Blackstone Golf Club a hidden gem you'll want to attack again and again
Most longtime Chicagoans know about the best public golf courses in the area.
Cantigny, Arrowhead, Mistwood, Stonewall Orachard, Harborside International and Cog Hill's Dubsdread all set the bar awfully high.
Giving them a run for their money is Blackstone Golf Club, a relatively unknown track in Marengo. Featuring a stunning layout, immaculate conditions and greens that can make the best putters second-guess themselves, Blackstone is a track you'll be raving about for quite some time.
The course came to life in 2006, is owned by Huntley resident Dan Weck and has almost 180 members.
There are two big keys to scoring out here:
• Keep the course in front of you because trouble abounds around every corner.
• Spend at least 20 minutes on the practice green. It's absolutely critical to gauge the speed from a variety of slopes and distances.
Blackstone eases you in with a par 4 (drivable for big hitters) and a 132-yard par 3.
After that, it's time to up your game because holes 3-6 can be flat-out monsters. In the five times I played the course, I've walked off the sixth green 5 over par, 6 over twice, 7 over and 11 over.
Unless you are striping your driver, it's not a bad idea to tee off with a 3-wood or a hybrid on the 526-yard fourth hole and the 480-yard sixth. Both are par 5s.
It may be tough to par No. 4 that way, but it also helps remove the possibility of a 7, 8 or even 9.
The sixth hole really forces you to really think because trees guard both sides of the fairway. Last week, I went 3-hybrid, 3-hybrid, 6-iron and got on in regulation.
"That left side sneaks up on you pretty fast," said Chris Ettner, the Director of Golf. "So position yourself maybe 230, 240 off the tee. If you get too greedy, there's definitely trouble on the left."
It's also vitally important to stay below the hole on your approach shot because any downhill putt over 20 feet is a true test.
Get through these holes and you can score. As an example, in the round I was 11 over, I then rattled off 5 straight pars, bogeyed 12 and 13, parred 14 and finished with a 90.
On the back nine, the key is to get past 14 and 15 unscathed.
From the gold tees, No. 14 plays 389 yards and requires one of the toughest second shots in the state. Not only must you fly a wetlands, but you are also hitting to an elevated green that is protected by a massive bunker on the right.
Then there's No. 15, which has always caused me fits. It's a 377-yard par 4 with trees on both sides of a narrow fairway. My scores here? Triple, triple, triple, double and bogey.
"It's hard to fit your drive in there," Ettner said. "You've got the bunker on the left and a bunker on the right that scoots out into the fairway. So trying to fit into that little spot is almost a 3-wood play, and then you have a longer shot into the green."
Now go get a par on 16 because the finishing holes are a bear.
No. 17 is a 183-yard par 3 (or 234 from the blacks!) that probably plays 10-15 yards longer. Then the finishing hole is a grueling par 4 that is difficult to reach in two for 12 handicappers and above.
Suggestions to improve:
The only on-course thing I would change is to shorten the fifth hole from 206 yards to 181 from the gold tees, and make it 170 from the silvers. Mid-handicappers should have a legit chance on par 3s, but this hole is basically a par 4.
My other suggestion would be to lower the junior rate to $8-$10 at certain times. Maybe after 3 p.m. every day, or on Mondays. Or join the Youth On Course program in which kids play for $5. This will help bring along another generation of golfers -- something everyone in the industry should focus on.
With our Hidden Gems, we are trying to feature courses that are $40 and under to walk (which Blackstone is after 2 p.m. on weekdays), so I'm bending the rules a bit here. But this course could easily be $75 or more. Check it out and I guarantee you'll make it a staple every season.
Five stars for value; 5 for course condition; 3 for accessibility; 2.5 for walkability (due to some long walks between holes).
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Practice tips from 100 yards and in
Course spotlightBlackstone Golf Club in MarengoFounded in 2006
Yards: 6,734 from black tees; 6,431 from black/gold hybrid; 6,133 from gold; 5,837 from gold/silver hybrid; 5,529 from silver; 4,918 from bronze
Weekday walking rates: $49 and $39 for seniors; $39 and $29 after 2 p.m. Juniors: $18
Gold: $3,000 and you can play any time, any day
Silver plus: $2,400 (M-F anytime; after noon on weekends)
Silver: $1,550 (M-Th anytime; reduced rates Friday through Sunday)
Approximate distance from Arlington Heights: 35 miles
From Hoffman Estates: 25 miles
From Barrington: 29 miles
From Wheaton: 40 miles
From Naperville: 55 miles