(6/8/09 … Written by Jim Allen) … After examining a United States map and our Top 100 Public Golf Course peg boards, it appears that our annual quest is running low of “clusters” of top rated courses in any one tight geographical region. It must be a sign that Golfest is getting a little history and experience under its belt. Five years worth of trips have already brought us to outstanding golfing destinations such as Pebble & Myrtle Beach, Pinehurst, Bandon Dunes, and the state of Michigan. With that in mind, it pretty much narrowed down our 2009 trip selection to either Illinois or Florida.
With Illinois featuring six top ranked golf venues, it became the inspiration for the “Land of Lincoln Golf Quest.” This trip featured 8 1/2 rounds of golf at nine different courses and 558 miles of quality windshield time between May 26th and June 2nd. The great city of Chicago provided the cornerstone for the 2009 roadshow, which also incorporated a Cubs game, and a final night dinner at Ditka’s in downtown. It seems like the whole thing just flew by and in fact … it did. For those of you at home who may have missed it, let’s hit the rewind button for a quick recap of GOLFEST 2009!
5/26 – GOLFEST 2009 – Travel Day: … Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare International airports were the flight destinations for the Golfest 2009 crew. Our three foursomes represented the states of California, Indiana, Texas, and Utah. The one-hour drive to Glenview, a burb on the Northeast side of Chicago, was treated with awe as we viewed the impressive skyline in the distance. Not only by the dominating sight of the Sears Tower, but also by the rain that was pelting our windshield. Most of us stopped on the way to the hotel to load up on the basic staples: Red Bull, Grey Goose, beer, bottled water and snacks. After all, we are professionals!
Most of us had been making daily visits to the weather icon on the Golfest website prior to the trip. This was kind of ironic because this years venture was moved back three weeks to accommodate nothing but good weather. While the forecast was of the wet variety, most of us were cool with it either way, because the temperature were expected to hover in the 65-70 degree range. Friday’s Restaurant, which was located just a hop, a splash and a car dodge across the wet and busy road from our hotel, served as our weather and golf strategy center. After all, most great ideas and strategies are developed with a full stomach and Vodka-cranberries (that’s our story and we are sticking to it.) We were joined by Mike Fitzgerald of Golf Exclusives, who assisted in putting this journey together. Mike lives about 25 minutes up the road. He kicked in $200 in additional prize money for the final night awards dinner at Ditka’s. This trip just keeps getting better. Our first tee time at the Glen Club tomorrow morning is at 7:00 a.m. For California’s Golfestians, the two-hour time difference meant a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call, so this wasn’t going to be a late night affair.
5/27 – The Glen Club … The Glen Club lived up to its Top 100 golf course reputation by hosting a great Golfest 2009 opener. Considering that mother-nature dumped more than 2″ of torrential rain on this awesome 18-hole layout throughout the night, the course was in surprisingly great condition. The good new for us? It wasn’t raining now. Even being wet, the Glen Club greens were scary quick, which had many of us comparing them to the famous greens at Pinehurst. Bonus points were given to the course crew who wasted no time pumping water out of bunkers and making the course playable again.
The staff at the Glen Club, which is also home of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, represented a breath of fresh air in the service category. They obviously take a lot of pride in their clubhouse, amenities, and course. The service was very good, the driving range rocks, and the pro shop was extremely helpful. As an added feature, they set us up with a Golfest-exclusive leader board in our GPS carts. It kept things interesting as we kept track of the “more successful than others” and the “low score-challenged” on this overcast, but rain-free day.
Mark Suzda was on top of the board most of day, scorching his card with a 77, despite agonizing through three double-bogeys. Mike Rittner and Bob Potts also shot lights out, with a 78 and 79 respectively. It was Rittner’s first ever round in the 70’s. Some of these boys came to play some real golf. Closest to the pin honors and prizes went to Todd Baltzley and Mark Suzda. Mark Pickering earned a King Cobra hybrid club for his long drive on the picturesque 18th hole. Reed Conley had the best value per swing, battering it around in 115 strokes.
Afterwords, our group took the E-Train to downtown Chicago to visit the historic Wrigley Field. The train experience allowed us to kick back and experience the locals and the parts of Chicago not normally shown on a tourist brochure. Nothing bad – just “real world” big city living stuff. We arrived about the third inning and the Cubs went on to beat the Pirates 5-2 before a very enthusiastic crowd. It was overcast and the Chicago fans provided two standing ovations when the sun burned through the clouds for a few brief moments. Despite the lack of World Series banners, Cub’s fans love their team.
Dinner came in the form of Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza. We picked a little hole in the wall place in a strip mall up the street and it turned out to be a good choice. The restaurant got mighty quiet when the food arrived, as it attacked by 12 starving golfers. Everybody is winding down quickly in anticipation of our busy day on Thursday. It includes 36-holes of golf and 150-miles of windshield time. …
5/28- Pine Meadow Golf Course & White Deer Run Golf Club … It was time to get serious about our golf game and endurance tactics. On tap was the sister-course of the famed Cog Hill — the 51st ranked Pine Meadow — and local and unranked favorite White Deer Run. Pine Meadows appeared to be a little tired for our visit, missing that “over the top” edge that separates Top 100 facilities from regular golf establishments. First off, the practice range was closed. Who closes a practice range on a Thursday morning — or for that matter — ever?
As far as course conditions go, just about every ball hit into a bunker had to be fished out of standing water. The rest of the bunker was packed so tight that it required a club bending chip just to get out. In addition, some of the greens were pock marked, which was disappointing. To give credit where it’s due, the back nine at Pine Meadow has a lot of personality. We still had a pretty good time. The pro shop featured a large selection of merchandise, and Mark Suzda was like a woman in Nordstroms when he saw the Chicago Bears logoed golf shoes. A quick $120 investment later and Mark was sporting new dawgs sporting his favorite team … DA’ BEARS!
The game of the day was SNAKE, which inflicted a financial penalty on three-putting. Everytime someone three putted, they owned the snake and the penalty doubled. Three-foot putts on 17 and 18 were knee knockers. Afterwards, we loaded up and drove three-miles down the road to White Deer Run for our first tournament of the week. This was a very nice facility that just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and featured a very friendly and courteous staff.
On this afternoon, it seemed that every drive was hit into the wind, so it played exceptionally long, even from the 6,000 yard tee box. The team of Suzda, Jeffrey Adkins, Todd Baltzley and Jim Allen squeaked out the win with a scrambling “2-under” score. Second place went to the team of Bob Potts, Jim Dee, Mark Pickering and Reed Conley who were one-under.
Both lunch and dinner was served in the White Deer Run clubhouse. With full stomachs, it was time to get serious about our drive to the other side of Illinois. MapQuest showed the Chicago to Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena as a 151-mile jaunt. However, driving down two-lane rural roads with few sites to set your bearing on, It felt more like 200. GPS was our best friend, because without it, we would still be driving around in Iowa or Nebraska. We arrived around 10:00 p.m., which was good because I think we officially ran out of bad jokes in the mini-van. Shortly thereafter, we were checked into our condo accommodations at the Eagle Ridge Resort, a place that was nearly impossible to find in the black night. We were just happy to get there without hitting a deer. Each of the units were very spacious as we spread out our gear. … 54 holes down … 99 to go!
5/29 – The Eagle Ridge Resort … When we drove in last night, we couldn’t see more than five feet off the shoulder of the road. We could have driven past a nudist colony stocked full of super models and never realized it. (Wouldn’t that be a bummer?) Apparently rural Illinois doesn’t put much stock in streetlights. However, this morning we were treated with some invigorating sights, which made the road trip all the worthwhile. With the sun blaring brightly, we were greeted with awesome views of some of the 63-holes at this resort. It felt like we hit the golf lottery.
Breakfast was included at the Eagle Ridge Lodge. It was there that we discovered that Golfest was visiting at the same time as group for a UFO Symposium. Not that I don’t believe in UFO’s, but I’m not going to drive to the middle of nowhere to go to an actual UFO meeting. The hotel featured a strange mixture of whack jobs who looked a little like aliens themselves. They had come to spend the next couple of days being dazzled by blurry photographs of street lights and frisbees, and commentary from “experts” who had been abducted and probed. Have you ever wondered why they don’t abduct and probe normal people? …Hey, is that my proctologist?
On tap this morning was THE GENERAL at EAGLE RIDGE, a somewhat intimidating name for what turned out to be an absolutely awesome course. When Andy North designed this number, it was obvious that a lot of thought and planning went into the layout. This beauty is carved beautifully through the local rolling hills in a fashion that it didn’t feel like a novelty course — one of those numbers where you feel like they squeezed a course into a canyon as an after thought.
Almost all of the holes featured major elevation changes, but it was very fair for properly struck shots. The 14th hole at the General is their signature hole and it lived up to it’s reputation. With a tee box that is about 80-yards above the fairway, you can see three states on a clear day. You want hang time? You get it here. With a little hindsight, this was the most entertaining hole of the 153 we played this week. The overall scores at the General crept up a few notches, but nobody seemed to care, because this was an amazing Top 100 venue — a course that should be in the top 25 nationally, not in the bottom 50 where it is now. A laid back 1 1/2 hour lunch in Spikes, the clubhouse restaurant, included swing lubricants and Advils.
The North Course at Eagle Ridge was played in the afternoon. It was described to us as a resort course, but turned out to be a unique number that proved to be very challenging. A little course knowledge would have saved us all at least five strokes, something we needed because we were struggling. Luckily, triple-bogey was the highest score anybody could take on a hole. All three groups finished by 7:00 p.m. and “tired” was a common denominator. AFTER ALL, WE HAD JUST PLAYED 72-HOLES OF GOLF IN THE PAST 36 HOURS. Think about that for a second! That’s averages out to one hole every 1/2 hour, including travel, sleep, and five meals.
The good news is that we get to sleep in tomorrow before heading to the WeaverRidge Golf Club. Tee times are at 1:30 p.m., to accommodate the drive to Peoria.
5/30 – WeaverRidge Golf Club … Everybody seemed refreshed. Most attributed that to wolfing down some great pizza last night for dinner, a good nights sleep, and another buffet breakfast with some of UFO people at Eagle Ridge. Luckily, none of us were abducted or probed last night … or at least nobody was admitting it. For those who didn’t get enough shut-eye, it came on the 151-mile scenic drive to Peoria. Man, this state has a lot of barns and bridges. The destination was the 37th ranked WeaverRidge Golf Course.
Golfest was treated to a fantastic day at a great golf course, run by a great owner and family. We arrived two-hours early and had some time to kill. We spent most of our time in the bar. Course owner Jerry Weaver and son and GM Matt Weaver rolled out the red carpet for us. Jerry worked the bar crowd like a politician, making us feel very welcome and appreciative of the fact that we came from four different states to visit his facility. Some of us also took advantage of a vendor day taking place on the practice range to try out some of the latest and greatest golf technology. Others intentionally didn’t go, in order to reduce the urge to buy new gear.
WeaverRidge is a hidden jewel in Illinois and the Top 100 list. It has a lot of personality, not just from a course perspective, but from a people standpoint. You could feel that the associates who were employed there, really liked to work at W-Ridge. In my opinion, this is the ultimate company culture for a golf course. Smiles were the norm and good service was definitely on the courses mission statement. WeaverRidge promised great scores for good target golf and the par threes at this course are pretty cool. Even though this was a busy Saturday at the course, the marshals did their job and kept the pace on time. Just about everyone’s scores came down after nightmarish scores drove up handicaps on the second 18 at Eagle Ridge. Bob Potts led the way with a 78. I shot my best of the week, a 92.
After the round, Mr. Weaver graciously bought us a round of drinks and provided the Golfest dozen with our choice of hats from his pro shop. He even joined us for a group photo in front of his landmark sign. How cool is that?
At that point, our sites were set on the dinner buffet at Jumers, a huge casino in Moline, Illinois, about 84 miles up the road. Based on the sites and sounds, Moline must be Latin for JOHN DEERE. Just about everything in this town is stamped with the familiar green and yellow logo.
In a strange twist of events, Golfest featured the sequel to “Chokefest 2008” in Michigan. Mike Barbone, a first timer on the Golfest circuit, didn’t quite chew up his steak good enough (aka … Mike Werner on the Great Lakes Tour) and it got stuck in his throat. Casino staff rushed to the rescue when he puked on the floor and had some trouble breathing. Next thing we know, he is being transported to a local hospital for medical treatment. Mike was released a couple of hours later after the meat finally worked its way down his windpipe. Brother-in-law Pat “Big Guy” Calahan, brought him back to the Radisson in downtown Moline via taxi. It didn’t take him long to recover as witnessed by his presence in the bar in the attached Friday’s restaurant later that evening. There is never a dull day on the road with Golfest. Maybe our new slogan should be … Chew … baby … chew!
5/31 – The TPC at Deere Run … The site of the annual John Deere Classic played host to today’s round — The TPC at Deere Run. Not much travel was required as it was located only seven-miles up the road from our hotel. The good news is that everybody looked relaxed and well-rested after sleeping in. We have all survived the first 37,200+ yards of the “Land of Lincoln Golf Quest” – more if you don’t hit ’em straight.
The TPC at Deere Run proved to be a ample challenge for us, but seemed to lack some pizazz. It was a challenging course and a very nice facility, but very few holes really prompted us to pull out our camera and really take note. In addition, the greens were recently punched and were a little fuzzy and on the slow side. Most of us were leaving our putts short after playing on lightening-fast greens most of the week. This course was designed and destined to be a PGA tour stop and is exactly that. By the way, they were setting up grandstands for the John Deere Classic which is four weeks away. Our first group – Allen, Adkins, Conley, and Calahan – blew through the 18 in four hours, while the next two took almost five-hours. By the way, Mike Barbone proved he was fully recovered from his “chewing-incident” and shot a week best 91.
After a few photographs of some unnamed Golfestians riding the signature TPC Deer(e) out front, we climbed into our bug-splatter vehicles and put it in autopilot for the 150-miles return trip to Chicago. The drive was easy and the site of the skyline was a breath of fresh air and a good change of pace. Accommodations were provided at the Comfort Suites, only a few blocks from the Sears Tower. The unique site of us unloading golf clubs in downtown Chicago had several locals scratching their heads. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, dinner was at Mortons of Chicago, about 100-yards from our front door. The highlight of the evening, besides the great food, was Jeffrey Adkins doing his best Vito Corleone Godfather impression. He stuffed a few mushrooms in his cheeks and was good to go. Funnier than heck. On a side note, Mike Barbone didn’t have any food issues. Repeat after me, “Chew … Baby … Chew!” The forecast for tomorrow looks a little wet, but either way, we are ready to tackle the top ranked course in Illinois. That would be …
6/1 – Cog Hill Golf & Country Club -Dubsdread … The weather forecast for Cog Hill, the home of the annual BMW Championship, was absolutely correct … for about one-hole. Or long enough for our group to drop a bundle on waterproof gear in the Dubsdread Pro Shop. However …, about the time our three groups reached the second hole, everybody was quickly peeling the stuff off because the rain stopped and the humidity rose fast. The course was in excellent shape, which was a given, since it recently reopened on May 15th after going through major renovations.
The greens were the most unique of the entire trip and provided the feeling you were putting on a 1″ thick piece of cork board. Cog Hill, which is attempting to get a future US Open scheduled at their facility, installed a state-of-the-art aeration and moisture removal system called SubAir. We will vouch that it actually happened because there were no “water-issues” on the greens after a night full of rainfall. However, the rest of the course didn’t play easy as only seven of our dozen ended up breaking 100 on this day. Most found trouble in the bunkers and tree lines. There was a strong possibility that 126 holes of golf fatigue might have played a role in that! Something unique that we discovered at Cog Hill was that they don’t utilize cart girls for cocktails and refreshments on the course – ever. The clubhouse and the concession building at the turn served beer on tap — that’s it. Reed Conley pointed out that it’s hard to make a vodka-tonic with beer.
After a quick lunch break, we were prepared to close out our 2009 adventure with a nine-hole best-ball tournament on Cog Hill’s No. 3 course. However, lighting and thunder rolled in and rocked the area in an threatening fashion as we lined up our groups on the tee box. In just a few seconds, it went from overcast — to raining cats and dogs, forcing some of us to race back to the restaurant bar. (In fact, we just needed a cheap excuse to find a bar.) Just as quickly as it started, it ended. Ten-minutes later, the tourney was back in business, less four players who preferred the drier confines and comfortable chairs of the bar lounge. The team of Mike Rittner, Todd Baltzley, Mark Pickering and Art Taylor ended up winning the affair with a smoking hot five-under score.
The 30-minute drive back to downtown Chicago was uneventful as everyone looked forward to hot showers and clean clothes and a 7:30 dinner reservation at D Ditkas Restaurant. The fine staff at Ditka’s fixed us up with a private room upstairs and we indulged on cocktails, hors d’oeuvre, 20 ounce pork chops, steak, and fish, and a dessert platter. We also used the event as an opportunity to pass out a few awards. Among them were acknowledgments and congratulations to Pat Calahan, Reed Conley, and Mike Barbone who survived their first-ever Golfest experience. They were hooked and fully committed to Golfest 2010.
Mark Suzda earned the low-gross honors for the week and $150 for his 77 at the Glen Club. Barbone took home two awards. The first was for his adjusted low net score of 59.4 during his post-chokefest round at TPC Deere Run. The other was the uncoveted Triple-Bogey award for his Mike Werner impression of CHOKEFEST – THE SEQUEL. Barbone received a $100 gift card from Mike Fitzgerald, which should come in handy to pay his emergency room deductible. Before next years trip, all golfers will have to submit their handicaps, along with a note from their mom stating they know how to chew their food.
The Blow-Up Round award was earned outright by Texan Reed Conley who lit up his scorecards with three rounds of 115. Art “Five-Putt” Taylor won the Shot of the Week Award for the distinction of actually hitting a barn on a golf course. The award was intended for an awesome shot. However, charter members Jim Allen and Jim Dee felt it was more appropriate for someone who will never be accused of not being able to hit the “broadside of a barn.” Congrats Art!
The rest of the evening was reserved for rehashing some of the great and not-so-great moments of the trip. Ditka’s souvenir shop did a brisk business emptying out the remains of our wallets for Tommy Bahama-style Ditka shirts and cigars. Collectively, we all agreed that it was another successful Golfest trip. We have officially marked our Illinois scorecards as CONQUERED, leaving Florida for the 2010 edition.
The General at Eagle Ridge was voted the Golfest Golf Course of the Year in 2009!