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Babe Ahern led an amazing life

And before Evergreen ...

Golf was played on the grounds of Evergreen Golf Club a generation before the Ahern family opened the course. From 1899 to 1908, the Ellerslie Cross Country Club, a private organization, was on what became Evergreen, with most of the holes on the east side of the Baltimore and Ohio tracks. Ellerslie Cross closed with the formation of the Beverly Country Club in 1908, with most of the members joining the new club on the north side of 91st Street.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Babe Ahern was born just before the Cubs last won a World Series, and never saw it happen again. Born in 1907, the owner of Evergreen Golf Club died a week ago Sunday.

In those 103 years, Anna May Ahern — everyone called her “Babe” — saw and experienced plenty, and without needing to venture from her lifelong home on the family property at 91st and Western.

In Evergreen’s early years, there were tournaments with leading amateurs and exhibitions by big-name players, including Horton Smith, first winner of the Masters. Evergreen was a happening place.

Often, things happened off the course. Before the Aherns turned the family farm into a golf course in the mid-1920s, they opened the Beverly Gardens restaurant and dance hall there.

Babe Ahern wouldn’t sit down for an interview about her life. She spoke with reporters after winning a legal fight to turn back Evergreen Park’s attempt to grab her property under eminent domain laws, but otherwise wasn’t ready to tell tales.

What tales could have been told.

Imagine being 14, growing up next door to Beverly Gardens and seeing a Prohibition-era raid on the place, as Babe did in 1921. That netted 20 arrests for gambling, among them her mother, on a Sunday afternoon.

Imagine being 26 and your parents hire Vincent Gebhardi as Evergreen’s head pro. He was better known as Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, Al Capone’s No. 1 hit man and likely mastermind of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. He was arrested while playing in the 1933 Western Open at Olympia Fields and spent six months in jail.

Imagine being awakened early on New Year’s Eve at the end of 1933 by gunfire and discovering John Dillinger and his henchmen were trying to rob the Gardens. Two of Dillinger’s men were shot, two county patrolmen were shot, and Babe’s sister Margaret and brother Walter ducked out of the line of fire. Nobody was killed, and everybody got away.

Babe stayed away from those stories. Always more interested in golf, she’d smile and ask how your round was.

She loved the game, and played it well at one time. With Evergreen a public course — open to “members and invited guests,” the scorecard slogan said — Babe played in tournaments such as the Women’s Cook County Open.

Evergreen was a throwback, laid upon the land. There was nothing fancy, except the topography, sandy rolling hills from the shore of old Lake Chicago, which made several holes west of the Baltimore and Ohio tracks an adventure.

It’s been quiet recently at Evergreen. It wasn’t unusual to drive by the sign quaintly touting “watered fairways,” pull into the gravel lot at noon on a Saturday, pay the green fee and walk right onto the first tee.

With its frontage on Western and proximity to the once-booming Evergreen Plaza, it was always a target of developers. Ahern received more pitches to sell than the number of flavors in the Rainbow Cones sold across the street.

Some pitches were tempting. Back in the 1960s, Thomas Haggerty put a down payment on a potential $4 million purchase. That ended when Haggerty was indicted and convicted in connection with a loan for the down payment.

A potential 1999 deal to build a Home Depot store and housing triggered the long battle between Ahern and Evergreen Park over zoning and eminent domain. Ahern won, the village ordered to pay $1.2 million in court costs.

Last month, Sterling Bay Cos., a Chicago developer, paid $7.5 million for the 95-acre course, with no guarantee of rezoning and no signed tenants for a 400,000-square-foot retail center. In this economy, that’s a bold move.

Even at 103, Babe’s death so soon after making the sale is sad. The good news is, in 2004, she created the Anna May “Babe” Ahern Foundation, and it’s expected the foundation will benefit from the sale’s proceeds.

The other good news is, the land west of the railroad is expected to remain open space. There’s talk of bike paths, but the logical thing is for it to remain a golf course. Nine holes are on the west side of the tracks. Do some rearranging, build a small clubhouse and name it the Babe Ahern Memorial Golf Course, with an elephant — she was a big fan — for a logo. Nothing would be more fitting to honor someone who lived for golf her entire life.



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