MAHOMET, Ill. – As the PGA Tour John Deere Classic makes its stop at TPC Deere Run, golf in Illinois becomes the topic of conversation. Lake of the Woods Golf Course is a rarity in east-central Illinois golf, in that it features lots of mature trees and a surprising number of elevation changes for this basically flat part of the state.
As part of the Forest Preserves of Champaign County, this municipal track, a Robert Bruce Harris design, can still be played for well less than $30 plus cart, even on peak-season weekends. But don't let the low rates and relatively benign length of 6,578 yards deceive you – the course is not only an excellent challenge, it's also emerged from a set of major renovations that have improved the facilities tremendously.
Beginning in 2007, the course began rebuilding all the tee boxes, the driving range, and the bag-drop and practice green areas. This meant a somewhat painful year of playing from temporary tees and no practice range for the course's loyal members, but by all accounts, it was worth it.
'Everyone I've talked to has been very positive about the changes,' said Dave Huber, golf pro at Lake of the Woods for the past 20-plus years. 'Although it took a few of them a little while to get used to the new traffic flow.'
The driveway to the parking lot now circles around the practice green, making for better and safer cart and foot traffic flow to and from the pro shop and the first tee. And the back end of the driving range, which used to slide downhill out of view, has been raised so that all but the longest shots can be seen as they land. The teeing area on the range has also been elevated, graded and resodded.
Most dramatic, though, are the rebuilt tee boxes. Where once golfers were often greeted with scarred earth and uneven lies, now they'll find level footing and soil that doesn't break tees as they are being pushed in.
The one upgrade that seems to still be missing is a set of steps up the side of the steeply elevated tee box at the 343-yard fifth hole. As one regular player put it, 'If I were a personal injury lawyer, I'd just set up a table right at the bottom of that tee box and wait for old guys to slip.'
This one shortcoming aside, the improvements have made a good course even better. Despite the relative shortness of the layout, Huber is eager to point out a perplexing fact. 'In the 20-plus years I've been here, the tournament record is still only 67,' he stated.
Huber cannot quite explain the relatively high score, which, as he notes, is made all the more curious given that, 'a lot of these high school kids who play out here are so long that they can drive many of the par 4s, and can reach all the par 5s in two. Guys have told me that they've shot or seen lower, and I tell them to bring in the scorecards. I've never seen any lower scores, though, at least not in competition play.'
'It must be the greens,' Huber speculates with a wry grin. 'There are a bunch of putts out here I still can't figure out.' Indeed, the last time I hosted a group of golfers here, one of them commented that they were the trickiest greens he'd played all year.
Needless to say, there's no plan to renovate the greens.
-- by Kiel Christianson