Whether it’s a small gathering or a sold-out event, golf courses can custom-tailor their services for a variety of fun golf play days. Find out how these local courses inspire un-fore-gettable events.
Duncan Geddes has seen it all in his 25-plus years working in the golf business – especially when it comes to golf outings that benefit charities and other nonprofit organizations.
Over the years, he’s witnessed humped-back camels and oversized steers grazing on the golf course. Geddes has even worn a sombrero and poncho while riding bareback on a donkey on a sweltering summer day. Crazy? Perhaps. But sometimes sillier is better, when trying to create the ultimate golf outing.
The most successful events offer plenty of great conversation, a few laughs, friendly competition and an opportunity for businesses and organizations to make important connections with customers, donors or colleagues. Whether for small gatherings or sold-out events, golf courses can tailor themselves to meet the objectives of any business, and can provide an enjoyable day away from the office.
“Organizations are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and their events,” says Geddes, the general manager and head golf professional at Aldeen Golf Club in Rockford, a Rockford Park District course. “Golf outings are good relationship-building tools, and they benefit good causes in the community. There’s a lot of camaraderie during those four to five hours together.”
You don’t have to be Tiger Woods, or even a club champion, to participate in the outings held throughout the northern Illinois region each year.
Play days are typically organized in a scramble format, in which each player tees off on every hole. The best of the tee shots is selected and all players play their second shots from that spot. The best of the second shots is determined, then all play their third shots from that spot, and so on until the ball is holed. Golf play days often include prizes for longest drive, shortest drive and even highest score, as well as on-course luncheons, post-event dinners and lucrative silent auctions.
There are many courses to choose from. Public courses are usually quite accommodating, especially for weekday events. Country clubs have become more competitive with pricing and are typically available for private golf outings on Mondays, when they’re closed to members. “These days you can customize almost any event,” says Janet Logan, catering director for Boulder Ridge Country Club in Lake in the Hills. “It’s the way of the world right now. Courses are always looking for opportunities to increase rounds of golf.”
Some facilities are getting creative. Bowes Creek in Elgin offers a slightly different golf opportunity, thanks to its “member-for-a-day” program. Instead of paying daily greens fees, member for a day allows unlimited golf with a cart and full use of the practice facility. “We take care of our guests like private members,” says Mike Lehman, director of golf for the City of Elgin and head golf professional at Bowes Creek. “We focus on creating a high-end golf experience.”
Another option for facilities to consider when planning their next outing is a nine-hole facility, such as Pottawatomie Golf Coourse in St. Charles. Such courses are appealing for smaller family, school or church outings, especially those in which less experienced golfers are participating.
“With today’s lifestyles, nine holes of golf fit perfectly for some, especially for infrequent players who don’t play a lot and wouldn’t fine 18 holes as enjoyable,” says Ron Skubisz, Pottawatomie golf course manager and head golf professional. “By choosing a nine-hole course, you cut the outing in half. Some people don’t have the time, or the desire, to spend five hours at an event.” Pottawatomie has obtained a liquor license and opened a small outdoor patio in hopes of attracting additional outings in the near future.
Golf outings are good for the bottom line, especially these days, with the number of overall rounds of play down. “Golf outing rounds consist of a large portion of our total rounds,” says Jim Vogt, golf pro at The Highlands Golf Club in Elgin. “Golf outings generally spend more per player than the average player paying a green fee. Outings are essentially guaranteed revenue because they are required to play even in subpar weather.”
Golf pros have plenty of suggestions for organizations that are planning a golf play day. Call around to different courses and talk to golf staff members about their facilities and what they can offer. Talk to friends who’ve participated in other outings. Organize a small planning committee of five people and assign specific tasks, such as publicity, logistics, and prize, sponsorship and golfer recruitment. Start early and spread the word by creating a website, using your personal contacts and utilizing social media, such as Facebook.
“The dynamics have changed when it comes to golf outings,” says Dave Hills, general manager of Hawk’s View Golf Club, Lake Geneva, Wis. “Corporate golf outings have diminished, but we’ve seen an increase in fundraising events. In many cases, the golf outing is the organization’s largest fundraising event of the year. It’s a win-win for the organization and for the golf course.”
In 2005, Scott and Kristin Jewson started a golf event called Allie & Friends to help their close friends, Brian and Keri Neff, who lived in Ohio at the time. The Neffs received devastating news that their two-year old daughter, Allie, was diagnosed with stage IV neuroblastoma. Over the next two years, Allie underwent chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, radiation and surgery. Unfortunately, she died two months before her fourth birthday.
“It hit close to home,” says Scott. “Being so far away from them, there wasn’t much we could do. We thought starting a golf outing in her name was something we could do to help.”
With the help of pro football player Ryan Diem, the Allie & Friends Golf Classic has raised more than $865,000 for the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation. This year’s event is scheduled for May 21, at Boulder Ridge Country Club in Lake in the Hills. The goal this year is to top the $1 million mark.
“The generosity of family and friends has made it what it is,” says Scott. “It’s not just money, but the time and effort spent in making it successful. It’s the seven degrees of separation. Somebody knows somebody who can help out. And it’s important to make the event fun. It’s not a fun topic, but we want people to have a good time, so they come back and spend their money with us.”
Another successful event is the Ryan Jury Memorial Golf Outing and Dinner, held each June at Aldeen Golf Club. The event has raised more than $832,000, over the past 26 years, to benefit childrens’ services at SwedishAmerican Health System. Ryan Jury was just 23 months old when he died of cancer in 1986.
“Originally, we just wanted to give back to the nurses and staff members at SwedishAmerican,” says Ryan’s father, Greg Jury, who has organized the event each year. “They did a great job taking care of Ryan and our entire family. But then it continued to grow. We never dreamed it would take off like this. It keeps us going year after year. It gets emotional, that day, when we present the check. But we wouldn’t do it any other way.”
While some golf events come and go, new outings spring up every year. “There will always be golf outings,” says Vogt. “That’s why it’s important for golf facilities to continue offering an exceptional product at a great value.”
Here are a few local courses that can accommodate your next golf event.
Bowes Creek Country Club, 1250 Bowes Creek Blvd., is an 18-hole public course designed by award-winning architect Rick Jacobson. It’s located in a 616-acre residential country club in Elgin.
Bowes Creek offers a slightly different golf opportunity. Membership is open to the public through both annual and “member-for-a-day” programs. Instead of paying daily greens fees, a member-for-a-day enjoys unlimited golf with a cart and full use of the practice facility.
The concept was launched in 2010. So far, the club has 110 members who live in the Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Elgin and Bartlett areas. “It allows us to have a higher price point, but still offer golfers value and less wear and tear on the course,” says Mike Lehman, director of golf for the City of Elgin and head golf professional at Bowes Creek. “For $98, you can play 36 or 45 holes and use the practice facility all day long.”
The course offers plenty of native landscape, including woodland and wetland areas, creeks, rolling farmland, stands of mature trees and scenic bluff slopes. There’s a spacious practice area, complete with an elevated, 30-station driving range with target greens, putting and chipping greens, and private lesson tees. There’s also a pro shop, clubhouse with locker rooms, a banquet facility for special events, and Porter’s Pub, a casual, cozy, English-style restaurant and bar.
Pottawatomie Golf Course, 845 N. Second Ave., is the only public golf course located in the St. Charles area. The nine-hole course is owned and operated by the St. Charles Park District.
Featuring rolling, wide-open spaces and tree-lined fairways, the course was designed in 1939 by Robert Trent Jones Sr., who took advantage of the location along the banks of the Fox River, which comes into play on four of the nine holes. The course features his first island green design on No. 3.
Pottawatomie was ranked the 15th best nine-hole golf course in Golf World magazine in 2010. In 2007, it received the Illinois Park & Recreation Association’s Outstanding Facility Award. In October 1997, Pottawatomie Golf Course became the first nine-hole golf course internationally to become a fully certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary by the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary System, which is endorsed by the United States Golf Association. Pottawatomie Golf Course is one of only 234 courses in the world to receive the honor.
“Pottawatomie is a fun course for all levels of play, and a great course to walk in a park setting,” says Skubisz. “One of the advantages of Pottawatomie is that playing nine holes of golf is perfect for people who have time constraints in their work and personal life. In St. Charles, you can work in business, play nine holes and have dinner in a reasonable amount of time.”
Hawk’s View Golf Club, 7377 Krueger Road, Lake Geneva, Wis., offers distinctively different golf experiences with its two courses. Como Crossings is a five-star rated, 18-hole championship course surrounded by mature vegetation, woodlands and beautiful scenery. The fairways consist of a three-way bentgrass blend that provides excellent lies and playability. It’s also environmentally friendly.
The other track is Barn Hollow, an 18-hole, par-three course intended for families, young golfers and beginners, as well as experienced golfers looking to improve their short games. The course is identical to Como Crossings, with bentgrass fairways, multiple tees and water on seven holes. Barn Hollow can be walked in about 2½ hours, but electric carts are also available. “It’s a good alternative for golf outings, with people who may be intimated by the big course,” says Dave Hills, general manager of Hawk’s View.
The two Hawk’s View courses are home to about 100 golf outings a year. “Golf facilities have to be fresh, innovative, and hard working to create revenue and eliminate cost,” says Hills. “Organizations rely on our golf staff to help them make their events successful. They bring the golfers and we do the work for them. That’s how we’ve grown our number of outings each year.”
Aldeen Golf Club, 1902 Reid Farm Road, Rockford, was ranked the best municipal course in Illinois by Golf Digest in 2009, and rated 4½ stars by Golf Digest Magazine’s Places to Play guidebook in 2008. GOLF Magazine calls it one of the Thrifty Fifty (top 50 courses in the country under $50).
The Rockford Park District 18-hole golf course is popular for its manicured greens, tees and fairways, challenging water hazards on 12 of 18 holes, and 62 sand bunkers, including three Dick Nugent-designed “beach bunkers.” Keith Creek winds through the front nine, past the signature eighth hole, with its island green and replica of the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews.
Subtle elevation changes, along with tricky roughs and numerous trees, provide a straightforward and challenging test of golf. Golfers can warm up at the Aldeen Practice Centre, located across the street from the facility, before being escorted back to the course on an eight-person shuttle.
Aldeen hosts about 40 outings a year, including large events, small group outings, class reunions and wedding parties. It’s open to the general public 85 percent of the year; the other 15 percent of the time is reserved for special events, tournaments, play days and outings, especially on weekdays. In 2010, Aldeen outings raised about $210,000 for charities.
“We’re priced competitively and have a practice facility, restaurant, good course conditions, and we help groups market their events,” says Duncan Geddes, head golf pro and general manager.
The Highlands Golf Club, 875 Sports Way, Elgin, is an 18-hole, links-style course that provides golfers with a unique golf experience in a scenic setting.
The course features rolling terrain, holes bordered by fescue grass and a 12-acre quarry lake. Four holes hug the top of a bluff, 30 to 40 feet above the water, providing golfers with incredible views and several shot options on each hole. Water hazards, deep bunkers, contoured greens and challenging approach shots make The Highlands one of the most scenic and challenging courses in the area. It was recently ranked as the No. 12 best new course in America, the No. 4 best golf course to play in Illinois, and the No. 1 municipal course in Illinois by Golfweek Magazine.
The prairie-style clubhouse, encompassing 24,000 square feet, includes an expanded golf shop, locker rooms, special event rooms and food and beverage operations. The Hickory Stick Bar & Grill offers a varied menu and remarkable golf course views. There’s also a lighted practice facility with bentgrass tees, 30 hitting stations, a short game area and a 9,000-square-foot putting green.
The Highlands Golf Club is home to between 40 and 50 golf outings a season. “We work with all types of organizations, from nonprofits and high school class reunions to local business owners,” Vogt says. “We’re willing to accommodate, within reason, the requests of most groups.”
Boulder Ridge Country Club, 350 Boulder Dr., Lake in the Hills, is a 27-hole course created by Lohmann Golf Design and Masters and U.S. Open champion Fuzzy Zoeller. It has lush fairways, immaculate greens and rolling terrain.
Spread over 290 acres, Boulder Ridge plays much larger than the average course. Each hole features multiple tee locations, attracting players of all levels. Paved tee-to-green cart paths weave throughout the entire course, while strategically placed bunkers enhance the landscape as well as the game. More than 3,000 mature trees line the roughs and fairways. There are 24 sparkling lakes and ponds; retaining walls made of boulders add to the beauty.
Club officials find that offering a private golf experience is appealing to many organizations. Boulder Ridge typically hosts 12-15 events a year, which draw nearly 3,000 people to the club. The golf outings are held mostly on Mondays, so events have exclusive use when the club is closed to members.
“What we’ve found, especially for fundraisers, is that they have a much better turnout at a private club,” says Janet Logan, catering director for Boulder Ridge. “Also, our professional staff lends many years of fundraising experience which can help charity events raise more money for their cause. Some of those people become members or get social memberships. It’s a nice bonus.”
Whatever the reason for your next play day, one thing is sure: There are plentiful high-quality golf courses in our region that can help you to make your next event un-fore-gettable. ❚