Chicago suburb brings big golf to small town

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

BOLINGBROOK, Ill. - The long-time mayor of Bolingbrook, Illinois, Roger Claar, has had a dream -- to develop his village into something more than just another Chicago suburb, more than just a place known for its starter homes, fast food restaurants and the big Wal-Mart store. And his way of accomplishing that? Build a premier golf course facility like nothing the town has ever seen.

"This is my baby," says Claar. "And it is such a hoot."

This tenacious and fierce promoter of Bolingbrook and its people toiled on this project for the more than 10 of the 16 years he's been mayor, tackling zoning difficulties and fighting turf wars over village boundaries with neighboring communities. But now the pieces of the puzzle have come together and Mayor Claar has been able to open the new, village owned, Bolingbrook Golf Club.

"This course is now a symbol of community pride," says Claar.

Not only does the course signal a new direction for the economics and image of the Village of Bolingbrook, but the layout is a beauty. The striking Arthur Hills design is sneaky tough yet perfectly playable with wonderfully memorable holes and one of the most impressive clubhouses in America.

The Georgian style clubhouse is a total of 76,000 square feet and includes an enormous pro shop, locker rooms, a full fitness center with sauna, and a grillroom. And that's just the first floor. The rest of the place has a restaurant and a huge banquet area.

But even though the clubhouse is hard to miss, the real centerpiece of Bolingbrook Golf Club is golf. And Arthur Hills does not disappoint.

Bolingbrook Golf Club has the look of what many might call an American links design or a prairie links golf course. It's treeless except for a handful of saplings planted to help separate a few holes and some pines to give a few holes a rugged, natural look.

"Fifteen is our signature hole," says Tom Grey, the course's director of marketing. "Everyone remembers that one."

The 15th hole is a true island green par-3 and it's loaded with suspense.

The tee box is slightly elevated so that you see the entire surface of the green and the single bailout area behind it. It plays as long as 160 yards but it just as daunting at 127 yards from the middle tees. You can't avoid thinking about the 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass when you step up to Bolingbrook's fifteenth.

Bolingbrook Golf Club sits on a once vacant and uninspiring stretch of land. But Arthur Hills and his crew have been able to breath life into the site. Playing from as deep as 7,104 yards, the course can be a bear to tackle. But there are five sets of tees to pick from allowing every golfer to get a fair test. The most comfortable, yet still challenging place to play from are the middle tees at about 6,200 yards.

The par-4 opening hole is a gentle beginning with a wide landing area and a green that's raised above the fairway a bit. The hole measures 391 yards from the regular men's tees and helps to give you a taste of the style of golf to come. But what it may not prepare you for is the monster that is the par-5 fifth.

This is a big boy golf hole. From the championship tees it measures 600 yards and gives the golfer one of the best views on the course.

"It is definitely a three-shot hole," says Grey.

There's a marsh and wetland area in front of the tee box that also moves along the left side of the fairway.

"You have to carry that water and the better player has to avoid a large bunker on the right."

The sixth is a short par-4 and one of the best-designed holes on the course. Water runs all along the left side from tee to green, but the three fairway bunkers are what keep the golfer guessing. There's one on the right, one of the left and one right in the middle of the fairway. The hole plays just 312 yards and never stops making you think.

One of the prettiest holes is the par-3 eighth, but there definitely is a "Beauty and the Beast" quality to this one. It measures 173 yards from the back tees, the tee shot is all over water, there's a stone wall to negotiate between the green and the water's edge, and the putting surface is only 15 yards deep. Plus, if you go long, you'll end up in a bunker forcing you to execute one of the game's toughest shots -- exiting a greenside bunker to a tiny putting surface with water directly behind your landing area. After making the turn at Bolingbrook Golf Club it's important to keep your concentration, especially when you tee-it-up at the 365-yard, par-4 eleventh.

There's water to the right and water to the left. There are no fairway bunkers but your tee shot must find the fairway to give yourself a chance at an accurate approach. A stretch of the right side lake cuts across about 15 yards in front of the green. If you hit a good shot, the water will not come into play, but miss hit it, and you're wet.

After you've had your fun at the par-3 15th and flirted with the dangers of that island green, it's time to buckle down and get ready for the 18th.

Bolingbrook's finishing hole is a good final test. It plays slightly downhill to a wide fairway that allows nearly every skill of golfer to avoid the water lining the right side. At 415 yards from the regular men's tees, you will likely need a well-struck long or middle iron to get home in two. There's plenty of room to miss left, but a fade or slice into the putting surface will likely end up being sucked in by a single right side bunker.

Bolingbrook Golf Club has a wonderfully wide-open look to it. And, despite plans for some upscale homes to be built near and along the property, the course will never be cramped by development.

Part of the reason the club will always feel like it has room to breath is because the practice facility is so massive. Bolingbrook's Golf Academy includes a 14,500 square foot putting green, bent grass tees with 65 hitting stations and 12 target greens. There's also a short game area with greens and bunkers and even two practice holes.

The people of Bolingbrook are thrilled with this new addition to their town. But golfers from all over the Midwest should be happy too. It's one of the Chicago area's best new golf courses.

Dave BernerDave Berner, Senior Contributor

Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Bolingbrook Golf Club

    Chris Schwartz wrote on: May 5, 2005

    Bolingbrook Golf Club is now the home of Rabito Golf. Carl Rabito is a nationally renowned instructor who currently works with several players on the PGA, LPGA, Champions, Nationwide, Hooters and Futures tours. He is one of 43 PGA Certified Master Teaching Professionals. Carl has been featured on The Golf Channel's Academy Live show 5 times so far. With Carl's understanding , education, and training in human anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology, he is able to explain the golf swing in simple, logical terms. The body is built to function in certain ways - Carl explains how that relates to the golf swing. In his own words, "Structure Governs Function."
    If you are looking to improve your skills there is no better place in the area. The award winning golf academy offers a bent grass tee that accommodates 70 hitting stations, with 12 bent grass target greens. The facility also includes a 14,500 square foot putting green, a huge short game area with two greens and numerous bunkers and two practice holes. The entire faciltiy is also lighted for night time use.