Celebrating the Centennial of the Big Foot Country Club

By Maura Keller | Historic Images Courtesy of Big Foot Country Club, Present Day Photos by Holly Leitner

When it comes to milestones, this one stands out in the Geneva Lake area: The Big Foot Country Club, located in Fontana, is celebrating its 100th year as a private club. Originally founded in 1924, the club was organized by 20 founding members who were eager to transform 690 acres of beautiful land in the village of Fontana into a first-class golf course. Today, the club boasts more than 300 members and has fulfilled the vision of its early founding members by attracting top golf talent and serving as a sought-after social hub for its membership. To celebrate its anniversary, the Big Foot Country Club is preparing a party for its membership this August, so it seemed like the perfect time to look back on the 100-year-long history of this local landmark.


According to Bill Ring, past president and long-time Big Foot Country Club member, the first nine holes of the course opened for the 1924 summer season, with the initial 100 members paying fees of $250 each. So how did the name Big Foot come to evolve? Long before the club was established, from the late 1600s to the 1830s, the area around the Big Foot Country Club was inhabited by Potawatomi Indians. Living in a series of three villages in the area, the tribe was led by Chief Maunk-suck, who was given the nickname “Big Foot” by white settlers.

By the late 19th century, the property that today makes up the Big Foot Country Club was owned by two businessmen from Chicago. One of those owners was a former business partner of Marshall Field’s named Levi Leiter. When Leiter died, he willed the property to his widow and children, who continued to own the property until 1923 when it was purchased by a group of local businessmen operating as the Geneva Lake Improvement Association. Within a year, the land was acquired by the 20 founding members of the Big Foot Country Club.

Today, a century later, the club boasts over 200 golfing members, approximately 50 social members and 80 junior members. The Big Foot Country Club also welcomes others to relish in the beauty of the local landscape by hosting numerous golf tournaments throughout the season, not only for its members but also their guests. In addition to golf, members of the Big Foot Country Club enjoy activities like bridge, tennis and trap shooting.


The historic clubhouse boasts a sprawling ballroom and large dining area, as well as an upstairs, outdoor deck and lower-level patio, both offering idyllic views. The clubhouse was completely renovated in 1992 and again in 2023, ushering in new, state-of-the-art amenities, while maintaining the historic charm of the building’s original design.

Throughout its 100-year-history, the clubhouse has played host to many celebrations and events, and will be the venue for the club’s 100th anniversary party in August. The last time such an event was held was 25 years ago, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the club’s founding. Each year, members are invited to enjoy other celebrations in the space as well, including the Holly Ball Gala in December, the club’s annual Fourth of July Family Party and the Memorial Day and Labor Day dinners.


The club’s location makes good use of its stunning landscape, including rolling hills, spring-fed streams, creeks, ponds and old-growth woods. The topography was formed 50,000 years ago during the last glacial period to affect Wisconsin. Few spots in the state can match the beauty and unique landscape of the Big Foot Country Club and its majestic golf course.

The golf course is celebrated for its unique design, offering players memorable experiences at every hole. The property boasts seven natural, spring-fed ponds that dot the course’s landscape and offer a stunning backdrop from many areas of the club. “The golf course architect was Tom Bendelow, who designed hundreds of courses throughout the country, including Medinah, Olympia Fields and helped Donald Ross fortify the layout of Beverly Country Club in the Chicagoland area,” Ring explains. “The grounds of the club contain a wealth of character no one would expect just driving around the perimeter of the property — including hills, valleys, springs, creeks and ponds. Woods surround the course and provide privacy. There are also terrific vistas of Lake Geneva as well.”

And while the golf course has maintained the same basic layout since it was originally designed, it has been renovated to adjust to today’s golfing trends, maximizing the spectacular views and adjusting to the modern pace of play. “Like most golf courses, improvements have been made to the course throughout the years which have enhanced fairways, greens and tees,” Ring says.


Of course, creating a welcoming environment for members and their guests has been at the forefront of the Big Foot Country Club’s mission, and the club and its members are also proponents of giving back to others. The club participates in the Chick Evans Scholarship program, a four-year, full tuition and housing scholarship, which was established in 1930 by the Western Golf Association and celebrated amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans Jr. as part of the Evans Scholars Foundation.

“The Foundation’s mission was to provide full tuition and college scholarships to exceptional caddies with limited financial means, with an emphasis on strong academic standards,” Ring says. The first two Evans Scholars enrolled at Northwestern University in 1930, and since then, 12,040 outstanding young men and women have graduated as Evans Scholars.

Big Foot Country Club members are extremely proud of the club’s legacy of assisting in changing young men and women’s lives with this honored award. “This year, there are 1,130 Evans Scholars enrolled at 24 leading universities nationwide, and Big Foot Country Club currently has 35 alumni with eight currently enrolled at four different universities,” Ring says. “We are honored to have a record year this year with six new recipients this past winter, with them enrolling in four different universities. Big Foot is number-one in the state of Wisconsin with the number of caddies being recipients of the Evans Scholarship award.”

One of the recent recipients of the scholarships, a Big Foot Country Club caddie, says he feels like he’s grown up so much by working at BFCC, and is excited to be part of celebrating the club’s 100th anniversary. “My first year was the 94th year for the club, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to be so old if I’m still here for [the centennial].’ Well, here I am. I would say that the entire experience of being at Big Foot Country Club … getting to talk to so many different people and eventually getting to know a lot of different people really well, has in many ways made me who I am today,” he explains. “The Evans Scholarship is just a massive blessing, one I couldn’t have expected when I first started out. The beautiful thing about the Evans program is that the process to getting the scholarship is arguably as valuable as the scholarship itself, because you learn so much about how to improve yourself, represent yourself and eventually represent your entire club really well. I’m really glad for the club making it to the centennial, it’s a great community that’s given me and many others a lot of great opportunities.”


Looking ahead, as the Big Foot Country Club embarks on its next 100 years, Ring says it is uniquely positioned for continued success and will continue to be a proud member of the Village of Fontana and Geneva Lake communities. From its humble beginning as a 9-hole course, the golf course today has hosted some of the top players in the state and the region, and will continue to attract golf’s luminaries.

Ring says the club has always been committed to serving a membership drawn from the local community, and intends to remain that way. “Our members are residents of the area, both on a full- and part-time basis,” he says. “We will continue to look for new activities that enhance the club and will continue to be one of the foundations of the Fontana village area.”

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