Golf Club of Illinois: Dialed Down, but Still One Heck of a Challenge

In 1990 Gary Pinns battled the blustery winds and snarling fescue at the Golf Club of Illinois to win the last of his five Illinois Open championships. A testament to the severity of the 7,041-yard par-71 course, Pinns, who is now one of America’s top teaching professionals, was the only man in the field to defeat par.

The public links-style layout was softened in the decade after the ’90 Illinois Open, as hazards were removed from fairways and native grasses were trimmed to manageable heights. There are five tee positions in place at the course, saving beginners and high handicaps from having to tackle the course at full strength.

General manager Rob Lemke said the course is especially popular with senior players – proof that while the Golf Club of Illinois can be a brute at times, its eminently playable for all ages and skill levels.

The Golf Club of Illinois was composed by popular Chicagoland architect Dick Nugent, and then partner Bruce Borland. Borland went on to build signature courses for Jack Nicklaus Design from his hometown of Peoria to Indonesia, but met a very untimely and tragic end aboard the Learjet he shared with Payne Stewart and four others bound for the Tour Championship in Dallas in 1999.

Although the design has been slightly altered since it debuted in 1987, its distinguishing characteristics still remain. Generous fairways, fescue rough, which tickles your knee caps in some spots, devilish sand bunkers and gentle mounding will be experienced from start to finish.

One thing you won’t find at Golf Club Illinois is a tree. In true links fashion, the course is barren and completely at the mercy of gusting winds. As you make your way around the course, the wind will oscillate, blowing in your face and at against your back.

The greens are on the small side, and can be very quick and challenging, with substantial undulation in certain places.

“This links-style course can be pretty brutal for the high-handicapper, especially on a windy day,” said one golfer who recently tried his luck at GCI. “I’d avoid playing from the tips unless you’re a low-handicapper or a real glutton for punishment. “But I guess as dedicated golfers, we’re all gluttons for punishment.”

The most memorable, and most anticipated, hole at the Golf Club of Illinois is the massive 11th, which measures 678 yards from the tips and plays as a par 5. At the time it was constructed, this beast was the longest par 5 in the United States. It’s since been surpassed at a number of facilities. The longest par 5 recognized by the United States Golf Association is a 725-yard hole in Marana, Ariz.

The par-5 11th known as “Grant’s March” is only four yards shy of being eligible for par-6 status. The USGA guidelines are such that any hole 691 yards and longer from the back tees and 591 and longer from the ladies’ tees can be considered a par 6.

Part signature hole, part tourist attraction, the 11th plays slightly uphill, with out of bounds lurking down the entire right side. Fescue-covered mounds border the fairway to the left. Two well-struck shots will leave you a short- to mid-iron from the green, but be careful of two bunkers that pinch the landing area at 160 yards out. Par is an achievable score here, but beware doubles and triples.

Golf Club of Illinois has been impressing with its terrific conditioning as of late. The course brought in a new superintendent in 2006, and all greenside bunkers were overhauled at that time.

The clubhouse was recently remodeled, and contains a fully-stocked pro shop with the latest styles and equipment, a banquet room that can accommodate 225 guests and a 19th hole that serves drinks and casual fare. Men’s and women’s locker rooms can also be found in the clubhouse.

A practice facility is available for warm-up or post-round practice and features grass and matted tees, target greens and hills and a putting green.

To reserve tee times or learn more about the Golf Club of Illinois, visit or call (847) 658-4400.


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