CHICAGO - The heated debate over where to chow down on the best deep dish pizza, the best Italian beef sandwich, or the best Chicago-style hotdog never comes to a satisfying conclusion in the Windy City. There's always an argument over a pizza's spicy sauce, or a beef's seasoned peppers, or the use of forbidden ketchup on a mustard-only Chicago dog. So, why should it be any different when it comes to golf?
The Chicago area, and the entire state of Illinois, has become a destination at the end of many a golfers' journey. In the past decade the public courses in Illinois have made international travel headlines, been highlighted as the U.S. Open came to town in 2003, and blossomed into favorites for golfers who once had their top 10 lists full of courses from the Carolinas, California and Michigan.
So, let's get down to the nitty-gritty - what would you put on your list of the best in the land of Lincoln? That, my friend, is up for debate. But, hey, in a state where there is a line drawn in the sand on whether you're a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, no one is afraid of a little argument over where best to put a peg in the ground.
There is no doubt Tom Fazio's beauty in Glenview, Illinois is the best golf course in the Chicago area now that Kemper Lakes is going private. The course, built on land transformed from a dead-flat military base, is an unforgettable design combined with a stunning, stately clubhouse. But is it the best in Illinois? Its only legitimate rival is a three-hour drive across the state.
The General at the Eagle Ridge Inn and Resort in Galena, Illinois is a striking layout carved into the rocky, rolling hills of the northwestern part of the state. It's been anointed with accolades for years. However, the playability of The Glen Club is far better. There are too many forced, uphill shots at The General and quirky rock croppings to work around. The Glen Club is a straightforward, classy design. Plus, caddies are available at The Glen; it's carts only at The General.
OK, this is where The General fits in nicely. It's one of three 18-hole courses at the Eagle Ridge Inn and Resort in Galena, Illinois and certainly the most celebrated of the trio. But it's not the sole reason to bring the sticks to this magnificent stretch of land in the northwest corner of the state. The North and South courses are, all by themselves, coveted destinations and the resort, with its natural beauty and spa amenities, is overall the best in Illinois.
This is not your father's "muni". Bolingbrook Golf Club is part of the new age of municipal golf courses. Over the last several years municipalities and park districts have realized they can no longer just mow some grass, stick a flag in a hole, and open the place for business. The competition is too steep. A day at Bolingbrook is like a day at a premier golf facility. The Arthur Hill design is full of challenge, the practice area is one of the best in Illinois, and the clubhouse is a massive, elegant respite from the rigors of the game.
Cutting through the hills and streams just outside Peoria is a golf course that screams to be played. Weaver Ridge gives the golfer steep, dramatic terrain to maneuver and a clubhouse that's both comfortable and stately. There is no other public golf course outside the Chicago metro area that is as worthy of being compared to Chicago's elite courses as Weaver Ridge.
The glaciers of thousands of years ago left a gift for golfers in northwest Illinois. Where most of the state is flat and shapeless, the Quad Cities area of Illinois dips and dives with hills and ravines. Perfect place for a golf course, don't you think?
The TPC at Deere Run is the home of the PGA's John Deere Classic and is said to be, according to the tour's caddies, the hardest layout to walk and carry a bag. But that hard walk translates into memorable vistas and views along with a palette for a superb design.
There is no better place for everyday golf than Cog Hill. There are four courses to choose from - two are under $35, the third hosted part of the 1998 U.S. Amateur Championship, and the final course, Dubsdread, hosts the PGA Tour's Western Open every season. If you want the chance to play where the big boys do, this is the place. But if you're looking for affordable, solid, playable golf, this is also the place.
The two courses at the Indian Lakes Resort about an hour west of Chicago have needed work for years. Once that work began, the transformation was fun to watch. New bunkers, new tee boxes, new bent grass fairways all combined for a more upscale look and much better playing conditions.
Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, (better known by its former name - Waveland) sits hard against the Lake Michigan and the city skyscrapers. It may be the most unique setting for a city golf course anywhere in America. Yes, as part of Chicago's park system, Marovitz has, at times, been neglected. But when new private management took over, things began to change and Marovitz is in the best shape it has been years.
Not only is the food excellent, but the veranda looking out over the golf course is one of the most relaxing settings of any place in the Chicago area, golf course grill room or not.
Walking Cantigny is literally walking in a nature preserve - quiet, beautiful and full of wildlife.
What do they do to those dogs to make them taste like that? Don't know. But please keep doing it.
Garbage cans that sit at each tee box can be unsightly. So, how about burying them? Bolingbrook Golf Club sunk its cans into the earth with its lids at ground level.
April 3, 2004