ARROWHEAD GOLF CLUB
One of the few area facilities with more than 18 holes—Arrowhead has three nine-hole layouts—it can accommodate all level of players and pace of play is rarely a problem thanks to the availability of an extra nine holes. The course, surrounded by a forest preserve, is also known for its well-above-average conditioning.
Arrowhead is no easy track, though its most popular 18-hole combination is a not-so-long 6,734 yards. There’s water on 17 of the 27 holes and there are 77 bunkers on the property, all sporting the classy white sand used on PGA Tour courses. Though the course dates to 1927, it was updated in recent years by architect Greg Martin (read more on page 79), so it has a modern look. This is definitely a course that has kept up with the times.
Arrowhead offers more than just golf holes: Most notably it has a lighted practice range and a big, versatile clubhouse.
BOLINGBROOK GOLF CLUB
This excellent course, designed by veteran architect Arthur Hills, is perfect for outings and social events. Bolingbrook also has one of the very best clubhouses in the Chicago area—it can be a busy place, even on days when golfers aren’t in abundance.
The course can play as long as 7,104 yards, and has a 600-yard par-5 for its No. 5 hole. Elevated tees are also a plus, but the course doesn’t have to play all that hard. Bolingbrook has five sets of tees, so each player can use the set most appropriate to his or her game.
All golfers are fascinated by island greens, and Bolingbrook has one as its signature hole, No. 15—only 156 yards from the back tees—is the most memorable on the course.
CANTIGNY GOLF CLUB
One of the best overall golf facilities in the entire U.S., Cantigny is owned by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. It offers 27 holes in addition to its nine-hole Youth Links. From the championship player to the young novice, there’s something for everybody at Cantigny.
While its courses are suitable for all levels of player, Cantigny’s Woodside-Lakeside combination is a proven championship 18-hole course. It hosted the Illinois State Amateurs four times and was even the site of one U.S. Golf Association national championship—the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 2007.
Two things set Cantigny apart: its Youth Links course and academy. The nine-hole youth course—across the street from the main facility—is for junior players ages 8 to 15. A unique concept to get youngsters involved in golf, the facility even has its own clubhouse and golf shop. Cantigny Golf Academy is an indoor/outdoor facility that includes 34,000 square feet of grass hitting areas.
COG HILL GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB
The biggest golf facility in the Chicago area, Cog Hill offers four 18-hole courses. The No. 4 monster course, called Dubsdread, has hosted the PGA Tour’s Western Open and BMW Championship for 20 consecutive years. The No. 2 course, named Ravines, is sporty, but not as demanding as Dubsdread. The other two courses, Nos. 1 and 3, are user-friendly layouts suitable for a wide variety of outings and casual play.
Dubsdread is for the most serious, skilled players. A renovation by architect Rees Jones—to make it attractive for a U.S. Open—wasn’t well-received by some PGA Tour players, but any golfer who wants to see how he stands up against one of the nation’s best tests should look no further than Dubsdread at Cog Hill. For less-serious golfers the other three courses are always fun and in good condition.
Just the fact that four courses are available makes Cog Hill special. The Jemsek family, which owns Cog Hill and operates two other Chicago area courses, has long provided a well-run facility that has welcomed golfers of all abilities from all parts of the country.
FOX BEND GOLF COURSE
Built in 1967 by respected course construction expert Brent Wadsworth, Fox Bend Golf Course is owned by the Oswegoland Park District and has long been a favorite venue for Chicago-area players. Its 73.1 rating indicates it’s a challenging layout.
Fox Bend can play as long as 6,890 yards and has hosted three Illinois Opens, so evidence shows it can challenge the state’s best players. It has 34 sand traps and water comes into play on 11 holes, but this isn’t a layout that will beat you up. Players of all levels have enjoyed the course’s beautiful mature trees and rolling greens.
This is a good walking course, and that’s important to those who like to play golf the way it was meant to be played. The Chicago area could use more courses like Fox Bend for that reason.
MISTWOOD GOLF CLUB
Owner Jim McWethy took on a two-year, multimillion dollar renovation project a few years ago, which has paid dividends. Michigan architect Ray Hearn, who designed the original course, also supervised the well-received renovation. His revised course has a special feature: 20 sod-wall bunkers. Mistwood has emerged as one of Chicago’s very best public facilities.
Few players would call Mistwood easy, and its professional staff includes several of the top golfers in the Illinois PGA ranks. Tournament-wise, Mistwood has long been the home of the Illinois Women’s Open and, this year, it will also host a prestigious national event: the Women’s Western Amateur.
This is another rare facility where the show goes well beyond the golf course. McWethy’s Tavern in the spiffy clubhouse serves up a Scottish flavor. And the 5,000-square foot Performance Center—a high-tech operation in which golfers can practice from covered hitting bays—is independent from the new clubhouse and is also equipped with dining and bar options.
ORCHARD VALLEY GOLF COURSE
Orchard Valley has historically been about aesthetics. Designed by Ken Kavanaugh and Bob Lohman, the course opened amidst much fanfare in 1993. Though a new course then, Orchard Valley landed the 1996 and 1998 Illinois Opens. It has wetlands, lakes and waterfalls—a most pleasant setting for any round of golf.
Lately, Orchard Valley hasn’t been the high-profile tournament site it was in the 1990s. One reason might be its length—just 6,745 yards from the tips. Still, it was considered one of Chicago’s top public courses and that remains the case today.
This year it’ll be GolfBoards (think electric surfboard on wheels). Orchard Valley will be one of just a few area courses to offer this new method of on-course transportation. The boards can be fun, but they are definitely not for everybody.
THE PRESERVE AT OAK MEADOWS
The Preserve will be the most talked-about golf course in Chicago this season. Formerly called Elmhurst Country Club and then Oak Meadows, the facility owned by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County underwent a two-year, $16 million, environmentally driven renovation. While the course allowed limited play during 2017, in what was deemed as its “Preview Season,” the layout redesigned by course architect Greg Martin will be officially unveiled this spring. Time will tell if the majority of The Preserve players like the redesign.
Martin’s re-design, which resulted in 27 holes being converted to 18 to combat flooding issues, has created a challenging course that will get its share of tournament players. For now, though, it’s a place for all golfers to simply check out. Ed Stevenson, formerly Oak Meadows’ director of golf and now the executive director of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, supervised the elimination of what was frequently an eyesore. Golfers used to call it “Soaked Meadows” after rains hit the course, but that unflattering moniker will no longer be appropriate.
The course has been without a clubhouse since it was destroyed in a fire caused by lightning in 2009, but groundbreaking on a new one will likely come this summer. The much-needed 17,160-square-foot clubhouse with an outdoor terrace will complete this exciting new facility.
SPRINGBROOK GOLF COURSE
Certainly Naperville residents have enjoyed this place, as it’s been their favorite course since its opening in 1974. Roger Packard, who also designed Cantigny, was the architect for this one. The views are good and so is the variety of special events held there. Locals especially like the location, as the course is close to downtown Naperville.
At 6,902 yards the course isn’t particularly long, but its 73.1 rating and 134 slope attest to Springbrook being among the tougher area public courses when played from the back tees. Larry Packard, Roger’s father, designed Naperbrook—the Naperville Park District’s other course in Plainfield—which opened in 1991, but it isn’t the challenge that Springbrook is.
While Springbrook’s course is more than adequate, its accessories are extraordinary—most notably the practice facilities: two putting greens and a short game area with bunkers to improve your chipping and sand play.
VILLAGE LINKS OF GLEN ELLYN
The Links, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, may be the best municipal course in Illinois. Its 27 holes and extensive practice facility—40 grass tee hitting stations and two chipping greens with a greenside bunker—have made the place a starting point in golf for many players and a steady home base for many others.
The U.S. Golf Association and PGA Tour have used The Links as a qualifying site for their big events 46 times, attesting to the challenge the course has always presented. It was a regular Monday qualifying site for the PGA Tour’s Western Open until the event was discontinued in 2006. The more-publicized events aren’t as frequent anymore, but Village Links remains a good test for any level player.
This place comes with a historical note that suggests why it thrived during its first 50 years. Its array of leaders went on to big things: Roger Warren, once the director of golf at The Links, became president of the PGA of America. Matt Pekarek, longtime general manager of the facility, served as president of the Chicago District Golf Association. One-time superintendent Tim Kelly was president of the Illinois Golf Course Superintendents Association and David Glod, president of club manufacturer Tour Edge, got his start working at The Links. Finally, Gary Pinns—the only player to win the Illinois Open five times—was a fixture at the course throughout his playing days.
Margie Muzik is a longtime Naperville resident, but she has taken her golf game far beyond the city’s borders. She competed on professional tours for 30 years after playing collegiately at the University of Kentucky, and is now one of the area’s most unique instructors.
Muzik, a member of both the Ladies PGA and PGA of America teaching divisions, gives her lessons at a variety of locations (margiemuzik.com). Her lessons are unique in that she incorporates martial arts, meditation and fitness into her golf instruction.
Women of Golf
The Chicagoland area attracts the best female golf events
This will be the third straight year that the Ladies PGA Tour has brought one of its biggest events to the Chicago area, and that’s not all. The U.S. Golf Association—the ruling body of American golf—has a special attraction coming as well.
This activity shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the LPGA commissioner Mike Whan knows all about the Chicago area. He grew up in Naperville and spent his first two years of high school at Naperville Central.
Whan finished high school in Cincinnati and went to college at Miami of Ohio. His work resume prior to the LPGA included a two-year stint as vice president/general manager of Chicago-based Wilson Sporting Goods. Whan hooked up with the LPGA in 2010. The organization brought a new team event—the UL International Crown—to the Merit Club in Libertyville in 2016 and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship to Olympia Fields in 2017.
This year, Whan brought the KPMG event back, but at Kemper Lakes in north suburban Kildeer. That 72-hole tournament will be played from June 26 to July 1 (see right).
Though that event is considered one of the LPGA’s five major annual tournaments, a more special event will make its debut the following month at historic Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton. The U.S. Golf Association has appropriately scheduled its first national championship for women golfers 50 and older at the nation’s oldest 18-hole course.
The first U.S. Senior Women’s Open will have 120 players competing from July 12 to 15. Some—like legendary LPGA stars Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Juli Inkster, Meg Mallon, Dottie Pepper and Hollis Stacy—were invited due to performance in past competitions. Other golfers will be selected at nationwide qualifying competitions.
College for Caddies
Most of the private clubs in the Chicago area, as well as some of the public venues, participate in the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars program (wgaesf.org). The organization has rewarded over 10,000 deserving caddies with college scholarships since 1930.
This year 965 caddies were in enrolled in 20 colleges on Evans scholarships, many of them staying in houses built just for such scholars. One was Nick Pavlishin, who caddied at Stonebridge Country Club in Aurora before graduating from Benet Academy in Lisle. He is now a junior at Miami University in Ohio.
“After I visited an Evans house and met current scholars, I felt that living and working together with my peers would only enhance my future,’’ Pavlishin says. “I made caddying my priority to enable me to continue my quest to develop as a leader.’’
Private golf clubs in the western suburbs run the gamut in terms of membership requirements and accessibility in the western suburbs, but there one discriminating course that likes to keep to itself: Rich Harvest Farms, Jerry Rich’s spectacular creation which opened in 1999. Though the membership is limited to a very select few, Rich hasn’t been reluctant to open his facility for outside events. In fact, no area private facility has been as welcoming as Rich Harvest.
The Sugar Grove course has hosted big events, like the 2009 Solheim Cup matches with women’s teams from the U.S. and Europe, the 2015 Western Amateur men’s event and last year’s NCAA men’s and women’s finals.
Rich’s Kids Golf Foundation of Illinois has provided a good introduction to the sport for youngsters, and he has also welcomed amateur tournaments and charity events on a regular basis.
“There are a few things at Rich Harvest Farms that will never go away,’’ says Rich. “We will continue to host amateur golf events and bring golf into more children’s lives through our foundation. That’s what’s most important.”
Chicago Golf Club, in Wheaton, is special, too. Built first in Downers Grove as America’s first 18-hole course, Chicago Golf Club moved to its present location in 1893. The club rarely opens its gates to public events, but this year will be an exception: Chicago Golf will be the site of the first-ever U.S. Senior Women’s Open tournament (see sidebar, page 76).
Other nearby clubs have also had their turns in the spotlight: Naperville’s White Eagle and Aurora’s Stonebridge have hosted Ladies PGA Tour events. Royal Fox, in St. Charles, hosted the Illinois Open eight times and all-male Butler National, in Oak Brook, had a 17-year run as the site of the PGA Tour’s Western Open.
And finally, Naperville Country Club has hosted U.S. Amateur qualifiers and NCAA practice rounds, including the 2018 the NCAA Division 1 Mid-American Conference Women’s Golf Championship, last month on April 20 to 22.
Batavia-based Greg Martin (shown left, with Jack Nicklaus, Pete Dye and Rees Jones) will be in the golf spotlight this season when The Preserve at Oak Meadows goes through its first full season in Addison. Oak Meadows underwent a massive two-year renovation project that resulted in Martin converting 27 holes to 18 to correct major flooding issues.
Martin has been Chicago’s most prolific course architect in recent years, with projects including Phillips Park, The Links at Carillon and Aurora Country Club in Aurora; Arrowhead in Wheaton; and Pottawotomie in St. Charles.
After entering the golf course architecture business in 1985, Martin worked his way up to become the president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) from 2016 to 2017.
The number of public and private golf facilities in the United States—and the number of overall golfers—may have declined nationwide the last few years, but that hasn’t been the case in junior play. Youngsters have been getting involved in golf in droves.
Within the Chicago area the Cantigny Youth Links in Wheaton is special. So is the Hook A Kid on Golf Foundation program that has thrived at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. And the Illinois Junior Golf Association, in its 52nd year, will manage over 140 events for boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 18 this year.
Cantigny has two special events, in addition to its instructional programs: an appearance by PGA Tour veteran Kevin Streelman on July 9 and a 100-hole marathon fundraiser on September 7.
The Illinois PGA is also at the forefront of junior play. The Illinois Section conducts 12 qualifying events for the Drive, Chip & Putt competition each year, and one of its participants, Andrew Lim from Naperville Country Club, qualified for the national finals in April at Georgia’s Augusta National—the only Illinois player to do so.
Lim survived a local qualifier at Cantigny, a sub regional at Cog Hill in Lemont and a regional at The Honors Course in Tennessee to earn his place in the national finals held the day before the Masters tournament began at Augusta National. He finished sixth in his age group.
“These youth represent the future of golf,” says Naperville Country Club head golf professional Brian Brown. “Their drive and determination to master the three fundamental skills of the game is commendable.”
The PGA Junior League, which had 42,000 youngsters participating nationwide in 2017, has been every bit as popular as Drive, Chip & Putt. The Junior League took on an approach similar to Little League baseball, dressing its players in uniforms for team-oriented competition. Nationwide, there were 3,400 teams of players 13 and under competing in regional leagues last year.
All-star teams conclude the season with a national tournament, and the Cog Hill team, headed by PGA professional Kevin Weeks, has been among the eight national finalists for the past two years.