Hidden Gems: Stunning views make Prairie Isle a real treat

  • The par-3 8th hole at Prairie Isle Golf Club in Crystal Lake features an extreme vertical drop to a green surrounded by water. "One of the best par 3s around," said Quentin Grasso, the head professional. "When the wind is really blowing hard you can hit anything from a 5-iron to a sand wedge, which makes it fun."

    The par-3 8th hole at Prairie Isle Golf Club in Crystal Lake features an extreme vertical drop to a green surrounded by water. "One of the best par 3s around," said Quentin Grasso, the head professional. "When the wind is really blowing hard you can hit anything from a 5-iron to a sand wedge, which makes it fun." John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Club selection is critical on the par-3 8th hole at Prairie Isle Golf Club. The picturesque hole plays 160 yards from the blue tees, 134 from the whites, 120 from the silvers and 100 from the reds.

    Club selection is critical on the par-3 8th hole at Prairie Isle Golf Club. The picturesque hole plays 160 yards from the blue tees, 134 from the whites, 120 from the silvers and 100 from the reds. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Don Czyznik of Mundelein tees off on the 13th hole at Prairie Isle. "It's probably one of the nicest views we have," said head golf pro Quentin Grasso.

    Don Czyznik of Mundelein tees off on the 13th hole at Prairie Isle. "It's probably one of the nicest views we have," said head golf pro Quentin Grasso. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Richard Anderson of Huntley hits an approach to the 4th hole at Prairie Isle. The medium-length par 4 (332 yards from the white tees) is a dogleg left in which golfers must hit an accurate drive to get to the green in two.

    Richard Anderson of Huntley hits an approach to the 4th hole at Prairie Isle. The medium-length par 4 (332 yards from the white tees) is a dogleg left in which golfers must hit an accurate drive to get to the green in two. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Don Czyznik of Mundelein tees off on the par-4 11th hole at Prairie Isle. The dogleg left features wetlands on the left and an elevated, three-tiered green.

    Don Czyznik of Mundelein tees off on the par-4 11th hole at Prairie Isle. The dogleg left features wetlands on the left and an elevated, three-tiered green. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/18/2021 6:37 PM

Serious golfers like to move around. We don't stick to the same two or three tracks all summer because there are far too many fantastic courses in Illinois, Indiana and southern Wisconsin and Michigan.

It's with that thought we reprise our Hidden Gems series from last year. We highlight courses that might under the radar, and in good shape, with impressive layouts and offer great value.

 

The big-shouldered Prairie Isle in Crystal Lake has an incredible variety of holes and impressive elevation changes that will make you think you've been transported to South Carolina or Tennessee.

"The condition of the course really sells it," said Quentin Grasso, the head professional. "Plus, the different types of holes. There's tight holes, open holes. You get a variety.

"For what you're paying for it -- and our prices as competitive as anybody around -- you get a lot of value."

Prairie Isle is demanding, but you can score by mixing up what you use on the tee. Driver isn't always the play.

Course tour:

One key to scoring is a decent start because Prairie Isle eases you in with a 475-yard par-5 and a pair of medium-length par 4s.

The beauty of the course starts to show on No. 4 -- a dogleg left, 332-yard par 4 that demands a well struck, accurate tee shot. The short approach must carry a lake that guards the green.

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After that it's time to bring the A Game since the rest of the front nine tests you with long, challenging holes with par always a good score.

The exception is No. 8, the 134-yard signature hole featuring a huge vertical drop to a green surrounded by water.

"Eight is one of the best par 3s around," Grasso said. "The elevation change is really unique. When the wind is blowing hard you can hit anything from a 5-iron to a sand wedge, which makes it fun. You have to be accurate there, but the green's pretty big."

Now comes the back nine, which is honestly one of the prettiest I've seen in the area.

Seriously consider taking 3-wood on the par-5 10th, which can look intimidating at first but is manageable if you don't get greedy.

I messed up on the 11th, a fantastic 386-yard dogleg left that features wetlands on the left and a three-tiered elevated green. This is another good hole for 3-wood off the tee. Make sure to keep the ball down the right side. Mine went left, forcing me to take a drop, punch a shot 30 yards, then hit 9-iron on. I was fortunate to save double.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The benign-looking, yet extremely demanding 12th has a fairway that slopes severely to the left. An average drive is going to careen into the woods and force a punch out. Long hitters have an advantage because if you can fly the ball straight for 210 to 220 yards it will roll another 50 to 75 yards and leave you with an easy pitch to the green.

"Twelve is probably the most demanding tee shot on the course," Grasso said. "You've got to hit it down the right-center or you're in jail. It makes you use your head."

No. 13, where a lush forest splays out in front of you on this elevated tee box, is where I really felt like I was in the Smoky Mountains.

"It's one of the nicest views we have," Grasso said.

Don't be afraid to use the huge hill 200 to 220 yards out. The ball will careen back into the fairway and leave a downhill approach from 150 to 180. Take one less club and go get a hard-earned par.

It's imperative to navigate this stretch successfully to post a good number.

The gorgeous back nine also features two fun par 3s and a double dogleg par-5 finishing hole that plays just 496 from the whites. Two solid shots will leave you with 60 to 100 yards and an opportunity to finish with a birdie.

Suggestions:

Create a white/silver hybrid set of tees allowing the course to play 5,875 to 6,000 yards. Getting a break on 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 13 would benefit shorter hitters. Add fresh sand to some of the bunkers.

Bottom line:

Grasso said about 10% of patrons walk. It's easy to see why because the undulating back nine was a challenge. Overall walkability is 2 stars out of 5, with the front nine being a 4.5 and the back a 1.5. Prairie Isle gets 3.5 stars for value (5 if you walk), 3.75 for course conditions and 3 for accessibility for our readership area.

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