Playing great golf course architecture can be exclusive or expensive. It makes it prohibitive and difficult for the everyday golfer to get out and experience the type of golf discussed on our podcast and website. The good news is, there is plethora of affordable and architecturally interesting options available to the public. Here's a list of courses that I recommend playing in Illinois that cost less than $100 to walk at peak rate.
Many of these courses have seen better days, but their great bones shine through to create an enjoyable golf experience.
Ravisloe Country Club - Donald Ross - Homewood, IL
Weekend walking rate: $63
This Chicago gem has a rich architectural history. It was worked on by Donald Ross, Langford & Moreau and William Watson. The routing is strong and unique, featuring back-to-back par 3's (6&7) and par 5's (2&3) on the front nine. The star of the show is the green complexes, which feature many severe back-to-front slopes and require proper play to score. The back nine traverses along the more interesting piece of the property with the stretch of 11-17 standing out. Of all the public options in Chicago, this is my favorite. It’s fun, supremely walkable, and pace of play is generally good. It should only get better as architect Dave Esler is working on expanding some of the greens back to their original size. With the green expansion underway, Ravisloe is one tree removal program away from being one of the best public options in the country. Full writeup.
Dave Esler transformed Mt. Prospect GC from your run of the mill municipal course to a must-visit in the Chicago area. The community should be commended for thinking out-of-the-box and not maintaining the status quo that muni golf should be boring. The course offers the architectural principles that C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor displayed at the area's two premier private facilities, Shoreacres and Chicago Golf, to a public setting. For less than $58 dollars during peak times, golfers can experience the thrills of playing famed green complexes such as the Redan, Biarritz, Double Plateau, Punchbowl and more.
Shepherd's Crook Golf Club - Keith Foster - Zion, IL
Weekend walking rate: $45
Just within the Illinois border is the Keith Foster gem, Shepherd's Crook. Built on top of a landfill, "The Crook" flies under the radar because it doesn't have a driving range. What it does offer is a thoroughly interesting golf course that has a links feel. The course rarely plays as firm and fast as it should, but the architecture is still rock solid. Word to the wise, if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, you might be met with a strong landfill stench, a small price to pay for good affordable golf.
Kankakee Elks C.C. - Langford & Moreau - Kankakee, IL
Weekend walking rate: $30
Photo credit: Steven Biehl
An hour south of Chicago finds an absolute gem, the Langford & Moreau-designed Kankakee Elks. The Chicago-based architect duo is one of the more under-appreciated firms of the Golden Age, building courses such as Lawsonia, Culver and Skokie. The pair's calling card was their bold features. The scale of greens and grass hollows at a Langford & Moreau course is unforgettable. It comes as no surprise that the green complexes are the big draw at Kankakee Elks. The back nine is bunkerless but by no means easy. Angles play a role in the defense. Nearly all of the original Langford & Moreau work remains, but unfortunately many of the features are covered in rough and trees. It's a drive everyone in Illinois should make, especially for the rate.
Highlands of Elgin - Keith Foster - Elgin, IL
Weekend walking rate: $53
Elgin is another community that deserves credit for investing in golf. The far-reaching suburb completely rehabbed their old defunct golf course "Spartan Meadows" into a new 18-hole course. The community and architect, Keith Foster, added nine holes that play around an old quarry, which gives them a unique setting. The course has wide fairways, large greens and well-placed bunkers that allow it to be both playable and interesting.
Cog Hill #2 “Ravines Course” - David McIntosh & Bert Coghill - Lemont, IL
Weekend walking rate: $57
One of the least famous designs at Chicagoland mega-facility Cog Hill is actually the most enjoyable. Yes, bypass Dubsdread for #2. The #2 course at Cog Hill was built in 1929 and amazingly managed to escape complete destruction during a Joe Lee refresh. The land is some of the most interesting in Illinois, particularly on the back nine where the ravines come into play. The fairway lines and tree management could use some work. Notice a theme here?
Bonnie Brook Golf Course - James Foulis - Waukegan, IL
Weekend walking rate: $36
A little known fact is that the Waukegan municipal run Bonnie Brook was designed by the second U.S. Open Champion (1896) James Foulis, who grew up working with Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews. Foulis and his brothers came stateside to run the Chicago Golf Club and got into the design business shortly after. Bonnie Brook’s design is extremely walkable and playable with interesting green complexes. The conditioning is typically good, and the course plays the way it should, firm and fast when the weather is cooperating. Of all the older municipal courses in the area, Bonnie Brook stands out with its fun and historic design.
Downers Grove Golf Club (9 holes) - C.B. Macdonald - Downers Grove, IL
Weekend walking rate: $23
The original Chicago Golf Club remains partially intact at 9-hole municipal course Downers Grove Golf Club. It’s disappointing that the community hasn’t protected much of the design, with only four original holes remaining. It is easy to see why Macdonald picked Downers Grove for the site of his first golf course, the land is stunning with dramatic topography. The original holes are good (4, 7, 8, 9), and for a history buff, it’s worth a spin or two. Hopefully one day it will be treated the way a historical landmark and one of the most important courses in American golf history deserves. Full writeup
Canal Shores Golf Course - Tom Bendelow - Evanston, IL
Weekend walking rate: $28
A sentimental pick here, friend of The Fried Egg Jason Way has undertaken the role of revitalizing the former Peter Jans, which occupies land in both Wilmette and Evanston. The course has made tremendous strides in the past two years with the addition of volunteer-led projects and bunker builds. This spring, fairway mow lines were pushed out and greens were expanded to recapture their original sizes. Canal Shores is on the up-and-up and will continue to improve and provide an affordable, fun and interesting golf experience.
Not technically Illinois...
Spring Valley CC - Langford & Moreau - Salem, WI
Weekend walking rate: $20
Photo credit: Steven Biehl
This will be in the Wisconsin edition as well but had to be mentioned as it is less than 2 miles north of the Illinois border. Spring Valley is another Langford & Moreau gem. Like Kankakee Elks, the features are bold, and the green complexes are gold. It's overgrown but a restoration away from spectacular. Spring Valley is a short drive from the Northern suburbs and 100% worth the trip to see some classic architecture.
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