Indian Lakes Resort gets new lease on life

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

BLOOMINGDALE, Ill. -- You know how it feels. You buy some new clothes, you lose some weight, you get a new car, move into a new home, or you buy a new set of clubs - and what happens? You undergo a bit of a miracle transformation. You feel, well, renewed. It's invigorating. It's a brand new day and you're buoyed and ready to take on the world.

This is a bit of what it feels like these days at Indian Lakes Resort just west of Chicago.

Indian Lakes, admittedly, had seen some better days. The resort had become tired and uninspiring and its two 18-hole courses, although quite playable, had not been maintained with much pride over the years. But today, Indian Lakes is beginning a wonderful new chapter in its life and it starts with the opening of the newly renovated Blackhawk Trace Golf Course, formerly the resort's West Course.

The Golf

Blackhawk Trace represents a solid transformation. The previous 18-hole course had enormous, outdated, saucer-like bunkers. The greens were in marginal shape and the bluegrass fairways hadn't been in top condition for years. Robert Bruce Harris designed the original 36 holes in the 1960s, and although the courses' routing was decent, the holes themselves were far from memorable.

Architect Rick Jacobsen has changed all that. Inspired by the work of Alistair McKenzie, Jacobsen developed new bunker complexes that feature fescue accents, sand flashing high, and fingers of turf. There are new tee boxes, all in the British-style rectangular shape. The greens have been reshaped and are now bent grass and the original bluegrass on the tees and in the fairways has also been replaced with bent.

"We want to bring the highest standards of conditioning and challenge to the two 18-hole course," says Jacobsen. "We're trying to create memorable holes."

You won't have any problem remembering the opening hole. If you had played the old West Course at Indian Lakes, you will notice immediately the new life the renovations have brought to this layout. The new fairway shaping and framing bunkers give the new No. 1 a very inviting feel.

The most significant changes were made to the 13th hole. This one-time, straightaway par-3 was boring. It had very little character to it at all. Now, there are huge waste-style bunkers along the left side creating a visually stunning design and a new challenge to anyone looking to set their ball softly on this green.

"The first nine holes opened last year at Indian Lakes and the second opened this summer," says new director of golf, Thomas Denklau. But he and others note there's no question the course needs more time to mature. "There are some bare spots on the second-nine fairways and around the greens," says Denklau. But the superintendent's crew believes it can nurture the new turf along and improve it day by day.

Par at Blackhawk Trace is 72 and it can measure out as long as 6,966 yards.

The $6 million dollar renovation to the courses is only half done. The work on the second 18-holes is beginning soon and completion is expected in 2004 or early 2005. The second project will include much of the same goals, but the bunkering and shaping will be a bit different.

"We plan to use some Donald Ross-style design for the bunkering and shaping of the course," says Jacobsen. Look for sod-faced bunkers and bailout areas. This will make for two distinctly different golf course designs once the renovations are complete.

However, playing all 36 holes at Indian Lakes today gives the golfer a unique look at what once was, and what now is and will be.

The Bad Pants Open

Indian Lakes Resort is certainly making news with its new renovations, but it has been receiving its share of ink in golf publications and newspapers all over America for over seven years as the host of the infamous "Bad Pants Open".

The event is a free-for-all fashion disaster. Every participant has to wear the most hideous pair of golf pants he can find and take part in a competitive round of golf without laughing.

The Bad Pants Open is an ode, a salute, to golf's old reputation of being the game with the worst dressed participants. People come from all over the country to take part in the event and, of course, they carry along with them some seriously nasty looking trousers - lime green, plaid, canary yellow knickers, and sky blue bell bottoms. Pants that should never had been made let alone purposely purchased to wear on a golf course somewhere.

This may be the only competition where the pants a golfer wears is more important than the score he shoots.

The Resort

The owner of Indian Lakes, First Hospitality Group, believes it is in the process of turning the resort into an upscale, state-of-the art golf complex. And that job not only involves the renovations to the golf courses, but also a huge re-do of the resort itself.

The resort's 314 rooms have all been upgraded. The dining facilities, the lounges and the meeting and banquet rooms are brand spanking new. Plus, the new atrium and lobby at Indian Lakes is quite impressive. A beautiful, open entry into the resort's new era.

One of the major new additions at Indian Lakes is Spa Vargas. This is a new full-service spa that features massages, manicures, and facials, all in a calming and comforting environment.

Food is also a new focus at Indian Lakes. Chicago-based Levy Restaurants is managing the resort's food and beverage operations. That may not seem such an important detail to many, unless you know Levy's legacy in Chicago. Levy Restaurants operates some of the most popular spots in town - Sporangia, Mia Torre, and Bistro 110.

The resort is 25 miles from Chicago's Loop and just 12 miles from O'Hare International Airport.

It all appears to be a great mix - a renewed golf experience, superior new food, totally updated rooms, and a new spa designed to awaken and reinvigorate. Indian Lakes is clearly ready to become a new hot spot around Chicago.


From Chicago: West on I-290 to Lake Street Exit. Follow Lake west to Bloomingdale Road and make left. Right onto Schick Road.

From O'Hare: I-190 East to I-294 South. Merge to I-290 toward Rockford. Exit at Lake Street. Go west to Bloomingdale Road and turn south. Right onto Schick Road.

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
  • Golfers Beware of Indian lakes

    Tom wrote on: Oct 5, 2011

    I played Indian Lakes today. As I was waiting to tee off I saw the starter send out a 5 some composed of elderly individuals. I am guessing 2 of the 5 were at least 80 years old. When I questioned the practice I was told I would need to call the pro shop. Upon doing so I was informed the director of golf authorized letting an elderly 5 some play to slow down the front 9 so the outing they were hosting would have time to finish before we made the turn. I could not believe what I was being told. We should have asked for a refund on the spot but I was dumb enough to believe the starter who said they would be required to keep pace. My bad on that call.You can guess the rest. The entire front 9 was backed up due to the elderly 5 some. Given the poor management and high price for playing there I would not recommend it to anyone. Try Cog Hill or Saint Andrews they do not allow or encourage sending out elderly 5 somes, they are great courses and they still value their customers. Something Indian lakes appears to have forgotten.