Rend Lake is a Southern Illinois golf and recreation heaven
Rend Lake Recreation Complex is one of the few golf resorts in downstate Illinois. As part of the Conservancy District surrounding the 19,000-acre Rend Lake, the resort offers lodging, dining and all manner of outdoor activities.
WHITTINGTON, Ill. - Golf resorts in downstate Illinois are few and far between. Despite a wealth of superb, affordable public courses and the recently organized Southern Illinois Golf Trail, there's not much by way of family resort destinations that feature golf in their list of activities.
One of the first, and still one of the few, in the state is Rend Lake Recreation Complex. As part of the Rend Lake Conservancy District, which surrounds the 19,000-acre lake of the same name, the recreation complex offers lodging, camping, dining, fishing, skeet- and trap-shooting, hunting, boating, and, oh yes, 27 holes of golf that have earned 4.5 stars each of the past five years from Golf Digest.
Let the family golf vacation begin!
Rend Lake Golf Course: How it plays
All 27 holes - the East, South and West courses - were laid out by Chicago-area golf course architect Lawrence Packard, but the East and West nines were built in 1976. The South Course (really the "inner" course) was opened in 1993, and still has some maturing to do. Depending on the courses played and the tee boxes chosen, the overall yardage can range between 4,900 and 6,900 yards.
"When the trees get fully mature," says Director of Golf Greg Zinzilieta, "the inner nine will be the toughest we have."
All three nines challenge players with plenty of water and lots of trees. However, the biggest challenge might be the greens — literally, they are huge, averaging over 7,500 sq. ft. Before I visited Rend Lake, a local told me, "You're going to three-putt a bunch of those greens." (Apparently he'd seen me putt before!)
Indeed, despite the woodsy feel of Rend Lake Golf Course, the trees are more of a shot-blocking hazard than ball-eating hazard. With a few exceptions, stray shots can be found, but most often will need to be punched out.
The course is extremely fair off the tee, with generous Zoysia fairways and no hidden hazards. Club choice is usually straightforward as well, with a few notable exceptions. The 402-yard ninth on the East Course is a wicked dogleg left that will punish big hitters who cannot reliably draw their driver; fairway wood is the best choice here.
The most scenic nine is the West Course, which starts out with two tough holes, a 409-yard, par-4 dogleg right that swoops down from the tee and back up to the giant green, and a long but straight-away 553-yard par 5.
The par 4s and 3s are the real strength of the layout. Although the par 5s are generally ranked as the hardest holes on the scorecard, they are nearly all dead straight with wide, easy-to-hit fairways. You will remember the shorter holes far more than you will the 5-pars.
Hole 27 - the closer on the West Course - is a bit of a powder-puff at just 369 yards, even though there is OB on the left (over by the homely maintenance shed). On the other hand, it's nice to end a round with the easiest birdie opportunity on the course.
The 425-yard 18th hole, the final hole on the South Course, stands in contrast to the 27th as a fabulous closer. From the tee, players need to stay right of water, and to do this, a cut is the desired shot to hold the right-to-left sloping fairway. Assuming you avoid the water and a yawning fairway bunker on the right, the approach is uphill and over a creek. This is by far the best of the three "closing" holes.
Rend Lake Golf Course: The verdict
Despite the unremarkable collection of par 5s, Rend Lake deserves all of its considerable accolades. The shorter holes are excellent, and the conditioning is outstanding. It hadn't rained at Rend Lake for weeks prior to my visit, but the fairways and bent grass greens were verdant nonetheless.
The greens are the biggest strength of the layout on all three courses. Given their enormity and undulation, pin placement can alter club selection on any hole by as much as two clubs. And yes, the threat of a three-putt hangs above your head on nearly every green.
According to Zinzilieta, 90 percent of the 35,000-plus yearly rounds here are taken by out-of-town tourists. A few locals consider the $48 green fee (cart included) a bit steep, considering that other courses in the area tend to be around $35, but visitors from high-end golf hells like Chicago will think they're getting away with an absolute steal.
Stay and Play
Rend Lake Recreation Complex includes Seasons Lodge and Condominiums, which range in price from $86 per night to $1,590 per month (for that extended family vacation!). Another real steal are the golf packages, which begin at $86 per person for one night's accommodation and 18 holes of golf with a cart. There is also a Country Manor House, more in the style of a B&B, which runs $210 per night.
The resort's Seasons Restaurant is near the golf course and offers everything from pub fare to fine dining. Rend Lake is just 30 minutes north of Marion, where you'll find plenty of lodging and dining alternatives, as well as the start of the Southern Illinois Golf Trail.
Before his retirement in 1990, Rend Lake course architect Lawrence Packard designed courses in Egypt, South Korea, Guatemala and Venezuela.
February 19, 2008