As the third largest metro area in the country, there are hundreds of golf courses to choose from throughout Chicagoland. The prestigious and historic private clubs are well known, but it can be a little tougher to sort through the wide variety of public courses in the region.
So for an insider's read, we caught up with Local Golf Advisor Bryan Tweed in between golf trips — his recent summer jaunt took his crew to nearby Wisconsin, which included the brand new Sand Valley — to get some insider tips on the public golf scene in his home town. He lives in Wauconda but, as you can see from his profile that features 75 reviews and counting, plays golf not only all over the area but around the Midwest, too.
You can follow Bryan on Twitter @bryantweed16 to talk golf, or maybe even a little Hoosier hoops.
What's great about being a golfer in Chicago?
Being a Chicagoland golfer is fantastic. I’ve lived in several other Midwest metro areas and they can’t hold a candle to the Chicago area in terms of golf quality, variety, and prestige. Chicago is mostly known as the best collection of private golf in the Midwest (Chicago Golf Club, Butler National, Medinah, Olympia Fields, Shoreacres, and the list goes on), but the quality of public golf within a 30-mile radius of the downtown area is unmatched. You can play major championship-worthy golf at a pretty penny, but can also spray it around at many solid suburban municipal courses for less than two dollars a hole.
Chicago deserves a consistent, annual PGA tour sanctioned event, but for those looking to see tour pros tee it up, Conway Farms hosts the BMW Championship, a FedEx Cup playoff event, every few years. Ivanhoe Country Club in Mundelein holds an annual Web.com tour and the LPGA tour recently held its LPGA Championship at Olympia Fields. Rumor has it that Tiger Woods will be designing a new public course off of Lake Michigan near downtown Chicago that could end up hosting a future annual PGA event or even attract a major championship.
Where are your favorite courses to play?
Cog Hill's Dubsdread Course
Cog Hill No.4 (Dubsdread): For those who have one round to play in the Chicago area, “Dubs” remains the King of Chicago public golf. Located about 45 minutes west of the city, the course is a beautifully manicured parkland track and a true test for even the best of players. While the 15+ handicapper will likely succumb to the deep rough and treacherous green complexes, advanced golfers will love the challenge and history of the course. The $155 green fee isn't for everyone, but it's absolutely a bucket list caliber course. (Read Bryan's full review of Dubsdread)
Thunderhawk Golf Club: For those willing to travel a little bit from downtown (near the IL/WI border, right off I-94 N), there is no better track for the money in the area. This Robert Trent Jones Jr. track is a wonderful mixture of tree-lined and links-style design, including the best collection of Par 5’s of any public course in the area (and probably the entire state). This is a great option to stop off by for a warm up round if you’re heading up to Kohler for a weekend. (Read Bryan's full review of Dubsdread)
Cantigny Golf & Tennis Club: This 27-hole layout designed by Chicago native architect Roger Packard is arguably the most complete public facility in the entire state with awesome off-course amenities. You’ll feel like you’re driving up Magnolia Lane when you pull into the course driveway and the course that follows is a great assortment of holes through woodlands and wetlands. I prefer the Woodside/Lakeside combo if you don’t have time to fit in all 27 holes. (Read Bryan's full review of Cantigny)
Stonewall Orchard Golf Club: Arthur Hills designs are an acquired taste for many golfers, but there is no doubting that his Stonewall Orchard layout is the cream of the crop of northwestern suburban golf. Just be prepared to lose a dozen golf balls as there are many forced carries, tons of wetlands and some of the toughest greens you’ll find. The great conditions, service, and amenities will make up for your many squares on the scorecard. (Read Bryan's full review of Stonewall Orchard)
Bowes Creek Country Club: A lesser-known club far west of Chicago in Elgin, this course is semi-private with a “Member for a Day” status that really is just glorified public play. A fun, rugged Rick Jacobson design has some of the coolest looking sand bunkers around and more elevation change than your average Chicago course.
Mistwood Golf Club: For golfers near the south side of Chicago, Mistwood is Ray Hearn design that received a facelift renovation a few years back and it is quite the course. Amazing closing stretch of holes around a large lake is the course’s signature. In addition, has an awesome practice area and clubhouse to grab some good eats. (Read Bryan's full review of Mistwood)
Harborside Golf Center: The best course within a 10-minute drive from downtown is this 36-hole complex with two solid links-style courses. The Starboard course gets most of the local love, but I tend to prefer the Port course because of its unique Par 3’s and fun, drivable Par 4's.
Hidden Gems: For locals and travelers looking for a cheaper option, look no further than Oak Grove in Harvard and Shepherd’s Crook (municipal) in Zion. You’ll need to be prepared for a commute, but well worth it as you can play for less than $50 in season with a cart at each course. Oak Grove has extremely fun, "go for broke" holes on the back nine and Shepherd’s Crook is the best conditioned course for the money I’ve played in the area.
What are your favorite bars and restaurants for buddies trips after golf?
Portillo’s: My wife’s favorite Chicago area restaurant is also a great spot for travelers coming to Chicago. With several locations in the metro area, you’re never too far away from having their signature Hot Dog, Italian Beef, or indulge with a Chocolate Cake Milkshake. Beer choice is limited (you’ll be in heaven if you like MGD), but you’ll get the cheapest pint in the whole Chicago area.
Gino’s East: It’s cliché, but if you are in Chicago you must get deep dish pizza. It’s just a requirement. I tend to prefer Gino’s East over Lou Malnati’s but you can’t go wrong with either.
Emil’s Sports Bar: Emil’s is a lesser known staple in the northern Chicago suburbs, but one of the best places to watch a game or grab a beer in the area. Their beer menu is solid and you won’t be able to stop eating their famous beer nuggets.
What do I need to know about Chicago traffic?
Be prepared for some stop-and-go on major most highways to any of the courses I mentioned above. Travel is particularly hectic on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, so try to plan to be on the golf course during these times instead of in the car. You’ll also want to be armored with lots of change for the numerous highway tolls. If you’re lacking coin, just make sure to pay your toll online within a week or you’ll have to forgo a weekend’s green fee to pay the fines.