With golf’s surge in popularity in the late 1990’s spearheaded by Tigermania, Chicago was graced with the ‘building’ of many new golf facilities, and in order to stand out, or, stand above the competition the new facility needed a lush, scenic piece of land for its 18-hole (or more) course routing, and, a modern, stylish clubhouse to service it. But still, just as with residential housing, older clubhouses can be expanded and / or refurbished to stay valuable and functionable.
David Letterman may have ceased to issue Top-10 lists, but Chicago Golf Report continues to produce Top-10 lists on an annual basis, and this year our list is that of Chicago’s Top-10 Public Course Clubhouses. With the restrictions put into effect during 2020 due to the corona virus, a list such as this would not have been meaningful because indoor dining in golf clubhouse restaurants was forbidden and pro shops were partially or totally shuttered by governmental orders.
But recently by decree of Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the restrictions on indoor dining and capacity limits were eased, thus enabling golf course restaurants the capability to once again sell food, golf hats and pro shops once again to service customers in a closer to normal fashion.
Clubhouses can and do serve a dual purpose by providing the opportunity for golf facility operators to earn revenue with non-golf gatherings, such as weddings and business meetings. For the purpose of this top-10 list, receptions and corporate seminars are set aside, as Chicago Golf Report wishes to emphasize the importance and benefits of clubhouses to everyday golfers. The effect and influence by clubhouses on everyday golfers is threefold — before, during, and after the round.
If you play enough golf, you have most likely had both good and bad experiences before your round has even begun. If you are pressed for time before tee-off, is the cashier counter positioned far from the door?
Are there enough cash registers to handle one or more foursomes at a time? Especially during shotgun start events, are there enough stalls in the restroom? Is the pro shop large enough to carry a varied selection of golf merchandise in your size, your brand so you can start your round fully armed and in style?
In the situation when there is no on-course beverage cart, is the snack counter or grill sufficiently stocked with ready-to-go beverages and munchies for a quick visit at the turn?
And when the round is finished and the 19th hole is reached, is there a good place to cool down, payoff bets, watch golf or other sporting events on TV? How many TV’s? Or, is there a spot for a relaxing overall view of the property? How enticing is the menu? Does the clubhouse offer video gaming terminals, if permitted?
Be assured that the selection of this year’s top-10 list was especially challenging; in addition to those facilities whose building made the list, there were at least another dozen clubhouses that were close contenders, and so we apologize if your favorite clubhouse is one of these that was omitted. Therefore by asking and answering the questions shown above, and with points added or taken away beginning with necessities and moving on to bells and whistles, here is our list of Chicago’s Top-10 Public Course Clubhouses (7 county surrounding area):
Today’s current clubhouse at Veterans Memorial Golf Course opened in 2008, replacing the original clubhouse that was built in 1945. The single story building contains the necessities of pro shop, restrooms, staff offices, bar and grill, and Buckley’s Restaurant. During 2020, a dozen years after opening, the design of the building reaped unforeseen benefits when tight restrictions due to the corona virus pandemic went into effect in Illinois. The layout of the building enabled management to quickly add mandated PPE protections and this clubhouse at Great Lakes became one of the safest golf edifices in the area.
Vertical plexiglass window / walls were added to the perimeter of the cashier counter and a barrier was placed on the floor that prevented customers from advancing any more than four feet into the pro shop, but customers needed to take only one step into the pro shop, as the credit card swiper was located two feet from the door. Access to the restrooms was gained only through the side lobby entrance and user’s movement was restricted to just the path to door of the restroom.
Whether it be during good times or bad times the clubhouse on this military property at Great Lakes does its job well to “serve and protect” the golfers at Veterans Memorial Golf Course.
9. Bonnie Brook Golf Course – Waukegan
Similar to a veteran fullback whose dependability always gets the team a first down on fourth-and-one, Bonnie Brook’s clubhouse opened with a dedication ceremony back on August 1, 1987, and is the senior member of our top-10 clubhouse list; it has been getting its job done for thirty-three years. And speaking of short yardage situations, (first down) it is just three paces from the curb under the iron arch to the bag drop, then (second down) merely another three paces to the steps on the west side entrance, (third down) climb just 4 stairs, and now inside, (fourth down) it is one yard to the cashier counter. There are even more short yardage situations as the parked-and-ready riding carts, the #1 tee, #9 green, #10 tee, and #18 green are just a swing pass in the flat away from the clubhouse.
The Bonnie Brook clubhouse totals 10,800 square feet and the hallway leading from the main entrance of the building separates the restaurant seating portion on the east side from pro shop, bar and grill, and restrooms over on the west end. Convenient entry into the restrooms can be made either from the hallway or the pro shop. Bonnie Brook patrons can purchase the latest equipment and apparel in the modest but fully stocked pro shop and outdoor seating on the patio offers close-in views of the 9th and 18th greens.
Over the years, this veteran bar and grill has developed a noteworthy reputation for its delicious, made fresh daily, broasted chicken, and Bloody Marys. And more recently the restaurant had added to the good reputation with Taco Tuesdays and Fish Fry Fridays.
The clubhouse at Harborside International Golf Center is a spacious 20,000 square-foot, prairie-style inspired structure. Popularized by famous Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright, prairie-style buildings are characterized by open floor plans and horizontal lines. The use of horizontal lines was believed to evoke and relate to the wide, flat, treeless expanses of America’s native prairie landscape. And it is the treeless, links-style theme that golf course architect Dick Nugent, by necessity, incorporated into his design of the two courses at Harborside International Golf Center. Function and form for both the course and the clubhouse; Chicago roots for both Nugent and Wright.
Harborside International Golf Center is located at 11001 South Doty Avenue East, just minutes from downtown Chicago and still within the actual city limits. To be purely and totally technical about our rankings, Harborside International Golf Center’s clubhouse, being the only member of these rankings actually within the zip codes of the Windy City, should therefore be at the top of the list.
Harborside International Golf Center has been Chicago’s home for quality public golf since 1995. The clubhouse offers great views of both its courses, Lake Calumet, and off in the distance the skyline of the city. Keeping with a desire for home-grown Chicago ideas and products, Harborsides’s restaurant, The Pier, serves up ‘Maxwell Street’ Chicago-style char dogs and 312 Pale Ales.
The opening of Ruffled Feathers golf course in 1992 was headlined with the names of its course architects, Pete and P.B. Dye; Golf Digest and Golfweek both listed Ruffled Feathers among their “Best New Courses in America” for 1992. To compliment the quality of its course layout, Ruffled Feathers then constructed a modern premium clubhouse. The new clubhouse attracted the attention of the Illinois Section PGA which moved its office headquarters from Oak Brook to the Ruffled Feathers clubhouse on April 1, 1995.
In January 2015, Ruffled Feathers scripted a new chapter in its storied history when leading golf management firm Arcis Golf assumed operation of the club. Arcis determined that after two decades of use and twenty years of northern Illinois climate, funds needed to be spent and embarked upon a project to drastically transform the interior and exterior of the Ruffled Feathers clubhouse, and these results have earned a spot on our Top-10 clubhouse list.
The “modern Tudor” exterior of the 30,000-square-foot clubhouse at Ruffled Feathers GC exudes a warm, calm, and inviting emotion, while the interior maintains its every nook with comfort and style. The clubhouse bar has been completely changed to provide a brighter, more casual environment, highlighted by wall-size photo murals depicting Chicago’s rich history and landmarks. Just outside the bar, the 1,000-square-foot wraparound deck provides multiple seating areas and vantage points for watching action on the 9th and 18th holes. New restaurant décor, furnishings and menus, has greatly enhanced the dining and event experiences.
As part of the $7 million renovation project that began in 2017, Sunset Valley’s course and clubhouse re-opened for play on August 18, 2018. The newly remodeled clubhouse, a total makeover of the building erected in 1956, now offers a classic cozy, but up-beat vibe with stunning views of the new golf course. Originally opened in 1920, Sunset Valley Golf Club is now embarking on its second century of operation. Blending tradition with a modern twist is the theme at SVCC.
“13ninety” is the name of the new bar and grille at Sunset Valley. Serving up classic American fare in a casual chic decor with plenty of elbow room describes “13ninety”. The floor-to-ceiling windows, along with trac lighting, and a black / white / gray color scheme give the bar a modern open look, while the leather seating and fireplace in the lounge area present the classic cozy feel. Every table in the dining area has an outstanding view of the course. The restaurant menu features authentic American fare — today’s favorite sandwiches, small bite offerings, and some full meals that hearken back to the 1920’s golden era when Sunset Valley first opened for play. The trendy laid-back bar pours craft beer, wine and timeless signature cocktails like the Old Sport and Gin Ricky.
Looking for even more personal space and elbow room? Then settle down outside on the trellised patio overlooking the course for the perfect spot to hang out for drinks and a meal. Many regular golfers with late afternoon tee times along with other local residents head to the clubhouse veranda for outdoor dining and / or an evening drink around the cozy firepit tables and have discovered that it’s perfect for a relaxing intimate view of the perfect “Sunset”.
Not to be overlooked, the expanded pro shop offers golf accessories to fit everyone’s needs.
The history of Makray Memorial Golf Club dates back to its original opening in 1953 as Hillcrest Acres Country Club. In 1962 the course was purchased by Paul Makray Sr., who changed its name to “Thunderbird.” Paul Makray Sr. died in 1999 and afterwards Paul Makray Jr. and his siblings decided to rename the course in honor of their father. After three years of reconstruction, the golf course became the new and improved Makray Memorial Golf Club in June 2004. As a further tribute to the senior mister Makray, and in a manner more fitting than just a mausoleum, the Makray Memorial clubhouse features a magnificent stone facade with the charm of an elegant old world manor house.
Makray’s two story 24,000 sq. ft. clubhouse has its pro shop and Oak Terrace restaurant bar and grill located on the ground floor with adjacent outdoor seating on the patio. The upper floor has a wraparound stone veranda offering spectacular views of the golf course. This structure is a modern example of a timeless beauty with rustic elegance.
Following a two year, multi-million dollar construction effort, Mistwood’s clubhouse ribbon cutting ceremony was held on April 18, 2016. Four years later, during 2020, Mistwood’s owner, Jim McWethy, passed away, but lived long enough to observe the completion of his Mistwood buildings in the manner of honoring his Scottish heritage.
Julius Caeser wrote “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” Similarly, the building(s) necessary to properly serve the needs of golfing customers at Mistwood Golf Club are divided into three parts — the golf shop, the clubhouse, and performance center.
The golf shop resembles an urban Scottish storefront; with stone paver blocks underfoot, painted exterior trim colors and a pointed-roof turret it is not difficult for golfers at Mistwood to imagine that that they are checking in to a course in Scotland.
The clubhouse contains McWethy’s Tavern, a restaurant open to the public, and the Great Hall, the area available for larger gatherings. (Although they appear to be separate and distinct structures, the golf shop and the clubhouse are connected by an underground basement, which stores and hides the fleet of riding carts). With meat, fish, and fowl recipes from around the world, the McWethy’s menu is not solely Scottish, but for certain serves Scotch whiskey. The clubhouse is set back slightly from the course itself; diners and wedding guests should not be a distraction to the golfers. Still, seating in McWethy’s Tavern, with its 27-degree bank of bay windows offers spectacular views of the lake and green of the par-5 third hole.
Apart from the 29,000-square foot clubhouse, but with a similar stone facade is Mistwood’s 5,000 square foot Performance Center. Among the features making it one of the best performance centers in the Midwest are indoor and outdoor hitting bays with Trackman golf radar, Foresight GC2 Smart Camera System, indoor SAM putting lab, club fitting and repair rooms, and its own bar and grill with eight flat-screen televisions.
By having its own structure, the performance center allows golfers who are practicing and other student golfers who are being evaluated to be unencumbered by the everyday golfers and undisturbed by the general public restaurant customers.
What worked for Julius Caesar in Gaul also worked for Jim McWethy in Romeoville.
3. Arrowhead Golf Club – Wheaton
The clubhouse of Arrowhead Golf Club in Wheaton is a 50,000 square foot building that opened in 2006. It is a masterful blend of wood and stone materials throughout its entire structure. Solid, deep rich wood is used in the restaurant’s booths and chairs, while the bar facade is wood over a raised stone base. The exterior patio looking out towards the west-nine resembles the fortifications of an ancient stone castle, offering views of the actions and struggles of modern day golfers not medieval warriors.
Another historical feature contained inside the Arrowhead clubhouse is an exhibit of golf artifacts pertinent to the area called “Wheaton – Golf History Starts Here.”
A service which is rarely found at public courses, but is offered at Arrowhead is daily locker rental.
Lockers are available in the men’s and women’s locker rooms for an additional fee ($10), and include complimentary towels, shampoo / body wash.
A full line of golf equipment including bags, clubs, balls, and tees, and all apparel — hats, shoes, shirts, gloves, shoes, socks — everything from head to toe is available in the pro shop.
The Glen Club with its 48,000 square foot clubhouse opened in 2001, and while it was, from its very beginning ‘history making’, it remains, today, totally modern and ’21st century’. Even before the grounds opened, the clubhouse was selected to be the home of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame and office headquarters of the Illinois Section PGA. And with the club’s opening in 2001 the course was named to all three Top-10 new course lists published by Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, a recognition that no other course in the U.S. had ever achieved.
With praises about the facility from contestants who participated in past events at The Glen Club, this masterpiece from Tom Fazio continues to host important tournaments like the Korn-Ferry’s Evans Scholars Invitational, the Illinois Open, and additional charity gatherings.
Beyond the fact that The Glen Club is the only facility to house the historical displays of Illinois Golf Hall of Fame, no golf course clubhouse other than The Glen Club can claim to contain a 21-room hotel under its roof! The number of brands and styles of golf equipment and apparel available in The Glen Club’s pro shop approaches that of the largest big-box golf superstores.
Positive comments and compliments about this clubhouse extend beyond those regarding this building’s size and style, its vast array of merchandise offered in the pro shop, and its on-premise lodging opportunity; maximum accolades are earned for the food and beverages served in The Glen Club restaurant. The menu at The Glen Club restaurant offers innovative cuisine and traditional home cooking. Appetizers and entrees are so tasty that folks who typically don’t opt to eat at golf course restaurants regularly dine at The Glen Club…golfer tested, public approved.
It is possible that there are not enough superlative adjectives to describe the 76,000 square foot clubhouse at Bolingbrook Golf Club. Opening day for the clubhouse was Monday, May 19, 2003. The building was designed by Peter Kramer of Larson-Kramer-Kjelstrom Associates, Ltd., who has designed more than 100 clubhouses for various private, public, or municipally owned golf courses. Kramer’s colossal structure at Bolingbrook ranks as the largest public golf clubhouse in the state of IL (second, overall; only the private Olympia Fields CC’s clubhouse is larger).
The first floor contains a 2,180 square foot pro shop, men’s and women’s locker rooms, the casual dining golfer’s grill, and an exercise facility. The second level houses the grand ballroom which can seat up to 900 guests, the pre-function area which has three wet bars, audio-visual meeting room, and a covered veranda overlooking the #1 and #10 tees; the grand ballroom can be partitioned into 5 smaller banquet rooms. The upper level contains a fine-dining public restaurant, two gourmet private dining rooms, and two bridal suites.
“The Nest”, Bolingbrook’s casual dining bar and grill, is open every day to golfers and the general public from 11am to 9pm. There are two menus available at The Nest, the first being the restaurant menu with daily luncheon and dinner specials like full and half-slab ribs, prime rib, and seafood. Next, there is the bar and grill menu with soups, salads, wings, sliders, pastas, wraps and the famous ‘Nest Burger’, one half-pound of certified Angus beef. With a wide selection of domestic, imported, and craft beers, plus numerous wines and spirits “The Nest” is the top ‘watering hole’ among area golf courses for attracting after-golf customers.
Addendum: There will be the completion and opening of at least two completely new clubhouses during 2021. The structures at The Preserve at Oak Meadows in Addison and at Heritage Oaks (formerly, Sportsman’s) in Northbrook are scheduled to come online during the summer months.