Challenging Marengo Ridge offers plenty of variety, fantastic value
Looking for your first hole-in-one?
Apparently, one of the best places for that dream to come true is Marengo Ridge Golf Club in Marengo, where five golfers have already recorded an ace this season.
"It's been wild," said head golf professional Nic Barnes. "I have to get plaques made in Belvidere and before I even pick up the other ones, I'm sending in new ones.
"I also had a junior camp where three or four kids chipped in, and a 6-year old girl make a 45-foot putt on the practice green. And I had two guys hole out on No. 18 from 55 yards on the same day.
"There's something weird about the property where balls just like to make their ways into the cup."
Whether or not your name is added to the list of remarkable shots, Marengo Ridge is definitely worth a look and is the second track in this year's Hidden Gems series. The course offers a wide variety of holes, some that offer great birdie opportunities and others that will have you scratching your head at first.
"You definitely need to play it once before you try to score because there's a lot of things that can sneak up on you and a lot of distances that you need to get down," Barnes said. "It's more position golf, especially on the back nine."
Make sure you're ready from the get-go because Marengo immediately tests you with a long, dogleg left par 4 and a sneaky par 5 that'll test your mettle. Tee shots on No. 2 that zoom to the right are destined for a watery grave.
The third hole is a tricky par 4 in which long hitters are in danger of finding the creek that sits just beyond the 150-yard marker. A well-placed 200-yard drive down the right side gives you a good chance at par.
No. 5 is a fun 308- or 284-yard dogleg right. Mid-handicappers should ignore pin position and play for the middle of this well-bunkered green with a short iron.
After a short par-5 with trouble everywhere comes the demanding 413/386-yard par-4 seventh. This is one of the toughest fairways to hit and even if you do so, the approach is no picnic.
Walk off the front nine with a decent number and you can score on the back -- if you successfully navigate 12, 13 and 16.
No. 12 plays just 338 from the whites, but this dogleg right has out of bounds on the left and a massive tree guarding the green. No one in our threesome had a clean look on their approach. The key is to make sure your drive is far enough left -- without risking going OB. It's a tall task, for sure.
"Twelve is just a really nice risk-reward hole," Barnes said. "It's surrounded by cornfield and open property, so you're tucked away and have your own little section to play.
"It's a cool look off the tee. You can cut the corner if you want to go for it, but then you've got to get through two field-goal post trees near the green."
After ascending the steep hill to the 13th tee box, turn around and take in the view because it's a stunner. Now get up there and put a confident swing on a driver or 3-wood and make sure to favor the right side of this short but daunting par 5.
End up on the top of the hill and all you've got left is a midiron or hybrid, then a wedge in for an easy par or a birdie. Go into the woods on either side, however, and triple bogey is in play.
The 16th's a real doozy, especially if the wind is howling. It's "only" 347 from the whites, but plays longer because of the uphill approach. This hole has wrecked a few rounds for me, so understand that bogey is absolutely OK.
The 531-yard finishing hole is reachable in two for long hitters who can cut off a large portion of the dogleg right. Lose it too far, though, and you're re-teeing after hitting into someone's backyard.
As with many courses, the bunkers need to be addressed. The cart paths need work as well.
"Those are two things we're looking to improve upon as we go forward," said Barnes, who also worked at Rockford's Forest Hills Country Club, Medinah Country Club and The Glen Club in Glenview. "A lot of places have had to put off their modernization and improvements. Now that golf has made a turnaround -- I mean we're up another 25% from last year -- it's a great time where all the clubs can make the changes they've been wanting to make for a while now."
Marengo Ridge really makes you think, but you can definitely score here once you learn its nuances. It gets 5 stars for value, 3 for course conditions, 4 for accessibility for our readership area and 5 for walkability.
"I'd like to compete on customer service," Barnes said. "So we really value the look of the facility and what we can offer to every golfer coming in. It's about the golf course, yes, and honestly the layout's really good. But we want your whole experience from when you get here to when you leave to be top notch. That's really where the value is."
Marengo Ridge Golf ClubMarengo Ridge Golf Club
History: Founded in 1963 as a 9-hole course in McHenry County. Another 9 was added in 1990.
Yards: 6,654 from blue tees; 6,239 whites; 5,690 from golds; 5,368 from reds; 4,173 from family tees
Weekday rates: $30 to walk ($45 to ride); $25 to walk twilight ($40 to ride)
Weekends and holidays: $42 to walk ($57 to ride); $35 to walk in afternoon ($50 to ride); $25 to walk twilight ($40 to ride)
Approximate distance from Schaumburg and Arlington Heights: 30-35 miles
Hoffman Estates and Barrington: 25-30 miles
Elgin: 20 miles
Mundelein: 35 miles
Buffalo Grove and Wheaton: 40 miles
Naperville: 50-60 miles