The first match filmed at Cog Hill had the day’s marquee players of Sam Snead and Cary Middlecoff. Snead won 67 to 68.

But the most recent and lasting memory of Joe Jemsek for me occurred last summer at the Western Open. Of course it was Joe in 1991 who donated Dubsdread to the Western Golf Association when they were in need of a new venue. Joe was a fixture at every Western Open saying hello to the spectators as they cascaded over his course. But last summer it was evident to all the Joe was growing older. His walking was now unsure and strength a clear issue. Still Joe wanted to continue his old routines. Now driven in a golf cart by a Cog Hill employee, Joe had his

personal driver slowly move along the spectator fence at the pros practice tee, shaking hands and thanking all the fans for coming to his course. It may be a cliché but the outpouring of affection for this patriarch of public golf was genuine and deep. To me this was a magical moment in golf when people forgot they were watching a professional tournament and turned their attentions and energies to one man who had always held their interests in the highest regard.

I wanted to take a few photos of this moment, but friends of Joe interceded, perhaps protecting him from the blind eye of camera showing an ailing man. But that’s not what I saw. What was pictured for all to see was a strong, courageous man doing what he believed was the best thing he could do—living each day like every other one, believing the best in his fellow man and hoping to serve the everyman golfer.

“Joe was simply a man of the people, a man who believed everyday public golfers were the best people on earth...”By Dave Berner

I was standing on the first tee at Cog #2 with three of my regular golf partners on a sunny, comfortable summer afternoon. And there he was; in his trademark white bucket hat, white shirt and tie. In his hand was a golf club; the perfect prop but also a symbol of what his life was all about.

Joe Jemsek loved to be with golfers, loved to be on the golf course, loved everything about the game. And on that golf day, all of this was quite evident. He joked with us about how we should be working, should be at our jobs on this midweek afternoon. He watched each one of us hit our tee shots and then as we moved off the tee Joe said with a smile and a laugh, “Don’t forget now; don’t piss on any of my trees.”

That was the Joe Jemsek I remember. Although he helped revolutionize public golf, in his heart Joe was simply a man of the people, a man who believed everyday public golfers were the best people on earth and wanted to be around them as much as possible.

For years, until his health failed him, Joe made his rounds at Cog Hill walking and talking to staffers and golfers at every turn soaking up what he loved so much. It was part of the greater golf experience at Cog Hill, the place where Joe Jemsek made his mark.

Joe started as a caddie for the Coghill brothers, the original owners of the course. He was promoted to parking lot attendant, cook, caddie master and eventually to golf professional. He played on the pro tour for a short time along side greats like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead. But it wasn’t the game of golf that gave Joe the title of “Patriarch of Public Golf”; it was the business of golf.

After the tour, Joe came back to Cog and in 1951 he bought the place, improved on it and developed Cog Hill #4, Dubsdread, one of the top golf courses in the country and, of course, the home of the Advil Western Open. The idea was to bring private, country club style golf to the average player. The concept was not readily accepted at first. In fact, many laughed at the idea. But Joe Jemsek was ahead of his time and eventually the rest of the golf world had to play catch-up.

He certainly was an innovator, but Joe’s endearing legacy will be that special, personal bond he had with the people who played his golf courses—Cog Hill, St. Andrews in West Chicago, Pine Meadow in Mundelein and Summer Grove in Georgia. Joe was always around to say hello, always quick to thank people for their business, always had a story, and never forgot that golf was supposed to be fun and accessible for everyone. That legacy will forever be a part of Joe Jemsek’s golf courses.

And one last thing—Joe, as you tee it up on God’s heavenly fairways, I just want you to know, I never, ever relieved myself on any of your trees, and Joe,

I never will.

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Last Updated: 6/2/02