Chicago-area college golf courses graduate with honors

By David Berner, Associate Editor

CHICAGO - Autumn signals Saturday football, fraternity parties, alumni dinners, and collegiate spirit. It's when university life is firmly focused on the gridiron. But, for just a moment, consider higher education's link to the game of golf. At the college level there has always been a quiet, unassuming connection between challenging one's mind and what many once called the leisurely sports.

Yes, collegiate golf is bigger than ever with star athletes from Wake Forest to The University of Arizona poised to bust through to the PGA Tour. But more importantly, golf has been long embraced at the college level as a game wrapped in tradition, gentlemanly ways, and etiquette; a physical game aimed at refining even the rough hewn mind, body, and soul of an incoming freshman.

This is why college campuses, some for over a hundred years, have managed their own golf courses, praised the game and touted its traditions.

In and around the greater Chicago area there are four institutions of higher learning that believe golf should be as much a part of college life as mid-term finals, Friday night pep rallies and Spring Break.

The Warren Course at Notre Dame

The golden dome at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana is a two-hour drive from Chicago. And if you can get someone else to doing the motoring, you can use the time to study - study geography and see that The Second City is the closest big town to this big time golf course - The Warren Course.

Notre Dame is the quintessential college campus, steeped in tradition, and loaded with class. The college golf course is all of this and more. The Warren was designed by the team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw with an architectural base solidly connected to the past. Crenshaw is golf historian and his design approach is much the same as the old masters - take what the land gives you.

The course has a harmony with the land. Nothing is manufactured, nothing is overdone or overstated. There's a simple beauty in the layout and simple, classic bunkering at The Warren. Plus the French Country style clubhouse is a purists' treat. The halls are lined with photographs of champions from Notre Dame's rich sports history and the pro shop is packed with all the highly popular Notre Dame golf gear.

And even by Notre Dame's standards, The Warren is a bargain. It's $40 to walk during the week, with a better $35 green fee for alumni. The weekend puts another $10 on the price, but still presents a good deal for anyone, even if you're driving in from Chicago, even if you're paying for you own tuition!

The University of Notre Dame
Warren Course
110 Warren
Notre Dame, Indiana
(219) 631-4653
6800 yards
Par 72
Green fees - $35-$50

The University of Illinois - Blue Course/Orange Course

There are two courses at the University of Illinois and both are situated at the facility in Savoy, Illinois about 5 miles south of the campus. To put it in collegiate terms - the Blue Course is for the undergrad, the Orange Course is a masters-level test. Simply put, the Orange demands you know your subject, the Blue expects at least an A for effort.

The Orange was built in the early 1950's and is considered a demanding golf course. There are deep and tricky little bunkers, sneaky water hazards, small greens, and a rather hilly terrain throughout the 6,890 yards of play.

The Blue is a quiz compared to the Orange's test. It' measures just over 6,400 yards, features large, flat bunkers, medium-sized putting surfaces, and not nearly the water found on the Orange. The Blue is less expensive, and is more like an open-book test, it's easier than Orange.

Both course just finished up a major bunker renovation project and paraded out new carts.

The courses were originally built for students, staff and faculty at the university, but for many years now the public has been invited to play.

University Of Illinois Golf Courses
800 Hartwell Dr
Savoy, IL
Orange - 6890 yards, Par 72
Blue - 6430 yards, Par 72
Green fees - $16-$32

Aurora University Golf Course at Lake Geneva Campus

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is a busy place. It's one of the most popular vacation areas in the upper Midwest and less than 2-hours from Chicago. And nestled away from the bustle of this resort town is a quaint, historical getaway.

The Lake Geneva campus of Aurora University sits hard against the lake itself and looks more like a retreat than a campus with its wood-framed buildings and stunning views from campus offices. And just up the road, less than a mile, is a treasure of a golf course.

The university's golf course is nearly 100 years old. It was a dream of several professors at the nearby Yerkes Observatory and the YMCA staff at the campus. Six holes were designed and laid out by Dr. James Naismith (yes, the Naismith who invented basketball) as a summer activity for the busy gentleman of the campus and around town. The course expanded to 18 holes in the 1920's and The Gramley Clubhouse, a green and white prairie-design beauty, was dedicated in 1926.

This course is a joy to experience. Everything thing about it - the course design, the clubhouse, the atmosphere - is a throwback. You feel as if Donald Ross might show up in his wool knickers to knock a gutta percha around for a few hours.

Aurora University Golf Course
350 Constance Boulevard
Williams Bay, Wisconsin
Greens Fee - $17.50 - $21.50

Illinois State University Golf Course

In the last 40 years, golf at Illinois State has become a real passion. The university course first opened in 1964 as a regulation 9-hole layout along the outside edges of the property in Normal, Illinois with a shorter executive style 9-hole course in the middle. The university's president, Robert Bone, hit the first shot. Today, it's a 6500-yard, par-71 test that sees 36,000 rounds a season and hosts more than 100 tournaments and outings.

The course was originally designed by architect Robert Bruce Harris, but in 2000 the school took on a major project and renovated the design under the direction of PGA Tour player, D.A. Weibring. His company, Golf Resources, Inc., installed a new irrigation system, rebuilt all 18 greens, converted the tees and fairways to bent grass, and reconstructed all the bunkers.

And talk about a bargain. During the week you can walk the relatively flat course for just $16. Over the weekend, add $2. If you want to ride it will never cost you more than $25. Try that in Chicago.

University Golf Course
Gregory Street
Normal, IL
6500 yards
Green fees - $16-$25

David BernerDavid Berner, Associate Editor

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 "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed."

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