Red Tail Run Golf Club by Ray Floyd is crown jewel of Decatur parks
DECATUR, Ill. — Despite his herky-jerky swing, Raymond Floyd was one of the purest ball-strikers the game has ever seen. His reputation as a gruff, arrogant, and cold player toward fans has not softened with age. And this personality is reflected in some of his recent golf courses.
A looming question, then, was how Floyd would lay out Red Tail Run Golf Club, the exciting top-notch golf course he was contracted to design by the Decatur Park District. This would be, after all, a muni — albeit a very posh muni. Would Floyd make it so difficult so as to alienate golfers used to playable public courses?
Happily, the answer has turned out to be, "no."
Rick Anderson, director of golf for the Decatur Park System, is quick to note that Floyd actually ordered the removal of some cross bunkers and the widening of some fairways during construction.
"He said the holes were already hard enough for average golfers," Anderson said.
Floyd, whose design company laid out Red Tail Run, doesn't deserve quite all the credit, though. The hands-on architect was Harry Bowers, a Michigan golf course architect who has numerous solo designs to his credit.
"Raymond Floyd signature courses are all different, because they're designed by different people," said Anderson, speaking of The Legacy of Springfield (Tenn.), another Floyd signature course. "This course and that course are completely different."
Anyone who has played both of them would certainly agree. Red Tail Run is immensely fun to play, with a good variety of both strategic and penal holes, and enough options from tee to green to cater to players of any level.
"Just today we had a family out here playing," Anderson said. "The older son played from the tips, the dad from the blue tees, the younger son from the gold tees (and) the mom from the red tees. I told them they were the perfect foursome for what we were aiming to do out here."
How it plays
Ranging from 7,351 yards from the championship tees (rating 74.4, slope 132) all the way down to 5,104 yards from the forward tees, the course is suitable for all golfers, just as a park system muni should be. What sets it apart from most other munis is the first-class design details, especially the bunkering, usually only found on high-end daily fee or private courses.
From the tees, most holes are stretched out clearly in front of players. But depending on the tees they play from, the various bunkers play completely different roles for golfers of varying skill levels.
"We have aiming bunkers out in the distance, close-in bunkers for shorter hitters, and farther out bunkers for longer hitters," Anderson said.
Another striking feature here, at least for the observant golfer, is the resemblance of certain holes — and even the overall character of the course — to some pretty famous tracks.
"They sent me out to Prairie Dunes in Kansas," Anderson said, "and watching the U.S. Senior Open (played this year at Prairie Dunes), it was uncanny how so many of our holes looked like that."
Another tip of the tam to a famous hole is at the par-3, 238-yard eighth, the green complex of which looks like a larger, mirror-image version of the famous Postage Stamp green at Royal Troon. And the par-3, 231-yard 17th is a classic Redan hole, with a pond just over the back left of the green thrown in for good measure.
The best part about the course is that it calls for such variety off the tee. Holes 2, 4, and 7 are tough drives, where big hitters can be penalized for hitting too far on too conservative a line and shorter hitters can be penalized for trying to cut too much off the various doglegs.
Holes 13-17, however, are the real heart of the track. The routing of these holes turns from the grassy prairie-land into rather dense woods. Dubbed "Raymond's Turn," this stretch will make or break your round. There is even a sign posted as you approach the seemingly benign 157-yard 13th that reads: "Welcome to Raymond's Turn. If you can play holes 13 through 17 in one over par or better, congratulations!"
The most challenging of these holes are the 564-yard, par-5 14th and the 491-yard, par-4 15th. The key on the 14th is to be conservative. A lay-up off the tee with a fairway wood and a solid lay-up with a hybrid club on the second shot will get you in position to attack green, which is guarded on the left by water.
The 15th is called Oak Knoll, and the namesake foliage makes it the most awkward driving hole on the course. Here your tee ball must be long enough and far left enough to have a clear view of the green past a stand of oaks on the right side of the fairway. (They could have axed a few more of those right-side oaks, in my opinion.)
The green complexes are tightly tied in with the fairways, preserving a similar flow and undulation from tee to green. "Floyd didn't want everyone hitting the same club into every green," explains Anderson. True to the designer's wishes, the tough driving holes detailed above are sprinkled in amongst at least a half-dozen shorter and very wide-open holes that allow everyone to grip it and rip it.
Red Tail Run opened just this year, and evidence of normal growing pains is visible. On wet days, there's a lot of mud along the cart paths, especially where they end as you get to the fairways. The 14th and 18th fairways are still a bit rough. The bent grass greens and most of the bluegrass fairways have grown in amazingly fast, and the large, undulating putting surfaces roll very true.
But regular players Chris Faulkner and Steve Reason predict that in a couple of years, it will be the most popular course around. The regular visitors to Red Tail Run go on to sing the course's many praises.
"Fourteen and 15 are two of the toughest holes anywhere," Reason said. Faulkner said how he likes to come out in the evening and walk nine holes. "It's just so peaceful out here," he said.
Indeed, because the course is part of the park district, Anderson stressed to Floyd and Bowers the importance of the surrounding environment. Today, the course is home to deer, fox, pheasant, quail and, of course, red tail hawks.
Perhaps the best — and most remarkable — thing of all about Red Tail Run is that, as a municipal course, it is affordable for all golfers. Greens fees range from just $21-24 ($48 with a cart) with specials and season passes available.
Despite the fact that that Floyd is not exactly the friendliest player ever, it must be admitted that he and his crew did an outstanding job creating one of the more player-friendly and wallet-friendly courses in central Illinois.
Stay and play
The Decatur Park District offers several overnight golf packages. Log on to golfdecatur.org for details.
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). The Bakery (104 E. Prairie) in downtown Decatur has the best breakfast fare.
November 30, 2006