Village Links of Glen Ellyn gets good marks from regular golfers after $5 million renovation

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

Village LinksGLEN ELLYN, Ill. - Dan and Frank are my new best friends. Golfers make friends easily, especially when together they have an opportunity to take a new look at some well-hyped, new and expensive changes at an old and popular golf course. These guys are a couple of 18 handicappers, cart guys, who had played Village Link of Glen Ellyn way before the massive renovations that closed the place for over a year of work. I, too, was getting a fresh taste of the spiffed-up golf course and anxious to find out if $5 million of fix-up was worth it.

"I remember this place being a good golf course BEFORE they tore it up," said Dan.

Sure was. The Western Open qualifier has been held at Village Links 22 times and the course always made the myriad of lists put together by marketers and journalists of the best courses to play around Chicago.

"Guess we're going to get a look at her together, aren't we?" said Frank after striping one down the middle of the first fairway and watching Dan and I knock a couple of mediocre drives behind him.

The Before Picture

For average golfers like Dan and Frank the old Village Links was a tough test - plenty of trees, with fairways curving around them, and big bunkers. Water rattled your nerves on a number of holes. A traditional, no nonsense course, built in 1966. Most who played it couldn't stay within their handicaps.

Village Links "They've opened the course up a good deal," said starter Bill Bryant, who had given our threesome a little preview before the round. "They took down a lot of trees. Especially around the pond on hole 14."

Uh-oh.

"That really puts the water in play now," said Bill. "Even with a new beach bunker."

No. 14 is a toughie. More on that later.

"Lot more bunkers now, too. One-hundred and twenty of them," added Bill. "The pro I caddied for at the Western Open qualifier said he thought the changes were awesome. The shifting of the tee boxes really put the hazards into play."

But that's the opinion of a guy with a single-digit handicap. What about Dan, Frank and me?

The old course's tee boxes didn't allow for enough variation to put many of the hazards into play for anyone other than the bombers playing from the tips. But now, new rebuilt tees, and expanded tee boxes, give you five places to play from.

"Seems like I'm always hitting into the narrow parts of the fairway," Frank said with a little frustration in his voice.

That design change from the old to the new apparently worked, didn't it?

Garret Gill "Overall, the structure of the golf course didn't change, but we literally took it all apart and recreated the golf course," said Garret Gill, the renovation architect and son of the course's original designer. Gill wanted to, in essence, shake some of the rust off the place and "get Village Links back on the must-play list."

The After Picture

"Man, these are quick," Frank said after one of several putts that blew by holes on the course's new A-4 creeping bent grass. "There's not a flat spot on these greens."

"Great shape, though, huh?" said Dan.

Superb shape. The greens at Village Links are undoubtedly the best they've ever been. But yes, there are undulations that could force a yip or two.

In the 1990s, the course lost greens on several of its holes. So Gill made them bigger and gave them more contour allowing the greenskeeper more pin locations, including a few diabolical ones during our round.

"The (new turf) creates a putting surface that produces truer putts, higher speeds, and better color," said Gill.

Dan and Frank agreed with that. But they still found the greens a bit too tough for them - too fast, too rollercoaster-like, too frustrating.

"Look at this green," said Frank standing on the putting surface at the 14th hole. "Humps and rolls everywhere."

The green is not the only thing that's tough on 14. At 389 yards from the whites it's not that long, but it plays uphill and the tee shot is one of the more daunting on the course - water right, beach bunker right, traps left, tiny landing area.

The routing of the holes has been adjusted a bit. The middle holes, seven through 12 are flipped, making the former front-nine finishers the back-nine beginners. Plus, and the 15th and 16th now make for an interesting duo.

"What's with the twin par-5s?" said Dan, feeling a bit worn out after playing the 15th, the longest hole on the course at 526 yards from the white tees. That's followed by the new 500-yard, par-5 16th. Some like Dan question the wisdom of putting two three-shotters together. Apparently the architect was trying to balance out the distances on the front and back nines.

The entire course measures 7,208 yards form the black tees. That's 275 yards longer than the old course. But the middle tees are really a bit more playable when it comes to length. They stretch to a comfortable 6,382 yards.

Then there's the 18th. "OK, where am I supposed to hit this?" Frank said as he looked out at the seemingly non-existent fairway.

The 18th wasn't changed much, if any. It still is, well, quirky.

"This is hokey," said Dan.

"Doesn't fit the rest of the golf course," added Frank.

The fairway is split by a pond in the middle with water right and left and to the right side of the green. Two traps protect the left side of this funky fairway and four traps guard the green. For the average golfer it takes a rare super-straight ball to keep in play and then a very long second shot to a dangerous green. It's a hard hole, and yes, many would agree out of place with the rest of the course's style. It might have been a better idea to have completely redesigned the finishing hole. As it is, it takes away from the rest of the otherwise solid renovations.

So, What Do You Think?

Frank: "It's a good course. I'd come back."

Dan: "Tough, but good. It's better than it was and it was good before. I forgot about 18 though."

He didn't like the finishing hole then and doesn't like it now.

But in fairness, what you think about the 18th shouldn't taint your thoughts on the entire course. Village Links has completed a huge job and it came out well.

"Our golfers and our community have waited 20 months," said Village Links general manager Matthew Pekarek. "I think they are really going to like it."

The Verdict

Village Links is one of Chicago's Top 10 and the renovations have solidified its status. Next time changes are made though, change the 18th hole. Overall, the service at Village Links is quite good and the practice facility is super. There's a 33-station driving range, a couple of large putting greens, and a short-game practice area. It's one of the best practice facilities in Chicago's west suburbs. There's also a separate nine hole course that's also a pretty good challenge.

Stay and Play

Holiday Inn Glen Ellyn
1250 Roosevelt Road
Glen Ellyn, Ill.
(800) 238-5544

Wellesley Inn Glen Ellyn
675 W. Roosevelt Road
Glen Ellyn, Ill.
(800) 359-7234

Dining

Glen Ellyn Brewery Company
433 N. Main St.
Glen Ellyn, Illinois
(630) 942-1140

Ciao Bella
538 Crescent Blvd.
Glen Ellyn, Ill.
(630) 469-1080

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


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