Golf Course Review: Mistwood Golf Club (IL)

The journey of Mistwood Golf Club over the past 20 years has been well documented and for good reason: This is a fantastic public golf destination and an incredibly well run operation.

The first thing you’ll notice at Mistwood is its facilities. The bag drop is just outside the pro shop, downstairs from their Scottish-style restaurant, McWethy’s Tavern, and separated by a rustic courtyard from the grand hall.

A look up at the pro shop/restaurant, courtyard and grand hall from the performance center

String lighting supports the ambiance above the the courtyard, perched over the course, and an outdoor area highlighted by picturesque stone bridges crossing a man-made canal patrolled by massive carp.

The view from one bridge to the next at Mistwood

It takes no imagination to envision Mistwood’s potential as a wedding venue. The views from the grand hall, outdoor courtyard and restaurant are stunning, and its clear the entire property was designed with intent – the operations run out of Mistwood serve the Chicago area’s only true year-round golf experience as well as one of its premiere banquet and catering outfits.

Owner Jim McWethy has invested millions in to the Mistwood experience over the past handful of years, both at the flagship course and at its sister properties like the Mistwood Golf Dome and McWethy’s Sports Bar.

The golf dome, located in nearby Bolingbrook, features TopTracer technology on all 30 of its hitting bays, and employs four cameras per bay that allow every swing in its 60,000 square feet of heated range to be analyzed within several feet of reality.

The Mistwood property boasts every bit as good of practice facilities, highlighted by the Mistwood Performance Center. This state of the art 5,000 square foot prairie-style building features a world-class putting lab with TrackMan and Quintic ball roll technology, 11 heated hitting stations, a full-service bar, club repair room, and teaching stations set up with TrackMan and Foresight GC2.

Nothing’s done half-hearted at Mistwood – their teaching and fitting stations are competitive against the very best and they’ve been consistently named one of “America’s 100 Best Clubfitters” (Golf Digest) and a “Top 50 Public Facility” (Golf Range Magazine).

A look in to the teaching studio bays at Mistwood’s Performance Center

As the site of the Illinois Women’s Open for 25 consecutive years, I knew Mistwood’s golf course would be really good. It far exceeded my expectations, though, in regards to playability, challenge and aesthetics.

Course architect and USGCA member Ray Hearn of Raymond Hearn Golf Course Designs, Inc. originally designed Mistwood Golf Club leading up to its 1999 opening, and was later brought back by owner Jim McWethy for renovations.

This renovation work included the addition of 19 sod-walled bunkers, the deepening of three sizable internal lakes (especially the massive St. James Loch, which shapes the 14th thru 17th hole stretch nicknamed “Kelpie’s Korner”), a complete renovation of the third hole, major renovations and additions to the property’s facilities (eg: The MPC, pro shop, bar/restaurant, practice facilities, river and bridges), and general betterment of every hole on the course.

McWethy’s reinvestment in the property was very well received… So well received, in fact, that it earned Golf Magazine’s honor of being the country’s “Best Public Course Renovation” for 2014.

There are a lot of really good holes at Mistwood, but what you won’t find are any bad ones.

First on my list of the best holes on the course is the par five eighth. With St. James Loch lining the entire right side of the hole, a central fairway trap splits the fairway and provides the perfect line for a guy like me whose accuracy only guarantees my drive usually won’t go exactly where I’m aiming.

Hole 8: Par 5 (596/566/566/535/431)
Hole 8: Par 5 (596/566/566/535/431) showing the split fairways

The green here has been recently renovated, adding some shortly mowed collection areas toward the back. Our day’s back-right pin was diabolical and probably unplayable during peak season, but was a fantastic example of how a course this versatile can set things up as challenging as is needed.

The club’s signature hole is the par three 14th. The two back tees feature a carry of 175-plus, while the forward tees have the lake to the left.

The hole reminded me a lot of the par threes at another great Illinois course: No. 3 at Medinah Country Club. Elevated tees show only water and what appears to be a sliver of a green – it’s an intimidating tee shot, to say the least.

Hole 14: Par 3 (239/200/200/157/116) from the back tees
Hole 14: Par 3 (239/200/200/157/116) from the forward tees

Some of my other favorite holes included the par five 3rd, par three 7th, par three 9th, the drivable par four 10th, the short par four 13th, challenging par five 15th, and the “sporty” par four 16th.

Slideshow of additional Mistwood Golf Club photos:

Mistwood Golf Club website

Early Season Golf at Whistling Straits & Golf Kohler

There are a number of different ways to play Whistling Straits, and none of them are cheap. Playing it during the early Spring and late Fall, though, will save money.

Normal folks like myself have a hard time dishing out $600 for a round at the Straits, so one of the most common questions I get asked is how and when to play it.

The answer: Whenever you can afford it and have a good group to go with. The more economical answer, though, depends on the year. Kohler’s current promotion has early-season deals through Friday, May 9, which include:

  • Whistling Straits, Straits course: $190
  • Whistling Straits, Irish course: $80
  • Blackwolf Run: River course: $130
  • Blackwolf Run: Meadow Valleys course: $80

The next round of deals goes up significantly, making this week the perfect time to play it. Golf Kohler rates from May 10 to June 3:

  • Whistling Straits, Straits course: $300
  • Whistling Straits, Irish course: $130
  • Blackwolf Run, River course: $210
  • Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course: $130

Now here’s where early-season rates get tricky…

There’s a fine line between taking advantage of early-season rates on one of the top five courses in the country and playing it on soupy, brown terrain. I won’t pretend to know everything about fescue grass, but a combination of the Straits course’s turf type and its proximity to the lake can mean a less than beautiful setting during some early Spring seasons.

The trick is to get as close to the final day of the early-season rates as possible, and to consult the course ahead of time if you’re concerned about how it’ll look and play.

For example, here is the second fairway on the Straits course during the final week of the initial early-season rates during two very different years:

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on May 8, 2014 – soupy, soggy, brown, slow

In stark contrast, the course greened up very quickly this year, and in fact the conditions right now are legendarily good. In other words, if you can get a tee time on the Straits course this week (by May 9, 2019), book it. If you can’t and are on a budget, book it before June 3.

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on May 5, 2019 – really good

As you can see, the big difference between what the course looks like right now versus what it looks like during peak season is in the fescue off the fairways – it just hasn’t grown in yet.

The fairway on 2 at the Straits course on August 10, 2014 – perfect

Additional photos from Sunday’s round on the Straits course:

It should be mentioned that the Blackwolf Run and Irish courses are much less volatile than the Straits, so if you’re looking for a world-class round of golf on one of them, feel confident in booking it that the conditions will be worth the investment.

Just like your game probably won’t be in mid-season form yet, though, don’t expect perfection quite yet – that’s why they’re offering early-season deals. The greens will probably still be a little choppy and on the slower side, the native grasses won’t be grown out yet, and tee shots probably won’t get as much run as they will in July… But chances are you’re still going to love the round.

WiscoGolfAddict review of Whistling Straits: Straits course (2014)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Whistling Straits, Irish course (2011)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Blackwolf Run, River course (2012)

WiscoGolfAddict review of Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys course (2014)

Golf Course Review: Grand Geneva, The Brute

What can I say about the Brute at Grand Geneva that isn’t already covered by its name? The Brute is long and tight, and everything about it is “Brute-ish.”

Have you ever seen that beer commercial where the guys are at the tee box and one friend is about to tee off when his buddy says, “Hold on,” and uses his fingers to tighten the fairways and enlarge the sand traps? That is how every hole seems to be on this course. The sand traps are massive, the water features are prominent, and it has a very mature, demanding feel that can be quite intimidating.

I first played and reviewed the Brute 12-15 years ago with a friend of mine, Dane, who used to work there. He was telling me that Jim McMahon and Rollie Fingers always played it barefooted, so we did, too. I remembered it being very nice, but was nowhere near the golf enthusiast I am today, and it was like a whole new experience for me with virtually no recollections of that round and how to play it.

As a side note, it’s hilarious how many times I’ve had people mention Rollie or Jim McMahon as barefooted golfers during rounds with new golf partners.

While WiscoGolfAddict contributing writer John Ziemer and I did not play the course barefooted, we did experience it in a new way: GolfBoarding.

Grand Geneva is currently the only golf destination in the state offering GolfBoards for players to use during their rounds. While the surcharge to use them is minimal – $20 over the standard cost that includes cart – the experience is fun, unique and well worth the added charge (my previous post about GolfBoarding can be found here).

The Brute is one course that I cannot say enough is worth playing from the recommended tee boxes. Similarly to another of my Wisconsin favorites, Wild Rock, everything about the Brute seems massive and accentuated. The course has an awesome look and feel.

Also similarly to Wild Rock, the greens can be really quick and challenging. Many of the greens are crowned, making for really tough downhill putts and a lot of challenging two-putt situations.

The Brute starts with a beautifully elevated par four that, like most holes on this course, features water, sand and a long approach.

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Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

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Hole 1: Par 4 (424/395)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

The Brute uses elevation wonderfully, and especially generously on their par fives. The second hole, for example, features an approach area at least 100 yards long that goes uphill and to the left without any fairway to lay up to. Compounding the challenge of this approach is that the green on two is probably the smallest on the course.

The majority of their par fives are similar, and [at least from the back tees] I would not consider any of them to be easily reachable in two. The sixth hole has a very similar approach area, and both feature greens that are several stories above [and well over 100 yards past] their playable fairways.

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Hole 2: Par 5 (544/509/409)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

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Hole 2: Par 5 (544/509/409)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

The third is a gorgeous downhill par four that narrows to about 15 yards wide between two ponds before going back uphill between greenside bunkers. The water is actually farther away than it at first appears, but driver is likely longer than the landing area will allow.

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Hole 3: Par 4 (374/351/327)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

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Hole 3: Par 4 (374/351/327)  Photo credit: John Ziemer

The fourth is one of those par threes that seems to play much longer than the distance. The elevation is relatively flat overall, but goes downhill from the tee boxes over water, then back well uphill to a very wide green complex.

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Golf Course Review: The Preserve at Oak Meadows (IL)

Each year golf writers from Wisconsin and Illinois emerge at the course of the hosts’ choosing for an epic 27-hole battle: The Writers’ Cup.

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Team Wisconsin (red) and Team Illinois (blue) before teeing off at The Preserve at Oak Meadows for the 2017 Writer’s Cup

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2017 Team Wisconsin

After sending our neighbors to the south home beaten from Sand Valley in 2016, Illinois welcomed us to their newly renovated gem in Addison, The Preserve at Oak Meadows.

Closed down for the 2016 season, The new Preserve course has been beautifully redesigned by Greg Martin as a single 18-hole championship course (pared down from 27 holes) that is now not only a more functional golf facility but also better serves its expanded role of providing water retention/flood control for the Wood Dale/Addison area.

As a golf course architect, Greg Martin is not yet a household name but I believe he will be. Martin, based out of Illinois, recently ended his two-year term as President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA). He’s highly revered within the industry for his work ethic and talent; you’ll never talk to a golf course architect with anything bad to say about him and his work.

Martin’s most notable project to date is one that few will ever experience: Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois. The story goes that billionaire Jerry Rich wanted to be a member at Augusta National Golf Club – who wouldn’t? When he was turned down, he decided to build an Augusta-class course on his own property, leading to the development of Rich Harvest Farms.

This passion project at Rich Harvest Farms has done well enough to host the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Championships in 2017, the 2015 Western Amateur, the 2009 Solheim Cup and countless regional events.

Combined, that is probably as many players as the course sees on a seasonal basis. From what I’ve heard from media friends who’ve played it, the course sees a few foursomes a day while employing a massive staff to ensure perfect course conditions and customer service. It is the type of place where nothing is overlooked and the golf experience is second to none. I’ve heard they have 30 members (including Michael Jordan) and over one hundred employees.

It’s this attention to detail and professionalism that I’m sure won over DuPage Golf for the $17 million remodel project at The Preserve at Oak Meadows. Martin’s work impresses with well thought out teeing locations, terrific greens and strategic shot value.

I’ll claim it’s an effort to avoid spoiling all the surprises, but reality is that the downpour during much of our round was so torrential I didn’t even take my camera out. I hope to get back sometime to add in the first through third holes, though, to complete my course review.

We’ll start out with the short par four fourth, a terrific risk/reward layout: The 302 yards the scorecard shows from the blue tees is indicative of playing down the fairway, so it’s shorter and very reachable.

Anything aimed at the green will need to fly a whole lot of fescue, so while the reward is high, the risk can be substantial.

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Hole 4: Par 4 (352/337/302/273/255)

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Hole 4: Par 4 (352/337/302/273/255)

The fifth is a right-to-left par five playing uphill and to the right through a chute of trees. Just left of the right-side fairway bunkering is the perfect line off the tee.

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Hole 5: Par 5 (529/514/497/483/384)

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Hole 5: Par 5 (529/514/497/483/384)

The narrowest hole on the course, the sixth is perfectly straight, slightly downhill and well bunkered short-right of the putting surface.

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Golf Course Review: Kiawah Island, Cougar Point (SC)

My wife and I fell in love with Charleston and Kiawah Island, South Carolina during our October 2016 honeymoon, and since then we’ve been in a hurry to get back.

Renting a huge, fabulous home on the marsh side of the island with our friends Tom and Lindley from Atlanta, our days were filled with beaches and swimming, golf, shopping, good food and cocktails. Other than only playing one round of golf, it was perfect!

After playing the Ocean Course and Osprey Point the last time we were in Kiawah Island, I’d been hearing great things about Gary Player’s renovation of his original design, Cougar Point.

The second through fourth and eighteenth hole are all visible from Kiawah Island Parkway – the main drive when entering Kiawah – and I always thought they were part of the River Course which is one of the island’s two private tracks that I was originally supposed to play while there.

My round at the River Course unfortunately fell through, but fortunately for me those amazing golf holes and conditions I thought were of the River Course were actually of Cougar Point. The holes seen from the parkway look so good, too, with big orbital sand traps surrounding the green on two, a continuous teeing area that looks like it runs about a hundred yards long, and the fifth hole past the fourth playing adjacent to the picturesque Kiawah River.

Tom and I were in for a treat at Cougar Point.

The clubhouse at Cougar Point is currently under construction, so operations are being run out of a makeshift building until Spring 2019. The new clubhouse will be very southern in style, and the renderings look beautiful.

The course begins with a handshake: A short, straightaway par four with very little trouble. I put one out there about 265 yards off the first tee, leaving just 70 in and my first three-putt/bogey of the day. We’ll blame that one on rust.

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Hole 1: Par 4 (372/342/330/282/243)

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Hole 1: Par 4 (372/342/330/282/243)

The second hole has a bit more bite: A mid-length par three with a tough green and intimidatingly large sand and water features. This is a hole I’d salivated over playing often while driving along Kiawah Island Parkway. It is a beaut.

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Hole 2: Par 3 (171/158/142/126/100)

The path from two to the third hole is a little confusing – just a heads up – but it’s worth it when you get there.

A sharp dogleg left par five, the third has a wonderful risk/reward finish over water to a tight green that begs players to try for that perfect shot.

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