Chicago might be called “The Second City,” but it’s definitely the undisputed metropolitan golf mecca of the Midwest. Chicago’s rich history as home to numerous famed courses began in 1892 with the nation’s first 18-hole course, Chicago Golf Club, and continues 128 years later as over 200 courses span the Chicagoland area. Over two-thirds of those layouts are public, giving players a bevy of brilliant options no matter what part of Chicago you call home.
As senior writer for Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2005, I have been continually impressed with the golf greatness Chicago has to offer. Below is a list of my top public courses in the Chicagoland region plus a few bonus options for those interested in traveling north to Wisconsin, named 2017’s number-one best golf destination by Golf Advisor (ahead of Florida, Phoenix-Scottsdale, and even Ireland), for a day trip or stay-and-play retreat.
Remember, before you hit the links during the coronavirus pandemic, check out these guidelines and be sure to consult the course for the most up-to-date rules and restrictions.
Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, Dubsdread #4, Lemont
Rees Jones, the man who renovated Cog Hill’s Dubsdread #4 Course in 2007 and 2008, says it best when describing the facility’s importance. “The Jemsek family is the first family of Chicago public golf in my mind and that goes back to Frank’s father Al,” Jones says. “It was a great experience for me to bring Cog Hill into the 21st century. We were able to keep all of Dick Wilson’s design features yet make it stronger for today’s players.” As host of the Western Open and BMW Championship from 1991 to 2011 except for 2008, Dubsdread #4 is one of the most famous courses in the Midwest and a must-play when in The Windy City.
Besides Dubsdread #4, Cog Hill features three other top public venues: #1, #2, and #3. Cog Hill also offers Stay and Play Packages with the nearby Marriott Burr Ridge.
The Glen Club, Glenview
The Glen Club is one of the most impressive upscale public courses in the entire Chicago area. As home to a Web.com event from 2002 to 2008, the Tom Fazio design is crafted on 195 acres that used to be the Glenview Naval Air Station. By employing numerous water hazards, native areas, and fairway moguls, the Glen Club takes golfers on a four-hour thrill ride in always-immaculate conditions.
Since 2001 The Glen Club has housed the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame — a lasting tribute to the largest golf contributors from the Land of Lincoln. The Glen Club also features a majestic 48,000-square-foot clubhouse that offers superb dining, tastefully appointed overnight accommodations, a grand ballroom, and the finest in corporate amenities.
Harborside International, Starboard & Port Courses, Chicago
Harborside International takes a unique concept and perfects it! Designer Dick Nugent was charged with designing two golf courses on one property with a similar look, feel, and playability rating. Harborside’s Port Course, which opened for play in 1995, features the par-3 15th hole, known for a massive bunker in the shape of an anchor. One year later, The Starboard Course opened and is currently ranked the third-finest course in Illinois according to Golf Week Magazine.
Both courses at Harborside International feature amazing views of downtown Chicago, even though the course is a good 15 miles from the city’s epicenter. The course is even closer to Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Harborside International is buoyed by a 57-acre practice facility that includes separate areas for chipping, pitching, and sand play, and a large clock for putting drills.
Mistwood Golf Club, Romeoville
Expertly renovated by Ray Hearn between 2011-2013, Mistwood Golf Club is a spectacular Scottish-inspired course in the southwestern Chicago suburb of Romeoville. The three-year renovation project added 19 Scottish-style sod wall bunkers that give a distinctive style to the 7,005 yard, par-72 layout. Six holes play around a 65-acre lake (Loch St. James) and elicit stunning visuals and shot values throughout. The par-3 14th demands a near 200-yard downhill shot over water while the par-5 15th is a 90-degree dogleg left with water running down the entire left side.
Their year-round Performance Center is one the Midwest’s finest and is run by eight full-time golf professionals. If a technology has been invented to help your game, it’s a safe bet Mistwood’s Performance Center has it. Finally, their 26,000-square-foot clubhouse is an ideal location for weddings, banquets, and corporate functions.
Cantigny Golf Club, Wheaton
Cantigny Golf Club’s picturesque 27-hole layout is divided into three nines: the Woodside, Lakeside, and Hillside. All three weave their way through native oak, maple, and hickory trees, and over and around lakes and streams. Cantigny takes golfers on a journey through part golf course, part arboretum, and part national park, all in one.
Cantigny is further distinguished by the Cantigny Golf Academy. Opened in 2008, the Academy is the region’s first year-round practice and learning center of its kind. It offers all the essential components of golf performance under one roof, including climate-controlled hitting bays, expert club fitting, and professional golf fitness training. The Academy welcomes beginners and expert players alike. Cantigny’s golf legacy was immediately cemented as it received “Golf Digest’s Best New Public Golf Course in America” in 1989, the first year it was open to the public. As Cantigny’s popularity soared, major Illinois tournaments were landed, including four State Amateur Championships in 1996, 2002, 2008, and 2014. In keeping with their every six year run, Cantigny is preparing for host the 89th Illinois State Amateur this July 16-18.
The Preserve at Oak Meadows, Addison
In the shadow of O’Hare International Airport resides the newest property to be included on my unofficial “Best in Chicago Course List,” The Preserve at Oak Meadows. Architect Greg Martin’s multi-year project merged 27 holes into 18 and, more importantly, fixed a constant summer flooding problem. The result is a part-parkland, part-links layout that won two major awards upon completion.
Golf Inc. named The Preserve at Oak Meadows the 2018 Renovation of the Year, while Golfweek Magazine named the 7,089-yard, par-72 track on their “2018 Best Courses You Can Play” list. The course is a member of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, so their green fees present a remarkable value, ranging between $49 to $85 with cart.
Ruffled Feathers Golf Club, Lemont
Ruffled Feathers GC has the distinction of being the only Pete Dye-designed property in the Chicago area. Everything at Ruffled Feathers is geared toward a private club experience at a public facility. To that end, they’ve created a clever VIP Experience that includes green fee, cart fee, driving range day pass, choice of premium golf shirt, Ruffled Feathers golf towel, sleeve of Callaway golf balls, choice of lunch menu item, and an in-cart snack and non-alcoholic drink pack all for one low price.
This forward-thinking package allows patrons to make a day of it in a setting that feels far away from the big city. As the name indicates, the 6,900-yard, par-72 layout might grind your gears due to its intimidating shot values and multiple water features, but Pete Dye designs are always ones you’ll want to play several times a year.
Stonewall Orchard Golf Club, Grayslake
The northern suburbs are filled with outstanding courses (ThunderHawk and Shepherd’s Crook in Zion, Pine Meadow in Mundelein), but my personal favorite is Stonewall Orchard Golf Club, a thoughtful Arthur Hills design. The 7,124-yard, par-72 layout is so highly thought of by the USGA that they have held four U.S. Open Qualifiers here between 2003 and 2015.
If getting away from it all is your number-one golf goal, then Stonewall Orchard’s naturalness is to be coveted. More than 65,000 fully mature pine and oak trees combine with acres of rolling hills and wetlands to form a serene golf experience that is unmatched. Stonewall Orchard is what I like to call a “public country club,” based upon their splendid amenities and immaculate course conditions.
Wisconsin’ Best Golf Destinations
Geneva National Resort & Golf Club, Lake Geneva
Geneva National Resort & Golf Club is home to a collection of arguably the most iconic signature courses in the Midwest. Three 18-hole championship layouts grace the 1,600-acre property, one each designed by Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and Lee Trevino. Another facet that makes Geneva National Resort & Golf Club so unique is the fact it’s both a private and public facility at the same time. Having a three course rotation allows members to always have one private course while the public is allowed to play the other two on any given day.
A buddies trip will always be memorable thanks to The Inns of Geneva National, a series of distinctive group villas each with six deluxe guest rooms, spacious living, dining, and rec rooms. Upscale amenities such as private patios with grills and a private putting green — all with views of 18th fairway of the Player Course — come standard with your stay. The multi-award winning Hunt Club Steakhouse (inside the 100-year-old Crane Manor) is also onsite and overlooks the intersection of holes 6, 9, and 10 on the Player Course. For more information on Geneva National Resort & Golf Club, visit genevanationalresort.com.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, Lake Geneva
This 1,310-acre facility is highlighted by two stunning designs, The Brute and The Highlands. In fact, The Highlands is the only course in the state to be co-designed by Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus and is a tribute to the great inland-links-style courses of Scotland. The Brute is aptly named as 68 monstrous bunkers and massive, undulating greens dot the 7,200-yard track. The 600-plus room Grand Geneva Resort & Spa was renovated in 2010 and is replete with a full-service spa, five on-site restaurants, and their adjacent Timber Ridge Lodge and Waterpark (great for kids).
Conveniently located less than two hours north on I-43, Destination Kohler is comprised of four championship courses and one five-diamond resort, The American Club. Whistling Straits is recognized around the world, thanks to hosting three PGA Championships (2004, 2010, 2015) and the now 2021 Ryder Cup, due to its postponement because of the coronavirus pandemic. My recommendation: Take advantage of their Dye-Albolical Stay and Play Package that includes rounds on all four properties (Blackwolf Run River, Meadow Valleys, The Irish Course at Whistling Straits, and the aforementioned Whistling Straits) combined with a three-night stay at the palatial American Club. Within the American Club resides The Horse and Plow, a laid-back restaurant/bar with the finest cheese curds in the state. Visit americanclubresort.com/packages to view all of their packages.
Erin Hills, Erin
Erin Hills captured the attention of the golf world in 2017 when it hosted the 117th U.S. Open won by Brooks Koepka. Since then, the Michael Hurzan/Dana Fry design has been implementing a series of cool promotions to keep them in the forefront. Overnight guests can now play the Kettle Loop, a five-hole rotation played from different tee boxes and yardages than the Championship layout or the brand-new lighted 62,000-square-foot Drumlin Putting Course. Overnight guests also have access to their ultra-cool caddie barn, complete with dart boards and ping pong and pool tables. Talk about an exclusive behind-the-scenes experience you can’t find anywhere else.
Erin Hills is a walking-only facility and features five on-site cottages that are ideal for buddy trips thanks to the above amenities and stellar dining options. Plus, it is only 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee, so Chicagoans can plan their golf trip around when the Cubs or White Sox play the Brewers next.
Sand Valley Golf Resort, Rome
The newest addition to the high-end public resort golf scene in the Midwest is Sand Valley Golf Resort, located four hours north of Chicago in tiny Rome, Wisconsin. Chicago native Mike Keiser, the same man who brought us Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links, has struck gold with his latest walking-only, multi-course destination. It began in 2017 with the opening of Sand Valley, a stunning Crenshaw/Coore design that is hallmarked by massive sand blowouts and 360-degree vistas. Mammoth Dunes, a David McLay Kidd masterpiece, and the ultra-cool 17-hole par-3 course dubbed The Sandbox, both opened in May 2018, and converge to form Golf’s Next Big Thing.
Multiple modest lodging options are available (similar to Bandon Dunes) as Sand Valley Golf Resort is meant to be enjoyed with your favorite golf group. Plus, you can add on rounds at the adjacent Lake Arrowhead or nearby SentryWorld in Stevens Point, two top Wisconsin tracks worthy of a visit.
How to Help:
Want to golf and make a difference? Check out this list of upcoming charity golf events. Be sure to contact the individual courses for information on COVID-19-related cancellations and postponements.
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Glen Turk is a Wisconsin native who has been the Senior Writer/Editor of Midwest Golfing Magazine since 2005. Glen’s ultimate golf goal is to play in all 50 states and currently he is more than two-thirds the way there. Glen and his wife have a rescue German Shepherd dog and are passionate supporters of their local humane society. Glen also enjoys participating in charity golf tournaments such as those benefitting Special Olympics. You can read all of Glen’s previous works at midwestgolfingmagazine.com by clicking on the “Past Issues” tab within the main menu.