Dream a Little Dream: A Second Golf Course at Ballyneal


It has been one long, long winter in Chicago. Usually the Masters signals the unofficial kick-off to the golf season in Illinois. This year...not so much. Snow on April 14th and 15th. Lovely.

Despite a relatively lackluster Masters tournament this year, the juices were still flowing. What does a golf addict do when it's too cold to play outside? Work out? Maybe tomorrow. Post on golfclubatlas? Lurking gets old fast. How about scoring Google Earth for hypothetical golf holes? Bingo!

Over the course of the last year, I've been enamored with a plot of land in the Chop Hills south of Ballyneal. Over the summer, I carved out a little test plot, created a crude topo map and tried to find some golf holes. I slapped something together (see below), but ended up reaching a dead end. I felt that I had to go scour the actual land to get a better feel for the size of the hills and what was golfable land vs. too choppy to be of much use.

So early one morning last May, I borrowed my buddy Brandon's car, drove a couple miles south of the Ballyneal gate, turned off on a sandy road, realized I was in the wrong spot, tried to turn around I mentioned last year, five minutes into my design career and it was over before it even started.

Any time I get the design bug, Brandon is quick to remind me what happened last time. This past week, in an act of golf desperation, I took a fresh look at putting together another 18 holes at Ballyneal. Armed with some better topo information, I quickly realized that a lot of what I put on paper last time wouldn't work. It was back to the drawing board for at least two-thirds of the course.

As silly as it sounds, routing a hypothetical golf course is tough! It can be an all-encompassing exercise. I couldn't sleep. I stared at a small version of the topo on my phone until I got too frustrated that you couldn't zoom in past a certain point, borrowed my wife's iPad and stared at it for hours on end. Somehow I managed a work trip to New York and coherently presented to bank regulators. On the plane, I used a sketch app to draw lots of criss-crossing lines representing potential routing options.

Eventually, I landed on something. Originally I purposely staked out land that avoided a proposed course that Bruce Hepner did for Ballyneal a few years back. I envisioned my course as a third course for the club. However, as I started to think about different options, I gravitated towards using a combination of holes between my original routing and Bruce's proposed routing. With his blessing, I started exploring that as a viable options. Then the pieces started to come together. In the version below, holes 4-11 are from Bruce's routing.

Counting golf club atlas design contests, this is the fourth full course that I've tried to route on paper (I'm sure it shows). I highly recommend any golf course architect fan to give it a shot, because through the process you'll gain a heightened respect for the guys who actually do it for a living (and think about other things like water, costs, environmental concerns, construction, etc). At a minimum, you'll get a glimpse at some of the trade-offs involved when trying to piece together a 18-hole golf course. There's been a lot of talk about golf course architecture "ideals" lately, and you won't get very far until you're faced with making a compromise. For example, in the latest iteration of the routing below, I ended up scrapping a potential par 5 that would've been the best hole on the property. I just couldn't get to that spot and finish with 18 holes or without making a sacrifice somewhere else. I'll keep thinking on that one, for sure, as well as making other changes to the course over time.

So below is where I'm at right now. Over time, I'll add to this post hole-by-hole details and any iterative changes. Feel free to reach out to me with feedback or suggestions. In the meantime, does anybody have a few million dollars to spare?

UPDATE: A new addition to the property. Introducing Cattle Ranch: the 7-hole, multiple configuration golf course with an 18-hole putting course.

5/4 Update: Made changes to the 6th and 14th Holes

1st Hole, 406 Yd Par 4
1st Hole
2nd Hole, 588 Yd Par 5
2nd Hole
3rd Hole, 367 Yd Par 4

3rd Hole

4th Hole, Actual Land
4th Hole, 225 Yd Par 3

5th Hole, 465 Yd Par 4
5th Hole Approach, Actual Land

5th Hole, Approach
5th Hole
6th Hole, 562 Yd Par 5

7th Hole, 140 Yd Par 3
7th Hole

8th Hole, 445 Yd Par 4
9th Hole, 406 Yd Par 4
10th Hole, 575 Yd Par 5
11th Hole, Actual Land
11th Hole, 191 Yd Par 3
12th Hole, 380 Yd Par 4

12th Hole
13th Hole, 362 Yd Par 4

13th Hole
14th Hole, 470 Yd Par 4

15th Hole, 225 Yd Par 3
15th Hole
16th Hole, 434 Yd Par 4
16th Hole, Looking back

16th Hole
17th Hole, 587 Yd Par 5
17th Hole
18th Hole, 505 Yd Par 4
18th Hole


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