Family Golf Center
CHICAGO - Most city dwellers, both in Chicago and in other markets throughout the country, have to venture well outside of the downtown area in order to hit the links. During the peak demand season, particularly in cold-weather cities with limited golfing seasons such as Chicago, this means a battle against traffic, street festivals, and other events. And that's before you even get to the course.
Sure, a six-hour round can be relaxing, but it can also be frustrating. And a six-hour round is exactly what you'll get on any weekend at Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course (also known as Waveland), which is Chicago's other "downtown" course located on the North Side just east of Lake Shore Drive near Addison St.
If you're up for a quick round and don't have all day to spend on the course, the Family Golf Center between North Columbus and Lake Shore Drive is an ideal solution. Granted, this par-3, nine-hole facility is not a championship course, but it does provide an opportunity to get on a course and work on your short game without a sizable time and financial commitment.
The Family Golf Center plays host to 16,000 rounds a year and is located in the heart of downtown Chicago, in a carved-out oasis bordered by Lake Shore Drive on the east, Wacker Drive to the north, and skyscrapers to the west and south.
"There is nothing like our site in the country that I have seen," says Edward Inlow, the facility's assistant manager. "In a city as large as Chicago, and with the location in the heart of the city, there is nothing like our course anywhere else in the nation. No other courses were used as a model, because they don't exist."
As for the course itself, the nine holes will not prove to be exceedingly formidable for most veteran golfers. Many players won't need more than an eight or nine iron, a wedge, and a putter. The average length is less than 110 yards from tee to pin, with a range from just 57 yards to 145 yards. Aside from the 142-yard ninth hole, which features an island green, most holes are fairly straightforward, although the course does have its quirks.
"In terms of difficulty and features, our course is short but challenging," says Inlow. "It has a lot of sand bunkers, tough lies, and difficult approach shots. The course provides a challenge for the experienced golfer, yet offers short playability for the beginner."
But this Pete Dye Jr.-designed course wasn't meant to break your back. The price is right ($15 for nine holes, another $7 for a second nine), and the views are wonderful. Downtown Chicago's high rises are so close that you'll swear that you can reach them with your seven iron, and in many cases, you'd be right.
The best vistas are at the fifth and sixth tees, which are adjacent to each other and face northwest. From there, golfers look directly at two of Chicago's most enduring landmarks and architectural treasures - the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower, which are both located just off of the Chicago River on Michigan Avenue.
"The urban surrounding of the course really is unique," says Inlow. "The 4th hole's tee shot allows you to watch your ball fall from the sky against a high rise apartment, and the 9th hole provides an island green in the middle of downtown Chicago, both of which are part of the masterpiece of a short course that Dye has designed for us."
In addition to the course, the Family Golf Center offers a number of other facilities. Adjacent to the nine holes is a driving range (with both mat and grass tees), and a short game area with two sand bunkers and pitching, chipping, and putting areas.
For Chicago's more hearty and avid golfers, the driving range is open 365 days a year (but you might want to buy an extra set of gloves in the pro shop first). In fact, the course's driving range was named the country's best urban practice facility by no less an authority than Sports Illustrated.
The Family Golf Center also has its own 19th hole - or in this case, the 10th hole. The full restaurant and bar is popular with office workers and neighborhood residents in addition to golfers.
The FGC Golf Academy also offers private lessons and three types of group lessons - a Swing Development Program, a Basics Program, and a Junior Program for golfers aged seven to 16. After mastering the Swing Developing Program, a beginning golfer can move up to the Basics Program and learn other parts of the game, such as "basic etiquette and jargon," according to the course's brochure.
The course is also popular for group outings, and corporate and custom-tailored group lessons are available. "Our facility is perfect for groups and outings," says Inlow. "We host outings throughout the season, mostly for corporate Chicagoans who enjoy our flexible hours and close proximity to their offices. A familiar scene here is a round of golf followed by an open bar on our patio, which is always a fun time."
"We get many [players] who work downtown and come to hit balls after work, and many who live in the neighborhood," adds Inlow. "Of course, we also get a lot of tourists." During a recent round at the FGC, I played in front of a group of six Australians.
Golfers who want to experience the Family Golf Center should hurry. After this season - its eighth - its future is up in the air. The entire facility, which obviously sits on prime real estate, may fall prey to development.
However, because of its location, "our facility is extremely convenient," according to Inlow. "Not only is it in the middle of the Loop, but it's perfect for all occasions. Many people come down just to grab a beer and watch a game, while many come down for the total golfing experience - hitting range balls and then playing 18 holes of golf."
Family Golf Center
221 N. Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL 60601