Big changes come to old Chicago favorites

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

Indian Lakes Golf ResortCHICAGO, Ill. -- What do they always say about spring? It's a new beginning, a rebirth, a transformation of the good earth from the brown and gray hues of a cold and stark winter to the brilliance of leprechaun green and emerald. Spring awakens the dormant and the tired and offers a new day for all of us,
for everyone, for everything.

And that goes for golf courses, too.

This spring in the Chicago area two old golf facilities get brand new starts. The Indian Lakes Golf Resort in Bloomingdale and Chevy Chase Country Club in Wheeling have been undergoing extensive renovations to the clubhouses, the restaurants and lounges, the overnight rooms and yes, the golf courses. Two facilities that were, to be blunt, getting a little long-in-the-tooth, are about to begin new chapters in their histories - chapters that are likely to be the most exciting parts of the stories.

Indian Lakes Golf Resort

When golf course architect Rick Jacobson was on the Maine North High School golf team in suburban Chicago many years ago, he played in a tournament at Indian Lakes Resort and remembers not playing all that well - except on one particular hole.

"It was a par-3, 155-yards long. And I got a hole-in-one, " laughs the affable Jacobson.

When he was asked to take on the job of renovating the 36-hole facility, he told the owners, First Hospitality Group Inc., that he would do it under one condition - renovate 35 holes and not 36, leaving that par-3 as it was when he made his personal golf history. It was a joke, of course, but holes-in-one can make a very strong impression.

So can renovations, and the $20 million dollar overall project at Indian Lakes is already quite impressive.

Indian Lakes Golf Resort "We completely re-did the place, " says the resort's managing director, Bruce Fairchild. "We took the resort down to the studs and started the work of re-designing the golf courses to make Indian Lakes a premier golf resort."

Robert Bruce Harris designed the original 36 holes in the 1960s on 260 acres of rolling terrain. The greens were big, the saucer-style bunkers enormous and course conditioning, over time, had become spotty.

"The place was starting to show its age," says Jacobson, a former architect with Jack Nicklaus' design firm. "This is a tremendous upgrade with the improvements are major. It's going to be a fantastic complex."

Although the re-design of all 36 holes won't be completed until late in 2004, the first 18 holes are finished and will officially open this spring.

All the fairways have been re-contoured and bent grass is in place throughout the course. The green sites are the same, but there's been some dramatic new shaping. The tees have been reconfigured to the rectangular British-style boxes. But the most significant changes are found in the bunkering.

"The sand is flashing high. It's an Alistair McKenzie style, " says Jacobson who believes the new bunkers have really changed the golf course and elevated its stature.

The bunkering on the second 18 will be more of a Donald Ross approach featuring sod-faced designs. This will also help to create just what Jacobson wanted - two distinctly different golf courses. The original Harris design did not allow for that, and regulars were the only ones who could tell the difference between the two courses.

The golf courses are certainly the focal point of the renovation, but the entire Indian Lakes Resort has a sparkling new look. The 310 oversized guestrooms have been completely refurbished yet have retained their unique style. The original six-sided rooms with the vaulted ceilings, the work of Don Erickson, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, now have imported Italian tile in the bathrooms, new furniture and draperies. The resort has indoor and outdoor pools, three restaurants under new management, a health club and an elegant new full-service spa.

"We think we have created something special here, " says Fairchild, who came to Chicago from the San Marcos Golf Resort in Chandler, Arizona. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think so."

Indian Lakes Resort is 25 miles from downtown Chicago and 12 miles from O'Hare International Airport.

Chevy Chase Country Club

Todd Quitno was standing on the new first tee looking out at the new first hole at Chevy Chase late one afternoon as his crew was grassing the newly renovated golf course, and he was struck by what he saw. As the lead golf course architect in the project, Todd considered the opening hole to be a subtle, strategic one and certainly not a flashy start. But when the sun peeked through some late day clouds and created sharp shadows on the bunkers, Todd was transformed. This simple hole became Todd's favorite.

In many ways, under the muted rays of that late-day sun, the new era of Chevy Chase Country Club had officially begun.

Architect Tom Bendelow, the Scottish golf designer who had helped Donald Ross create hundreds of American beauties, built Chevy Chase in 1923. Bendelow did pretty well on his own, though. He is credited with designing Illinois' Medinah No. 3 - the site of several major championships. But although Chevy Chase had a significant design history, the course was never really inspiring.

"The course didn't have a lot of character," says Quitno, of Lohmann Golf Designs. "There was nothing special to it."

It had also seen better days. Conditioning was poor and the course was in need of a massive facelift. No one was aware of that more than the Wheeling Park District Board of Commissioners who approved a $2.2 million plan to bring the golf course back to life.

"We wanted to put some strategy back into the design. But certainly not a modern design, " says Quitno. "We wanted something to match the old-charm of that magnificent clubhouse."

The old Tudor clubhouse, a striking presence on the property, also has undergone a major fix-up. But like the course, it has kept its traditional, classic ambiance.

Mark Harrison, Director of Planning and Development for the Wheeling Park District, says he's pleased with the finished product.

"The whole place is more enjoyable. The course is more playable but more challenging for the better golfer," says Harrison, who was quick to add that Chevy Chase, despite the 2-year renovation project, has retained "1920's panache".

Golfers who come to Chevy Chase Country Club when it reopens this spring will find better greens, bent grass all around, fewer but better placement of bunkers, flooding problems from the local creek gone, new man-made ponds, and some much-needed subtle shaping to the fairways. Plus, they'll love the new 18th hole.

"It's a good par-5 and we've given the hole better views of the clubhouse as you finish up your round," says Quitno.

But with the new look at Chevy Chase, you'll be reluctant to finish your round. In fact, you'll be anxious to go around again.

Chevy Chase Country Club is 30 miles north of downtown Chicago and 20 miles east of O'Hare Airport.

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."


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