Stone Creek Golf Club & Resort in Makanda: One killer view complements brutal course design
Stone Creek Golf Club & Resort bills itself as "Southern Illinois' Most Scenic Golf Course," and for good reason. The vista behind the 11th green is likely the best you'll see on any course with $35 green fees. Stone Creek is a fine stop on the Southern Illinois Golf Trail, and the only true golf resort in far-southern Illinois.
MAKANDA, Ill. - Before the birth of the Southern Illinois Golf Trail two years ago, there was only one stay-and-play destination in far-south Illinois: Stone Creek Golf Club & Resort. And before this 6,796-yard layout opened six years ago, well, good luck finding any place to stay and play anywhere south of Rend Lake State Park, over an hour to the north.
The relative lack of quality destination golf in southern Illinois is odd, considering that Illinois is a very long state north to south, and while the snows howl off Lake Michigan and blanket Chicago, downstaters are often hitting the links in light sweaters.
"We really do have year-round golf down here many years," says Stone Creek Head Professional Adam Shasteen.
Playing Stone Creek Golf Club & Resort
Course architect Jerry Lemons laid out Stone Creek in clusters of holes, which makes for some long drives (or almost punishing walks) between greens and tees. The topography is varied, and, on the back nine especially, it verges on spectacular.
In fact, the vista behind the green of the 406-yard 11th hole, down over the expansive Shawnee National Forest, is probably the most breathtaking I have ever seen on a $35 course. On top of the amazing view, I could hear wild turkeys chortling in the woods as I watched a red-tailed hawk circle overhead.
According to Butch Kreid, a five-year member at Stone Creek, "It's a tough layout. You'll use every club in your bag." As for the conditions, Kreid gushed, "Our greens are fantastic - they're as good as I've ever seen them."
Indeed, the greens were fast, but they were pocked quite severely with un-repaired ball marks, especially on the back nine. Normally, this would be somewhat expected, except that I was the first one out on those greens after the grounds crew had finished with them, which means they were twice unrepaired.
The layout is difficult, as billed. From the tips, the 74.0 course rating and 140 slope rating seem well deserved. There is a generous helping of elevated tees and greens and well-placed bunkers. Each nine has an excellent closing hole, making it possible to swap nines for certain local championships held here.
The 18th is the toughest hole on the back nine, possibly on the entire course. To begin with, it's a 495-yard par 4. On top of that, water lurks down the right side, and the fairway slopes toward the hazard. If playing the more reasonable 447-yard blue tees, your choice off the tee could leave anything from a 3-wood to a 9-iron on the approach.
All is not ideal, however. In the words of one local player, who wished to remain anonymous, the layout at Stone Creek contains 14 solid holes, and about four that feel like they were "mailed in."
Take for example the 446-yard, par-4 16th. It's just long - period - as undistinguished as a lumpy landing strip. Worse yet is that the OB lines the right side only a few yards off the fairway.
Omnipresent white OB stakes are, in fact, serious problems here. Nearly every hole is bordered by OB, apparently because the course abuts land belonging to other people. In my opinion, most of this could be demarcated as lateral hazards instead, with strict visible signage stating that retrieval of balls from over fences is forbidden.
As it stands now, if a mid- or high-handicap foursome were playing by the book, they could create six-hour rounds for everyone on the course by taking yardage and distance penalties on most holes.
The worst example of this is the 382-yard fifth hole, where there is OB right and left of the fairway, with only about 80 yards between the white stakes. Added to that are trees that block the right half of the fairway from the tee, forcing a drive that must fade off the hill on the left side. This tee shot borders on unfair, as you cannot hit much less than a fairway wood and still have a decent shot at the green, which is guarded by a deep creek bed and high stone wall. And yet driver brings OB, trees and steep, brush-covered hills on both sides of the fairway into play.
The verdict on Stone Creek Golf Club
Stone Creek is a visually appealing but difficult layout, which is made unnecessarily more difficult by excessive OB. It is one of those courses that one needs to play a few times to figure out which clubs to hit where, and how to attack some of the fairways and greens.
For example, the 432-yard fourth hole threatens you with OB right, a pond left and a snaking ribbon of fairway as your target. It is a tough tee shot mentally, and in fact a long iron off the tee leaving a 200-yard approach might be your best bet.
Nevertheless, Stone Creek grows on you each time you play it, and as stated above, it offers some of the best scenery you'll find on such a reasonably priced course. The impressive topography does come at a cost though: Some of the cart paths could be downright dangerous if one weren't paying attention, or perhaps a little tipsy.
All in all, the course motto of "Southern Illinois' Most Scenic Golf Course" is not empty rhetoric. You will remember several of these holes for quite a while.
Stone Creek stay and play
As the original southern Illinois golf resort, Stone Creek offers 11 one- and two-bedroom cabins, which sleep between four to six people and run from $99 to $129 a night (based on four person occupancy; each extra body costs $10 more). Cabins contain microwaves, small refrigerators, satellite TVs, AC, fireplaces, coffee makers, toasters and outdoor grills. Greens fees for guests run $25-$32, with cart, about $10 less than for non-guests.
Bogey's restaurant in the clubhouse is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday and offers lunch every day but Monday. The lunch menu consists of standard pub fare, but the dinner menu features an 18oz "Cowboy Steak" ($29), seared ahi tuna ($23) and a nice wine list. Mark Fontana is the head chef.
As part of the Southern Illinois Golf Trail, packages can also be put together that include rounds here and at four other nearby courses, whether or not you decide to stay on-property at Stone Creek.
September 5, 2007