Winter Golf in Chicago Worth a Second Look

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

CHICAGO, IL -- 50-year old Dan McTigue had his first hole-in-one on January 9th, 2002. But it wasn't at some Florida resort course, or in Myrtle Beach, or somewhere in the dry heat of Scottsdale, Arizona, as one would expect considering the time of year. Dan had his ace in the middle of winter at Fresh Meadow Golf Course just outside Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago? Golf? January? You bet.

The Chicago area is already considered one of the best regions for golf in the country. It boasts more public layouts than any other metropolitan area in America, but who would imagine The Windy City would be a friendly place to play golf in the heart of one of those brutal Midwest winters.

"I've played golf in every month of the year in Chicago," says Dan Tigue, an employee who opens the doors of the Fresh Meadow course every morning at 5am every single day of any season. "And that hole-in-one was just a few days after New Year's Day on the 169-yard 15th hole. When I tell people I had an ace in January, they expect me to say I did it on some course in Florida."

Fresh Meadow is far from the only Chicago-area course that continues to take tee times well past Thanksgiving Day. In fact, the number of courses grows every winter season.

At Country Lakes Golf Club in Naperville, a suburb west of Chicago, management encourages winter play with a reduced green fee of just $10. It's been staying open in the winter for more than a decade and has become a standard stop for those hardy Chicago golfers who will play in just about any weather.

In fact, every year at Country Lakes in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, some 20-30 golfers come to the course for a very special annual event. It doesn't have an official name, but many of the regulars call it the "Sled Open". If there is snow on the ground, and many times there is, the golfers, bundle-up in tossel caps, ski pants and mittens, and carry their golf bags on snow sleds over and through the fairways.

It would be safe to say that most of the golf courses that remain open in December, January and February are not allows the high-end, premier facilities. You won't find Chicago-area gems like Kemper Lakes, or Harborside, or The Glen Club hosting the "Sled Open". But one of the top-notch golf facilities in the country, Cog Hill, has kept two of its four courses open for play for dozens of years.

Getting a tee time on a reasonably mild January day at Cog Hill's #1 and #3 courses is many times a difficult thing to do. These are two of the most popular stops along the Chicago winter tour. And although Cog's famed Dubsdread course, the home of the PGA Tour's Advil Western Open, is closed, area golfers know that they will find relatively decent conditions and continually good service at Cog Hill no matter what time of year it is.

Head Golf Professional, Jeff Rimsnider has been working at Cog Hill for 16 years and doesn't remember a single day when at least two of the courses weren't open.

"The greenskeepers have always worried about what winter play might do to the turf, " says Rimsnider. "But it really doesn't do a lot of damage. The spring comes and everything seems to just repair itself. There may be a little more work for the crews, but all-in-all, it's worth it."

Cog Hill embraces winter play with its annual Eskimo Open. Over 100 players sign-up to play in early January in weather than has seen 20-below wind chills.

The reason courses stick it out through the bitter post-autumn days is simple. Most course managers say if golfers come to the door to play, we'll let them because a few more rounds on the financial sheet at the end of the year always looks good.

"If it's 40-degrees and sunny, people will play, " says Josh Lesnik, the V.P. of Marketing for Kemper Sports Management. "And you have to remember, there are more accountants running golf courses now, not superintendents." Kemper Sports manages all the city courses in Chicago and although it doesn't have a set policy on staying open in the winter, Kemper Sports usually plays it by ear. If the winter is a mild one, you will find hundreds of golfers on all the city layouts on any given day.

Just south of the city of Chicago is the suburb of Frankfort, Illinois and the home of a burgeoning winter golf Mecca. Green Garden Country Club has not only just finished constructing a golf dome that permits practice in the dead of winter on any one of Chicago's windy, rainy, snowy, blustery days. But it also allows play on both of its two 18-hole courses on nearly every day of the winter season.

The combination of the two-tiered dome and the year-round play puts Green Garden near the top of the list for those who don't mind frozen fairways and a few snowy patches on the greens.

"They are welcome to go out in the snow anytime," says Pat Goncher, Green Garden's Pro Shop Manager. "And we definitely get guys who do just that."

Chicago has always had a reputation for being a hard-nosed town, a place where the natives are toughened by the weather and the wind. Knowing that, maybe it isn't so difficult to believe that more and more Second City golfers are heading out for the links wearing ear-muffs, mittens, and ski jackets, packing hot chocolate or something stronger in the thermos, and playing the game they love no matter what the weatherman says.

Winter Golf Around Chicago

Cog Hill Country Club
12294 Archer Avenue
Lemont, Illinois

Winter green fee: Weekdays - $32, Weekends - $37
Loacation: 30-minutes from Midway Airport, 45-minutes from O'Hare Airport

Fresh Meadow Golf Course
Wolf and Cermak Roads
Hillside, Illinois

Winter green fee: Weekday - $30, Weekends - $32
Location: 25-minutes from O'Hare Airport, 40-minutes from Midway Airport

Country Lakes Golf Club
1601 Fairway Drive
Naperville, Illinois

Winter green fee: Weekdays/Weekends - $10
Location: 40-minutes from O'Hare Airport, 50-minutes from Midway Airport

Green Garden Country Club
Manhattan-Monee Road
Frankfort, Illinois

Winter green fee: Weekday - $14, Weekends - $22
Location: 60-minutes from O'Hare Airport, 45-minutes from Midway Airport

Places to Get Out of the Cold

The Science and Industry Museum
5700 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois

Shedd Aquarium
1200 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois

The United Center(To see a Bulls/Blackhawks game)
1901 West Madison Street
Chicago, Illinoisz

Places to Get a Warm Meal

Gibsons Steak House
1028 N. Rush St.
Chicago, Illinois

La Sorella di Francesca
18 West Jefferson
Naperville, Illinois

19917 South LaGrange Road
Frankfort, Illinois

Places to Get a Warm Bed

Amerisuites O'Hare
8101 Higgins Road
Chicago, Illinois

Fairfield Inn Naperville
1820 Abriter Court
Naperville, Illinois

La Quinta Inn Oakbrook
1 S. 666 Midwest Road Oakbrook
Terrace, Illinois 60181

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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