Jerry Rich is the Richie Rich of golfers, a man so wealthy he
built a course just for himself and his friends. As one might
imagine, Rich Harvest Links, part of his 1,600-acre estate 50
miles west of the Chicago Loop in Sugar Grove, Ill., is no
ordinary course. For one thing Rich designed it himself, hiring
for the construction a mom-and-pop company that specialized in
excavating basements. For another, until he completed the course
in 1998, it had only six greens, to which Rich ingeniously built
multiple fairways and tees so that each of the holes could be
played as a par-3, a 4 or a 5, providing endless variety.
Rich, a four handicapper who says he's "61 and holding," was
first exposed to golf in the '40s when he worked as a $2.50-a-bag
caddie at Brookwood Country Club in Wood Dale, Ill. He got hooked
on the game a few years later, while playing for York High in
Elmhurst. The idea for his own course came after a trip to
Augusta National. "I said to myself, Gee, what a wonderful job
they've done with this," Rich says. "To a golfer it's a five-star
facility. I didn't know anything about the club, so I asked a
member how one became a member. He said, 'You don't ask; you get
invited.' I didn't get it, so I asked for an application. The
member said, 'We don't have one, and Jerry, I wish you wouldn't
ask any more questions.' That's when I understood. When I got
home, I told my wife, Betty Ann, 'I don't think I'm ever going to
become a member at Augusta National. We'll build our own
No problem. Rich had made a fortune by developing computer
terminals in the late '70s that enabled stockbrokers to monitor
disparate information on a single screen. He retired in 1988,
after merging his company with Reuters and buying eight farms
that became his Sugar Grove estate.
Nowadays, Rich is intent on turning the place into a real golf
club. There are 25 members, and Rich plans to add 25 more. (As
at Augusta the club has no applications to fill out, and if you
have to ask how much it costs to get in or what the dues are,
you can't afford to belong.) Several farm buildings have been
turned into charming guest quarters. One cottage, which
overlooks a small man-made lake, has a thatched roof. Another, a
Georgian-style mansion, has been renovated to house an elegant
dining room downstairs with guest suites above. Across the road
are stables that will soon be transformed into a locker room.
A staff of 45 tends to the 7,446-yard (145 slope, 76.7 rating)
course, which is meticulously maintained even though on a busy
day only a few foursomes will play it. Rich uses the pro shop to
show off some of his antique carriages. (He's especially proud
of an English coach from the 1850s.) Rich Harvest is also home
to his antique car collection, which includes a dozen Ferraris,
nine Lamborghinis, five Corvettes, two T-birds, a gullwing
Mercedes and, his favorite, the 1986 English-green Rolls Royce
used by Princess Di whenever she visited the U.S. A full-time
mechanic keeps the cars running, so Rich can take one for a spin
when the mood strikes him.
Lest you get the wrong idea, Rich Harvest is more than a
diversion for a guy with a lot of money and time on his hands.
Rich says his current goal is to land a significant tournament,
and to that end he has already planted a field with bluegrass (a
hardy grass suitable for a parking lot). He has his eye on the
Western Amateur, which is under contract until 2003 at Point O'
Woods in Benton Harbor, Mich., and ultimately a Tour event, maybe
even a major.
Remembering his caddie roots, Rich is also intent on spreading
the golf gospel. "I learned things as a caddie--honesty,
integrity--that I used in business throughout my life," he says.
"I went to college [Northern Illinois], and I can't remember any
course that taught me those things."
Rich is particularly fond of, and active in, Hook a Kid on Golf.
The program, which introduces youths to the game, has spread to
29 states and Canada. He started the foundation that funds the
operation in Illinois, where last year 1,500 kids attended
five-day clinics. Now he would like to see Hook a Kid spread to
all 50 states. Unlikely? So was Rich Harvest Links.