Remoteness, odd layout add to mystique of The Bourne

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

NORWAY, Ill. - To find The Bourne golf course you have first look for the crashed airplane. Yep, a real airplane nose-first into a soybean field. It's the only landmark among the myriad of country roads and farms that surround a topsy-turvy piece of land good for nothing else but 18 unique, and many say, obscenely hard golf holes.

Oh, the plane? Don't bother stopping to help rescue anyone. The plane is there as a memorial to the farmers in the area who survived the agricultural "crash" of the 1980's. There's even a plaque. It undoubtedly will catch your attention.

The golf course will, too. But it's out of the ordinary reputation is baggage you'll carry onto the first tee.

"You kiddin',?" said Joe Barry, the course's hole-shaping backhoe driver, maintenance guy, and greenskeeper. He had been asked if there was any real plan for this course back when the first nine was built in the 1980's.

"The landowner, Dick Wherli, literally took out a napkin, put it on a table, and started drawing holes. That was it. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. I'm the one who moved the dirt; built these greens."

Joe has worked for the Wherli family in their many developments and business endeavors since 1967.

"This project, by far, was the craziest," said Barry.

The Bourne was Wherli's response to the big green fees and crowded golf courses some 50 miles away in Chicago and its suburbs. He wanted something that would be homey, unpretentious, and fun. He got all that. But he also created a bit of a mystique with the golf course. There's little if any promotion or advertising, it's difficult to find, (a GPS system, a trail map, and a compass might help), and it's been called the quirkiest and hardest golf course in Illinois.

"First time I played it I got lost out there, really. Played from one tee to the wrong green," said one golfer standing at the first tee who now is a regular at The Bourne. "You got to know where you're going. And, it's tough. Tight, big elevations, trees in the middle of fairways, blind shots."

Sounds scary.

That scary reputation has stuck with it and the legend has grown as more players come to take a dip in The Bourne, leave with stories to tell about how they survived it. They ought to sell tee shirts - I SURVIVED THE BOURNE.

The course

Let's first get something straight. Do not expect pristine conditions, do not expect total and ultimate fairness, and do not expect to know exactly where you are going. Do expect to find yourself behind a tree, do expect to find deep rough, and do expect to say to yourself, "Where the hell is the fairway?"

These things are all part of a layout that could have used a professional golf course architect's touch. But frankly, it's much more fun the way it is.

"You have to play it a few times to get to know it," said Joe. "There's a flavor to the place you don't really taste the first time."

"Yeah, the first time some people get pretty frustrated," added the course's clerk and starter inside the barn-like clubhouse.

So what keeps all those frustrated people coming back and suggesting others come try The Bourne? It's the 130 foot elevation on the No. 9 tee box; it's the natural waterfall at the 11th; it's the true Scottish links feel you get at the par-4 14th and the par-3 15th, and it's the remoteness. There is simply, nothing - truly nothing - else around. It's pure golf and nothing more. If you're looking for a bag drop, a pro shop where you can buy a logo shirt, or a bar with single malt scotches and cigars, The Bourne is not your place. This is what many call "country golf" with none of the trimmings.

But that is a large part of its appeal. That's its draw.

"Have you seen a yardage marker from here?" said the fellow playing with his father in front me. I had caught up with them at one of the tee boxes. He was "about a 10 handicap."His father "closer to a 20."

"Don't see many of those on this golf course," I told him. "What do you think of the place?"

"Heard so much about it, we wanted to come out and check it out," he said. "This is nothing like you would find closer to Chicago. It's got some goofy stuff about it, but it kind of grows on you."

Spoken like so many other golfers who have taken on The Bourne. And like so many others to come. It's a place you really hope doesn't change much, doesn't get full of itself and its own mystique, and doesn't try to be like all the others. Some how you just know it won't do any of these.

Places to eat

River View Restaurant
424 Schumacker St. Marseilles, Ill.
(815) 357-6126

Black Lion Pub
322 Main St.
Marseilles, Ill.
(815) 357-8184

Places to stay

Holiday Inn Express
121 West Stevenson Road
Ottawa, Ill.
(815) 433-0029

Hampton Inn
4115 Holiday Lane
Ottawa, Ill.
(815) 434-6040

Fast fact

The scorecard notes that "The Bourne" (pronounced ‘burn') is Scottish for "the creek." That's not exactly correct, but close enough. "Bourne" really means small stream. And yes, there is a stream (creek) that meanders through the property.

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." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Great place to play

    Bruce Moore wrote on: Jul 20, 2016

    I live in neighboring Newark. I played the Bourne for the first time about five years ago. One thought kept running through my mind. JUST INSANE! Now it's my home course. No others can compare. Yes, the Bourne is challenging but it is a great place to play.


  • Loved it 1 time so far!!

    J-Tee wrote on: Oct 4, 2015

    Man I played the Bourne this week for the first time and am going back again today with my son. He is just starting out playing so this will be baptism by fire (The bourne pronounced The Burn...get it??) LOL Great COUNTRY all the snobs that expected more for a COUNTRY COURSE. YEs please stay in Naperville and stroke the pristine grass you paid 2 times more to stand on!


  • The Bourne

    Dave C. wrote on: Aug 30, 2015

    My golf buddy and I try to play The Bourne at least twice per season. It is a much longer drive than our home course but the challenge is worth it. The first time you play I would suggest you forget your scorecard. Just enjoy the scenery and make note of how you will play each hole the next time you tackle The Bourne. Bring lots of golf balls!


  • R.I.P Joe Barry

    Gaber wrote on: Jun 27, 2014

    RIP Joe Barry, we thought of you today Rest in Peace


  • The Bourne golf course

    Jim wrote on: Aug 25, 2013

    I have played this course many times in the past years and it was in horrible condition but fun I just played aug of this year the course was flooded in April they have a new grounds keeper they have remarked the markers this golf course is well worth the ride it is in great shape do not miss this remote wooded course and it is a bargain


  • Funnes course I ever played

    Shanahan wrote on: Apr 4, 2012

    It was a blast. I played it last September and plan on going back out in May I absolutely loved it. It's not easy but its fun and its pure.


    • RE: Funnes course I ever played

      TP wrote on: Jun 3, 2012

      Remember this is a terrible course.
      With the layout. the scenery, the wildlife.
      You do not want to ever play this course again. do not tell your friends about it.
      I want to keep this jewel all to myself!
      P.S. All you SNOBS go back to Naperville and stay there!


      • RE: RE: Funnes course I ever played

        DD wrote on: Jul 20, 2014

        I've played The Bourne many times and found it to be the interesting course I've ever played. The original nine holes made it something special. I'm from Naperville, and you should check your history. The course designer, Wherli, was from here too. They even have a street named after him.


  • Just an Opinion

    Rello wrote on: Sep 9, 2011

    Scenery? Great, awesome, and even breathtaking in some spots. Conditioning? Not the worst, but should be better for the quality of the views. Quirky? Definitely. Fun to play? If you know how far to hit the ball and where the danger is, yes. For those of us that have to drive quite aways to get there, and therefore cannot play it much to gain course knowledge, it would be nice to have some accurate yardage markers available. A guide at each tee that lets the player know to "stay left off the tee" or where the danger is, would be nice and informative to help the golfer enjoy the round more. I have no problem playing target golf, as many of these holes require "local" knowledge to know how far to hit the ball and still be in play. But when you have absolutely no idea how far it is until the fairway ends or a hazard begins, it takes the fun out of knowing you struck the ball correctly only to be in trouble. Bad shots should be penalized and definitely are at The Bourne. But the first few times I played it, I hit many shots exactly where I thought I should only to find trouble. That is not enjoyable.


  • Golf Snobs Stay Away

    Dan M wrote on: Jun 21, 2011

    Played The Bourne for the first time in May and I'll definitely be back. What a blast and beautiful scenery. The course isn't pristine, but very playable. The greens were the best I've played on this spring. If you are looking for all the amenities, stay away you won't like it. Just a friendly challenging course.


  • A blast

    Thumbster wrote on: Aug 11, 2010

    Experienced ("played" isn't the right word) the Bourne a couple weeks ago. In my opinion, the best way to do it is to pay $30 for 9 holes and dinner on Wednesdays/Thursdays (or maybe it was Tuesdays/Wednesdays?). Full 18 holes with dinner is $50 on those days. Really solid salad bar included, choice of about 10 dinner entrees with choice of side (fries were perfectly extra crispy as ordered) mozz sticks I've ever had, and damn near some of the best onion rings I've had!! Those apps are extra, but rolls are included as well. The tab for 8 of us, with a few apps and some beers/drinks/sodas totaled $41. It's not Oakmont, but doesn't try to's simply a blast to play and drink beers, smoke cigars, and have a free dinner when you're done. There aren't many places that can boast 3-4 holes that you'll never forget...the Bourne has 'em. It has more elevation change than ANY place near Chicago--you have to go to Galena or Peoria or Quad Cities to find the amount of concrete needed to lay the perfect cart paths up and down the Bourne's hills. A very cozy and quiet getaway, and one you'll NOT soon forget. Golf purists, please leave your snobbery at the door...


  • A Compete Disaster

    Dan wrote on: Jul 30, 2010

    If you're willing to drive over an hour seeking an golf course that's an undiscovered jewel, the Bourne is definitely not what your looking for. In fact, if it were across the street and was free to play, it wouldn't be worth the trip and the cost. They should pay us to play the course for having endured the long drive to get there. There are grassy stips of land that might suck you into thinking that it is a fairway, but it doesn't always take you to a green. That is, if you can first locate something resembling a teeing ground. To say the course was designed on a napkin is to assume that intelligent design was even involved. If you decide to play it, it will definitely be a memorable experience.


    • RE: A Compete Disaster

      Steve wrote on: Jun 5, 2011

      I feel sorry for anyone that has to play golf with you, or be around you, as you're a complete a-hole moron. Please God, don't ever let me cross paths with this douche.


      • RE: RE: A Compete Disaster

        wildbill wrote on: Mar 20, 2014

        I've played the bourn many times
        and even bought golf package
        so I could play more often.
        Its a challenge I've grown
        to love. You'd better back off
        your swing a little and think!!
        Before driving off the tees.
        Great place if your up for
        An awesome day off golf.
        I no longer live in Illinois
        But try playing the bourn at least
        once a year. Please all you city
        Snobs stay away. YOU WONT LIKE IT.


  • Stay away

    Dave wrote on: Jul 30, 2010

    This is BY FAR and I mean BY FAR the worst course I've ever played. I got really sucked into this one. If you've played any amount of golf in your lifetime chances are you will be severly disappointed. And no I'm not trying to keep this place to myself. For those who enjoy it, you can keep it.


    • RE: Stay away

      Thumbster wrote on: Aug 11, 2010

      And we thank you in advance for keeping your elitist golfing partners away from our little Garden of Eden...


  • Bourne

    Ted wrote on: May 25, 2010

    The author of this article obviously doesn't golf. The Bourne is dope, and the "professional golf course architects touch" was and is not needed. What an idiot...


  • The Course

    joshua cobler wrote on: May 23, 2006

    I do not know who will say this course is over priced,,but the are wrong. I have played golf all over the place ( overseas included) and this is BY FAR the best course for the money. I grew up 10 miles from the Bourne and if i had my choice it would be the only course i ever play. From the scenery to the price by far the best course on the market. For those that have not yet played it, i have seen scratch golfers look like beginers on this course, so take that for what it is worth. I live in WI now and will drive the 2 hours south just to play the course and the head back home. Luckily for me i still have family in the area. So go out and enjoy,good luck and keep it straight.


  • The Course

    RH wrote on: Sep 16, 2005

    Played the coursse for the first time yesterday, and enjoyed it. Despite the course eating many balls, I'll play it again and again in an attempt to tame this beast. Wish me luck...


  • Bourne

    dh wrote on: Sep 8, 2005

    Thanks for letting us play your personal course Gary. Too bad no one broke 90. Next time , stay for the dinner.


  • Bourne

    gary D. wrote on: Aug 17, 2005

    Everybody stay away ,this is my private hideaway course.


  • Bourne

    Rob Schwartz wrote on: Jul 20, 2005

    Played this unique layout a number of times when it was a nine. Was thrilled to get to play on the 18 layout three times last year. Glad to see that they mixed the nines.
    I'd play this more, but a 90 minute drive limits this. Anyone who loves "pure" golf will have a great experience here!


  • The Bourne

    MJBrenn2 wrote on: Jun 18, 2005

    Heard this course was REALLY HARD. Definitely some interesting layout, however if you can get off the tee (straight) this course is very playable. Play it once and you could really knock its lights out. Without course knowledge expect to give away 3 to 4 strokes due to uncertainty. Good value.


  • the bourne

    ever wrote on: Apr 19, 2005

    This golf course is amazing and beautiful...a good time in a great quiet local


  • the bourne

    gcn888 wrote on: Sep 14, 2004

    You forgot two things about this course
    1. Way over priced $50
    2. Far too short by any players standards


    • RE: the bourne

      Rob Schwartz wrote on: Jul 20, 2005

      Slope must be 135ish. That should be difficult enough for most golfers. I'm a "10" and have a great time here.


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