Lake of the Woods Golf Club offers a player-friendly track

By Chris Saunders, Contributor

MAHOMET, IL - When you pull into the clubhouse at this East-Central Illinois golf destination, you'll forget all about the cornfields and pancake flat farmland that surrounds this scenic location. Mature trees line each hole, and it is virtually the only place within thirty-miles that you'll find anything that resembles hills.

The course has been a local favorite since the first players walked the fairways in 1954. The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette readers have consistently voted the Hartwell C. Howard Golf Course at Lake of the Woods County Park the "Best Golf Course" in the region.

The golf course lies in the heart of Lake of the Woods County Park. The popular park occupies almost 900 acres along the corridor of the Sangamon River. There are a variety of activities that are offered at the park including swimming, fishing, boating; boat, hiking, running, picnicking, cross-country skiing and sledding.

The Robert Bruce Harris designed course was made with both beginning players and experienced players in mind. You'll find a nice mix of relatively easy holes that will give you confidence and make the scorecard look respectable. Just when you think you're on top of your game, this course will test your patience and shot making skills. There are large trees, water hazards and plenty of sand traps to make things interesting and challenging-even for the best of players.

"This is more of a classic golf course," says Tom Doyle, a local player that has been playing the course for 7 years. "It is carved out of the woods. It is very scenic and you get a feeling that you are away from city life."

The par 3 course greets you as you drive into the entrance of the course and overlooks the beautiful lake that is the gathering point for local residents in the adjoining park. On any given day you'll find beginning and young players spread all over the 9-hole par 3 course that is on the grounds. The course is an affordable way for both experienced and new players to work on their short game. For only $8 you can play on this short course all day.

Just a few steps from the clubhouse, you'll find yourself contemplating your first shot on No. 1. You'll want to be conservative with your driver on this par 4, with trees and water running down the entire right side of the fairway. If you keep your ball dry and out of the trees, you should have no problem with the hole.

Hole No. 2 will test your nerves. A well-placed drive will be needed to clear the lake and give you a chance of landing on the fairway. If you stay left, you won't need as much club to clear the shortest portion of the lake. Like No. 1, the drive is key to this hole.

No. 3 can be one of the more challenging holes on the course. You'll start with an uphill drive that you must carry deep on a narrow fairway. Your second shot will be blind. If you place your second shot in the right location you should be able to see the flag for your third shot. You'll want to be careful with this shot, as there is water and heavy bunkers' surrounding the green.

You won't get much relief on the par 3 No. 4. The hole may look easy as you arrive on the elevated green, but there is much more to this hole.

"It is an easy hole to under club. You really need to look at the yardage maker and choose the right club," says Tom Doyle. "You also have to watch out for the bunkers that surround the green."

If you survive the front nine, the back nine will be equally challenging. The adventure starts at No. 10. You might want to pull a 3-wood from the bag for this tee shot. If you have some power and can hit a fade, it is possible to arrive on or close to the green in one. Anything that moves to the right is going to cause you major headaches on this hole.

Tom Doyle has been playing courses throughout the region for years, and finds No. 13 to be one of the most difficult holes in Central Illinois.

"It is the trickiest hole on the course. You have to hit a long drive, followed by a perfect second shot to land on the extremely narrow fairway. If you haven't played the hole before, you'll most likely take a big number on No. 13."

You'll close out your day with another hole that has a severe elevation change. No. 18 features an elevated tee shot into a deep valley. Your second shot will be blind-as you're playing uphill. It is difficult to visualize the green from the second shot. But a well-placed second shot will give you a great opportunity for par on this final hole.

Tee times are accepted by telephone and in person seven days in advance - March 1st through November 30th.

Dress Code

Proper golf attire must be worn at all times. Shirts must be worn at all times. Athletic type cleat shoes are not allowed. Soft spikes are recommended. Tank tops are not allowed.

Group Outing Guidelines

Outings will not be booked on weekends or holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day of the current season. Beverages, catering and set-up fees may be arranged with the management. Outings must consist of 24 players minimum.

How to get there

From Interstate 74, get off on Lake of the Woods exit, Exit No. 174. Head North for ½ mile until the first stop sign. Take a left at the stop sign and travel for one-mile. This road will take you directly to the golf course.

Where to stay

Holiday Inn Champaign/Urbana
1001 Killarney St.
Urbana, IL US 61801

Sleep Inn Urbana
1908 N. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, IL US 61801

Chris Saunders, Contributor

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