The Quad Cities: A sure bet for a family Illinois golf trip
Riverboat gambling's a big draw in the Quad Cities of Moline, Rock Island, Davenport and Bettendorf. But with golf courses like The TPC at Deere Run, Emeis, Byron Hills and Highland Springs on hand, you don't have to gamble on that part of your vacation.
QUAD CITIES -- Quick, what do Buffalo Bill Cody, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover, Black Hawk, Zebulon Pike and Jesse James all have in common?
The answer: All of these historical figures are linked in some way with the area known as the "Quad Cities" -- Moline and Rock Island, Ill., and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa.
Today, the place where the Rock River flows into the mighty Mississippi is a riverboat gambling Mecca, and the associated confluence of tourist dollars and historical interest are driving a bit of a rebirth for this once strategically vital river and railroad hub.
The best bet of all in the Quad Cities, however, is the golf. A veritable jackpot of incredibly affordable and surprisingly high-quality golf courses dot the rolling countryside, including one that is played each year by some of the best golfers in the world.
Quad Cities golf courses
• The TPC at Deere Run (7,183 yards, par 72) in Silvis, Ill., site of the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, just happens to be one of these rare golf courses where average golfers of average means can tee it up where the pros do.
For a measly greens fee of $60, including cart, the Average Joe can play for a $5 Nassau where Joe Pro plays for nearly a million bucks. Just resist the temptation to think that accessibility and affordability imply lower quality or lesser challenge.
The TPC winds through and over ravines and bluffs along the Rock River. The vegetation is lush, with dense woods lining nearly every hole.
Several holes overlook the Rock River, and all feature enormously wide fairways which must be hit to have a chance of simply finding your ball, much less playing any sort of decent shot. One of the best short par 3s in the Midwest is the 158-yard 16th, where you can practically hear the gallery applaud as you step onto the tee.
• Emeis Golf Course (6,586 yards, par 72) is owned by the city of Davenport and prior to 2006, was the local qualifying course for the John Deere Classic. Emeis isn't long, and it isn't particularly hard, but by golly, it's tough to argue with a sound, old-school, Robert Bruce Harris design.
The city is investing major money in redoing all of the bunkers, including moving many greenside bunkers much closer to the putting surfaces, which will make this hidden gem arguably the best deal in the area.
• Byron Hills Golf Course (6,465 yards, par 72) in Port Byron, Ill., features bountiful mature trees, gurgling water hazards and rolling hills, all of which merge to create one of the most picturesque parkland-style courses in northeastern Illinois.
The 356-yard opener is parkland to perfection, playing downhill to a green guarded front and left by a pond and a towering fountain. This is what the Brits might call a very tidy hole -- everything is in its proper place -- and it typifies the entire layout.
• In Rock Island, Highland Springs Golf Course is another city-owned track that offers plenty of golfer-friendly services to the golfing public, not least of which is a 6,777-yard, par-72 design with a handful of very memorable holes, especially the home stretch, from the woodsy 381-yard 14th back to the modest clubhouse. Homemade barbecue is on offer every weekend during the summer.
• Although there are several more courses in the area, the final "must play" is Glynns Creek Golf Course, in Long Grove, Iowa, just north of Davenport. The 7,036-yard, par-72 Dick Watson design opened in 1992, and hosts the annual Quad City Open, making it a true "championship course."
Quad Cities casinos, more
The Quad Cities is home of the largest concentration of riverboat casinos in the world. At present, three "boats" are in operation: Rhythm City Casino (1-800-BOAT711), Jumer's Casino Rock Island (1-800-477-UWIN) and Isle of Capri Casino (1-800-724-5825), with the Rock Island Casino being built just two miles from Highland Springs GC.
Of the existing casinos, Isle of Capri is the biggest, and the only one with an attached hotel. It is also the only one with a poker room where golfers can play Texas Hold 'em at night or on rainy days.
But if gambling isn't your thing, there are plenty of other points of interest, especially of the family-friendly sort. The Quad Cities boomed in the 1880s thanks to riverboat commerce and the competing railroad lines.
This is the location of the first rapids on the Mississippi on the way north from New Orleans. Consequently, the first bridge across the waterway was built here, precipitating a fierce battle between shippers and the railroads, which involved a young lawyer named Lincoln.
In nearby LeClair, Iowa, there's a museum dedicated to riverboat pilots, as well as to Buffalo Bill Cody, whose birth house is still standing. President Herbert Hoover's birth house is also nearby, in West Branch, Iowa. Rock Island Arsenal was a prison camp for Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, and the Rock Island Arsenal Museum is the oldest U.S. Army Museum after West Point.
One of the first museums established west of the Mississippi is the 140-year-old Putnam Museum in Davenport, which houses a number of displays on local and world subjects as well as an IMAX theater.
The new Figge Art Museum, also in Davenport, provides a breathtaking view of the Mississippi along with access to over 3,000 works from the Renaissance to the modern day.
For kids and nature-lovers (or nature-loving kids), the Family Museum of Arts and Science in Bettendorf and the Quad City Botanical Center in Rock Island are worth a visit.
Outdoor fun for the family is plentiful, too, at Whitewater Junction waterpark operated by the Rock Island Department of Parks and Recreation (309-732-SWIM). For about three times the money check out Wacky Waters in Davenport, where the waterslides are more extreme.
The "Rusty Palace" headquarters of John Deere is located in Moline and was designed by Eero Saarinen, architect of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The company has invested heavily in the rejuvenation of Moline.
The centerpiece of the downtown is the John Deere Pavilion (309-765-1000), site of a glass-encased showroom of historic and modern-day farm implements, and the John Deere Collectors Center (309-748-7944) where the really old tractors can be viewed. To city-folk, these exhibits might sound like a snooze, but trust me, the sight of a B John Deere can bring a tear to an old farm boy's eye.
Getting around the Quad Cities is easy, as long as you don't mind high bridges. The most fun way to travel, though, is via the river itself aboard the Channel Cat River Taxi, an all-day pass for which runs just $5. Whether by land or by river, be sure to visit the surging downtown art and entertainment districts of Rock Island and Davenport.
Finally, Niabi Zoo is located in nearby Coal Valley, Ill. Although not particularly large or modern, it does have a diverse collection of species, a fun train and new Australian Walkabout. It's ideal for families with small children.
Quad Cities hotels
Numerous B&Bs and smaller inns and hotels are scattered throughout the area, but for lodging in the heart of the Quad Cities, there are two main choices. The Radisson Moline-Downtown (309-764-1000) is next door to The Mark, the 12,000-seat arena where the minor league professional hockey team and Arena League football team play, and headliner concerts are held.
The newest hotel in the Quad Cities is the Stoney Creek Inn (309-743-0101 or 800-659-2220), two blocks from the Mark and John Deere Pavilion. This family-friendly lodge-style inn is full of Northwoods charm.
Several of the PGA Tour players stayed here during the 2006 John Deere Classic. Rooms begin at around $80, but if you want to treat yourself, request the Eagles Landing suite.
Although Stoney Creek doesn't have a restaurant, there is a bar and the indoor/outdoor pool area is perfect for the kids.
Quad Cities restaurants
Here in the Midwest, you expect hearty meat and potatoes cooking, and you won't be disappointed. For arguably the best slab of beef in Iowa, you must try Farradday's Restaurant (319-359-7280) next to the Isle of Capri Casino. The on-the-bone prime rib ($24) is 22 ounces of artery-clogging heaven. The service is first-rate as well.
Family-friendly eateries include The Brown Bottle, which specialized in casual Italian fare ($13-$20), and Johnny's Italian Steakhouse, both in Moline.
A number of brewpubs make eating and drinking fun. The most noteworthy of these are Bent River Brewing Co. (for the 21 and older set) and River House Bar and Grill, both in Moline. The latter is worth a visit just to marvel at the belt-driven ceiling fan system. The homemade meatloaf ($8) is comfort food at its best.
Perhaps the most famous culinary landmark is Lagomarcino's in Moline, an ice-cream parlor, confectionary, and lunch counter that has been in operation since 1908. Walking into Lagomarcino's is like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting. The phosphates ($1), egg crèmes ($2), rye bread, stuffed tomato salad ($5), and most importantly the hot fudge are all homemade according to Angelo Lagomarcino's original recipes. In 2002, Roadfood deemed the hot fudge, "The best hot fudge in this solar system or any other."
Quad Cities golf: The verdict
Admittedly, the Quad Cities might not be the first place that jumps to mind when you think "golf trip." But it is no exaggeration to say that this area is a sure bet for on-course and off-course activities and attractions.
There are few locales that can match wholesome family fun with history, casino action, and outstanding golf like the Quad Cities. And wouldn't those eight guys mentioned at the outset have made a hell of a couple of foursomes?
March 20, 2007