The mighty Mississippi meanders serenely between Illinois and Iowa, separating the two Illinoisan cities of Rock Island and Moline from the two Iowan cities of Davenport and Bettendorf. Together, they constitute the Quad Cities, an area rich in history, food, entertainment, and golf.
Riverboat gambling is the biggest tourist draw, but well over a half-dozen public courses (and several private clubs) dot the surrounding countryside. All of these are reasonably priced, well maintained, and challenging in their own ways. The trove of hidden gems among these courses promises intrepid golfers a far richer pay-off than they could ever reap from the slot machines on the river.
One of the longest of the courses in the Quad Cities area is Glynns Creek Golf Course, located in Long Grove, Iowa, just north of Davenport. The 7,036-yard Dick Watson design opened in 1992, and it’s owned and operated by the Scott County Park District.
I first visited Glynns Creek in 2006, and I had forgotten just how isolated it feels to visitors. You drive from what seems like quite some time across the rolling farm fields among the predominantly white and sandstone-red colored farmhouses and barns, thinking to yourself, “I must have missed a turn.” Then you catch a glimpse of a fairway that’s a different shade of green from the emerging crops.
Great municipal facilities like Glynns Creek have a real family feel to them – everybody knows everybody. So when a stranger like me walks in, people notice. I introduced myself to Josh Bowlin, Head PGA Professional, noted that I hadn’t visited since 2006, and asked, “So, what’s changed since then?”
The question was rightfully met with a deep chuckle – 2006 is longer ago than I fully realized when I asked the question.
“Lots of changes,” said Bowlin. “The biggest change is that we’ve mowed down the high grass between holes, so there’s more room on many holes. We also removed a ton of trees that were killed by the emerald ash borer.” So “more open” is a general theme throughout the layout. “There’s also a new driving range and a new short-game practice area.”
“And the greens are much faster,” added Bowlin. “They’re running at a 9 on the Stimp meter now, but we’re working on getting them to 10. So the biggest tip I have for visitors is to play to the centers of greens and keep the ball below the hole.”
Admirably, the considerable upgrades have not brought with them a steep rise in green fees. In fact, at $44/weekend and $39/weekdays (with GPS-equipped cart), rates have only risen about $4 in 16 years.
How it plays
From the tips, Glynns Creek is long enough to challenge the best players. Even the blues, at 6,700 yards, require considerable skill and power. The whites, at 6,295 yards, are reasonable for most amateurs, especially newcomers.
With only about 15 sand bunkers on the entire course, and very little water, the major hazards are the occasional stands of trees and the ever-present rough. “Keep out of the rough,” cautioned Bowlin before my round. “It is so thick, one of two things will happen: you’ll either catch a flier, or you won’t get out.”
My experience with all but two shots from the rough (and there were many) was the latter – it was like trying to chop out of a hay bale. Anything more than an 8-iron just got eaten up, and the ball was lucky to go 30 yards.
In this rough, however, lay the subtle genius of the low-cost muni: opt for lush rough and artful grass-bunkers over sand bunkers, remove excess trees, don’t mow at all where balls really should not be hit, and focus care and money on the greens to get them fast and true. Glynns Creek offers a master class in this approach to affordable golf.
Many of the greens are framed by mounding, and depending on pin position, missing the putting surface can be hugely penal. Several of the greens are tiered, and finding the right tier is critical. The back nine really shines, including the final four holes, starting with the par-5 15th, followed by the par-3 16th, the longest par-5 (the 17th is 600 yards from the tips), and the strong 426-yard, par-4 18th. In front of the final green, you’ll find a single, sublime pot bunker – dead in the middle-front of an elevated kidney-shaped green. Well anyway, I found that bunker, but I was able to get up and down from the heavy but nicely consistent sand to end with a par.
About 80% of play on Glynns Creek is local, but visitors from Chicago and Rockford regularly make the trip to the outskirts of the Quad Cities to enjoy the value and challenge here. Aside from the cabbage-like rough, the only frustration was the persistent cloud of gnats that one finds here in the early summer. I actually was able to skip lunch because I swallowed so many bugs. On the other hand, pace of play was not a frustration at all, as the staff in the pro shop monitor the carts’ GPS units and will go have a talk with slow groups. This may be a muni course out in the countryside, but the staff and players at Glynns Creek take their golf seriously, and they have a serious golf course to show for it.
If you go
Stay right in downtown Moline at Stoney Creek Inn. It’s within walking distance of many restaurants and bars and other attractions. It’s where lots of players and caddies stay during the John Deere Classic PGA Tour event.