Remoteness, odd layout add to mystique of The Bourne
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."
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.
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.
Black Lion Pub
322 Main St.
Places to stay
Holiday Inn Express
121 West Stevenson Road
4115 Holiday Lane
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.
August 1, 2004