Emeis Golf Course looks to vie for top Quad Cities 'hidden gem' title
DAVENPORT, Iowa — Before the PGA Tour pros hit the TPC at Deere Run for the John Deere Classic, there are a few open spots to fill in the field. Until 2006, hopeful competitors converged on Emeis Golf Course across the river in Davenport, Iowa, which used to host the qualifying round for the Tour event.
In 2006 the four-spotter qualifying round changed venues to Pinnacle Country Club in Milan, Ill. According to the PGA Tour, the 6,586-yard Emeis, with a course rating of just 69.9 and a slope rating of 116, was considered to be too different from the TPC to represent a fair judge of playing skill for the actual tournament.
For all of us not ready for prime-time players, however, Emeis is arguably the best non-tournament-venue value in the entire Quad Cities area, with greens fees at $14-$18 ($11 extra for a cart). And recent renovations all but guarantee the city-owned track top "hidden gem" status for a while to come.
How Emeis Golf Course plays
Emeis was designed by Robert Bruce Harris and opened in 1961.
"The course was built out of a cornfield," Head Professional Ron Thrapp said. "Since then, there has been an enormous amount of (tree) plantings, so there's a blend of wide open and shot-maker's holes."
Thrapp is candid about the difficulty of the layout: "It's not terribly difficult, but it offers a challenge."
One of the old-school design features — one of which Harris was fond as well as one to fit the large mowers of yesteryear — is greenside bunkers that are in fact nowhere near the sides of the greens.
"Lots of the bunkers are currently a good ways from the greens," Thrapp said. "But this fall we're moving them all closer. In fact, virtually every bunker on the course will be redone."
"Greenside" bunkers that are 20-35 yards away from the greens are very much out of style these days, but one hopes than perhaps a few of these anachronisms are preserved at Emeis. Especially on uphill approaches, the distance between the trap and the putting surface is easy to misjudge and demands thoughtful club selection.
From the modest muni-style clubhouse, players mosey out to an impressive bulwark of terraced, elevated tee boxes of the 548-yard opening par 5, another rather uncommon design feature. Par 5s are comfy openers, though, and here the fairway crawls slowly back uphill after the drive to a teensy green canted from back to front.
Aside from the chippiness of the first five or so greens (due to golfers not repairing ball marks), the conditions were excellent, much better than one expects when one thinks of a muni.
Emeis boasts one of the prettiest short par 3s in the area, the 149-yard fifth, which could be on a postcard from an Irish parkland layout. The green here runs and hides rather impishly behind a fountain-spewing pond. The putting surface fairly well floats between the water and a bunker and mounds guarding the back.
Other outstanding features unexpected from a city-owned track are the elevated tee boxes on the 422-yard seventh, which tower 30 or more feet above the tree-lined fairway and the multiple options off the tee offered on most of the holes.
A prime example of this would be the short 336-yard 14th, where if you pull driver, your only play is a high fade over trees on the right. There are also some picturesque small barns scattered off the fairway to the left.
The 527-yard ninth and the 522-yard 18th are very strong closers, no matter which side you're closing on. The tee shots are downhill to fairways that gently dogleg and then lead back uphill to the greens.
On both holes, a creek crosses the fairway at a yardage that makes it hard to clear on most second shots, but also awkward to lay up short of. It would take a few rounds to get used to the shots required to birdie these strategic par 5s.
The verdict on Emeis Golf Course
Emeis Golf Course isn't long, and it isn't particularly hard, but by golly, it's tough to argue with sound, old-school design.
Some quirk of the routing made it such that on the day of our visit, almost every hole played into the wind, making the course feel far longer than 6,500 yards. And the back nine rings the outside of the 155-acre property, threatening hookers with OB on Nos. 10, 11, 12, 15, 16 and 18.
In short, there's plenty of trouble here for us non-Tour caliber duffers to avoid.
The clubhouse is Spartan, but the grill has a certain dineresque ambience, and word is that the breakfasts served here are an early-bird golfer's best friend (besides a first-hole Mulligan).
For now, most play at Emeis comes from Quad Cities residents. But if word gets out about the overall quality of golf in the area, and the shot-for-shot value of Emeis, that could change.
Thrapp said there are no stay-and-play packages available — at these rates, who cares? — but the course works with area hotels to arrange outings and events for groups of all sizes.
For a family-style pub, River House Bar and Grill in downtown Moline is worth a visit just to marvel at the belt-driven ceiling fan system. The homemade meatloaf ($8) is comfort food at its best
For what might just be the best slab of beef in Iowa (just across the river from Silvis) at a reasonable price try Farradday's Restaurant at the Isle of Capri Casino ((319) 359-7280).
After dinner and drinks, you might want to mosey up to the poker room in the riverboat casino and play a few hands of Texas hold 'em.
The name "Emeis" is the name of the family who donated the land for the course in the 1950s to the City of Davenport's park system. In 1961 work on Emeis Golf Course was completed with an exhibition between Arnold Palmer and Gary Player to christen the new facility.
November 1, 2007