Chicago-area offers some great golf as autumn arrives

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

CHICAGO - The winter wind in Chicago is called "The Hawk" for very good reasons - it's fierce and unrelenting. Chicago's winters are not known for being pleasant. But autumn? Ah, yes, autumn. Chicago, and the entire state of Illinois, can be a delight in those crisp days of the year's third season, especially when you want to play golf.

Now, it's no secret New England has a lock on the trophy for best places to enjoy the glories of autumn golf. But New England is 700 miles away from Illinois and a 12-hour drive from Chicago. Why waste time on the road when you could be out on the fairway soaking in the vibrant colors and cool air of an Illinois fall.

"I love playing golf when you have to wear a sweater," says Norman Francis, one of the regulars at Cog Hill where they play the Western Open. "And Cog Hill is just so pretty in October when the colors are at their peak."

Illinois, and especially the Chicago area, has some magnificent parkland golf courses. And when the leaves on the maples and oaks transform from greens to brilliant reds, oranges and deep yellows, the time spent on these courses is nearly unmatched.

Cantigny Golf and Tennis

You couldn't ask for a better autumn setting. Cantigny sits on the former estate of Robert R. McCormick, founder of the Chicago Tribune and is filled with acres of thick, mature trees. Fall's beauty here completely engulfs you.

Cantigny is also one of Chicagoland's best golf courses. There are three different nine-hole courses; Lakeside, Hillside and Woodside. Despite the names, all of them are cut through secluded, forested areas creating a true "walk in the park".

Cog Hill Country Club

"There are four courses and I've played them all," says Norman Francis. "Each one is really neat in the fall."

Francis has been a regular player at Cog Hill for over 20 years and has been behind a lot of the trees on these four courses.

"I know some of them very well," he laughs.

But Francis knows, like so many who come to this foursome of courses in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, if you're going to go looking for your ball in the trees at Cog, do it in autumn. It's just a more enjoyable experience.

The courses at Cog are built on rolling land surrounded by old growth trees including crab apples, maples, and oaks. The colors can be stunning.

Foxford Hills Golf Club

This relative youngster in the family of Chicago area golf courses has been getting superb feedback from those who've played it over the last several years. It's not the kind of place that needs a lot of time to mature; it already has.

Although some of the land it sits on has a more links-style feel, there are plenty of holes that maneuver through the woods creating a landscape overflowing with vibrant hues.

"The best of the land here was used for the golf course," says Tim Miles, Foxford's general manager. The course owner, Town and Country Home, has home sites surround some of the course, but it's clear the golf was the priority on this space and fall helps to highlight that fact.

Timber Trails Country Club

This is likely to be the final fall for Timber Trails, and you shouldn't miss playing this gorgeous golf course. The owners have sold the place and it appears homes will replace fairways on the 105 acres. But for now, the golf is marvelous.

Timber Trails has 300-year-old oaks on the property. Fox, deer and 130 species of birds call it home. And in the low light, and clear days of fall, Timber Trails is not only the prettiest of golf courses, it's one of the prettiest places, period, in Cook County.

The course still plans its annual Oktoberfest, but the final tee times are expected to fill up fast.

Eagle Ridge Inn and Resort

Pick any one of the three courses at this resort in the northwest corner of Illinois and be amazed. The entire Galena Territory, the land on which the resort sits, is ablaze in autumn. And each course, The North, The South and The General are part of that splendor.

The North and South are probably the most beautiful in the fall, but The General is considered one of the best courses in the Midwest. So, make your choice - beauty or brawn.

Dale Balvin, one-time head golf professional at Eagle Ridge, always reminded golfers they were really in Illinois.

"Eagle Ridge is located just a few miles from the Mississippi River which makes the topography of limestone cliffs, oak and walnut trees, elevation changes and great views the best in the area. You can't believe you're in Illinois."

Heritage Bluffs Golf Course

Heritage Bluffs is not only the Chicago area's best bargains, it's an artist's palette in the fall. The mix of deciduous trees with the abundant conifers on the course gives it a wonderful mix of muted autumn color and deep greens.

The course is located about 40 miles southwest of the city in Channahon, Illinois and so secluded, some Chicago area golfers don't even know the course exists.

Don't let the links-style, opening hole fool you; the trees and the leaves are waiting for you on No. 2.

Fast Fact

Illinois is the nation's leading pumpkin producing state and Morton, Ill., is considered the pumpkin capitol of the world. There are numerous family farm pumpkin patches and roadsides stands in and around Morton during harvest time.

Other Illinois autumn ideas

Didier Farm Pumpkinfest
Prairie View, Ill.
Sept. 25 - Oct. 31

Annual St. Charles Scarecrow Festival
St. Charles, Ill.
Oct. 8-10

The Great Godfrey Corn Maze
Godfrey, Ill.
Sept. 4-Oct. 31

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

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Close, but...

    Shambolee Regular wrote on: May 11, 2005

    Having played Shambolee for many years, I can tell you that it is a fantastic course- if you can get over the fact that you are treated like dirt in the proshop. There is the occaisional friendly high-schooler or college kid working there, but watch out for Sarah McGuire, in particular. If she knows you don't pay the big bucks to play there often, or because you get a senior (or youth) discount, you aren't worth her time!


  • Illinois golf courses

    Mary McClellan wrote on: Oct 5, 2004

    If you really want to see a beautiful course with VERY GOOD prices, check out
    I play this course regularly and in the fall it is especially spectacular.


    • RE: Illinois golf courses

      Judy Stahl wrote on: Jan 1, 2005

      Happy New Year, Mary and Marge, too! I was trying to find the Shambolee site so I could let Sarah know about an LPGA instructor in Naples that knows her... Would you mind sending me the E-mail address for the clubhouse? Thanks...Hope you had a good Christmas and wishing you a very happy new year.... Judy Stahl