Need a good round? Try these Chicago-area courses to break 80

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

NORTH AURORA, Ill. - Where does it say a golf course has to be hard to be good? Where does it say the number of lost balls is somehow equivalent to layout's challenge? And why is it that so many course designers and developers keep building course's that leave you beat-up, bleeding, and limping off the 18th green with the scorecard reading 120?

Hello, isn't golf supposed to be fun?

Playing well and scoring is fun, and it's awful hard to do that on many of the more taxing courses found around the Chicago area. If you're an average golfer, meaning you're shooting around 100 most rounds, maybe you ought to get yourself out on a course where you at least have a fighting chance.

"We play here ‘cause it's fair. Real fair," says Dick Harris, a 15-handicap and the father part of a father-son team who regularly plays at Fox Valley Golf Club in North Aurora.

"Straight forward golf," says his son, Tom, who says he regularly scores in the mid-80s. "It's not long, but it's still got its tough holes."

Fox Valley Golf Club is what you might call a "break 80 course," but you could also call it your "break 90 course" or "break 100 course." Point is, this is the kind of place where you can give your game, whatever kind of game you have, a boost.

Fox Valley was built in the 1920's and like many of that era is just under 6,000 yards long. The first hole is only 269 yards long, straight up hill mind you, but still, pretty short. There are eight par-4s that measure less than 370 yards each and none of the par-3s is longer than 190. The longest hole is the number-1 handicap, a 533-yard par-5. Nearly all the entrances to the greens allow for run-up shots and although the rough can get thick in places, there's nothing that's knee high.

Trees? Yes. Traps? Yes, but nothing obsessive or overly penal.

All-in-all, Fox Valley is a friendly place to play, and if you don't get yourself caught up in all the ego stuff about playing what some macho boys might call a "short course" then you're going to have fun again and a better than even chance at besting your best score or breaking 100, 90 or 80 for the first time.

Now, doesn't that feel better?

"I got tired of playing places like Bolingbrook Golf Club and Dubs (Dubsdread, Cog Hill's No. 4 course) and coming home with scores of 100," says one of the senior players who tees-it-up regularly on Thursday mornings at Fox Valley. "This place fits me better. It's realistic."

Let's put it this way: If you keep slapping at the ball and hitting it thin and weak, do you keep playing with that 2-iron? Well, of course not; you go buy a 7-wood. It's the same thing with golf courses. If you can't score at one, try another.

There aren't a lot of courses like Fox Valley left around Chicagoland. But there are at least a handful still considered "break 80 courses" and golfers can play them with pride.

Cog Hill's No. 2 course is one. At its longest the Lemont golf course plays about 6,300 yards and like Fox Valley is a "what you see if what you get" layout. No tricks, no surprises with a number of par-4s less than 350 yards long. If you play it from the whites it can be a very comfortable fit.

Timber Trails in LaGrange is also a solid "break 80 course." It opened in the 1930's and has a slope of just 113. There are plenty of trees at Timber Trails, but if you hit it straight you can walk away with a card you'll want to keep.

In the city of Chicago the historic Jackson Park Golf Course on the South Side is your best bet for scoring. The course, more than 100 years old, has been better cared for over the last several years and although the playing conditions still leave a bit to be desired, there are good chances for a memorable scoring day.

In the northwest suburb of Elk Grove Village you'll find Fox Run Golf Links. At just 6,200 yards and a slope of 117 from the blues, Fox Run can be had. And you could really tear-it-up if you play from the whites. No shame in that.

Breaking 100, 90 and even 80 feels great when you do it the first time, and sometimes even better when you do it again. The game is hard enough. Why make it tougher than it has to be?

Others to try

Cog Hill No. 2
Par - 72
Length -- 6,362 yards - Blue
Rating - 69.8
Slope - 120
(630) 264-4455

Timber Trails
Par - 71
6,197 yards
Rating - 68.7
Slope - 113
(708) 246-0275

Jackson Park
Length -- 5,473 yards
Rating - 65.7
Slope - 107
(773) 667-0524

Fox Run Golf Links
Par - 70
6287 yards - Blues
Rating - 70.2
Slope - 117
(847) 228-3544

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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