BlackHawk Trace at Indian Lakes Resort undergoes big makeover

By Dave Berner, Senior Contributor

BLOOMINGDALE, Ill. -- If Dr. Phil were a golf course architect he would have had several sessions of therapy with the West Course at Indian Lakes Resort outside Chicago. The course had lost its spunk, hadn't been taking care of itself, and frankly, needed a kick in the pants in order to get its life in order. Since Dr. Phil doesn't usually work with golf courses, the resort brought in Dr. Jacobsen instead. He put the West Course on a couch, if you will, and probed deeply into its problems. With a lot of work, Dr. Jacobsen was able to bring back the vibrant personality of the golf course and even gave it a new name to signify a new beginning.

What we have is a tired, old resort golf course that has been transformed into one of the Chicago area's top-20 layouts. The BlackHawk Trace Golf Course is now open for business.

Marvelous Makeover

Rick Jacobsen, of course, is not a real doctor, he's a course designer, but none the less, he has healed an ailing golf course resort and given it new life. The former West Course at Indian Lakes had been slowly deteriorating, but new owners, the First Hospitality Group, and new renovation plans allowed Jacobsen to shape and massage the course with new looks, new grass, new bunkers, new tees, and a makeover that could be the star of a TV reality show.

"It still has some of the holes, some of the routing of the holes, but one look and you know this ain't the same old place, " says a former regular Saturday player at the old West Course at Indian Lakes. "Sometimes you're not really sure what's been done. It's sort of subtle. But you know it looks better and plays better."

That's really the beauty of Jacobsen's work. He kept the positives from the old layout and accentuated them, yet added new features like framing bunkers, smaller Alistair McKenzie-type traps, bent grass, British-style rectangular tee boxes, and he delicately shifted soil to mound and shape the fairways. It was a lot of work; he took the fairways down to the dirt to redo them.

"The final nine holes of BlackHawk Trace opened late last summer, but the maturing process needed to take hold," says director of golf, Tom Denklau. "2004 really is the true opening of the course. We hope to show it off a little."

Truth is, it still needs maturing time. Even the architect agrees it will take a few years for Blackhawk Trace to really come into its own. But, as long as it doesn't get overplayed in these early years, there's little doubt the course will only improve with age. Plus, some people think it's in pretty darn good condition right now, including the officials coordinating one of the top mini-tours. The NGA Hooters Tour Tournament is scheduled for Indian Lakes Resort on May 3-9. Can it compete with The Glen Club, or Harborside International, or Cantigny - three of the regions best public courses? BlackHawk Trace is not quite on that level, but it's taken a huge step from where it was and can easily rank in the second tier of very solid Chicago courses. Plus, compared to green fees that flirt with or exceed the $100 mark, the average $55 green fee at Blackhawk is a welcome difference.

The Work Goes On

The entire renovation project at the resort is enormous. $20 million dollars is being spent to completely revitalize the Indian Lakes Resort. The guest rooms and conference center have all been re-done, there's a new spa, Spa Vargas, at the resort, and the golf course work is really only half completed. The old East Course is scheduled next for a new look. Jacobsen plans to again get rid of he bluegrass fairways and grow bent grass, reshape greens, and bring Donald Ross inspired bunkering to the course.

"Look for sod-faced bunkering, " says Jacobsen. "The different bunkering styles will really define each course."

Indian Lakes wants to market itself as a golf resort, and its clear that it is spending the money, time and effort to do that. In the past, promotion for the resort centered on business travelers and Chicago area residents who were looking for a convenient getaway. Golf was a secondary part of the sell. That's no more. The renovations are designed to allow Indian Lakes to compete with some of the best area resorts and the best public golf courses. It was something the resort absolutely had to do to stay viable and many are absolutely glad it did.

Fast Fact

Rick Jacobsen, the architect who designed all the renovations for BlackHawk Trace, played at the old West Course at Indian Lakes as a member of his high school golf team. His re-do project brought back old memories including a hole-in-one during regional competition.


From Chicago: West on I-290 to Lake Street Exit. Follow Lake west to Bloomingdale Road and make left. Right onto Schick Road.

From O'Hare: I-190 East to I-294 South. Merge to I-290 toward Rockford. Exit at Lake Street. Go west to Bloomingdale Road and turn south. Right onto Schick Road.

The resort is 25 miles from Chicago's Loop and just 12 miles from O'Hare International Airport.

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
  • Keeping the course open.

    Carl Jones-El wrote on: Jan 5, 2017

    Thank you very much for keeping one of the best golf courses in the state open.We really appreciate this course and appreciate the owners for keeping it open.