Chicagoland Becoming a Popular Golf Destination

By Brendan O'Brien, Contributor

Like the old adage says, "if you don't like the weather in Chicago wait five minutes." As true as the saying is, this winter was one of the mildest in recent memory in the Windy City. For golfers traveling through or living in the Chicagoland area, this means a longer, dryer season in one of the best areas for public golf in the country.

Any map of the area is dotted with long-standing masterpieces such as Cog Hill No. 4 (Dubs Dread), Kemper Lakes and Cantigny. But if the traveling golfer is looking for a hidden gem, there are plenty to be found. Of the more than 200 public courses in the Chicagoland area we selected five newer gems that have opened in the past two years to tempt the golfer's palette.

1) Thunderhawk Golf Club -- Thunderhawk is a Robert Jones Jr. course located about an hour north of the city near Waukegan. This course has taken every step to preserve its natural surroundings and it shows. A beautiful course with wide fairways and a forgiving layout makes Thunderhawk a perfect venue for the once-a-month golfer. But the serious golfer who is looking for a challenge should not shy away since this course rewards good shots.

2) Harborside International Golf Center in Chicago -- Two Scottish links courses located 20 minutes south of the city, Harborside is an extraordinary piece of work. It's has plenty of amenities such as a newly built clubhouse and a grass driving range.

With the city skyline in the distance, the courses set you in England with the typical mounds and moguls and a swirling wind. Both courses, the Port and the Starboard, are close to 7,100 yards in length as the grounds are well maintained and groomed while the layout is challenging but fair.

3) Shepherd's Crook -- This is another links-style course located in Zion, about an hour directly north of the city. Shepherd's Crook opened last August and features 6-feet tall prairie grass and mounds which act as obstructions. Trees occupy only three holes of this par 71, 6,300 yard course which has long par-5's and big greens with plenty of pin placements. The clubhouse is under construction until the middle of the summer.

4) Water's Edge Golf Club -- Hence the name, Water's Edge runs along the Cal Sag Channel in Worth, thirty minutes southwest of the city. A bent-grass course designed by Rick Robbins and Gary Koch, Water's Edge features water on half the holes. This course is a bargain for budget-minded golfers looking for a challenging but rewarding course.

5) Stonewall Orchard -- The first Authur Hills course in the area is located in Greyslake, an hour northwest of the city. Like most of his courses, Stonewall Orchard gives the average golfer plenty of options around the greens without many bunkers to think about.

What makes this course difficult are large pine and oak trees which line every fairway. Water comes into play on 12 holes but the average golfer was considered in the design as there are plenty of options to keep from getting wet. A wonderful practice area with grass boxes is also featured.

If traveling golfers cannot get on the course to play, the Chicago Park District runs a state-of-the-art newly renovated driving range called the Diversey Driving Range. Seventy hitting stations, 20 of which are heated, makes this a perfect place to get out and swing away. Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, this faculty also includes a sand bunker to practice those tough sand shots. The range is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Besides being a great venue for amateur golfers, Chicagoland has also become a favorite destination for PGA, SGA and LPGA planners. Hale Irwin will be back to defend his 1998 and 1999 victories at the SBC Senior Open, played on the first weekend of June, at Kemper Lakes.

A LPGA major will be played at the Merit Club as the 55th U.S. Women's Open comes to town on the last weekend of July 20th. And, like always, the Western Open will be played at Cog Hill during the 4th of July weekend.

With the spotlight fully on Chicago's golf establishments this summer, the traveling golfer will be able to enjoy some of best golf in the country.

Brendan O'Brien, Contributor

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