Countryside in Mundelein is one of the better values around. I cruised around on Saturday during prime time for $52 with cart. There are two courses here and today we played the easier and and slightly less interesting Traditional course. Check this link for my thoughts on the Prairie course.
My first round of golf in Chicago came about because a buddy of mine cracked out an early season Golf Now coupon for an after-12pm round on Sunday at Links at Carillon. We got lucky on the April weather crapshoot and my lightweight mock turtleneck with vest (shorts, of course) was actually too warm at times.
When I get bargains I get fired up. When friends get bargains and pass them on to me free of charge, I get even more fired up. This happened this summer at Blackhawk Trace. My buddy bought some You Swoop coupons for two-for-one rounds so we played the Highland/Woodland set a couple of times for $45 on a few Saturdays this season. Wow, what a deal.
Oh this is nice, real nice. I’ve never played The Bridges of Poplar Creek (formerly just Poplar Creek) but I was smitten after the first hole. So smitten, that I batted around kicking off a golf weekend here because it’s the closest quality course to O’Hare that my group hasn’t played yet (no go, however, because of high school golf practice). This place is nice and it’s a good bargain.
I had some friends in for a celebration in August and we played a handfull of great golf courses in Chicagoland. I’m back-dating this post so I have some flow to all of my golf posts for 2012. I’m also kind of schlocking this together just because I want to have a complete record of 2012 in the books for rounds played.
You can do up some serious muni courses in Chicago. For a kid born and raised in a small town where the only sniff of bent grass came from a private country club, Chicago is quite a playground. I was lucky enough to grow up on the fourteenth green of such a private club in an isolated town inconvenient to an urban center; I value that greatly and am thankful to my parents for giving me the opportunity to learn the game in such a great setting.
But as an adult, with my own car, and mostly free Saturday mornings, I wouldn’t trade the diversity and choice of Chicagoland golf for anything. I value this greatly and am thankful to my wife for letting me have most Saturday mornings as me-golf time.
Hey, just thanking the people that matter. But I also mention this because we Chicagoans need to cherish what we have here. I know it’s tough to cherish things when your round is approaching five hours or a traffic jam threatens to make you late for your tee time. Let’s try though. You gotta take the good with the bad.
Okay, on to Schaumburg.
Schaumburg embodies what I’m talking about. It’s 27 municipally-owned holes packed in to a middle class suburban setting with near-country club conditions and a challenging layout – all very approachable. Solid course, competitive price, and great conditioning. Even amidst this drought-stricken summer and despite the tremendous amount of play it gets, Schaumburg’s greens were smooth and the fairways lush and well-defined. The grounds crew at this place deserves some serious props.
Now it did cost $69 with cart, we waited every shot on the back nine, and there were occasional conditioning trouble spots (because of weather I think), but to me this golf experience leaves nothing to be desired. That’s how I am.
I love the layout. When the park district bought it in 1989, they brought in Bob Lohmann for the redesign. Lohmann is a prolific regional architect whose most famous project may be the Merit Club. You don’t know which of Schaumburg’s two nines you’re going to draw unless you check the rotations online, I rarely check though because Lohmann made them all very comparable. The Baer stands out in that it has three 400+ par fours, with the potential for a long, punishing finishing hole if they put the back tees all the way back, which I’ve never seen. This boosts the rating/slope for any combo that includes Baer.
Pictured at the top of this post is the par four first hole of the Baer course (10th for me on this day). It’s a nearly 400 yarder with water right, a sloped fairway, and a huge green. It’s a challenging hole but also a beautiful setting. You get panoramic views over the lake of the fourth and fifth holes on the Tournament course, and then enjoy a great walk to the next tee box that takes you out into the lake for a waterborne drive. It’s the most beautiful part of the course in my view.
The best hole, for my money, is the par 4 sixth hole on the Players course. It’s 440 yards from the back tees, and unlike the last on the Baer mentioned above, they actually do use the back tees. Check it out:
Your tee shot on this hole is slightly elevated and slightly blind (I think they need an all-clear bell of some sort). It originates from a tree lined pocket by the course entrance. If you hit it solidly, you can benefit from the downhill, which is important, because the shorter iron you have in to the green the better. The approach is to a well-bunkered green also guarded by a canal that is overgrown with vegetation to add to the intimidation factor. The hole is situated adjacent to a busy suburban thoroughfare (Roselle Road), but you hardly notice. It feels like you’re a thousand miles from suburbia.
Besides the 27 holes, Schaumburg has a well-appointed clubhouse with locker rooms and party space. The restaurant has a great burger too. They also have a grass range, a learning center, and seasoned staff who keep play rolling along decently. Even though I only play here one or two times a year, I keep my handicap here and kind of call it my home course. It’s often difficult to get a morning tee time on the weekend because of the permanents, but there are a fair amount of cancellations, so keep calling.
Play it, you’ll love it.
Here’s my scorecard. Started really ugly, but those ten straight pars made for quite a party.
There are a bunch of North Shore municipal courses that are pretty decent. But this one, Winnetka, stands out above the rest I think. I’m pitting it against Wilmette, Glencoe, Highland Park, and Sunset Valley, and it edges those out. In fact, I’m going out on a limb here, Winnetka can compete for my golf dollars with high-end municipal courses like Village Links and George Dunne. It’s that great.
I walked it for $49 a few Saturdays ago and it was even better than I remember. I haven’t played it since 2009 and I noted the addition of shaggy grass on many of the bunkers, which added a nice touch to an already beautiful golf course. It’s a good value with a lot going for it – great conditions, a solidly challenging middle tee box, and less than 20 miles from downtown. Also, if you want a real challenge, the 6,500 yard+ back tees provide a stern test because bunkers, trees, and lakes crowd almost every tee shot, lengthening this course even more.
Pictured above is the approach to the beautiful, peaceful par four fourteenth hole. It’s short but there’s trouble: a lake left and OB/forest preserve right. The approach is exacting because the shallow, elevated green is guarded by two bunkers in front; don’t club down off the tee too much because you need to be sure you have a short iron approach. We shouldn’t be surprised that Winnetka has such a well-designed hole because some heavyweights have been involved with this course. They have a nice history on their website.
The layout is short and tight, but it doesn’t really feel that short when you’re out there (tight for sure). Maybe it’s the par 71 or something. None of the par fives are going to beat you up, but the par fours and par threes have a ton of challenge. Even the middle tees have three par fours over 400 yards, and the par threes are nicely varied. As the round progresses the par threes get longer and longer, measuring from the middle tees: 147 yards, 164 yards, 171 yards, and 207 yards. I went 7 iron, 5 iron, 4 iron, and 4+ wood on this day. Nice variety.
They seem to have thrown in the women’s tee as an afterthought. It’s a brutal 5,569 yards long and will probably frustrate many a female with it’s 73.7/131 rating/slope combination.
I’ll give you another great thing about this course: they have crack of dawn tee times. We went out at 6:04am because that’s the earliest one I could get. There were plenty of groups already out. I love the early, early tee times that many of the courses here in Chicago let you take. This eastern edge of the central time zone is great for morning people like myself.
Chicago is the best everyday golf region on earth!
I do golf trips. My biggest one every year is a late May/early June trip to Bonita Springs, FL with a group of friends. It’s tough leaving Chicago during the longest and most beautiful days of the year, but if you do it right, it’s worth it. Here are my tips for doing it right.
- Go off-season to someplace hot, which basically means Florida or Arizona between May and September. The crowds are down and you can get on courses you could never imagine for dirt cheap. Don’t go off-season/shoulder season to a northern climate like Michigan or Wisconsin because you’re rolling the dice with the weather. I’m telling you, June heat in Florida is a piece of cake.
- Play 36 a day for no more than two consecutive days. I’m in decent golf shape, but two consecutive 36 hole days beats me up. My legs leave me about half way through the second round and the fun quotient goes downhill from there. I’m 46 and it wasn’t but a decade ago when playing 54 holes for one of the days was a must. No more!
- Minimize car time. My default is to keep the rounds on the 36 hole days at the same facility, or in close proximity, even if it means playing the same course twice. If you abide by rule #1 you’ll be on a great course, so playing it twice is even better than playing it once. The payoff is a nice, leisurely lunch. That between-round lunch with a great group of friends is sometimes the best part of the day (depending on how you’re hitting it, of course).
- Remember: It’s about community, not about posting scores. If you get angry or dejected with a bad round, then go home. I struggled with this early on but I have things under control now. Also, never let distractions bother you. In fact, this is the time to work on handling distractions. I’ve started to see how long I can hold a conversation with my buddies into the swing, stopping only for the few seconds it takes to hit the ball.
- Get some consistency. Hitting the same place every year really takes the logistics out of the picture, which lets your crew focus on hanging out rather than planning on hanging out. It also makes deviations even more memorable. I just pulled up a bunch of pix from a year where we hit someplace new and it brought back some great memories.
So those are my top five tips. Since I’m posting all my scores this year on-site, here’s the golf trip stack:
Bonita Bay Creekside
Bonita Bay Cypress (2x)
Shadow Wood North
Bonita Bay Creekside
I’m telling you man, that weekend about a month ago was a great weekend of golf. I played Village Links on Friday and this course, Countryside Prairie, on Memorial Day. Pinch me. I was lucky enough to hit two great, municipally owned suburban Chicago golf courses on beautiful, sunny mornings in May.
These are two different experiences. Countryside is much humbler than Village Links, but arguably a better value at $52 with cart for an early Monday , prime time, holiday tee time. That’s the only comparison I’ll make because it’s not fair to either.
Countryside Prairie is part of a 36 hole complex in Mundelein, IL owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve. The Prairie course is newer and, in my opinion, slightly better than the Traditional course. Wow, you have a crapload of options in Mundelein. Besides the Countryside duo, you have Pine Meadow and Steeple Chase, a couple of other great golf courses.
Countryside Prairie puts a solid layout at your feet with decent conditions at a reasonable price. It has smooth, bent grass greens and nicely mown bluegrass fairways. I gotta tell you, bent grass fairways are no longer a high priority for me. I used to be a fairway snob. No more.
Something just feels right playing courses like this. I’ll term them high value muni courses. Right now that means a good course worth driving to the suburbs for at around $50 primetime with cart. This usually means you can get around for sub-$40 if you walk or if you’re a local who likes to ride. That’s a pretty approachable leisure activity. Not cheap, but approachable. And made even more approachable by wide fairways, many beautiful, aesthetically pleasing views, mostly uncomplicated green complexes, and no houses or cars.
That’s what you get at Countryside. I think it’s the future of golf. Welcome to the future!
Pictured at the top of this post is a perfect example of why I like this place, the par three ninth hole. It’s a nice looking hole with trouble and a multi-tiered green that could have some tricky placements. But it’s a huge green, pretty short, with plenty of bailout space so it shouldn’t intimidate anybody. It’s peaceful and joyful to look at.
There are plenty of other examples, check out my Countryside set on Flickr. This course may not be appropriate for out-of-town golf snobs on a golf trip, but that’s the only drawback. Get here fast. And I’m not just saying that because I played well.
Village Links may be my favorite course around. I love playing here for so many different reasons. Primarily though, it’s an awesome layout. When I say layout I’m talking about the design and general feel of the eighteen hole set. Oh don’t worry, Village Links has plenty of positive aspects in the categories of conditioning, price, service, facilities, amenities, etc… But for me, the layout rules. It makes this a near-perfect golf course.
Tick them off; here are the layout traits I like at Village Links:
- Well-spaced set of men’s tee boxes, combining challenge and playability
- Varied and memorable hole mix, especially the par fours
- Straightforward, walkable routing
- Pleasant vistas, with a good combination of serenity and activity
I step up on an about every hole and think, “Yeah, I like this. Let’s play some golf.”
Speaking of tee boxes, when referring to Harborside Port I mentioned how the big gap between the second and third tee boxes made it difficult to balance challenge and playability. Not so at Village Links, look at this rating/slope/yardage breakdown on the scorecard (yeah, I had a good day on the white tees):
- Black 74.9/138, 7,208 yards
- Blue 72.9/134, 6,770 yards
- White 71.2/130, 6,382 yards
- Gold 69.4/128, 6,004 yards
That, my friends, is what you call “something for everybody.” In fact, that White tee is a great tee for both a single digit handicapper and a twenty plus handicapper. Unfortunately, it is slightly lacking in women’s tee box options. More on drawbacks later.
The par fours are magnificent. Two of my favorite par fours in the region are the 369 yard number five and the 409 yard number fourteen. They are both gentle doglegs, one left and one right, with water at the elbows and well guarded greens. They are beautiful to look at but scare the heck out of you. Great holes. There’s such variety across the par fours, here are the lengths in ascending order from the blue tees:
I feel like I have to take a different club into each one.
It’s a joy to walk also even though the turn does not end up at the clubhouse. It’s tightly bunched and flows nicely from green to tee, but you don’t feel cramped. In fact, they pulled out like 1,000 trees a few years ago when they redid it so it feels open, yet with plenty of secluded places on the course where you don’t feel like you’re in a bustling Chicago suburb (like on five green, fifteen tee, and seventeen green pictured at the top of this post).
I can’t say enough good things about this layout.
There are layout drawbacks though, but they don’t affect me that much. The back nine has back-to-back par fives on fifteen and sixteen, which I don’t like. The women’s tee box is especially long and difficult, which could make for a not-so-enjoyable day if you’re used to a 5,000 yard tee box. And three of the four par threes are roughly the same length. Minor things though, really.
I played it on a Friday morning in May at 10am and it was $72 with cart (no range balls). I think it’s a great value. It’s about $15 – $20 cheaper than Harborside but a better golf course all the way around I think.
It fares well in other aspects. It has bent grass tees, fairways, and greens, all of which are always in great shape. They have a grass range, although it’s not very well mown. The burger in their clubhouse is solid and they have a decent pro shop. This course should be on your radar if you’re local or you’re from out of town. It’s worth an hour drive from a distant north or south suburb and worthy of adding to your golf trip if you’re from out of town (little less than an hour from downtown).