PGA Certified Director of Golf Mark Krizic took over ownership of Fyre Lake Golf Course in July, 2020. Nearly two years later, his initial assessment of the Nicklaus-designed course has only grown more certain.
“When I first came here, I said, ‘This is a top-10 Illinois course,’” remembers Krizic. “Look around at this property. There’s nothing else like it in Illinois. It can be a top-10 course, easily.”
The unique layout rises and falls along the shores and inlets of Fyre Lake (which is one of the best unheralded fishing lakes in the state, by the way). Ever since opening in 2013, it’s been sort of legendary for local players in the golf-rich Quad Cities. Until now, though, ownership and conditions have been inconsistent. Krizic has changed that, turning the myth into something both real and magical.
Length is not the primary defense of Fyre Lake Golf Course; the members’ tees are 6,192 yards, and the championship tees stretch to just 6,544 yards. Rather, uneven lies, tucked greens guarded by the lake, deceiving yardages, and ever-present prevailing winds conspire to make Fyre Lake play at least 500 yards longer that it says on the scorecard. In other words, it’s a challenge and a thrill, and under Krizic’s ownership, the assessment of its eventual recognition appears fully within reach.
“It’s a great design,” repeats Krizic. “I’ve played golf all over the world, and this land and layout are special. It’ll take some time, but we’ve made a lot of progress already.”
The most obvious upgrades affect both the playability and the visual aesthetic of the course. “We’ve removed hundreds of trees already,” explains Krizic. “Look out at the lake,” he says, pointing from the small clubhouse deck. “None of those trees are supposed to be there, according to the original design.” More trees—nearly all of them throughout the property in, or even adjacent to the lines of play—will be coming down within the coming year. The grassy areas, which had been allowed for years to be taken over by weeds, will be returned to the original fescue. “Imagine in late summer,” opines Krizic. “That fescue will be golden brown. It will be beautiful.”
“All the money we make is going first into the course itself,” explains Krizic. “I’m old-school. The course itself, not the clubhouse or amenities, will keep golfers coming back.”
Playing Fyre Lake Golf Course
As noted already, Fyre Lake Golf Course should not be underrated due to its length. The par-70 design forces precision from tee to green, and plenty of power is also required on several holes. The 440-yard 1st is one of the prettiest opening holes in the state, with the back tees set basically off the edge of the practice putting green next to the clubhouse and the namesake lake in the distance. The bank between the higher first fairway and lower second has been mown, so opening drives that are pushed or sliced are now findable and playable, improving both vibe and pace of play. All three times I’ve played Fyre Lake, my first drive has gone right, so I immediately noticed this improvement.
The 521-yard 2nd is the only par 5 on the front. It plays from a tee sitting below the level of the fairway all the way uphill to a well-bunkered green perched on a hillside high above. It feels more like a 700-yard par 5, but the view from the green back down the fairway toward the lake is worth the trek.
The putting surfaces themselves are full of movement, and many of them have multiple tiers, but they roll true; conditions are much improved from two years ago. A curious aspect of the greens is the lack of collars: no fringe, no “frog hair.” According to Krizic, this is a hallmark of Nicklaus designs. “He doesn’t like collars. It makes the greens really pop visually.” Krizic and his greenskeeper are currently in discussions about whether to add collars, though.
The 436-yard 3rd, which thanks to the only triple-bogey of my most recent round I now refer to as “The Devil’s Cloaca,” tumbles back downhill toward the lake, with no level spot on the fairway until it ends short of the thick rough on the lakeshore. Your approach here has to find a rock-walled green with no bailout right and H2O left.
As pretty as the front nine holes are, with multiple elevated tees reminiscent of Michigan golf, the real magic happens after the turn, with one memorable hole after another. The 190-yard 12th is a daunting par 3 from the tips – actually a totally different hole from the back tees compared to all the other tees. From there, it’s a 180-yard carry between trees and over a deep ravine. From the more forward tees, there’s progressively less and less carry required, but the angle to the putting surface becomes more awkward—a thrilling design for players of all skill levels.
The 401-yard 13th plays way downhill to a semi-blind landing area, and then further downhill to an island green that you just might see in your dreams or your nightmares, depending on how well you hit your approach. One of Fyre Lake’s rare design drawbacks is here. The back tees for the 386-yard 14th are located on the same island. So if the group in front of you is playing the tips when they shouldn’t be and are hitting ball after ball to try to get back over 230 yards of water to the 14th fairway, you’ll have plenty of time to ponder the tricky approach.
Personally, I also find the 372-yard 15th problematic, but probably because in the three times I’ve played Fyre Lake, I’ve averaged at least double-bogey. From any tees, there’s little visible fairway to aim at, and the reedy shore of the lake borders the left side from tee to green. If you’ve got a reliable power fade with your driver or fairway wood, you’re fine off the tee. But then your approach will need to carry water again to a small, mounded peninsula green. I have come to call this hole “The Devil’s Bathtub.”
The 430-yard 18th is a swooping, downhill right-to-left cape hole over water and bordered by bunkers and water. End with a good drive here, and your round will feel magical.
The verdict on Fyre Lake Golf Course
Magical is a good word to describe Fyre Lake. The name sounds like the title of a fantasy novel series, and mystical things will happen to players here, thanks to the fantastical design’s use of the whimsical topography. Elevation changes and forced carries make all targets appear farther away than they really are – almost like a spell that plays with your eyes. There can be horrors too, though, from drowned balls to rolled carts.
“As I say,” explains Krizic, “I’m a purist. You saw the one and only sign on the course coming off the tee on 6, right?” I had – it said, “Slow down!” This was wise advice as the tee towered a good 60 feet above the fairway. I suggested a few more of those might be needed on stretches of cartpath that felt more like a rollercoaster. “No, that’ll be the only one,” Krizic replied with a smile.
The old-school approach also applies to the green fees. There are just three rates: $65 (Fr-Su), $55 (Mo-Th), $45 (Senior Mo-Th). “We don’t mess with that dynamic pricing stuff,” Krizic says.
One off-course upgrade already implemented is the hot dogs. Don’t laugh. They’ve all-beef and served on pretzel buns, which are transformative. Seriously, treat yourself to one (with high-end condiments, too).
For those who have played Fyre Lake and wonder about the future of this almost mythical layout, Mark Krizic wants players to know this: “The vision for the course is always the same. Make sure the greens are consistent, maintain the golf course. But you have to put money into the golf course to make it happen. We’re improving customer service and amenities. But our very first focus is the golf course” – a course like no other in Illinois.