Hend-Co Hills Golf Club is where Open champ learned to play
There are a group of golfers who regularly play at Hend-Co Hills Golf Club in tiny Biggsville, Ill., who want to erect a sign. Hang it somewhere in town or maybe right at the golf course.
It might read something like this:
THE PROUD HOME OF THE OPEN CHAMPION - TODD HAMILTON
Hend-Co Hills is where Hamilton learned the game, where he practiced until his father had to come find him and bring him home for dinner, and where he still returns to practice each year even though he now lives near Dallas with his wife and three children.
"Anytime he comes back to see his dad, he plays here with the boys, his old high school friends," says Bryan Hubbard, Hend-Co Hills manager. "He is just a super nice guy, very cordial."
Hend-Co Hills was a nine-hole course when it opened in the mid-1970s in the community of just 1,500 people near the Iowa border about 220 miles west of Chicago. Since then it has grown to 18-holes, but growth hasn't change it. The course still maintains a Mayberry-esque atmosphere.
"Everybody knows everybody here," says Hubbard. "Our golfers are a cross section of people. We have farmers and factory workers and executives. And if you are playing alone, people will ask you to join them. It's truly a friendly place."
Kent Hamilton, Todd's dad, plays a regular Thursday game with his buddies at Hend-Co. He's been doing that for years. In the mid-1970's, Kent brought his son out to Hend-Co Hills for the first time when Todd was 5 years old. Kent then cut down an old club and Todd began knocking a few balls around. It was clear the boy was hooked. Todd became a very good self-taught player, and by the age of 11 had won a local junior tournament in nearby Quincy, Ill.
Now, he's won something much bigger. And he's brought lots of attention to humble Hend-Co Hills.
"It's a small blue-collar course," says Hubbard. "Our greens are bentgrass, but that's it. Everything else is bluegrass. But we have an awesome greenskeeper and the greens are wonderful."
That's what most people talk about when they play Hend-Co - the greens. And the beauty. The course sits in a part of Henderson County, Ill., that rolls and tumbles giving the course a very natural look. Fancy? No. Long? No, it's just 5,743 yards. But there are challenges including plenty of water - ponds and creeks. Plus, the back nine is tight with plenty of trees.
Still, those greens are the talk of the town.
"Even Todd agrees," says Hubbard. He always complements the greens when he comes back."
The two holes players talk about most are the par-4 third hole and the longer par-4 18th.
No. 3 is a slight dogleg left that runs 410 yards and is considered a "big" hole for a lot of the locals.
"Todd's hitting an iron and wedge into that hole," says Hubbard.
The finishing hole is 418 yards long and gives most average players a bit of a dilemma. There's a creek that runs in front of the green. If you don't hit a big drive, middle-handicappers have to seriously consider laying up to stay dry.
The local rules for Hend-Co Hills, as noted on the scorecard, also tell you a lot about the kind of course it is:
'Absolutely no horseplay'
'No more than 5 players per group'
'Free drop from flower beds'
Yep, flowers. Lots of them.
"There are 40,000 flowers on the property," says Hubbard.
The Legend Grows
If you play Hend-Co, keep an eye out for Todd Hamilton. Friends say he's the kind of guy who will return every year to visit family and friends and will play at the course with no fanfare at all.
"He looks like any other guy around here, until you see him hit a ball," says Hubbard.
Jim Brown got to know Todd by playing at Hend-Co and remembers seeing Hamilton spend hours at the course.
"There used to be an old oak tree out there between the practice green and the No. 9 green. There was a big knot hole in the middle of the tree and Todd would just stand out there for hours chipping balls through that hole," Brown told The Hawk Eye newspaper in Burlington, Iowa.
Close friend of the Hamilton family, Leroy Hammond, has been following Todd's career for years.
"He never had any lessons," Hammond told the Henderson County newspaper, The Quill. "He would just go out (to Hend-Co Hills) and work out the problem himself. It was all natural ability and he would never give up."
It seems a lot of people have a Todd Hamilton story. They like him a lot around Hend-Co Hills and they like the course, too. It's a homey place, a place where people feel comfortable, and now a place where people also feel proud - proud of Todd Hamilton and proud to tell others they play where the Open champion learned the game.
Some might say Hend-Co Hills is in the middle of nowhere and they would be right. The closest city of even medium size, Galesburg, is 35 miles away and all you can see on the drive from town to town is farm, after farm, after farm.
July 19, 2004