Forest preserve golf courses benefit nature and challenge your game
At the Lake County Forest Preserves, a new golf season means awakening three public courses from winter dormancy, bringing their rolling terrain, sand bunkers and short-trimmed greens up to par.
When it comes to golfing features, the three courses -- ThunderHawk (Beach Park), Countryside (Mundelein) and Brae Loch (Grayslake) -- take on separate personalities that appeal to a wide range of skill levels, from beginners to seasoned players.
Each course also provides valuable natural areas and wildlife habitat that benefit nature and challenge your game.
"Each of the courses has distinctly different characteristics. There is something here for everyone," said Alex Eichman, superintendent of golf course management operations at the Lake County Forest Preserves. "We offer golf for every budget and every ability level," the PGA golf professional said.
The flagship course is the critically acclaimed ThunderHawk Golf Club designed by legendary golf course architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. Known as the father of environmental golf, Jones' goal in designing the course was to create and enhance as much of the site's natural habitat as possible.
The 228-acre course offers the best of both worlds with its designer holes -- no two alike -- meandering through wetlands, oak and hickory groves and native prairies. ThunderHawk is home to a variety of wildlife, including its namesake, the red-tailed hawk.
From the moment it opened in 1999, ThunderHawk has consistently received accolades and earned top national rankings, including being featured in Golfweek's "Best Courses to Play" and named "Best in State" by Golf Digest.
The par-72, 7,031-yard course features a 10-acre learning center and 40-station driving range, including specialized short game areas, chipping and putting greens, and practice bunkers. Rates range from $30 a round during the week to $92 on the weekends.
ThunderHawk features a casual restaurant as well as an elegant yet rustic wedding and event venue with wood beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces and an expansive brick patio overlooking the 18th green.
An array of lessons are also offered. The popular Wine and Nine series is highlighted with a 30-minute golf clinic and a round of nine holes, followed by hors d'oeuvres and wine tasting.
At Countryside Golf Club, golfers can choose from two very different 18-hole courses.
The Prairie Course features large greens and strategically placed bunkers preferred by golfers who favor links style, wide-open spaces. With small trees and relatively flat topography, the modern layout has few secrets to hide.
The Traditional Course, like its name implies, is fashioned with old-style narrow passages through tree-lined fairways and smaller greens, which reward precision shot making. The golfer who will conquer this course is one who can traverse the course with precision, not length. Rates range from $20 a round during the week to $58 on the weekend.
The history of golf at Countryside goes back to the early 1930s when local landowner Samuel Insull constructed the first public golf course in Lake County there. It was originally a nine-hole course that was expanded to 18 holes prior to 1976 when the Lake County Forest Preserves purchased the 145-acre course and adjoining 344 acres of abandoned farmland.
The course received heavy use for the next 14 years and the resulting revenue was used to build a second 18-hole course, expanding Countryside's complex in 1992.
The par-72 courses spotlight a target driving range. It offers all-grass tees, 30 stations and signage showing distances hit. The range is shared by both courses, as are the clubhouse and pro shop. Individual lessons and group classes led by a PGA professional are now being offered at Countryside. Instruction is designed for juniors and adults; beginners through advanced.
Brae Loch Golf Club offers the public a player-friendly, relaxed golfing environment with its subtle, rolling terrain, valued by golfers who prefer to walk with nature throughout their round of golf. Carts are also available.
The 70-acre course with its mature trees and sweeping vistas is perfect for beginners as well as those looking to enhance their playing skills. Rates range from a budget-friendly $15 during the week to $47 on the weekend.
Brae Loch also features a bright banquet facility for meetings, golf outings and events. Overlooking the course fairways, the venue seats up to 165 guests who are able to use a caterer of their choice.
All three courses are maintained in a manner consistent with the mission of the Lake County Forest Preserves to preserve natural habitats and protect the environment.
"Organic fertilizer applications and measures to reduce mowing pollution and fuel usage are just a few examples of those practices," Eichman said.
The courses are also recognized by Audubon International certification programs that help golf officials enhance and protect the valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats golf courses provide.
Countryside and Brae Loch hold the "Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program" designation. ThunderHawk carries the advanced "Audubon Signature Program" affiliation.
For golfers, that translates into rounds played in a natural environment where "pars, birdies and eagles" coexist with butterflies, hawks and native plants.
• Kim Mikus is a communications specialist for the Lake County Forest Preserves. She writes a bimonthly column about various aspects of the preserves. Contact her with ideas or questions at kmikuscroke@LCFPD.org. Connect with the Lake County Forest Preserves on social media @LCFPD.
Lake County Forest Preserves Golf CoursesFor tee times, call (847) 968-3100 or see LCFPD.org/Golf
Brae Loch Golf
3360 N. Hwy. 45, Grayslake
18 holes, par 70
20800 W. Hawley St., Mundelein
Prairie and Traditional courses
18 holes, par 72 (each)
39700 N. Lewis Ave., Beach Park
18 holes, par72