“The Sun Also Rises” is the title of a novel written by America’s greatest author, Ernest Hemingway, and that title can also be a segue to articles written about the project to renovate and transform Highland Park’s hometown golf course into the new Sunset Valley Golf Club. The updated Sunset Valley course reopens to the public on August 18, 2018. The new course design has transformed Sunset Valley into a distinctive course accommodating every level of golfer with unique features unlike any other golf course in the area. The $7 million project included a complete renovation of all tees, fairways, greens, and bunkers as well as overall infrastructure upgrades for drainage and storm water management.
Analysts and biographers of Ernest Hemingway noted that he liked the outdoors, excitement, and sports, especially bullfighting. And, while not as dangerous as bullfighting, Hemingway would most probably take a liking to the golf excitement brought about by the new design features incorporated by renovation specialist, Rick Jacobson, at Sunset Valley. The most distinguishing change in Sunset Valley, which was established in 1920, is the transformation of an older, virtually flat course into a course with dramatically changing topography achieved through strategically placed berms, swales and undulations at each hole.
With new, multiple tee complexes creating different course lengths, the new Sunset Valley golf course was designed to be harder and easier, and with an objective to accommodate a broad spectrum of golf skill sets. Jacobson, along with Park District of Highland Park officials, note that ‘every hole at a great golf course should test different aspects of your game; it shouldn’t be a cake walk for a good golfer or a torture session for the not-so-good golfer’ — and such is the case with the updated SVGC.
The new Sunset Valley Golf Club reflects a British heathland course design with an openness accentuated with strategic landforms, flowing masses of native grasses, and groves of trees which harkens back to the character and aesthetic appeal of the course’s original 1920’s era of golf course architecture, which, coincidentally, was the time period for the publication of Hemingway’s novel (1926). Jacobson’s heathland characteristics at the new Sunset Valley provide a combination of golf hole features rich in diversity. Golfers have alternative options to conquer each hole resulting in fun and rewarding rounds of golf; meanwhile, the undulating landscapes of the heathland layout make the terrain ideal for fast, challenging golf.
Hole #4 is the new “Signature Hole” and emerges as the highlight of the new course. This breathtaking peninsula features a natural stone wall embankment outlined by colorful flowering plantings and surrounded by an expanded lake. The creation of two additional forward tees provides a multiple tee complex that allows the hole to play from a variety of lengths: Gold –95 Yards, Red –110 Yards, White -130Yards, Blue -145Yards, Black -160Yards. The resulting elasticity in the length of the hole provides an opportunity to set the course up to accommodate golfers of all abilities, while still offering the notions of “risk and reward” along with “caution and safety”.
The new putting surface’s perimeter shape that extends as a peninsula into the lake will increase opportunities for strategic pin placement zones to challenge all daring golfers. For those golfers who are less likely to take chances and prefer a safer route to the hole, architect Jacobson has provided a fairway “collection area” to the left side of the green and around the entire back of the green to enhance conservative playability. The new fairway collection area will give golfers options on the type of short shots they must execute to save par.
Other specific changes at the updated Sunset Valley Golf Club are the following: Hole #5 enhancements include a new green site cut into the existing landform behind the original green with fescue outlining; the expansion of the lake on Hole #12 improves visibility of this beautiful water feature from the tee shot landing area; a new green site lengthens Hole #13; the expansion of the lake improves aesthetics on Hole #16; a new putting surface for Hole #18 connects with the practice putting green to create one large putting surface providing a dual purpose.
Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying “My only regret in life is that I did not drink more wine.” Will avid golfers in the Chicago area ponder ‘their only regret in life was not playing more rounds at the new Sunset Valley Golf Club’? Don’t ponder and don’t regret — play SVGC before the 2018 golf season ends!
Photos provided by the Park District of Highland Park