Mistwood Golf Club emerges out the mist of severe financial storm

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

Mistwood Golf ClubROMEOVILLE, Ill. - Outside the clubhouse at Mistwood Golf Club is a big underground septic system, and at times the inadequate and ill-planned design makes the place stink. But that raunchy odor will soon be going away, just like the stinky course conditions have, the lousy management practices and the debilitating financial problems.

Mistwood's new ownership not only has plans to put in a new water and sewer system, but it has already begun to revitalize the facility, the course and the reputation of one of the more stunning golf creations in the Chicago area and all of Illinois.

"I was frustrated because this place had the potential to be a great golf course," said Jim McWethy, the former partner and now new owner of Mistwood. He said he had watched as the previous owners mismanaged their way through the early years of the golf course and nearly ruined the place. They skimped on course maintenance and conditioning, he said, and created an atmosphere that was impossible for the employees and customers to stomach.

"This place had a lot of bag baggage," McWethy said. The local entrepreneur was a small part of the investment team when Mistwood opened in 1998 and watched it deteriorate to the point where he said creditors were knocking at the doors while golfers were refusing to come through them.

"I couldn't even go into Home Depot with a Mistwood golf shirt on because I would be asked about all the financial problems," said Mistwood General Manager Andy Krajewski.

Mistwood Golf Club opened in the far southwest Chicago suburb of Romeoville in 1998 to critical acclaim. The Ray Hearn layout got wonderful reviews from the local media and Golf Digest featured the par-5, split fairway, eighth hole, calling it exciting and inventive.

Mistwood Golf Club But over a couple years, the incompetent practices at Mistwood became ingrained. The place began to look tattered, the service was non-existent and golfers began staying away.

Krajewski and Dan Phillips, the director of golf, both a part of the original management team, knew the place had great potential and were disturbed by what was happening. They knew underneath all the bad stuff was a very good golf course and they desperately wanted to save the place and make it work.

"This layout deserved it; this golf course deserved it," Phillips said.

Mistwood sits around 67-acre Lake St. James and on relatively flat ground, but subtle and sometimes dramatic shaping has turned the land into fine artistry. Except for a few holes, the course feels quite secluded and teams with wildlife, especially birds.

Along with the acclaimed eighth hole, others that stand out are the short par-4 10^th , the dramatic downhill par-3 14^th over water and the difficult 15^th , a hard dogleg left with the lake looming all along the left side.

McWethy never expected to be the primary owner of a golf course. His background is in service industries, making money in industrial bearings, stocks and bonds and software. He's quite a renaissance man. But although he has loved the game of golf for many years, running a golf course outright was not in his radar.

"I kind of fell into this," said McWethy, who also frequently sells his son's hydroponic tomatoes at a local farmer's market. "But I wanted to run this golf course the right way."

McWethy started by improving management practices and instilling a strong service mentality in his employees. Then, he asked Mike Kaiser, the Chicago businessman who developed the fabulous Bandon Dunes in Oregon, to tour the course with him and offer suggestions for subtle changes, course tweaking, and advice on running a successful golf course.

McWethy started by improving management practices and instilling a strong service mentality in his employees. Then, he asked Mike Keiser, the Chicago businessman who developed the fabulous Bandon Dunes in Oregon, to tour the course with him and offer suggestions for subtle changes, course tweaking, and advice on running a successful golf course.

Mistwood Golf Club "Mike told us to make sure no one leaves our facility with a complaint," McWethy said. "So many courses are becoming factories; I wanted to make this a friendly golf course. Plus, everybody here loves golf and that's part of the reason it's a special place."

Things have changed for the better. Course conditioning has vastly improved and golfers are returning. In 2002, Mistwood had just 19,000 rounds. Today, after new management took over in 2003, rounds are up to 27,000 a year.

There's consideration for a caddie program and an expansion of the clubhouse. The clubhouse restaurant is new and improved with a brand new kitchen and the hiring of executive chef, Jim Shamet.

"I've gained 15 to 20 pounds since he's been here," Phillips said.

The verdict

The new owner admits there's plenty of work still to do. McWethy will continue to fine-tune the golf course. He's bought some adjacent land and has talked about better maintenance facilities and more parking.

And McWethy continues to ask employees and golfers what they think, how they would improve things. In fact, the recent new and more workable hole-routing was an idea from one of Mistwood's bag boys.

Green fees for the 6,727-yard, par-72 layout range from $33-56. Carts are $15.

The pride is back at Mistwood and it can be directly credited to McWethy and his management team. They believe they have a real diamond in the rough and are working hard to clear away the dirt and mud that have soiled a jewel of a golf course.

"It's a dream for me," McWethy said. "And the word is getting out."

Stay and play

Best Western Romeoville Inn
1280 Normantown Road
Romeoville, IL
Phone: (815) 372-1000

Country Inn and Suites
1265 Lakeview Drive
Romeoville, IL
Phone: (630) 378-1052

Dining out

Half Time Sports Bar and Grill
721 N. Independence Boulevard
Romeoville, IL
Phone: (815) 886-1081

Buffalo Wild Wings Bar and Grill
74 South Weber Road
Romeoville, IL
Phone: (815) 293-2999

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."


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