At Big Foot Country Club, our most enduring legacy has to be the land itself.
Nothing else about the Club would seem quite the same without its unique and picturesque setting. This brief history will begin with the known, although admittedly even some of that may be apocryphal.
Big Foot’s rolling hills and spring-fed streams and ponds are products of the "Late Wisconsin Glacial Period”. It is believed a slowly melting finger of the huge glacier which formed Lake Michigan left Lake Geneva deep and clear while much of its surrounding terrain became elevated by rock, gravel and sand, deposited around that ice finger as the more rapidly melting parts of the glacier receded. With the passage of more time, these deposits broke down and eventually formed a soil which invited vegetation to take root and thrive. Thus, long before the arrival of man, the land was forged as we see it today.
The earliest homo sapiens to inhabit this area are thought to be the primitive mound builders. Very little is known about them or their way of life, but the effigy mounds which they sculpted in order to pay homage to their means of survival, e.g. animals and weapons, are found throughout Southern Wisconsin.
While it may be just wishful thinking, that strange little hill which stands guard in the middle of our Eleventh (Indian Mound) fairway is possibly a remnant of that ancient civilization. One thing is clear: It was there long before the golf course. As such, the next time you’re stuck behind it or perched on top of it or teetering on its downhill slope, remember where it came from and blame the "mound builders” for that tough lie. That way instead of just regarding it as a nuisance, you may actually see it as part of a unique history legion.
It was the Potawatomi Indians from the Green Bay area who resided around the lake when the settlers arrived in the 1830’s. At that time, around five hundred people lived in three villages around the lake under the leadership of Chief Maunk-suck. Legend has it that as a young brave, he danced wildly in the rain until his feet collected so much mud he could no longer move. It was that dance which earned him his life-long name which translated into "Big Foot".
The Potawatomi were a peace-loving tribe who lived in wickiups (temporary structures made from brush or twigs big enough for one person) along the shore and survived by fishing and hunting. The forests from which they got much of their game encompassed the land now occupied by the Club. In fact, local archeologists have discovered many arrowheads and stone implements in the grove of trees behind the ninth tee as well as the valley and stream between the eleventh tee and sixteenth green. It is also said the Potawatomi first deemed the seven pools located around the Clubhouse and Golf Shop sacred. The stone with the plaque to the right of the path to the Golf Shop celebrates the use of these pools by the tribe.
Seven natural springs are located on Club property or in its immediate vicinity. Only two form pools of their own, while the water from the springs is funneled into streams running through and around the golf course.
With the coming of the settlers, the concept of "the land” changed from one of wilderness to one of real estate. After the migration of the Potawatomi, the property was now actually "owned" by the government land office which, in 1835, had it surveyed by John Brink and John Hodgson. Brink, who was from Geneva, New York, took the opportunity to rename what was then Big Foot’s Lake to Lake Geneva.
In 1839, Dr. Henry Clark and Mr. Matthias Mohr bought most of the land at the west end of Lake Geneva for $1.25 an acre. While Dr. Clark was from New York, Mr. Mohr was a local who lived near the present entrance of the Club. For a short time, in fact, the area bore his name, Mohr’s Place. However, in recognition of the wealth of springs in the area, he, himself, chose to change the name to Fontana.
For the next forty years, Mohr continued to farm a small portion of his mainly wooded property. However in 1879, he was forced to sell the land to Levi Z. Leiter and N. Kellogg Fairbank, two wealthy businessmen from Chicago, and it was they who envisioned their own special reverence for the pools which grace Big Foot today.
They called them "The Leiter Fisheries”. The largest pool was used as a hatchery for the breeding of salmon and trout while the others served as temporary homes for the fish as they grew larger. The State of Wisconsin also used the ponds to breed fingerlings. Eventually the fish found their way to Lake Geneva.
Their fishery thrived until, at least, the turn of the century when Leiter died and willed the property to his widow and children. They continued to own the property until approached by the Geneva Lake Improvement Association in 1923. Shortly thereafter, Big Foot Country Club was born.