Finally, after several years of political debate and two years in the construction phase, The Preserve at Oak Meadows is ready to welcome golfers.
With today's economic conditions, new golf courses are a rarity anywhere and the wait to see how this one would turn out has been a tantalizing one.
"We looked at renderings, drawings and planning, so it was more like a five-year project," said Ed Stephenson, who was the director of golf for the three courses operated by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County when construction began and is now its executive director. "To know we're so close to having people come out, see the property and enjoy it is really rewarding."
Public play on the Addison course begins Aug. 7, but tee time holders and some golf industry personnel will be getting sneak peeks ahead of time. Fees for public play will start at about $50 and top off at $89 on weekend mornings for golfers using power carts.
The Preserve was built on land that had embraced the 18-hole Oak Meadows layout and the Maple Meadows East nine-holer. They were last played on July 7, 2015.
Before that the 288-acre site contained two country clubs, Elmhurst and Brookwood. Elmhurst opened in 1923 and became Oak Meadows when the Forest Preserve District took it over in 1985. Brookwood closed in the early 1990s.
Both courses operating on the property had a checkered past. On the good side, Elmhurst was used for the 1941 Chicago Open. It was won by Ben Hogan in a duel with Sam Snead. Golf didn't get any better in that era.
On the other end of the historical spectrum was the area's reputation for flooding, which was evident to all drivers on nearby Interstate 294. Salt Creek would over flow after every heavy rainfall.
"A big part of the construction was addressing the mounting issues of flooding," Stephenson said. "The course got the reputation for being 'Soaked Meadows.'"
Batavia architect Greg Martin supervised the rebuilding process while also serving as national president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. His work was put to the test with the heavy rains that wreaked havoc in many Chicago suburbs this summer.
"Rain used to put five greens under water as well as seven of the fairways and some of the tees," Stephenson said. "Mother Nature put us to the test, and there was minimal impact with the rains we've had in 2017."
There's a good reason for that. Of the $16 million spent on the project, only about one-third went toward the golf course. Flooding concerns were addressed as the 27 golf holes were reduced to 18. The area can hold 20 million more gallons of stormwater than it could before the rebuild.
The course still needs time to grow in, but it will be well received. The many golfers who played at Elmhurst and Oak Meadows will find two familiar holes: Nos. 1 and 18 have been rebuilt but use the same corridors they did in the old days. After that, though, it'll be a new playing experience.
"We're excited," said Stephenson. "Those who played here before will see some parts they knew from before and other parts they've never seen before. It's a wonderful blend of some familiar views with some new holes. It's truly a new golf course."
Construction involved the moving of 700,000 cubic yards of earth and the removal of 1,000 nonnative trees. About 500 more suitable trees were planted along with 308,000 wetland plants. The wetlands may be what new players notice first. Thirty acres of wetlands were added to the 10 already there.
Most courses in the Chicago area are built on less than half the land used for The Preserve. Its hefty acreage suggests players who prefer walking to riding may have reservations about the layout, but Stephenson believes the tees and greens are close enough to be enjoyable walking round.
The only real downer is that the old No. 16, a historic par-3, is no more. Designed by original architect Charles Wagstaff, it featured the first island green in North American golf. Martin couldn't salvage it because of flooding concerns.
Martin's design is highlighted by three short par-4s -- Nos. 4, 12 and 16. There's a lot of risk-reward shot options on each of them, and they'll be the prime subjects of discussion for The Preserve's first players.
Players are sure to like the square tee boxes and the numerous playing options. Every hole has at least five tee placements and some have as many as seven. The course will play at 7,100 yards from the tips and my sneak preview verified that the course -- given its newness -- offers more than satisfactory playing conditions.
Bunkers were also upgraded. Twenty were removed from what had been Oak Meadows and 54 new ones -- all with striking white sand -- were added to the new design.
One thing The Preserve doesn't have -- and needs badly -- is a clubhouse. A 50,000-square-foot version was built by Elmhurst members and was inherited by Oak Meadows players until it burned down after it was struck by lightning in 2009. The DuPage board could approve a more modern 17,000-square-foot replacement designed by architect Dan Wohlfeil at an upcoming meeting. Wohlfeil was the architect for the well-received clubhouse at Mistwood in Romeoville.
Until then, The Preserve will operate out of Oak Meadows' old pro shop, a structure that will be torn down once the new clubhouse is up and running.
There's a chance the groundbreaking for the new clubhouse could coincide with The Preserve's Grand Opening. It won't be held until next spring. The few months left in this season are mainly for introductory purposes.
"A golf course goes through a maturation process," said Stephenson. "We're opening with tee times spread out so the young turf is able to take root and mature."
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