Breathtaking course in Lockport will test every level of golfer

Breathtaking course in Lockport will test every level of golfer

  • The par-3 13th hole at Big Run Golf Club can play as long as 225 yards. The shot must fly a creek and land on a narrow, two-tiered green that can house some tough pin placements.

    The par-3 13th hole at Big Run Golf Club can play as long as 225 yards. The shot must fly a creek and land on a narrow, two-tiered green that can house some tough pin placements. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • The par-3 seventh hole at Big Run Golf Club is surrounded by an array of deep bunkers. It only plays 130 yards from the white tees and 110 from the greens, but plays longer because of the elevated green.

    The par-3 seventh hole at Big Run Golf Club is surrounded by an array of deep bunkers. It only plays 130 yards from the white tees and 110 from the greens, but plays longer because of the elevated green. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Big Run Golf Club's first big test comes early with the long par-4 second hole. The second shot must fly a creek and up a large hill. Shots that don't quite reach the green can roll back 20-30 yards.

    Big Run Golf Club's first big test comes early with the long par-4 second hole. The second shot must fly a creek and up a large hill. Shots that don't quite reach the green can roll back 20-30 yards. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Eight bunkers surround the par-3 fourth hole at Big Run Golf Club in Lockport. It plays 160 yards from the championship tees and 145 yards from the whites.

    Eight bunkers surround the par-3 fourth hole at Big Run Golf Club in Lockport. It plays 160 yards from the championship tees and 145 yards from the whites. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • Going above the flag on Big Run Golf Club's 11th hole often results in a 3-putt due to a green that slopes severely from back-to-front.

    Going above the flag on Big Run Golf Club's 11th hole often results in a 3-putt due to a green that slopes severely from back-to-front. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

  • A look at the 18th hole at Big Run Golf Club in Lockport. The finishing hole requires three well-struck shots to reach the green in regulation.

    A look at the 18th hole at Big Run Golf Club in Lockport. The finishing hole requires three well-struck shots to reach the green in regulation. John Dietz | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/12/2021 10:00 AM

Growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago it was always my dream to play Cog Hill's Dubsdread.

That dream became reality when my grandfather treated me to a round for my high school graduation in 1989. The cost? A mere $40.

 

Over time, Dubsdread's greens fee steadily increased, having reached a whopping $155.

That's too rich for my blood, but happily I found a stunning, demanding -- and at times devilish -- course just south of Dubs for a fraction of the cost.

As one of my friends put it, Big Run Golf Club -- which opened in 1930 -- has "some of the best bones in the area." If it was in the same shape as Dubs, they could easily charge $100.

The elevation changes will have you second-guessing half of your approach shots.

Bunkers? They're everywhere. And deep.

Challenging greens? Try diabolical in several cases.

Golf-ball eating ponds and creeks? They're stuffed.

This place has everything you can ask for in a golf course.

"I always thought instead of calling it Big Run we should have called it Big Score," quipped 68-year-old Greg Gee, whose grandfather purchased what was then a dairy farm in the 1920s.

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Course conditions at Big Run have deteriorated over time, but the family is beginning to pour money back into the facility thanks to golf's resurgence that began last year.

"Three of us just got together and said, 'Hey, we're going to get it back to the old days,'" Gee said. "We've had people say that it looks better now than it ever has. So we're encouraged. We love taking care of people and giving them a good product because it certainly is fun to play."

Course tour

I literally want to take you around the entire course because it's just that good. My first piece of advice is to be careful which tees you choose. First-timers should consider the 6,250-yard option because 10 of the 18 greens are elevated, meaning the whites (6,670) play more like 6,800-6,900.

The difficulty -- and beauty -- of Big Run becomes apparent on the second hole. The first key on this 400-yard par 4 is to avoid the lake on the left and the trees on the right. The approach requires a shot over a creek and up a massive hill. Balls that come up short can roll back 20-30 yards.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Bogey is never a bad score here.

The fourth hole is the first of Big Run's stunning par 3s, which are four of the best in the area. Eight bunkers surround No. 4, which plays 145 from the whites. The safe play is short and to the right, especially if the pin is to that side.

No. 7, which is just 130 from the whites and 110 from the greens, is another visual treat as you're hitting to an elevated green surrounded by -- yep -- more bunkers. It sports a massive green, though, so take an extra club and go get a par.

The no-doubt signature hole is No. 13, which will take your breath away. Those of you not playing from the tips should take a moment to stand on the back tee box -- where it plays 225 yards -- and imagine hitting THAT shot.

Even from 160 or 170 it's a test for the nerves with water everywhere and a long, narrow multitiered green that you're just praying to hit. Mid-handicappers should ignore pin position and go for the middle.

No. 16 is another beauty where you must fly a pond to a generous green. Take one more club because long is definitely better than short.

Gee -- once a plus-2 handicap -- has shot 67 three times out here. He said the key to scoring -- after you get past 2 and 3 -- is to successfully navigate Big Run's Amen Corner of 11, 12 and 13.

The 11th is a dogleg left par 4 with a green that can cause fits. Go above the hole -- especially in the rough -- and it can easily take 4 shots to get down.

No. 12 is a long par 4 with trees on both sides of a narrow fairway. It also features one of the most difficult approaches as you must fly a pond and avoid a tree that lurks just to the left of yet another difficult green.

Two others you'll never forget are the 605-yard ninth and the 530-yard finishing hole. No. 18 is strewn with trouble as it has a pond that long hitters can reach off the tee, a creek you must fly on your second shot and a green that might make John Daly kick a ball that's rolled back to him after what looked like a good putt.

"If you get unlucky and play on a day where you've got a front left pin you've pretty much got no chance," Gee said. "But if business stays good that is a hole that has not been redone. It's not out of the question to improve that."

While there are plenty of complaints with the severity of slope on the 11th and 18th greens, I'm fine with both. If you want to know what it's like to putt in a U.S. Open, this is your chance. stay below the hole or risk complete chaos.

Suggestions

On the par-5 fifth hole there's an evergreen tree about 50 yards off the tee that should be removed. Fairway bunkers on No. 14 are in bad shape, but Gee said they will be turned into grass bunkers by the fall.

Bottom line

I may be breaking my "hidden gems" rules a bit here, with Big Run being nearly unwalkable and the fact that it costs $60 to ride weekdays. But go play after 3 p.m. for $45 when the course is often wide open and you will absolutely love it. (Seniors are just $40 weekdays).

Big Run gets 3 stars for value (4.5 for seniors), 3.25 for course conditions, 3 for accessibility for our readership area and 1.5 for walkability. Let's add "overall layout" as a category because Big Run gets a 5 here.

Those who love a challenge will likely come back in attempt to tame this beast.

Which will never be an easy feat.

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