Gorgeous and challenging golf courses are among the treasures of our Old Northwest Territory. Here we take a look at signature holes that help to define nine of the best.
Prairie Landing Golf Club
2325 Longest Dr. • West Chicago • (630) 208-7600 • prairielanding.com
18 Holes • Five Tees • 6,950 Yards • Par 72 • 73.2/136
Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design; bentgrass tees/fairways/ greens; links-style play, wind from SSW; opened 1994
Signature: No. 5, 406 Yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 1
The tee shot presents the first in a series of do-or-die decisions for golfers on this tough hole, with a fairway dissected by a canal, tee-to-green, and a long, narrow green that’s one of the smallest on the course.
“The right fairway allows for a shorter drive and safer landing, but leaves you with a challenging second shot,” says Head PGA Golf Professional Jim Larson.
The left fairway provides a shorter approach shot, at a better angle to the putting surface, but this option is fraught with danger. “To take advantage of this route, you have to carry 230 yards off the tee to clear the canal,” says PGA General Manager John Schlaman. Shorter hitters may not make it, but longer hitters may need to lay off their drives to stay safe.
Either choice presents obstacles. To the right fairway, a pull or hook will most likely result in a splash, and to the left, a series of berms and swales might swallow your ball. Hit a slice, and the threats are reversed.
Approach shots call for careful strategy and placement. “From the right fairway, you’re hitting over water and vegetation to the narrowest part of the green,” says Larson. “You either have to lay up and get on in three, or hit a longer iron to the green.” A small but strategically placed greenside bunker complicates the bump-and-run on this side. From the left fairway, the green plays slim and deep, with a steep drop-off on the back, requiring laser accuracy on the approach.
“Once you’re on, it’s not over,” says Larson. “The green is undulating with lots of break. A two-putt here is tough, unless you get pretty close to the pin on your approach.”
A PGA pro for 12 years at Prairie Landing, Larson concludes: “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve birdied this hole. A par or bogey here is a good score.”
Pottawatomie Golf Course
845 N. 2nd Ave. • St. Charles • (630) 584-8356 • stcparks.org/golf
9 Holes • Three Tees • 3,007 Yards • Par 35 • 69.8/122
Robert Trent Jones, Sr., design; opened 1939; bentgrass greens, bluegrass fairways; 15th best 9-hole course in U.S., Golf World; Audubon Cooperative Certified Sanctuary
Signature: No. 3, 345 Yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 7
One of four holes where the Fox River comes into play on this challenging track, it is also the first island green designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
“It’s a pure strategy hole, a throwback to the old days,” says Pottawatomie Head PGA Pro Ron Skubicz. “You have to start thinking the moment you step into the tee box. You need to consider carefully where you want to be after your drive, because the second shot requires 100-percent accuracy.”
The ideal drive to navigate the dogleg is about 200 yards, so big hitters may want to choose between a long iron and a three-wood off the tee. “The shot over the water needs to be a comfortable short iron, whether it’s an eight or a pitching wedge,” says Skubicz. “You want to be able to hit the ball full, rather than try to get on with a partial swing or a finesse shot.”
All of the greens here are small, but this one is especially challenging. The front is guarded left and right by large sand traps, and the surface has undulations and a slight shelf. “There aren’t many straight putts here,” says Skubicz. “Your best bet is to aim for the right quadrant, not the pin, because that’s the flattest part of the green.”
The consensus: A par is as good as a birdie here. “If you walk off with a par, you’ve done a good job,” says Skubicz.
Mill Creek Golf Club
39W525 Herrington Dr. • Geneva • (630) 208-7272 • millcreekgolfcourse.com
18 Holes • Four Tees • 6,420 Yards • Par 71• 71.4/135
Roy Case design; bentgrass tees/fairways/greens; well-bunkered; big, undulating greens; opened 1996; 9-hole pitch & putt for short game practice
Signature: No. 5, 331 Yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 12
Don’t let the length and rating fool you. A misplay on this hole could add more than a couple of strokes to your game. If the driver isn’t always straight, players should consider hitting a three-wood or hybrid off the tee, to make certain the ball stays in play.
“This hole defines risk/reward,” says Director of Golf Steve Feddern. “It’s a short-ish par 4, but a very tight fairway, with OB left and very tall trees on the right.” The hole is bounded on the left by wetlands and further down on the right by a pond. “It’s very scenic, and that’s part of why it’s our signature.”
Hitting the fairway doesn’t guarantee anything here, though. The large tiered green is severely sloped back to front and guarded by four sand traps, two front and two back. “Where you land on the green could be the difference between a four-putt and a birdie or par,” says Feddern. “It’s really got two tiers, but one is more subtle. If you hit in the wrong spot, your ball could roll backwards, all the way to the front of the green.”
A large ridge in the middle of the green is the key. “Just get your ball above that ridge, no matter where the pin is, and you’re OK,” Feddern advises.
Given the undulations and slope, however, putting requires a light touch and great finesse. “I birdie this hole one out of four times,” says Feddern. “A par here is a good score.”
Makray Memorial Golf Club
1010 S. Northwest Hwy. • Barrington • (847) 381-6500 • makraygolf.com
18 Holes • Four Tees • 6,903 Yards • Par 71 • 74/133
Harry Vignocchi design; bentgrass tees/fairways/greens; much water
Signature: No. 11, 471 Yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 1
Originally Thunderbird Country Club, the course was closed two years for a total renovation, reopening in 2004. “I’d venture to say that not one piece of soil went unturned,” says Don Habjan, the course’s head pro for 11 seasons. “We brought in 2 million cubic yards of dirt, and added mounds and swales between holes. Even though we only changed the route on five holes, it’s a completely different course.”
Here, golfers hit from an elevated tee to an undulating fairway bounded on the right by water hazards, so aiming left is important. “It’s a tight driving hole,” says Habjan. “The first half has a water hazard left, also. But if you land too far right, the water there makes it hard to get to the green. For most players, it’s a three-shot to get on.”
Then, the approach is to a long, narrow putting surface that reads like the crazy floor of a carnival funhouse. “It’s 41 yards long, and it tilts upward front to back, and then left to right. The best approach is a high pitch shot.”
The easiest pin placement is in the middle, the toughest in front. “There’s major slope on this green, so putting requires finesse and light touch,” says Habjan. As for scoring: “I’ve had as many splashes as birdies here,” he says. “All you want out of this hole is a par.”
The Links at Grand Geneva
7036 Grand Geneva Way • Lake Geneva, Wis. • (800) 558-3417 • (262) 248-8811 • grandgeneva.com
Two 18-Hole Courses • Four Tees: The Highlands: 6,659 Yards • Par 71 • 71.5/125 • The Brute: 7,085 yards • Par 72 • 73.8/136
Bentgrass greens, bluegrass fairways; Highlands Nicklaus/Dye design; GOLF Magazine Silver Medalist Resort 10th year; Top 5 Northern U.S. Golf Courses, Condé Nast Traveler 2010 Readers Poll; ZAGAT-rated one of America’s Best Golf Courses, ’09-’10
Signature: Brute, No. 17, 420 Yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 10
“This hole is phenomenal,” says Jason Boaz, head PGA pro. “It’s the first one you see when you turn in, with the heart-shaped pond with wetlands behind it. The scenery here at Grand Geneva is our most dramatic feature, with the varying elevations and beautiful flowers and plants. This hole highlights that.”
The hole plays downhill, with a slight dogleg right. “The pond runs down the entire right side of the fairway, with OB on the left,” says Boaz. “So it’s a tight driving hole.” From the blue tee, your drive has to carry the front part of the pond, and on the left edge of the fairway, a sand trap (one of 68 on the course) catches quite a few balls. “You want to play to the right of that trap, because about 30 yards short of the green is the White River,” says Boaz.
Just over the river, the approach to the green is guarded left and right by sand traps. “It’s a narrow landing area,” says Boaz. “It’s smart to play short of the pin, because the green slopes back-to-front and left-to-right.” Overall, his best advice: “Just keep it in play. It’s ranked 10, but it’s really one of the three toughest holes.”
Boaz, a 12-year PGA vet, says that he birdies this hole about one out of four times. “Most will be happy to walk off with a par,” he says.
Geneva National Golf Club
1221 Geneva National Ave. South • Lake Geneva, Wis. (262) 245-7000 • genevanationalresort.com
Three 18-Hole Courses • Five Tees • PGA Player-Designed
Player: 7,008 yards • Par 72 • 74.3/141 (No. 10, Golfweek’s 2010 Top 10 Wisconsin courses)
Palmer: 7,171 yards • Par 72 • 74.4/140 Trevino: 7,120 yards • Par 72 • 74.3/136; all bentgrass greens, bluegrass fairways
Signature: Palmer, No. 17, 573 Yards, Par 5, Hdcp. 8
This hole is ranked by Palmer himself as one of his “Dream 18” in this region. Running along the rocky shore of Lake Como, it’s reminiscent of Pebble Beach’s spectacular No. 18.
“It’s fairly level, calling for a pretty straightaway drive,” says PGA Pro Dave Winget. “But when you’re standing on the tee, with water all the way down the left side, and long grass, a hazard and OB on your right, it can be visually intimidating.”
The second shot needs to be played toward the right side of the fairway. A group of trees stand on the left side at about 400 yards from the green; a second at 200 out marks the start of a slight dogleg left.
From 125 yards out, a large bunker flanks the left side of the fairway, and at the 40-yard mark, the front of the green is guarded by a substantial, cross-shaped sand trap. “The further right in the fairway you are for your third shot, the better,” says Winget. “When you approach from the left, those hazards come dominantly into play.”
The green juts into Lake Como; the back slopes towards the lake. “No matter where the pin is, aim for the right half, where it’s more level,” says Winget. “Besides the slope, the left side is peppered with moguls, and rocks from the shoreline are about one step off the green.”
It runs north-to-south, so the wind influences scores. “This hole never plays the same,” says Winget. “It’s ranked 8, but I’d say it’s one of the top three hardest. If you walk off with a par, you’re definitely happy.”
Bowes Creek Country Club
1250 Bowes Creek Road • Elgin • (847) 214-5880 • bowescreekcountryclub.com
18 holes • Five Tees (2 Women’s) • 6,917 Yards • Par 71 • 73.2/142
Rick Jacobson design; bentgrass tees/fairways/greens; opened Sept. 2009; spectacular topography
Signature: No. 2, 436 yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 5
Naming one hole is a tough call for Mike Lehman, Head PGA Pro and Director of Golf for the City of Elgin. “All are spectacular, and each has its own unique characteristics,” he says. “But I’d have to say that this is a fabulous hole that represents the nature of the course.”
Golfers drive over Bowes Creek to a relatively wide fairway shared with hole No. 6. “Visually, it can be intimidating, because of the bunkers on the left side, the Bowes Creek Moraine on the right, and a native area that’s marked out-of-play,” says Lehman. The first fairway bunker is left center, to catch shorter hitters, and the next two guard the left landing area for longer hitters.
“Your best position after your drive is left center, but not too far left, because of the bunkers,” says Lehman. “Anything right of center, and your approach is hampered by a pot bunker directly in front of the green. It’s a collection spot for lots of shots.”
The putting surface is more than 6,000 square feet and fairly level. “The green itself isn’t difficult,” says Lehman. “Getting on in regulation is the challenge.”
“Playing this hole takes you right through the Bowes Creek corridor,” Lehman says. “You hear birds chirping, see lots of plants and flowers. The aesthetics make this our signature hole.”
Boulder Ridge Country Club
350 Boulder Dr. • Lake in the Hills, Ill. • (847) 854-3010 • boulderridge.com
27 Holes • Four Tees • 7,000 Yards • Par 72 • 73.7/135
Lohman Golf design/Fuzzy Zoeller philosophy; bentgrass tees/ fairways/greens; holes numbered consecutively; 20 years old
Signature: West 9. No. 26, 350 yards, Par 4, Hdcp. 5
It’s 350 yards of mind-teasing natural splendor,” says Head PGA Pro Chris Bona. “The golfer is bombarded with indecision on tee box, fairway – if you can find it – and putting green.”
While not long, this demanding hole presents its first challenge on the tee. The drive needs to carry about 200 yards over water to a narrow fairway, which is flanked on the left by water all the way to the green. An accurate landing will leave a mid to short iron, but hitting in two is no sure thing. “The approach negotiates a large, protected peninsula green,” says Bona.
Going for the green means carrying a small inlet and avoiding a large sand trap left. The shot must stick, or a golfer risks bouncing or rolling into the water that surrounds the green, or into a deep bunker behind. Laying up isn’t much safer. At about 70 yards out, a right-hand bunker guards a slender landing area. “The green itself has more slope than the French Alps,” declares Bona. “A par here would make any golfer’s day.”
Aldeen Golf Club
1902 Reid Farm Road • Rockford • (815) 282-4653 • aldeengolfclub.com
18 Holes • Five Tees • 7,131 Yards • Par 72 • 74.2/130
Dick Nugent design; bentgrass fairways/greens; Audubon Cooperative Certified Sanctuary; Host, 2014 U.S.G.A. Open Sectional Qualifying • Golf Digest Best Illinois Municipal Course, 2009; 4.5 stars in Golf Digest Places to Play, 2008
Signature: No. 8, Par 3, 203 Yards, Hdcp. 17
In the world of golf design, holes – even entire courses – are strategic, penal or heroic, according to Aldeen Head Golf Pro and General Manager Duncan Geddes.
“This is classic heroic design, a do-or-die hole,” he says.
One of 12 on the course with water hazards, it features an island green, modeled after No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass. Even though it’s 8,000 square feet, it can seem like a small target surrounded by all of that water.
“This hole is always in the back of your mind,” says Geddes. “No matter how well you’re playing, you’re just waiting for No. 8, because you can’t get a good score if you blow it here.”
The driving distances range from 200 to 100 yards, depending on the tee, but whichever you choose, it’s gut-check time. “Do you go for it or not?” says Geddes. “If you miss, you’re in the water and pitching on with a penalty. But if you stick it, you at least have a chance for a birdie.”
Because of the hole’s heroic design, only one of Aldeen’s 62 sand bunkers guard this putting surface. “It’s a fairly large green, relatively flat, though there are some subtle breaks,” says Geddes. “It’s not the easiest to putt, but it’s not the hardest, either.”
Visible to drivers on Reid Farm Road, the area around the green and pond is always lush with beautiful flowers during the season.
“It’s the first thing people see of the course, so it’s fitting that it’s also our signature hole,” says Geddes.
A 21-year PGA veteran, Geddes has been the head pro at Aldeen since 1992, but he doesn’t have No. 8 beaten. “If I make par, I’m happy,” he says.