Record flood can't dampen Chevy Chase rebirth

WHEELING, Ill - Earlier this year was Chevy Chase Country Club's biggest nightmare.

Spring rains had put this area of northern Illinois literally under water, only months after completion of a $2.2 million project to give the course some shaping and character, recreate the bunkering and even redirect a creek that runs through the property to help ease, ironically, flooding problems

"We had several holes under water," said Dave Kangas, Chevy Chase's newest superintendent. "And we closed several days, but we are only now really recovering."

Did something go wrong with the renovation? Was the redirection of the creek done right? First spring after the renovations and the place floods out?

"We learned a lot from the flooding; what doesn't flood and what does," said Margie Arnold, general manager at Chevy Chase in Wheeling, Ill. "The drainage work is fine. This flood was very unusual. They say it was a 100-year flood."

The spring storms weren't directly to blame for the flooding at Chevy Chase, a relatively flat golf course, but rather the Des Plaines River's back flow. When it hit record levels the creeks feeding into the river had nowhere to send their water and with a creek running through a good portion of the course's property, water simply engulfed the place.

"It really was amazing how little we flooded (from the storms only) considering the amount of rain," said Arnold.

Arnold was new to the job of general manager when the club faced its biggest challenge. But she had a very positive outlook and coming from years of working in golf operations for Disney in Orlando, there wasn't a negative bone in her body.

"I like to think of this (Chevy Chase Country Club) as our little Disney," she said. "We have the same sensitivities to service as the Magic Kingdom. We want to provide an experience and that means all the little things are important."

For her, the flooding was a challenge - just a hurdle she had to jump.

"Sure, we have some growing pains here, but it's going to be better in a year or two. And the place is blossoming. It's on its way."

The main purpose for the renovations was to get the course up to the level of the magnificent Tudor-style clubhouse. It's a striking presence on the site and with a stately, old world ambiance to it. The clubhouse was built in the 1920's and still holds that era's charm.

But the course work was a huge undertaking. Chevy Chase was as flat as an Illinois soybean field, it had no irrigation system, and the trees were overgrown and shading too much of the golf course.

"The course didn't have much character," said Todd Quitno, lead architect from Lohmann Golf Designs. "There was nothing special to it."

To put it bluntly, the layout was seriously boring.

"We wanted some strategy back into the design, but certainly not a modern design."

Even with an uninspiring layout, the history of the original design was important to remember. Scottish golf architect Tom Bendelow, who had helped Donald Ross create many of his American masterpieces, designed and built Chevy Chase. Bendelow's gift to the Chicago area is Medinah No. 3 - the site of many major championships and more to come.

With a plan to improve on the early 20th century golf architecture, but not lose the flavor of the traditional design, crews worked to put subtle undulations in the fairways, reworked the green structures, and most importantly gave the bunkering some character. Mounding was used to help frame fairways and trees were moved or cut down to not only allow for more sun and better growing conditions, but for better playability. Bent grass was planted all around the course, and a new 18th hole was built to give a finish that showed off the clubhouse.

"People can't believe what they see," says Arnold. "The holes are essentially the same, but the look is completely different. And the conditioning is great."

And can Chevy Chase now put its flooding problems behind it?

"It truly was an unusual (weather) event," said Arnold. "We hope it won't happen again."

Places to stay

Chevy Chase Country Club does offer some "stay and play" options with the local Lincolnshire Courtyard Hotel and the Lincolnshire Springhill Suites. Call (800) 321-2211 for information.

Candlewood Suites Wheeling
8000 Capitol Drive
Wheeling, Ill., 60090
(847) 520-1684

Country Inn & Suites by Carlson-Deerfield West
2600 Lake Cook Road
Riverwoods, Ill. 60015
(847) 374-0260

Places to eat

Cy's Crab House North
991 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wheeling, Ill., 60090
(847) 279-1700

Bar Louie
991 N Milwaukee Ave.
Wheeling, Ill.,60090
(847) 279-1199

Fast fact

The flood that slowed down Chevy Chase's rebirth was a bit of a fluke, but engineers in Lake County, Ill., are continuing to work on ways to keep the Des Plaines River from overtaking the towns along its banks. Although Gurnee, Ill., was hit the hardest in the spring of 2004, Chevy Chase's bosses at the Wheeling Park District are studying new ideas for flood prevention along the creeks that feed into the Des Plaines River.

Green fees - Chevy Chase has quite a creative pricing policy with options for lunch and dinner included in the rates.
Par - 72
6543 yards
Rating - 71.4
Slope - 128

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