After more than two years of renovation work, the former Oak Meadows Golf Course in Addison has earned its new name as The Preserve at Oak Meadows.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County restored the portion of Salt Creek that runs through the 288-acre property and consolidated two golf courses into a single 18-hole facility with greater flood resistance and more stormwater storage capacity.
The roughly $16.8 million project also added about 500 native trees and more than 300,000 native wetland plants.
Officials with the district, which owns the property, say playing the course now will be like touring a northern Illinois landscape with savannas, woodlands and prairie.
"We view this as a way to better connect golfers to nature," Executive Director Ed Stevenson said. "We want them to see what a northern Illinois landscape is all about."
Starting Monday, the general public can play the course as part of its "preview" season. The grand opening season will tee off in April 2018.
The new-look golf preserve is the culmination of years of discussion and planning.
Originally built in the 1920s, Oak Meadows was known as the Elmhurst Country Club until the forest preserve district acquired it in 1985. In addition to an 18-hole course, the property featured a 9-hole facility called Maple Meadows East.
But because the district bought the land to retain stormwater, the courses were allowed to flood, and that created problems for the golf operation. Golfers gave Oak Meadows a nickname: "Soaked Meadows."
"It had always been assumed that if we did something to protect the golf course from flooding, we would take away from the property's environmental quality and its ability to hold stormwater," Stevenson said.
Several years ago, officials decided to challenge that assumption by developing a plan to improve stormwater storage and make golf more sustainable. It called for consolidating the courses to create a better facility with holes that are higher and drier.
"We knew we had to reduce golf's footprint in order to improve the stormwater capacity and create new habitat areas," Stevenson said.
To help pay for the project, the district received $2.6 million from the county stormwater management department to create new wetlands. The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup contributed $2.25 million for the restoration of Salt Creek.
Work on the project started in July 2015.
Now portions of the property still flood during heavy rains, but the water is held in areas intended for that purpose. The course's tees, greens and fairways remain dry.
"We are supposed to flood even more than we used to," Stevenson said, "but we just do it smarter now."
That was achieved by moving 700,000 cubic yards of dirt and shaping new wetlands and stormwater storage. As a result, the property can store an additional 20 million gallons of water.
The dirt, meanwhile, was used to elevate golf surfaces that chronically flooded. Holes also were rebuilt, so while some look familiar, others appear completely new.
For example, the new 16th hole on the southeast side of the property is about 6 feet higher than it used to be. The old 16th hole, which was an island green, now is a wetland with natural grasses.
Meanwhile, the green for the former 10th hole has been transformed into a prairie with native grasses and plants.
The property now has roughly 30 acres of wetlands connected to Salt Creek.
As for the creek, two dams were removed and other changes were made to improve water quality. In addition, several hundred trees -- mostly nonnative -- that were cut down on the property were added to the shoreline. They're now helping to prevent shoreline erosion and serve as habitat for aquatic life.
During a recent storm, Stevenson said, the property did exactly was it was engineered to do.
"We had water," he said. "But we held it in the right places. We held it in the wetlands. We held it in the floodplain."
So while he believes golfers will enjoy playing it, Stevenson said the renovated course will provide greater benefits.
"The changes we made to this property," he said, "are going to be good for the habitat, good for the community, for decades."