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Chicago Golf: The Definitive Guide to Chicago's Best Public Golf Courses

5/09/2007 9 comments
[Note: Rankings have been updated September 12, 2011 with feedback from an expert panel of a dozen fellow Chicago golf addicts.]

We've played them all. Now it's time to give back. My buddies Jefe, Jimbo and I have spent the last 25+ years playing golf courses here, there and everywhere. From goat tracks to the some of the top courses in the world. Between the three of us, we've played over 550 different courses. We know what constitutes a quality golf course. And when it comes to Chicago-area golf, we have it covered. We've played pretty much every track worth playing. And now the list is new and improved as we've added the input and commentary from a dozen other avid Windy City golfers. We feel confident that we can publish the following Top 25 list and call it the Definitive Guide to Chicago Area Public Golf Courses. No agenda. No politics. No hype. No ranking courses to generate ad revenue. Just a friendly service to somebody who might be visiting Chicago and wants to experience the best public golf that this great city has to offer.

[Want your opinion to be heard? Follow the instructions here and submit your rankings and I may add you to the list of panelists in future updates.]

I've even plotted all of the top 25 courses using Microsoft's Bing map service, so you can see where the top courses are in relationship to each other (click on the birdseye view to get a very cool and very detailed aerial view of most courses). So if you're visiting your Aunt Mary in Cary, you can quickly tell where the closest quality courses are to where you are staying. You can thank me later. Just click on the picture below.

As an added bonus, I've added the drive times according to Google Maps from 3 different points - O'Hare Airport, The Loop and the intersection of I-294 and I-55. A course had to be in Illinois at within an hour of at least of one of those points to be considered eligible for the ballot.


Without further adieu, here's the top 25 as ranked by the Wegoblogger panel of experts.

1. Cog Hill #4 (Dubsdread)
Lemont, IL
Score: 9.31
Peak Price: $155 includes cart
Drive Time: 39/36/17 (minutes from O'Hare, The Loop, and I-294/55, respectively)

The cream of the crop. Long time site of the Western Open, now winding down as part of the rota for the BMW Championship as part of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup (can you just feel the excitement?). The Jemsek family spent $5 million to have the Open Doctor Rees Jones come in and renovate the course, mainly to improve its chances of landing a US Open. That appears to be $5 million down the drain, as the course arguably did not improve, Cog never really had a chance of getting the 2017 U.S. Open that went to Erin Hills, and the pros panned the course the last two seasons. Now the Western Open in heading to Cherry Hills. All while making the course too tough for most Joe Golfer's.

That said, Cog Hill is still by far the best public golf course in the Chicagoland area. Everything at Cog Hill is first rate, and with or without the pros, the complex is still a testament to the vision of the late Joe Jemsek, who always seemed to be there greeting golfers right up until his dying day. In addition to the four courses at Cog Hill, the Jemsek's own and operate Pine Meadow in Mundelein and the 36 holes at St Andrews in West Chicago.

[Note: Here's my favorite Joe Jemsek story: about 10 years ago I was driving down the road late one night, driving down Rt 59 a couple of miles from St. Andrews. I caught up to this giant white Cadillac that was driving about 10 miles below the speed limit...as I caught up to the car, I could tell it was an old guy (as if the white Caddy driving 10 miles below the speed limit wasn't a dead giveaway) who was lost...he had the dome light on and was looking at a map. As I passed him, I looked over and it's freakin' Joe Jemsek! The patriach of Chicago golf himself. As I saw the bewildered look on his face, it became painfully obvious that he was trying to find his way to St Andrews, the course that he owns! Now St Andrews sits prominently at the intersection of two major roads...you can't miss it. Everybody knows where it is and how to find it. At least, everybody except the guy who owned the place. Man, I miss Joe.]

JIMBO: "No doubt best course in area. Very classic design. Has the best set of par 3's in the Chicagoland area. The greens are slicker than Jefe's hair (circa 1988) full of AquaNet hair spray. Love playing where the pros play just so I can be reminded of how bad my game really is."

JEFE: "Overall solid, classic style course that is fun to play because you’ve seen it on TV. Has a cool Chicago style feel that all of the Jemsek courses have. One of the best bunkered courses I’ve played. The bunkers in front of a lot of the greens make the course that much more challenging, and prevent the player from being able to see the bottom of the pin on a lot of holes. The holes here have a lot of variety, you don’t get holes parallel to each other. One of the most hilly courses around Chicago, something that doesn’t translate from TV. The course will be closed for 9 months (I believe) following the September ’07 tour event there for a revamping by the Open doctor. Chances are you’ll see some of the local sports news anchors at this course."

DAVID H: "Just the best in every way, save for the expense (worth it - just not a course I can afford to play more than once a yer, if that)"

SVEN N: "Undoubtedly the toughest public course in town. If you like getting punched in the groin, this is the track for you.  Best hole - 16. TOUGHEST TEST WINNER"

2. Cantigny Golf Course
Wheaton, IL
Score: 8.32
Peak Price: $95/$115 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 41/43/34

Cantigny is probably the most beautiful course in the area. Don't bother with shelling out the $17 for a cart. Cantigny is an easy walk, and much better to experience that way anyways (it saddens me when I go out there and 95% of golfers are out there whizzing around this beautiful parkland course in carts). The course has three nines...Woodside and Lakeside combine what would be considered the championship layout for the course. Hillside is a little more user friendly and maybe a half-notch below the other nines. They rotate which two nines comprise the 18 on a daily basis, so make sure you call out there to see which nines you'll be playing. They lengthened the course for the US Am Pub Links back in 2007...with numerous tight doglegs, it's a pretty good test at 7,000 yards.

My only beef with Cantigny is that it's full fare all day, all season. There are no discount offers, no spring rates, no twilight...nothing for the value-minded golfer (I was shocked when they actually offered a Groupon this spring). In years past, it was $85/$100 any time you wanted to play it. Now, the weekend rate is $95 with an extra double sawbuck for the cart. It's unfortunate because Cantigny is one of my favorite tracks and less than 10 minutes from my house, yet I hardly ever play it. The closest thing you can get to a deal out there is the nine-hole rate, where you can play the 'side that is the nine for the day for $35...perfect for a late Sunday afternoon round.

JIMBO: "Tremendous 27 hole facility. Course is always in great shape. Greens are speedy and very true. Would play here more if fees were a bit lower."

SVEN: "A wonderfully manicured set of three nines.  Would be a tremendous course if you played the best 18. The water holes are generally the worst of the lot. Best hole - Woodside 2"

DAVID: "A little overrated by others, but hard to argue with the revamp of Woodside a few years back for the Pub Links. Best greens in Illinois."

WEGO: "A bit pricey, but a great course.  Greens run very true."

MATT S: "Probably not the most difficult course you’ll ever play, but I challenge you to not have an enjoyable day at Cantigny. The facility is superb and the land has variety that really lends itself to a quality 'walk in the park'. It is usually in excellent condition, especially the greens."

Mundelein, IL
Score: 8.26
Peak Price: $84 (I believe it includes cart on the weekend, but it's hard to tell from their website)
Drive Time: 37/54/57

I'm guessing this is where Joe Jemsek was coming from when he got lost. Pine Meadow is another solid parkland course that many consider a mini-Cog Hill. The course will remind you of Dubs, but at half the cost. Very solid. Very popular. They can stretch it out to 7,141 yards for an extremely demanding test. A lot of the par 4's are long doglegs that wrap around water, including #3 (472 yards!) and #18 (only 440).

JIMBO: "Another quality facility from the same owners as Cog Hill. Poor man's (ie. Jefe) "Dubs". Demanding but very fair test of golf. Back nine is solid."

DAVID: "Old school classic course where the huge greens will make you feel like a better ball striker than you are, and the worst putter in the world."

WEGO: "I believe the premier public course in the Chicagoland area.  Perfect condition.  Never crowded.  A lot of fun holes."

SVEN: "Another good test of golf, if you're not hitting the driver well you're in for a long day.  Best hole - 15"

MATT: "Pine Meadow is a brawny parkland test that really represents what most of Chicago public golf is about."

West Chicago, IL
Score: 8.05
Peak Price: $84/$96 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 51/53/44

This is where I played the majority of my local golf before I graduated to full-time, golf snob. But a couple times a year, you might just run into a tall, devilishly handsome lefty golfer with an orange Illini hat out at PL.  Prairie Landing is a "links style" course, which I take to mean it has very few trees and tall heather grass bordering many of the holes. With super-wide fairways, you can really grip it and rip it. The main defense is the wind, which rips across the vast open plains of far western suburbia.

Prairie Landing is the type of course that is actually pretty scorable for the good player, but can be an absolute beast for the average or below average player. There are 5 par 5's and a couple of risk-reward par 4's that a low-handicap player can really take advantage of. In recent years, they've eliminated some bunkers to make it a little more user friendly (plus some bunkers were simply impossibly to maintain). Prairie Landing is always in excellent condition...when the course first opened, they probably could lay claim to having the best conditioned greens in the area. Some recent poa annua creep have hurt the greens a little bit, but they are still very smooth and very fast.

Prairie Landing is pretty steep on the weekends ($84 to walk), but sign-up for their online newsletter and you'll get deals like 2-for-1's roughly every other week.

JIMBO: "All you need to know is Jimmy C. prefers to play here. The par 3 14th is the single greatest hole in the universe (coincidentially, also the site of my only hole in one)."
JEFE: "Fun course to play given a lot of risk reward type holes. The course gives you options from the tees on a lot of holes. Also, you can play shots into the greens using the slopes to get the ball close to the hole which makes this a good second shot course as well. Always in good shape Prairie Landing’s greens typically roll very true. They run decent specials from time to time and you shouldn’t have to pay the peak rate if you’re smart about scheduling your tee time. Great finishing hole that gives you a chance to be a hero or choke away your personal best round. Two practice holes make this a great practice facility as well."

SVEN: "Very good in parts, misses the mark in others.  Lots of fun to play in dry conditions, as several holes have great ground game options. Best hole - 4"

DAVID: "I think that from #12-#18 this course might be the most enjoyable roller coaster in the area. Maybe the most difficult greens to put in the area, especially when it is dry and windy. The first green with the pin on the front right verges on unfair."

WEGO: "Likely my favorite course in the area.  Grip it and rip it.  Wide open fairways and large greens.  Big
risk/reward off the first tee, opportunity to get home in 2 on par 5 4th and easy par 3's make the front easier.  Go low on the front because the back is much tougher."

Beach Park, IL
Score: 7.77
Peak Price: $85 includes cart
Drive Time: 51/62/71

Like Prairie Landing, Thunderhawk is a Robert Trent Jones Jr. design. Very similar feel -- wide fairways, risk-reward holes, but trees instead of fescue. Back in the 2007, Thunderhawk was $98 -- pretty steep for a course not too far from the Wisconsin border. But it appears they've come to their senses a bit and dropped their prices. Plus, you can usually find good deals for this course at ezlinks.com if you're not too picky about tee times (tip: go to the tee time specials first, then go to the name your price section and offer up a price $7-$8 below the special price.)

JIMBO: "Great RTJ Jr. layout. Half the holes wander through open meadow while the other half are carved through the trees. Quality design and very fair."

DAVID: "his might be the most enjoyable yet challenging course to play anywhere. Risk/reward on almost every hole. Beautiful always, and stunning in prime condition. I LOVE Holes 6-9! Score or die! With reduced rates the last couple of years, this course passed 2-3 others."

SVEN: "A good mix of woodlands and grasslands holes.  The closing stretch of 16 to 18 is a great test.  Best hole - 9"

Elgin, IL
Score: 7.69
Peak Price: $95 includes cart
Drive Time: 53/68/56

The highest new entrant since the 2007 list is Bowes Creek in South Elgin. I haven't played the course yet, but I made the mistake of driving out there to watch Jefe and Jimbo tee it here up a couple years ago when it first opened. What started out as a crisp, sunny late fall day got progressively worse as I drove further and further west. By the time I reached the course, it was 40 degrees and blowing sideways. I had a cart boy drive me out to the course so I could surprise my two lifelong golf pals -- when I reached them on the 4th tee, I was greeted with a "what the hell are you doing here?"

Bowes had an interesting mix of holes and a surprising amount of undulation for a course built on Illinois farmland. The 18th hole might have the most elevated tee shot in Chicagoland. Architect Rick Jacobson mimicked the furry-edged bunkers that have been all the rage in the top modern designs -- after seeing it filter down to a municipal course in Elgin, I can't help but wonder if the design style has jumped the shark.

Even more unique is Bowes Creek's "member for a day" pricing policies -- a kind of cheesy marketing ploy but at least good for more than a couple dumb jokes between you and your playing partners ("member's bounce", "do you know a member?", etc.). The key is the all-day unlimited rate -- particularly intriguing for somebody known for playing 8+ rounds in one day. The dichotomy is that while Bowes Creek's rates are a good value if you are playing 2 or more rounds, $95 is way too much if you only have time to go around once. Still, a solid addition to the public golf landscape in Chicago.

DAVID: "I have only played it twice, and the front nine is a little bit of a yawner, but man, from #11 on, it is hard to believe you are even in Illinois. I can't wait to see how this course matures. The Member for a day pricing is a nice concept."
Homewood, IL
Score 7.52
Peak Price: $72/$89 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 50/38/30

The oldest golf course on the list is also one of the newest. For the first 107 years of its existence, Ravisloe was a private club. In 2008, Ravisloe unfortunately fell victim of tough economic times like many clubs across the country and was forced to close its doors. A year later, Ravisloe reopened its doors as a public course.

Ravisloe is generally considered a Donald Ross course, although the course had a few previous iterations before Ross put his stamp on the course in 1916. David Esler (who designed Black Sheep) was brought in in 2001 to restore the course and preserve the Ross features -- strategic cross bunkers, devilish green and run-off chipping areas abound.

SVEN: " A classic course constrained in parts by the course boundary.  The back nine overshadows the front, and has a good variety of holes.  Best hole - 13"

8. New! The Highlands of Elgin Wegoblogger Top Value
Elgin, IL
Score 7.48
Peak Price: $43/$62 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 42/62/57

All of a sudden, Elgin is the new hotbed of public golf in the Chicagoland area. What once was a very unmemorable course (Spartan Meadows) has slowly evolved to become one of the best values in the area. The transformation from goat track to race track (the course plays very firm and fast, though some of the that may be due to it being relatively new as opposed to a conscious maintenance choice) took 8 or 9 years. Luckily, Jefe gave himself the title of resident historian of Elgin-area golf. So if you ever get to play a round with him, he'll tell you all about how Keith Foster built the first nine, then years later his assistant Art Schaupeter came and finished the job. The second nine includes some interesting holes that play around an old quarry.

The Highlands is also site of a controversial eagle last fall...but that's a story for another day (or for Volume 2 of One Divot at a Time)

DAVID: "Now that the full 18 is done, this is actually quite a stunning course. Those holes around the quarry are challenging, but also really fun! Lots of short Par 4s make the day exciting. This course will get even better as the new holes on the East side of the course mature and soften a bit."

SVEN: "In the same vein as Shepherd's Crook, a wide open course that in parts feels Irish.  The new holes around the quarry stand out.  Best hole - 6"


MATT: "The conditioning (mind you I’ve only played it once) melded perfectly with the theme of width and options. So many of the shots required a true decision as opposed to mindless swinging away. I found hole #3 to be one of if not the best short par 4 I’ve played in the area."

9. The Glen Club - Wegoblogger Worst Value
Glenview, IL
Score: 7.43
Peak Price: $180/$203 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 20/30/39

The Glen Club is the former site of a Nationwide event and the permanent home of the Illinois Open, but you'd be better off playing two rounds at many of the courses on this list instead of shelling out $203 for the Glen Club. It's a solid course, a very impressive reconstruction job by Tom Fazio on the site of an old Naval airfield and golf course, but solid ain't worth $200 even on the North Shore. I can't help but think that most visitors would be left with a slightly empty feeling after playing the Glen Club. You've been warned.

JIMBO: "Big time designer (Fazio) and host of big time event (LaSalle Bank Open) which delivers big time disappointment. I would play maybe 15 other courses in the area before I played here. Not worth the $200 they charge."
JEFE: "Overpriced, worthy of the Worst Value tag. Save for a few good holes this is a course you won’t mind not playing, especially given the outlandish prices charged. Play three other good courses for the price of playing this one."

DAVID: "Just too much money. I like that last summer they started offering an afternoon rate of $100, but seriously, in the Spring and Fall, you'd think they could throw us a $75 twilight rate after 3:00 pm or something. I do like the course a lot, but it isn't that special to charge quite so much. Nice fast and smooth greens!"

SVEN: "A completely manufactured track on the site of an old air field.  Varies from holes that can be very difficult to a few that are pushovers.  Best hole - 4  BEST EYE CANDY WINNER"

10. Heritage Bluffs Golf Club - Wegoblogger Top Value
Channahon, IL
Score: 7.40
Peak Price: $47/$62 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 64/70/57

You'll never feel shortchanged at Heritage Bluffs, another one of the top values in the area. It's too bad Channahon such a hike from just about everywhere, otherwise I'd definitely play this course more often. After a pretty ho-hum opener, the course has a good mix of tight wooded holes and open meadow/marsh-type holes. #6 is one of the best par 4's in the area. #7 and #18 can be a little maddening, but overall the Bluffs is a fair, strong test, especially from the tips.

Heritage Bluffs is also the site of one of the most memorable things I've ever seen on a golf course. I was there 12 years ago for a nice, normal round with Jefe, my wife Sue, and my buddy Charles. Charles had just got back from a golf trip where he played well and was very much interested in proving he belonged with the big boys. Unfortunately, the front nine at Heritage Bluffs didn't go quite as planned for Charles and it all came to a head on the 9th, a straightaway par 5 that borders a farm all the way down the right side (right down to the barb-wired fence). After chili-dipping a chip shot, Charles blew his top, grabbed his wedge and whipped it over the fence and about 80 yards deep into the crops. Then he paused a half-second, picked up his putter and flung it deep into the farm also!!!

Sue, Jefe and I watched in amazement as the putter helicoptered in the air. The club seemed to be flying in slow motion. I've never seen a club thrown this far (and playing with Jefe, I've seen my fair share. Coincidentally, Charles played football at Northwestern). After the club landed, we turned around and Charles was gone! Did he storm off to the 10th tee? Nope...his car was no longer in the parking lot. He simply tossed $250 worth of relatively new golf equipment over the fence and took off. Well, I couldn't just let his clubs stay there to rot, so I forced Jefe to hop over the barb-wired fence to help me find the tossed sticks. It took us a good 10 minutes to locate both of them, they were that deep. I can only imagine what the group behind us was thinking. What made things even more bizarre, is that Sue & I were set to play with Charles the next day. Would Charles show up? Would he have a new putter and wedge? Would he act like nothing happened? Thankfully, he did show up and I delivered his clubs back to him. And in return, I got a story that I've told now for the 10,001st time.

JIMBO: "Big, beastly golf course. Can stretch to over 7100 from the tips. Tremendous value."
JEFE: "For some reason this course is very resistant to scoring. A lot of hole variety makes it fun to play. The holes through the trees are very tough, and with the different tees available you can really stretch this course out and make it play tough from the tips."

DAVID: "If this course were closer to Chicago, it would be twice as expensive, and everyone would be talking about it. Can be VERY challenging with long Par 4s. The real winner are the holes through the line of woods through the center of the course #s 5, 6, 7, and 10 are really cool. #18 used to be a real nightmare, but they felled a bunch of trees on the right side opening it up a bit and taking away a little of the intimidation. Arguably the best value in the area."

MATT: "Holes 1 and 9 are by far the weakest on the course and it is too bad a course of this quality has two absolute snoozers, because once you get into the round, you’ll find some excellent holes. Parts of the course are built in a former quarry site which provides some interesting terrain."

11. Orchard Valley Golf Course - Wegoblogger Top Value
Aurora, IL
Score: 7.34
Peak Price: $60/$76 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 47/53/40

Back in the day when Jefe lived in North Aurora and received the resident rate, a 4:00 twilight round out at Orchard Valley was our M.O. (in addition to a post-round stop at the nearby Oberweis headquarters for ice cream. Oberweis is so good it will redefine ice cream for you.) Solid course, great condition, lots of high-risk, high-reward holes (just ask Jefe, who recently made 5 birdies in the first 12 holes and was +1 after 13, only to finish with an 82). And even though the prices have gradually creeped up over the years, it's still a tremendous value. No need to pay for a cart, this is another easy and enjoyable walking course. The only downsides are there are homes that border some of the holes closely (#4 and #10 for instance), and #13 is simply a poorly designed hole (long par 4 that you can't hit driver), but don't let that deter you. Also, the tips might be a little too tough (especially the par 3's) for anyone but the best golfers, but the blues might be a little too easy. But that's just nitpicking. Orchard Valley is great.

JEFE: "Orchard Valley is a great layout and almost always in good shape. One of the few drawbacks is the course does wind its way through a housing development. Played from the tips the par threes are excellent, one of the best set of par 3’s in the Chicago area. The par 5’s are also very good, with most of them giving you a choice on the second shot to get home in two or lay it up. This is a course that gives the golfer some choices off the tee as well, and there are some very good risk reward holes. The closing four holes are really solid, and the 18th hole is just a really good, demanding, but fair closer. Yellow balls on the range are a negative."

DAVID: "Too many houses, too many cart paths in the wrong places, too many people playing it, recent cut from 10-minute to 8-minute tee times sucks, but is there a better course in the area for going low (or losing it all)?"

MATT: "Most of the shortcomings of this course can be attributed to its routing through a housing development. Despite those shortcomings there are some really good holes and the course is usually in very good shape. Watery par threes may be a bit too prevalent."

Chicago, IL
Score: 7.04
Peak Price: $95 includes cart
Drive Time: 43/25/33

See #14 below.

13. Shepherd's Crook Golf Course - Wegoblogger Top Value
Zion, IL
Score: 7.00
Peak Price: $42/$55 to walk/ride includes cart
Drive Time: 56/66/71

Shepherd's Crook is a personal favorite of my buddy Sven, enough that I'm going to make it a priority to go up and see it again. #15 might be too low. Architect Keith Foster tried to harken back to the classic courses like Shoreacres when building the Crook, and the result is a "links style" course that actually plays that way. It's about a mile from the Wisconsin border, so it's a hike for most Chicagoans, but combine it with Thunderhawk or play Shepherd's Crook on the way up to or back from a long weekend in Kohler, Erin Hills or Lawsonia in Wisconsin.

Sven: "Wide fairways, walking encouraged, a maintenance plan that promotes fast and firm.  Add in some interesting contours and you've got a great course at a tremendous value.  Best hole - 13  BEST VALUE WINNER"

Chicago, IL
Score: 6.94
Peak Price: $95 includes cart
Drive Time: 43/25/33

They say it's only 16 minutes from downtown...maybe if your tee time was at 3:30 AM. Still, Harborside represents the closest quality courses to the city. On a clear day, you can see the skyline in the distance.  Harborside is a links-style course built on an old landfill. The two courses are nearly identical in terms of quality and experience -- I liked Starboard a little better but it's just as likely that you will prefer Portside. The bunker with the outline of a giant anchor is a little cheesy, but I can't really hold it against them (Cantigny has a bunker shaped like Dick Tracy as well). Since there's little else other than industry down there, make a day of it and play both courses (although I'm a little surprised and disappointed to not see any 36-hole discounts in their posted rates).

In 2002, Ben Crenshaw made the mistake of using "Harborside" and "Muirfield" in the same sentence when he played the course as part of a senior tour event. They feature this quote prominently on their website, and every Harborside article or press release mentions this fact. Gentle Ben should be collecting royalties.

WEGO: "A hike from the NW suburbs with traffic, but a great property with 2 top tier courses
and a solid practice area and range."

Cary, IL
Score: 6.88
Peak Price: $79 includes cart
Drive Time: 54/71/71

As mentioned, combine it with #1 for a full day of the best that Cary has to offer. Foxford Hills is a pleasant surprise. I'm not a huge fan of any course that winds through a residential area, but if you can get past that you'll have an enjoyable day. You'll likely get off to a very good start...and if you're anything like me you might even have visions of breaking the course record dancing in your head. The first time I played there, I was 3-under through 6 and had a 15-footer for birdie on 7. Unfortunately the dream ended when I missed that putt, and reality set in when I got to the back nine. The back nine is easily 2-3 strokes harder than the front. You'll find more tree trouble on the back...#11 is a tight downhill par 4 where you're driving out of a chute. #12 is a driveable par 4, but you can make a big number in a hurry.

Foxford Hills is always running deals, so check out their website. My aforementioned first time out there, I played it as part of a 54 hole binge that probably didn't cost me more than $75.

Cary, IL
Score: 6.91
Peak Price: $75 includes cart

Drive Time: 52/69/69 

Tough, wooded course with surprising amount of elevation change. For some reason, it's a par 73...I'm definitely not a big fan of that. #14 is a brutally tough, tight par 4 that plays to an island green. Chalet was built right around the time double greens were en vogue, so 9 and 18 wrap around each side of a pond to the same point. Combine Chalet Hills with a round at #15 Foxford Hills, which is less than a mile away...
Oak Forest, IL
Score: 6.80
Peak Price: $52/$67 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 49/33/29
Vernon Hills, IL
Score: 6.60
Peak Price: $89 includes cart
Drive Time: 36/53/55
Barrington, IL
Score: 6.58
Peak Price: $74/$92 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 34/50/49

Another renovation. I played the previous course that sat on this site, Thunderbird. It was a dump (ranks 258th out of 269 on my list). Definitely not up to par with Barrington's lofty zip code. The late owner's family sunk a bunch of money into completely renovating the course. From the road, the course looks great with the well-manicured bentgrass fairways. I haven't played the new course yet...so you'll have to trust Jimbo's opinion on this one: "Sweet looking clubhouse but the course is a lot like my game: a lot of flash but in the end very average. This course was entirely redone on top of an older golf course and as a result the layout doesn't feel very natural. Holes have been forced onto the land."

[UPDATE: I finally had the chance to play Makray, and was pleasantly surprised. It's a decent track in very good shape. Lightning fast, sloped greens force you to pay close attention on your approach shot. It's not the greatest driving course in the world, some of the holes are a little wacky off the tee, but the course gets much better from 150 yards in. You should know that the course is currently in some legal scuffle with one of the homeowners that borders the 12th hole. There is a temporary court order (temporary since last year, so consider it permanent until further notice) against using the tee boxes, apparently because the redesign now causes errant drives into this guy's house. Does he realize he can sell those pro-V's on ebay for two bucks apiece? To combat the problem, the course plays this as a par three from about 150 yards. Fine temporary solution, but I hope it's not the long-term one. Three problems with this: 1) they temporary tee box plays off artificial turf, which seems strange because they could've just mowed down the fairway. 2) The hole may be fine as par 4, but it's pretty ho-hum as a par 3. The greensite is uninteresting. 3) The next hole is also a par 3. Also, the course plays now plays as a par 70. Let's hope they get this thing resolved soon.]

Romeoville, IL
Score: 6.57
Peak Price: $61/$79 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 49/46/27

I was surprised to find out that the course closed recently to start a $6 MILLION renovation project. That's a million dollars more than what Cog Hill spent to try the land the U.S. Open (and we all know how that one turned out). The owner of Mistwood has much less lofty goals - simply to make Mistwood a "top 5" public course in Chicago. The changes outlined on their website seem pretty modest - move one green, add some tee boxes to lengthen the course, line the lake with rocks, etc. Honestly, I'm not sure that's worth $6 million (plus up to $4 million more to tear down and rebuild their clubhouse), especially for a course that is only 13 years old. Prairie Landing and Thunderhawk are in the current top 5 and could probably be bought outright for far less than $6 million right now. But hey, it's not my money. Architect Ray Hearn looks like the big winner here.

Mistwood is planning to reopen in the spring of 2012. I'll be anxious to see if it shoots up the rankings in the next iteration. I suspect we'll see higher greens fees as well.

Lockport, IL
Score: 6.53
Peak Price: $50/$69 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 41/38/19

Glen Ellyn, IL
Score: 6.49
Peak Price: $59/$77 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 33/35/26

This course was completely renovated a few years ago, and it's a nice track. Great value if you happen to be a Glen Ellyn resident. The greens were rock hard when I played here, but I think they were firming the course up in preparation for the Western Open Monday Open qualifier they host every year (but with the FedEx Cup, never again).

Lemont, IL
Score: 6.45
Peak Price: $57/$73 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 39/36/17


24. Glenwoodie Golf Course
Glenwood, IL
Score: 6.42
Peak Price: $52 includes cart
Drive Time: 59/41/38

I haven't played this course, so you'll just have to trust Jefe's judgment here: "A somewhat straightforward front nine gives way to a very challenging back nine. The back nine features one of the toughest par fours you will play, a long hole tight off the tee and then an uphill second shot over a ravine to a very shallow green."

Crete, IL
Score: 6.40
Peak Price: $52/$67 to walk ride
Drive Time: 69/50/50

DISHONORABLE MENTION:

28. Ruffled Feathers Golf Course - Wegoblogger Worst Value
Lemont, IL
Score: 6.21
Peak Price: $95 includes cart
Drive Time: 42/38/19

Ruffled Feathers is literally right across the street from Cog Hill. They've lowered their prices down from $110 a few years ago, but it's hard to justify paying $95 to play Ruffled Feathers when you could shell out a little extra to play best course in the area. The day I played Ruffled Feathers they had some sort of WGN/Chicago Bulls outing (back in 1998). You haven't lived until you've seen a 7-foot Bill Wennington try to drive in a golf cart.  His knees were ahead of the cart's front bumper.

31. Stonewall Orchard Golf Club
Grayslake, IL
Score: 6.00
Peak Price: $77/$95 to walk/ride
Drive Time: 47/64/67

We have a mantra: Friend don't let friends play Art Hills courses. If you are an avid read of Wegoblogger31, then I consider you my friend. Therefore, I can't in good conscious allow you to make a tee time at Stonewall Orchard. I can't believe they sucker folks into paying $95. Yet another head scratcher in the not-so-illustrious design career of Arthur Hills (how did this guy get so much work?) The nicest thing that I can say about Stonewall Orchard is that it's not the worst Hills course in the area...

35. Bolingbrook Golf Club Wegoblogger Absolute Worst Value
Bolingbrook, IL
Score: 5.83
Peak Price: $110 includes cart
Drive Time: 41/38/19

...because that distinction goes to Bolingbrook Golf Club. The mayor of Bolingbrook wanted an upscale municipal course, and this is what he came up with. Start with a dead flat corn field, move a bunch of dirt, create a bunch of lakes and you've got yourself a golf course. Top it off with a monstrous 76,000 square foot clubhouse. Of course, all of this costs money, and it's the golfers that have to foot the bill. Bolingbrook seems ridiculously expensive relative to what else is in the area, especially if you're a non-resident ($70 for twilight rates after 4:00 is absolutely absurd). Which is the exact reason why I've never played the course. You'll have to trust Jimbo's word on this one as well. On a positive note, Bolingrook is host of the Tom Dreesen Celebrity Invitational, which debunks the myth that you have to actually be a celebrity in order to host a celebrity tournament. But it's all for a good cause so I won't rip on it further.

JIMBO: "Massive, enormous clubhouse probably along the lines of Jimmy C's future casa. Unbelievable practice facility with double sided range, pitch and put course and huge putting green, but golf course lacks in every way. Very flat terrain with average holes."

[UPDATE: Despite Jimbo's stern warning, we played Bolingbrook on July 3rd. I managed to get some deal from twoguyswhogolf.com to play Bolingbrook for $50 per person w/ cart. Otherwise I would never have even considered playing this course for the full fare of $90. I'm struggling to find the right way to describe the course to you. Here are a few of the taglines that I'm trying to choose from:

1. A rip-off even at $50
2. I wouldn't play this course again even if it was free
3. I came in with extremely low expectations, and it still failed to meet those
4. This course is like the anti-Orchard Valley
5. Because of this course, I would never consider moving to Bolingbrook

Ouch. I don't think they will be running those in their advertisements anytime soon. In short, Bolingbrook just got it all wrong. The mayor bullied this project forward in an attempt to 'upscale' his community with a high-priced golf course. He even had a heavy hand in the design of the course, stating that he wanted a course with a 600-yard par 5 and an island green par 3. Both of which makes the golfer say, 'who cares?' To most golfer, 600 yard par 5's are not exciting in and of itself. And even if the island par 3 stands out as unique, by the time you reach the 15th hole, you'll likely be so unenamored with the course that you won't care anymore. The layout is simply uninspiring. They started with a blank slate, and Arthur Hills could've come up with just about anything. However, the holes are very monotonous. Here's a summary of the last three holes: Bunkers left, water right. Multiply that by three. And that's an ongoing theme at Bolingbrook, except for the times where Hills gets really wacky and goes: Bunkers right, water left. And to top it off, Bolingbrook also achieves the rare conditioning daily double of rock-hard greens (that can't hold a well-struck PW) that are also somehow agonizingly slow (like 6 on the stimpmeter slow).

And Mayor McBolingbrook even calls the course a success because it's has birthed an adjoining upscale community, further proving how delusional he really is. The bottom line is you can't continue to charge people $100 bucks for a course that is not even worth half that. You can't expect Joe Golfer to foot the bill for your giant clubhouse. You can't charge everyone for a cart for a course that is essentially dead flat. You can build it and they will come. But the real key to long-term success is will they come back? I know of at least 3 people where they answer is No. Bolingbrook moves down to 35th and gets the distinction of Wegoblogger Absolute Worst Value.]


CHICAGO VALUE CHART


2011 Peak Weekend Rate to Walk by Wegoblogger31 Quality Score
For your amusement, I plotted the scores of all of the courses included on the ballot against what they charge for a peak weekend 18 holes walking (courses that charge for a cart whether you use one or not be damned!) Click the chart below to zoom in on the chart. The red-dashed line represents the "expected" cost for a course of a given caliber, so roughly speaking, courses plotted above the line are overpriced and courses plotted well below the line represent strong value.

Here are the full rankings, with peak price and drive times from the three starting points mentioned above.

CourseScoreWalkRideOhareLoopI-294/55
1. Cog Hill (#4 Dubsdread)9.31$155$155393617
2. Cantigny8.32$95$115414334
3. Pine Meadow8.26$84$84375457
4. Prairie Landing8.05$84$96515344
5. ThunderHawk7.77$85$85516271
6. Bowes Creek7.69$95$95536856
7. Ravisloe7.52$72$89503830
8. Highlands of Elgin7.48$43$62426257
9. Glen Club7.43$180$203203039
10. Heritage Bluffs7.40$47$62545031
11. Orchard Valley7.34$60$76475340
12. Harborside (Starboard)7.04$95$95432533
13. Shepard's Crook7.00$42$55566671
14. Harborside (Port)6.94$95$95432533
15. Chalet Hills6.91$75$75526969
16. Foxford Hills6.88$79$79547171
17. George Dunne6.80$52$67493329
18. White Deer Run6.60$89$89365355
19. Makray Memorial6.58$74$92345049
20. Mistwood6.57$61$79494627
21. Big Run6.53$50$69413819
22. Village Links of Glen Ellyn6.49$59$77333526
23. Cog Hill (#2)6.45$57$73393617
24. Glenwoodie6.42$52$52594138
25. Balmoral Woods6.40$52$67695050
26. Whisper Creek6.31$68$68506668
27. Midlane6.31$44$62455665
28. Ruffled Feathers6.21$95$95423819
29. Water's Edge6.10$51$66393518
30. Steeple Chase6.06$49$65415860
31. Stonewall Orchard6.00$77$95476467
32. Countryside Prairie5.98$35$52385658
33. Golf Club of Illinois5.92$45$59476465
34. Old Oak5.83$50$67464023
35. Bolingbrook5.83$110$110413819
36. Prairie Bluff5.81$44$60494627
37. Bittersweet5.77$59$69425962
38. Arrowhead5.67$60$77354230
39. Seven Bridges5.66$107$107333921
40. Green Garden (Gold)5.64$41$57655244
41. Cinder Ridge5.58$35$45696647
42. Schaumburg5.55$51$68274440
43. Oak Brook5.54$55$70202617
44. Odyssey5.52$64$64564034
45. Klein Creek5.50$79$79374536
46. Hilldale5.43$64$64274344
47. Maple Meadows (West)5.43$52$52193125
48. Cog Hill (#1)5.42$45$61393617
49. Green Garden (Blue)5.36$41$57655244
50. Glencoe5.34$49$65293349
51. Deerfield5.24$53$72203740
52. WillowCrest5.18$79$79253119
53. Old Orchard5.16$78$78193638
54. Oak Meadows5.16$40$57193235
55. Cog Hill (#3)5.12$45$61393617
56. Broken Arrow5.12$50$67484526
57. Highland Park5.10$57$75273447
58. Edgebrook5.08$29$44151936
59. RedTail5.04$65$65597577
60. Wilmette5.02$49$65232644
61. St Andrews (#1)5.02$48$64435343
62. Fox Bend5.01$47$63445940
63. Blackberry Oaks5.01$49$65616749
64. Foss Park4.99$36$51374857
65. Springbrook4.98$50$66485334
66. Marengo Ridge4.97$42$56587476
67. Gleneagles (White)4.94$40$56403617
68. Indian Lakes4.93$72$89283933
69. Wedgewood4.89$37$53494526
70. Prairie Isle4.88$51$67537070
71. Naperbrook4.76$48$64464223
72. Indian Boundary4.74$31$46132832
73. Lake Bluff4.63$48$65354655
74. Links of Carillon4.61$35$50444123
75. Tamarack4.58$57$57494929
76. Settler's Hill4.58$47$65515543
77. Arlington Lakes4.58$36$53193539
78. Winnetka4.53$49$69292947
79. Coyote Run4.53$46$61553834
80. Glenview Park4.52$48$64193239
81. St Andrews (#2)4.51$48$64435343
82. White Pines (West)4.46$40$57163124
83. Carriage Greens4.41$59$59444122
84. Nettle Creek4.30$36$52757252
85. Gleneagles (Red)4.28$40$56403617
86. Mill Creek4.23$55$55596652
87. Crane's Landing4.22$75$75274547
88. Buffalo Grove4.14$41$58274447
89. Bartlett Hills3.96$47$63395347
90. Mount Prospect3.89$51$68193539
91. Village Greens3.88$44$60333314
92. Highland Woods3.78$41$56233941
93. Silver Lake (North)3.64$45$61464024
94. Glendale Lakes3.53$53$53324333
95. Hughes Creek3.48$60$60647057
96. Fox Run3.46$41$52284236
97. Poplar Creek3.28$65$65294646
98. Randall Oaks3.10$50$59435961
99. Fox Valley2.68$32$46475340
100. Pheasant Run1.34$51$51455445
101. Country Lakes1.00$35$41404733


BEYOND CHICAGO

The other great thing about Chicago golf, is that there's a slew of quality golf just a road-trip away. If you expanded the criteria to anything within a 2 1/2-hour radius, you'd pick up some great courses in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and some more in downstate or NW Illinois. Here's a sampling of some courses less than a few hourse away.

To the North:
Kohler, WI: Whistling Straits, Straits and Irish. Blackwolf Run, River and Meadow Valleys. The Bull at Pinehurst Farms is a Jack Nicklaus course that tries to capitalize on folks coming in and out of Kohler. Not quite Kohler caliber, but not quite Kohler prices either. Erin Hills is a solid course that is coming off the heels of a successful US Amateur tournament. It's big and brawny, and a true championship test if you're into that sort of thing. After going through a myriad of changes, the course is vastly improved, but the net result is that Erin Hills may be the worst routed walking only golf course on the planet. Buy some Trues and prepare for a 5+ hour slog.

To the Northwest:
University Ridge in Madison, WI is a personal favorite and a course that I play at least once a year. Bergamont is a decent, relatively new track nearby, but for my money I rather just play UniRidge twice.

To the West:
The General is the marquis course at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena, IL, but the North and South are also very good. In the quad cities, the TPC at Deere Run is a decent course and home of the John Deere Classic.

To the Southwest: Head down to Peoria and check out WeaverRidge. Not quite as good as some of the golf publications rate it, but still very solid. The back nine is very similar to what you'd find in Galena. If you're heading down there for the day, combine it with Coyote Creek, a course designed by Bruce Borland, who was on the same plane that killed Payne Stewart.

To the East/Southeast:
There's some quality golf for cheap in NW Indiana. I haven't played too many of them, but courses like the Warren Course and Blackthorn in South Bend and The Course at Aberdeen in Valparaiso might be worth checking out. The Kampen Course at Purdue University is a little bit further away but is worth a stop if you're heading down to Indianapolis. It's extremely penal so pray you're hitting it straight that day.

To the Northeast:
A lot of quality golf in SW Michigan. The best thing to do is to play courses like The Mines (a tremendous value), Yarrow, The Ravines on your way up to Arcadia Bluffs, a 5+ hour hike from Chicago but worth it for the views alone. Arcadia gets jammed up with once-a-year type golfers who are there for the eye candy, so book an early tee time or suffer through a 5 1/2 hour round. Or better yet, work some contacts and try to get on The Kingsley Club, one of the most fun golf courses you'll ever play.


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