Kemper Lakes Golf Club: Even Better Live than on Television

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

LONG GROVE, Ill. - Let's play a little trivia game.

Which three U.S. public courses have hosted a major PGA Tour championship? Hmmmm...any golfer should get the first one right away. Yes, Pebble Beach seems to host the U.S. Open every five years. Here's a couple hints on the other two -- Payne Stewart, North Carolina ... Yep, if you're a serious golf fan, the No. 2 course at Pinehurst, which hosted the 1999 U.S. Open, wasn't hard to figure out, either.

But you'll never guess the third (dramatic pause) -- Kemper Lakes, a dynamic Roger Packard layout in northwest suburban Chicago, hosted the 1989 PGA Championship, which Stewart also won, beating Andy Bean, Mike Reid and Curtis Strange by a stroke. That's right, any duffer across America can take on the course that has challenged some of the world's greatest players. Kemper Lakes, a 7,217-yard par 72, will continue its tradition of top-notch tournament golf when the 25th U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship comes to town from June 21-24, 2001.

The Southwestern Bell Communications (SBC) Senior Open (formerly the Ameritech Senior Open) is a regular visitor every summer. Kemper has also been home to events such as the 92nd USGA Women's Amateur Championship (1992), the Grand Slam of Golf (1986, '88-90) and the Illinois PGA Section Championship (since 1979).

Kemper Lakes is a public golfer's dream. It is consistently rated among the top 25 public courses in the country by USA Today, while Golf Magazine ranked it No. 84 on its 2000 list of the top 100 public courses nation-wide. Golf Digest ranked it the 12th-best course in Illinois and the fourth-best public course in the state in its May 1999 issue.

Head pro Emil Esposito certainly knows the virtues of the course, which opened in 1979 amidst 1,500 acres of water, wetland and forests. He has received sponsor exemptions the last two years to play in the Senior event. He said the course was in its best shape ever during the 2000 summer season.

"This golf course is challenging, but fair," he said. "The holes where certain players can't carry the water, they can play around it. It is tough, but fair. And fair doesn't mean mediocre. It gives you a chance to gamble. (Senior PGA Tour pro) Lee Trevino says it's the toughest course the (seniors) play on all year."

Amateurs should bring a serious game and some serious cash ($130 green fees) to play here. Don't dare play from the tips (rating of 75.9 and a slope of 143), but even the blues (6,680 yards, 73.4 rating, 139 slope) and whites (6,285; 71.4; 133) can injury anybody's pride.

Water engulfs 11 of the 18 holes and 63 sand traps await nearly every shot. The huge greens will catch many approach shots, but they also might cause a three-putt. Sound fun? It really is. Make sure to take advantage of the computerized yardage system in the carts. You'll need it.

"It is a great test," Esposito said. "There are a great variety of shots out here. You will use most of the clubs in your bag to try and keep it in play."

After two forgiving par-4s to start out, the third hole, a 173-yard par-3, demands an exact tee shot with a full carry over a pond. No. 4 is a reachable par-5 at 508 yards, but stay left to avoid the pond that runs along the entire right side. Seven staggered bunkers guard the front of the green.

No. 7, another 557-yard par-5, bends left, but the farther left the tee shot, the more water players have to carry off the tee. The water stays in play down the skinny fairway to the green, which is guarded by a beach-like bunker on the left. If you're in this trap, you have to clear a retaining wall to find green grass again.

The approach shot on No. 8, a 421-yard par 4, is nerve-wracking. After a 240-yard drive, the hole doglegs hard left over a pond that hides a green with several tiers.

No. 11 continues the outstanding run of par-5s. This 534-yard hole is a tight, tree-lined track. At 100 yards in, the fairway drops to reveal a small pond and retaining wall fronting another skinny green. A bunker and mounding in back make long shots a mistake. There's no room for error.

Many people, including Esposito, believe the three final holes at Kemper Lakes might be among the best finishes in golf - anywhere.

No. 16, a long 469-yard par-4, holds some trickery off the tee. Water runs up the entire right side, but two fairway bunkers stick out on the left, tricking many players to hit to a watery grave. Farther up, the green is protected by the pond in front and a bunker the back.

No. 17, the signature hole, is a marvel. The semi-island green is all carry over water with a retaining wall on three sides. The two-tiered green is the longest on the course at 53 yards, which allows for numerous pin positions. Two bunkers lie to the left.

In fact, two publications consider No. 17 one of the best golf holes in the world. Golf magazine ranked it among the world's top 125 par-3s in its "Par 2000" listing of the best 500 holes in the world. In 1989, Golf Illustrated called it one of the 18 best water holes in the world. It can play anywhere from 203 yards from the tips to 130 yards for the men and as short as 82 yards for women.

No. 18, a 433-yard par-4, is no letdown, either. Similar to No. 7, No. 18 is shaped like a crescent moon, bending to the left around a huge water hazard. The farther left the tee shot, the more water players have to carry.

Even laying up is tricky because there is another pond to the right of the green with only a bottle-neck fairway to hit to. The green has three distinct fingers, making putting a challenge.

Obviously since it hosted a major championship, Kemper Lakes has all the amenities of a first-class resort with locker rooms and a full practice facility, which includes two bent grass chipping greens with green-side bunkers, two putting greens and a large teaching area.

Besides a quality restaurant, Kemper Lake's banquet room, which seats up to 225 guests, and conference room, which seats 12 to 225 people, is open year-round.

The 2,000-square foot pro shop has been named one of the "Top 100 Pro Shops" in the nation by Golf Operations magazine five times. Most recently, Kemper Lakes achieved designation as a "Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary," becoming the 17th course in Illinois (and one of only 217 courses worldwide) to be recognized for its commitment to its natural surroundings.

Esposito said the TV exposure of the Senior Open really increases the club's notoriety.

"People come because they've seen it on TV and we have a good reputation for service," he said. "We really try to emphasize service."

Kemper Lakes
Old McHenry Road
Long Grove, IL 60049
Phone: (847)320-3450

Statistics from the tips: Yardage: 7,217; Slope: 143; Rating: 75.9
Year opened: 1979.
Course designers: Dick Nugent/Ken Killian
Green Fees: $130 with carts, which have computerized yardage system
Head Golf Professional: Emil Esposito.
Famous Tournaments: 1989 PGA Championship, 92nd USGA Women's Amateur Championship (1992), Grand Slam of Golf (1986, '88-90), Ameritech Senior Open 1996-present, Illinois PGA Section Championship since 1979, 25th U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship (2001).

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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