Quad Cities should be considered a golf destination spot

By Len Ziehm

MOLINE, IL. – For years now I’ve told my golf-media buddies from the Quad Cities that they reside in “the golf capitol of Illinois.’’

They think I’m kidding but, after four decades of covering the PGA Tour stop in that community, I’m not so sure. In fact, I can now say that the area encompassing Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa could be a golf destination – and I’m NOT kidding.

Golf in the Quad Cites is relatively inexpensive. That’s a big plus.  Nothing is very far away, either. More than anything, though, I like the diversity of the area’s golf options.

You can play a PGA Tour site. TPC Deere Run has been the home of the John Deere Classic since 2000.  Golf’s premier circuit has come to the Quad Cities every year since 1971, a clear indication the PGA Tour respects the passion in one of its smallest markets.

TPC Deere Run, a D.A. Weibring design, is plenty challenging but hardly the brutal test that some of the other tour layouts are.  A serious recreational play can have a good time at Deere Run without feeling beat up afterwards.

OK, so there’s a tour course. What else?

If you want tradition there’s the Rock Island Arsenal military facility, which has a sporty layout – now called Arsenal Island — that dates back to 1897. Through 2011 it was a private club. Now the public can play this interesting 6,254-yard layout, which borders on the Mississippi River.

If you want upscale public without paying much for it there’s Glynns Creek, in Long Grove on the Iowa side of the Mississippi, and Byron Hills, in Port Byron on the Illinois side.  Glynns Creek is excellent, the site of an American Junior Golf Association event in 2012. Byron Hills is noted for its greens, which some say are the best in the Quad Cities.

A key here is price. Two of us played both Glynns Creek and Byron Hills on a weekday with cart for $56 – that’s total, not per person.

Those are the most notable public offerings. If you’re fortunate enough to get a round on one of the area’s private clubs there’s three of them – Crow Valley, in Davenport; Davenport Country Club, also in Iowa; and Oakwood, in Coal Valley, IL. – which have been sites of PGA Tour events in the past.

There’s more to a golf getaway than the courses you can play.  You have to have lodging, and the Quad Cities has most all of the chain hotels and motels. But, if you want someplace special there’s Hotel Blackhawk in Davenport. It dates back to 1915 and was renovated in 2009. Charming is the best way to describe it.

You also have to eat, and we found some good ones. The well-established Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse, in the heart of the Moline business district, is my favorite. It’s fairly-priced, with good food and pleasant atmosphere.

Duck City, located near the Blackhawk, seems to be the in hot-spot, but it’s not very big and difficult to get a table many times. Granite City Food & Brewery has one of its locations in Davenport and is much bigger with a varied menu, good food and a energizing atmosphere.

For a getaway from your golf getaway there’s Faithful Pilot, Cafe in LeClaire, Ia.  This is a most interesting waterfront place in a quaint little town with shops offering all sorts of antiques.

If you don’t mind spending big-time, there’s the Red Crow Grille in Bettendorf.  I don’t have this place figured out completely.  It has a disarming location in a small shopping mall  and an exotic menu. Our dinner there was a pleasant one, even after the check arrived.

Biggest bargain on the culinary side was at Ryan’s, on John Deere Road in Moline. You may not be aware of it – we weren’t, either – but Ryan’s is no longer a chain of steak places. This chain is now specializing in buffet spreads and the two of us had a dazzling Sunday breakfast there for $16 – again that’s the total for both of us.

The problem with going to the Quad Cities for the expressed purpose of playing golf is that there aren’t golf packages.  You have to book your tee times, lodging and meal reservations separately. Cost-wise, though, we found it well worth it.

Yarrow, Island Hills are Good Bets for Golf in Michigan

By Len Ziehm

AUGUSTA, MI. – Michigan-based golf course architect Ray Hearn has made an impact in Chicago with his work at Flossmoor Country Club, one of the area’s top private facilities, as well as at Mistwood in Romeoville, one of the best public courses.

If you want to test more of Hearn’s work you don’t have to go very far. Two of his earlier works are just over the Michigan line, and they’d make good stopovers for those who plan to attend the second Champions Tour major tournament in Michigan this summer.

The Senior PGA Championship, won by England’s Roger Chapman at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, was the first. The U.S. Senior Open will be coming July 12-15 to Indianwood in Lake Orion.

Chicago golfers headed to that big tournament can make it a nicer getaway by stopping at either Island Hills, in Centreville, or Yarrow Golf & Conference Resort, in Augusta. Both are in somewhat out-of-the-way locations, but these Hearn designs are worth a visit and the facilities where they’re located are interesting as well.

Hearn created the course at Yarrow first, after a storm in October of 2001 that included tornado force winds knocked down thousands of trees on the property. Yarrow didn’t have a golf course then, but owner Bill Pulte used the devastation as a trigger to get one built.

The resort opened in November of 1992 with only nine guest rooms and dining for 20 people.  Now it has a 14,000-square foot lodge, 45 overnight rooms, eight miles of trails through forests and wetlands and, of course, its 7,005-yard golf course. Hearn’s design gets your attention immediately with a par-5 first hole that plays uphill most of the way and seems much longer even than its listed 588 yards from the back tees. The starter warned us of its difficulty, calling it “a par-7.’’

More good holes, many of them sporty and not so challenging, follow with plenty of elevation changes that fit the natural beauty of the property.

Yarrow is more of a retreat type of place, with a particularly nice patio deck overlooking the 18th green. Island Hills isn’t like that. It’s a more fun layout, with a smaller but busy restaurant – The Grille Tavern – that is open 365 days a year. The course has a history, too, and it’s plenty challenging.

Hearn did the original layout for a previous owner in 1999. He was called back by present owner Bob Griffioen when the previous owner converted several of the course’s best holes into real estate lots. The renovation was a two-year project in which Hearn created two new par-3s – Nos. 12 and 17.  The project was completed in late 2011, and Hearn believes the new holes rival any pair of par-3s in Michigan.

The 12th is memorable because the stone ruins of an old farmstead are featured – but don’t come into play – both beside and behind the green. The hole can play anywhere from 102 to 186 yards.

No. 17, which played as the old 16th, has 10 tees now and can be stretched to 202 yards. The water, wetlands and bridges that surround the green create a spectacular backdrop on a layout that now measures 7,038 yards.

There’s more to say about Island Hills, though. In these economic times course owners continuously look for ways to bring in new players. Many times it’s just talk, but Griffioen is doing something about it.  In fact, I’ve yet to find a course owner as passionate about growing the game. His efforts amount to much more than just installing a few extra tees to make it easier for the inexperienced to enjoy the game.

Griffioen’s new head professional, Tim Cole, is spearheading some unique programs that should bring in more players. For the very young he’s brought in the SNAG teaching program originally developed by Jerry Rich and his staff at Rich Harvest Links in Sugar Grove, IL. – the site of the Solheim Cup matches in 2009. Most affordable lesson programs are also offered for adults, and especially women.

More impressive still is Island Hills’ enticements for those who haven’t even tried golf yet. Forty-one sets of clubs are available for use, and they’re not rentals. They are simply made available for players who want to try the game. These aren’t just used sets, either. They include a variety of shafts, full sets of irons and hybrids. Not only that, but Cole fills each bag with balls, also at no charge.

Then there’s the oft-heard complaint that golf takes too long. Griffioen had Hearn design some shorter routings – for five holes, seven holes and 12 holes.  If 18 holes takes too much time, try one of the shorter versions.

And, if that doesn’t get more people playing, then nothing will.