Planes, trains and rolling terrains at Prairie Landing Golf Club in West Chicago
WEST CHICAGO, Ill. -- There's a hum in the air, and you look up. A low-flying plane buzzes the fairway. This is customary around Prairie Landing Golf Club.
You see, the place is laid out on the rolling land next to the small airport in DuPage County, 40 miles west of Chicago. In fact, the airport tower can be seen from nearly everywhere on the front nine. And before too long, as you move through this layout, you can't miss the train tracks that run the perimeter of the course, reminiscent of some of the great links courses in Scotland.
Neither is obtrusive; none of this hampers play. What the planes and trains do is add quaintness to a sprawling complex of remarkably interesting holes, tricky greens and a practice facility that is one of the best anywhere in the area.
Prairie Landing is on a wide and long stretch of land, shaped into undulating fairways and greens nestled into man-made hollows. Illinois is known for being as flat as the bottom of a summer sandal, but this course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., is full of humps and bumps, creating a challenge even at short yardage.
The club's 18 holes can stretch out to 6,950 from the blacks, but unless you're a scratch player, stay clear of the back tees. The gold tees are even a bit much at 6,572 yards. That may not sound like a lot, but the course has so many tough approaches to the greens, the blues, measuring at just more than 6,000 yards is the best bet for most players.
You may not need the driver on a lot of holes, including the 292-yard first, but embrace this, because the second shot to the pin on the opening hole demands absolute precision to a green that sits in a valley guarded by wetlands and a deep front bunker. You'll appreciate the chance to use a short iron into this green, and it will prepare you for a lot more shots to come.
Also, be prepared for the greens. They run smooth as silk, but there are some dastardly deceptive breaks that'll send a good roll slipping quickly off the line you were unequivocally certain was the right one. Take some time on the putting green. It's worth it.
Prairie Landing: The golf course
Prairie Landing Golf Club is frequently described as a "links"-style course, and in some ways that is true, especially on the front nine. But it's really not a links course, either, in the traditional sense or in overall design.
It is more of what might be called an "open" course, meaning there appears to be lots of room, there are very few trees, at least on the front nine, and the wind can blow a bit.
Prairie Landing's third hole is a stunning par 3. The green is tucked in front of high mounds that frame the back part of the hole. If the pin is far right, there is no way to safely land on the putting surface except to hit a fade (for a right-hand player), avoiding the two bunkers in front.
The par-4 fifth is intimidating. On the card, it looks like a no-brainer: big, open fairway and measuring to only 350 yards from the middle tees. But it's the approach that'll eat you up. You have to carry water, wetland vegetation and a yawning greenside bunker protecting one of the smallest greens on the course.
The par 5s are good ones. But the favorite is likely no. 10. It starts a stretch of holes snuggled into a small forest. You have to hit it straight here, but a bowl-like fairway means its best to aim at the flat spots to have a level lie.
The most difficult of the short holes is most certainly 12. This par 3 is 200 yards all over water with very little room for a bailout left. There are numerous balls in that lake.
The course finishes beautifully with a gorgeously brutal par 5. It twists and turns and slopes and tumbles its way to a water-protected green. This one can produce a big number if you're not careful.
Prairie Landing Golf Club's facilities
Do you know of any facility that has a three-hole practice course? Not a pitch-and-putt set-up, but three regulation holes?
This is part of what Prairie Landing calls its Combined Training Course. There's a full grass range with target flags, a practice chipping course, and a nine-hole, par-18 putting course to go along with the practice holes. There isn't a practice facility in the Chicago area that can match it.
The clubhouse is a prairie-style design with a comfortably small grill and both men's and women's locker rooms. The clubhouse is equipped to hold banquets and weddings, and the pro shop has everything you need to get your round started.
Prairie Landing Golf Club also has a membership program with several different levels, including junior and practice memberships that give you unlimited use of the facility and unlimited free golf after 3:30 p.m. The pro shop will even help you bundle a couple of different programs to fit what you're looking for.
Prairie Landing Golf Club: The verdict
Prairie Landing Golf Club has been rated highly for years. And it's worth the prime-time green fee, having all the right things for that level of golf: electric carts, GPS, bag drop service, locker rooms, good grill and a fun, interesting and challenging layout.
Some of the facility is showing a little wear. The all-asphalt cart paths could use a resurfacing, and the bunkers could stand a little freshening with new sand and some minor maintenance. But neither of these will take away from a memorable golf experience.
Keep an eye out for the planes, the trains and the rolling terrain, and Prairie Landing can be a tremendous destination for high-flying golf.