Decatur's Hickory Point G.C. home to Futures Tour event
DECATUR, Ill. - It's not every city that has a municipal golf course you actually want to play. And even fewer cities are fortunate enough to have more than one such course. Fewer yet can boast that one of their munis actually hosts a professional tour event.
Decatur is one of these rare cities.
Decatur's Hickory Point Golf Course is indeed host to the Michelob Ultra Futures Charity Classic (decaturfuturestour.com). In fact, Hickory Point has been a Futures Tour venue for 21 years, longer than nearly any other course in the tour's rotation.
What makes Hickory Point good enough to host the Futures Tour, which is the LPGA's equivalent of the Nationwide Tour and whose alumnae include Grace Park, Karrie Webb, Rosie Jones, Dottie Pepper, Laura Davies, Cristie Kerr, Lorena Ochoa and current LPGA Tour president Heather Daly-Donofrio?
Part of reason is the course itself, which offers up several defenses to some of the best women players in the world. Another huge factor is the city of Decatur itself, its commitment to the tournament and to golf in general.
The course and the community
Director of Golf for the Decatur Park District, Richard (Rick) Anderson, was kind enough to spend a good portion of his birthday showing us around Hickory Point and allowing us to observe preparations for the tournament, which was held June 14-19 this year.
"The Futures Tour really appreciates how the community supports the event," Anderson said. "We don't just have one big sponsor. We've got lots of smaller sponsors because everyone wants to be a part of it."
Over the course of the tournament, more than 7,000 spectators visited Hickory Point and the durable 1972-vintage Roger Packard design never ends up the worse for wear.
Not only does the community turn out for the event, the city is a nationally recognized leader in the First Tee Program, thanks in large part to Anderson's aggressive pursuit of grant money to build, staff and maintain practice facilities. There are five First Tee sites in the city: Hickory Point, Scovill Golf Club, Nelson Park Golf Course, Decatur Indoor Sports Complex and at the new municipal Raymond Floyd Signature Course, which will open in 2006.
That's right: As of 2006, the feather in the Decatur Park District's golf cap will be a 7,300-yard Ray Floyd design with five tee boxes per hole, a 330-yard long and 120-yard wide driving range with double tees and two practice greens.
Best of all, the green fees will be the same as they are for Hickory Point and Scovill Golf Club, which are currently $20.50 weekdays, $23.50 weekends ($12 for a cart). These rates are a bargain for the existing courses; they will be an absolute steal for the Floyd course.
At 6,900 yards from the tips, the par-72 Hickory Point is no pushover either, although Anderson admits, "When it was built, it was considered very long. But today, the kids don't have any trouble with it."
Even though the Futures Tour event is set up to play around 6,300 yards, the course offers enough challenges to make for a solid tournament, but also enough rewards to make for a thrilling event.
"Last year, we had three women hole-out from the fairway on 18 for eagle on Sunday," Anderson said. "Talk about exciting."
For the tournament, the two nines are switched to make room for the sponsor tents behind what is normally the ninth hole. For every-day play, golfers are eased into their rounds until the 534-yard fifth hole. Here, two fairway bunkers referred to by Anderson as "dinosaur footprints," pinch into the landing area.
Just about every hole presents one or more fairway bunkers are exactly the right places (or wrong ones, depending on your perspective), but no where are they more penal than here.
The back nine is where the course really begins to put up a fight, however. The terrain is gently rolling, which leaves the greens exposed to the prevailing winds and sun, so they play hard and fast. The wind is usually blowing and, according to Anderson, is generally a one-to two-club wind, making club selection tricky.
On holes 10, 11, 15, 17, and 18, a creek begins to zig-zag across the course and must be navigated with care. This is especially true on the 551-yard, par-5 15th, where not only your drive but also your second needs to either fall short of or carry the creek.
Anderson's daughter, Hillary, who plays golf at Illinois State University, calls the infamous 15th "a true three-shot hole, even with a good tee shot and a good second."
She should know.
"I was in a tournament once and was even until I got to this hole," Hillary Anderson said. "I took an eight here."
Needless to say, this hole's creek, OB right, woods left and awkward yardages all require both a plan and execution. And local knowledge and experience are as important as a good swing.
You feel a little sorry for the Futures Tour players who have to play the 425-yard 18th at the ninth, because it really is a lovely closing hole. An overly long drive can end up in the creek some 300 yards out from the tips, but we mere mortals simply need to carry the creek with a mid- to short-iron to the green, which is back dropped almost too perfectly by the un-muni-like clubhouse.
Hickory Point Golf Course starts out a bit flat, but the sweeping bunkering and increasingly numerous water hazards create more than a few memorable holes.
The clubhouse, fully-stocked pro shop and excellent practice facilities all give the impression of being at a top-flight privately owned daily fee course, rather than a park district course. The level of service, conditions and shot value all greatly exceed the $20-something green fees.
Of course the down side to all municipal courses, this being no exception, is the fact that quality golf at such low rates brings out a lot of golfers and the pace of play suffers a bit.
Nevertheless, if the game is going to grow, it desperately needs more courses like the munis of Decatur, more dedicated pros like Anderson and more events like the Futures Tour, where young golfers and the general public can see how beautiful the game is when it's played well and is accessible to everyone.
Places to stay
All the Decatur hotels offer some sort of package with the Park District courses. The Holiday Inn's deal is $80 per person per night and includes one round of golf with a cart on any of the courses.
Anderson confides that if people want to stay one night but play two rounds, they'll get a discount on that second round, too. Call the Decatur CVB at (217) 423-7000 for a list of stay-and-play packages.
The dining scene in Decatur isn't exactly world-class, but for down-home comfort food like chicken and walleye, try The Wagon (1987 N. Jasper 429-2260). The Bakery (104 E. Prairie 422-4444) in downtown Decatur has the best breakfast fare.
When the Raymond Floyd Signature Course (which is as of yet unnamed) opens in 2006, Faries Park Golf Course, another Park District layout, will close. So if you want to check that 6,800-yard Roger Packard design out before then, get there in 2005.
September 7, 2005