The Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, offer bountiful golf. Nearby Silvis, Illinois, even hosts a PGA Tour Event, The John Deere Classic, at the spectacular TPC at Deere Run. But the area’s courses don’t just cater to the core golf demographic. There are also plenty of opportunities for novices, juniors, seniors, and the “golf-curious” to explore and experience beautiful facilities without investing hours of time or hundreds of dollars.
Most people don’t realize that St. Andrew’s Links in Scotland is a massive municipal facility. Similarly, the Quad Cities’ municipal courses epitomize the best of America’s daily fee, public-access, community-owned golf, carrying on the long history of accessible, affordable golf. Palmer Hills in Bettendorf is one of the best examples in the nation of a municipal facility that feels and looks like a country club. With the addition of The Forge, its new 18-hole putting course, Palmer Hills seeks to engage even a wider swath of the golf-curious public.
Palmer Hills Golf Course is a William J. Spear design that opened in 1974. The par-71 layout stretches to just over 6,500 yards from the back tees, and has served as the venue for multiple local and state championships. It’s the home course for local high school teams, as well as the training ground of one of last year’s Drive, Chip, and Putt competitors, who competed in the finals at Augusta National. About 14 years ago, the clubhouse was completely redone, and the Palmer Grill draws large crowds of non-golfers for its lunch and brunch specials. Conditions rival those of any course in the area, including private clubs. Nevertheless, green fees max out at just $46 (with cart) on weekends.
Head Greenkeeper, Brian Hickey, has a degree in turf management from Iowa State and has earned awards from national greenkeepers’ associations for his stellar work at Palmer Hills. Under his watch, the course has expanded the driving range and practice facilities as well as added The Forge.
The Forge itself consists of 4 separate greens, the second of which measures 30,000 square yards. Each green contains at least a couple of the 18 holes, which are routed out and back. Tee stands and holes are placed daily in new positions to reduce wear, and tee markers are designed with extremely useful drink holders. (A putting course is ideally suited for pairing libations and competition, after all.) The pristine bentgrass greens run at the same speed as the main course, right around 11 on the Stimp meter.
There is no par on any hole – the scores just are whatever they are, harkening back again to the roots of golf when par didn’t exist. The flexible routings at The Forge bring to mind The Loop, the reversible Tom Doak course in Roscommon, Michigan, which plays in both directions, alternating from day to day. Tee boxes there are also just sort of positioned in the ground daily at various spots.
At just $8 for adults and $5 for kids, the tournament-quality putting course is competitively priced with and far more enjoyable than your standard “putt-putt” golf courses. There can be some severe breaks, but nothing is tricked up – players of The Forge will get a feel for what it’s like to putt on a REAL golf course, and might just catch the bug to get out and try the full-sized course. The lovely views from parts of The Forge onto the championship course are also quite enticing.
“Golf” means different things to different people. But golf should NOT mean exclusivity or inaccessibility to anyone. Municipal courses like Palmer Hills stand as exemplars of what golf can mean to everyone: accessible family fun in a beautiful, sustainable environment. The main course has instituted a new teeing system that allows for enormous flexibility in teeing forward, allowing for a more pleasant and competitive experience for seniors and beginners. And The Forge serves as a gateway for anyone—golfer or not—to experience this jewel of the Bettendorf Parks system.
Kokopelli Golf Club in Marion has seen its share of ups and downs over the past 25 years. The Steve Smyers design has seen multiple changes in ownership since its founding, including a group that included Smyers himself. The most recent owners are Rodney Cabaness and Shad Zimbro, local businessmen who have been at the helm for nearly two years. And they are revamping, reinvigorating, and reimagining everything from the restaurant to stay-and-play packages to bunkers and tees to the course’s social media presence – top to bottom, soup to nuts.
Opened in 1996 to great acclaim and anticipation, Kokopelli Golf Club takes full advantage of the 210-acre property. A former coal strip-mine, the land heaves and falls, and a gaping ravine grabs wayward shots on a number of holes.
The unique topography, along with the difficult grass-growing climate and soil type, however, engendered problems early on. There were also man-made faults in the course construction, which worsened over time. For example, many of the 98 original bunkers were not fitted with proper drains, and the silty clay soil beneath the sand and clogged them, creating gloppy messes every time it rained.
Although some of these issues were addressed over the years by previous owners, Cabaness and Zimbro – owners of a local Harley-Davidson dealership, Rent One minor-league baseball park adjacent the course, and several other businesses – are committing impressive resources and as much time as necessary to address the remaining ones. Some of the problematic bunkers have been or are being removed or repositioned (there are now 76), and all are being rebuilt with the Billy Bunker System. Tees have been stretched out on several holes, and priority has been given to maintenance, with a new fleet of mowers and associated equipment. Smyers doesn’t believe in water on golf courses unless it is a natural feature of the land, so the original layout had none, aside from the quarry lake that hugs the 5th green. The new team is finding low spots on the course – such as between the tee and the fairway on 12 – and digging out some water features, too.
Player experience is also being enhanced in other ways. There’s a fleet of new electric chrome-wheeled golf carts with GPS and integrated Bluetooth – you can take phone calls and play music right through your cart. In the clubhouse, players find craft cocktails and a completely new gourmet menu in The Turn. When you convince a local chef to close down his restaurant and take over your restaurant, you signal a real commitment to providing a first-class dining experience.
Literally everywhere you look on the course—and beyond it—you will find improvements in progress or in planning. Kaitlyn McCurdy, Kokopelli’s golf and social media/marketing manager, describes the continuous work as “Mind-blowing and exciting.” Says McCurdy, “We are planning and working towards making Kokopelli Golf Course your oasis and ‘The Destination of Southern Illinois.’”
Kokopelli Golf Club plays to a par of 71, and from the championship tees, it stretches to 6,992 yards. But this could change. Iterative tinkering has necessitated several rounds of new ratings and scorecards. As a result, the GPS in the carts needs to be updated, as some holes were about 10 yards off. That GPS is indispensable, too, as Smyers plays with your depth perception throughout the course. Just about every approach looks longer (and occasionally shorter) than it really is. I cannot recall any course that was not designed by Pete Dye that messes with your eyes as much.
On the front side, the strip mine pit comes into play quite picturesquely on the 426-yard 4th, where, depending on which tee box you choose, you might need to carry a large portion of the yawning morass. At present, the fairway is occluded by brush and trees growing up from the pit, but the plan is to shave them down so players can see most of the fairway, even form the tips. Even so, keeping everything well right of the pit is critical here, as it runs from tee to green.
The picturesque 146-yard 5th is about as daunting as a short par-3 can be, as the green is 40 feet below the tees and the putting surface is framed by water front, left, and some of the back. Club selection is critical. (Pro tip from McCurdy, a Marion HS golf stand-out: Use the US flag at the house on the hill behind the green rather than the flagstick to check the wind.)
Locals know to try to go low on the front side, as the back is considerably harder. The stretch of holes from 11-13, in particular, serve up one tricky tee shot after another, in terms of club selection, line, blind landing areas, and hazards. In fact, there are a good five or six mostly blind tee shots throughout the course, so again, that GPS is very handy.
The 525-yard par-5 closing hole is one of those blind shots, playing uphill over some fairway bunkers. A good drive sets you up for an eagle chance, but unless you’re knowledgeable or lucky, chances are you’ll be laying up from left of the fairway to the mounded, undulating green.
The best opportunities for birdies at Kokopelli are the four par 3s, which rank 15-18 in terms of their handicaps, yet there are always plenty of risks. The 204-yard 17th, the postcard hole on the back side, plays a bit downhill but is encircled with bunkers and mounding. Missing the green in the wrong spot makes for a tough bogey, not to mention par.
As mentioned, the new owners are working and investing continuously in upgrading every aspect of the player’s experience. Three houses behind the 4th green have been purchased and are being renovated to accommodate groups of 6-8 right on the property.
The Turn restaurant offers pub fair to fine dining options, and plans are in place to expand and grow to allow for bigger groups, with more room for patrons to enjoy the best dining experience in town.
Because Marion is so far south, most winters are warm enough to get out at least now and then all year. The owners are installing Turf Hound Product hitting mats at the practice range (which is also being expanded to resemble a circular stadium-style range) that will be open year-round, and there is a simulator in the Koko Simulator Suite in the clubhouse for cold snaps and rainy days.
From day one, Kokopelli Golf Club has had enormous potential. It has hosted numerous regional and state championships over the years. Now, though, its full potential is being realized. At present, rates are just $49 with cart on weekdays and $59 on weekends, which is a bargain. Once all the improvements have come to fruition, rates may go up, but the extent of the upgrades will almost certainly be worth the price of admission, whatever the rate.
The Lake Geneva area of southern Wisconsin has been the preferred getaway for Chicagoans ever since 1871, when Chicago burned and industrialist families fled the remains of the city smoldering in the sweltering summer heat. The shores of Lake Geneva are lined with the “summer cottages” of families with names like Wrigley and Maytag – “cottages” with bedrooms numbering well into the double-digits.
In 1968, another famous Chicago millionaire – Hugh Hefner – opened the Lake Geneva Playboy Club. Movie, sports, and TV stars flocked to the resort to enjoy the amenities of the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired resort. There they found first-class service, gourmet dining, and a host of outdoor activities, including 36 holes of championship golf.
Today, the Grand Geneva Resort maintains the tradition of excellence in a completely family-friendly environment, with upgraded facilities and even more outdoor activities. Along with horseback riding, zip-lining, mountain biking, tennis, swimming, skiing, snowmobiling, and the total relaxation of the WELL Spa, golf remains the centerpiece of the picturesque property.
It is rare to find a Midwestern golf destination with two courses designed by very different course architects. The Highlands (originally dubbed The Briar Patch) was one of the earliest Jack Nicklaus and Pete Dye collaborations. The Brute was laid out by Robert Bruce Harris, who was one of the more underrated Midwestern golf course architects of the second half of the 20th century. About 20% of play comes from resort guests, about 50% from day-trippers from Chicago, Milwaukee, and elsewhere, and the rest are members. Standard rack rates hover around $160 in peak season, but there are fabulous stay-and-play packages, some of which include unlimited golf or even “free” golf during certain seasons when booking a room at the resort.
Playing The Highlands
Early Nicklaus-Dye designs were notoriously difficult, and The Briar Patch was one of them. In the 1990s, Bob Cupp and Bob Lohman pruned the sharpest thorns from the course, and the redesigned layout was renamed The Highlands. At 6,625 yards from the back tees, length is not the only – or even main – defense here. Only four par 4s stretch to 400+ yards from the tips, and only two do so from the “members’” tees (including the stout 461/450-yard 9th). So club selection, shot-making, and ball placement are all vital to scoring. The Nicklaus-Dye strategic game is strong here.
One highlight is the bucolic 192-yard, par-3 4th, where the tee shot is nearly all carry over wetlands and a stream to a wide but shallow bowl of a green. Choose the right club and find the green for par; miss it, and a double-bogey or worse awaits.
On the back side, the 594-yard 11th stands out. It is a snaking par-5 with an awkward landing area off the tee. The elevated green resists shots of any length, especially foolhardy second shots. The putting surface is long and narrow, and it is set at an angle such that only a perfectly placed lay-up towards the front will have a chance to hold. If the pin is down front, where the surface is rather devilishly mounded, even a short wedge might trickle off.
Although The Highlands allows for some wayward drives today thanks to the 1990s redesign, its softened name belies its difficulty from tee to green.
Playing The Brute
The Brute is longer than The Highlands at 7,029 yards from the tips, and it is rated over 2 strokes more difficult (74.3 vs. 72.0), hence its moniker. Course architect Robert Bruce Harris was a master at what is now revered as “natural” course design. He largely allowed the land’s natural contours and flow dictate routing and shaping, and he could design interesting courses conforming to whatever budget he was given. In 1968, Hugh Hefner had a pretty large budget.
The Brute features numerous blind shots off the tees and occasionally elsewhere, so the GPS in the golf carts is extremely helpful. There is plenty of water and woods to swallow misbehaving golf balls. And the greens are a mixture of turtlebacks and potato chips, varying widely in size. There are some stark elevation changes from tee to fairway – most notably at the 500-yard par-5 11th, which teeters at the highest point of the property. Perhaps the most visually striking feature of The Brute is the bunkering: many bunkers are enormous, shallow circles that resemble gigantic dinner plates.
Although power is at more of a premium here than on The Highlands, shot-making is still critical. At the 374-yard 3rd, for example, the steeply downhill fairway only levels out as it is pinched off to about 15 yards wide between two ponds. It is from here where you have the best chance to land your second shot on the domed green perched some 30 feet back up above the ideal landing spot. Stay too short off the tee, you’ll have a severely downhill lie for your second. Miss the flat spot right or left, you’ll be wet.
The closing three holes are where you’ll experience both the “beauty” and the “brute” of Harris’s design. The 190-yard 16th is a lovely par 3 playing from an elevated tee to an elevated green. The 420-yard 17th presents a gorgeous tee shot to a fairway set at an uncomfortable angle across the corner of a fountained pond. The 464-yard 18th rewards even a hammered drive with a long approach. If you do find the enormous green with your second (or third) shot, this is a very easy green to three-putt.
As noted, the resort itself pays homage to Wright’s Prairie style – long, low, horizontal lines, mixtures of textures and materials, and strong central geometric features. Moving between floors and buildings can be somewhat disorienting, but the plentiful signage reassures you that people like Sonny and Cher and Sammy Davis, Jr., used to get turned around in the same hallways.
The rooms have been updated and retrofitted with all the modern amenities. If you spring for a suite—some of which overlook The Brute – you’ll have plenty of room to spare.
Dining options are plentiful, with the Grand Café offering fine seasonal fare, and the Geneva ChopHouse serving up fine dining options. The bar in the main lobby overlooking the pool is a classy and classic place for a pre- or post-dinner drink.
Whenever I bring up the Grand Geneva Resort to an older golfing buddy of mine, he regales me (again…and again) with the story of how he hung out with Axl Rose and Stephanie Seymour at the pool during a golf trip to the resort in the early 1990s. I can’t promise a brush with the rich and famous today, but I can guarantee a luxurious, historic vacation – and golf! – experience in the heart of the Midwest.
Before Whistling Straits. Before Erin Hills. Before Wild Rock. Before Sand Valley.
Before all of these Wisconsin “destination” golf courses, there was SentryWorld.
SentryWorld debuted in 1982 in Stevens Point, when Sentry Insurance commissioned Robert Trent Jones, Jr., to build a course to cater to locals and business colleagues as well as attract golfers from the entire Midwest. In 2013, Jones and his team returned to renovate the layout. When it reopened in 2015, SentryWorld joined some of those upstart “destination” Wisconsin courses on numerous “Top 100 You Can Play” lists thanks to rebuilt bunkers, a new routing, and fully restructured green complexes.
Jones’s crew returned once again in 2020 and 2021 to make a few more tweaks to the course in anticipation of the 43rd U.S. Senior Open, which will be held June 29-July 2, 2023, the third USGA championship to be contested here. On top of the course upgrades, further “destination” features have been added, including two refreshment stations on the course, each of which players pass two times in the round, and the luxurious Inn at SentryWorld, overlooking the 18th fairway. Add these to the existing fieldhouse and multiple dining options, and SentryWorld is once again flexing its muscles as a premier golf destination.
Not only is SentryWorld a destination course, but it also offers perhaps the best “country club-for-a-day” experience I’ve ever had. Greens fees are $275, all inclusive. Director of Golf Danny Rainbow explained just how “all inclusive” it is.
“Of course GPS carts and range balls are included,” says Rainbow. “So is all food and drink on the course. There will be chefs and bartenders in the refreshment stations [which will replace the temporary tents once final construction is complete] to make whatever you want as you wait. No payment necessary, and no tips.”
“Wait, what? Anything?” asked a certain disbelieving golf writer.
“Anything,” reassured Rainbow. Because this seemed too good to be true, that golf writer had to ask a couple more times out on the course, and Rainbow—the nicest director of golf you will find anywhere—patiently reassured him every time.
Another innovation Rainbow has implemented are 20-minute intervals between tee times, rather than the customary 8- or 10-minute intervals. This means that you will likely not see another group ahead of or behind you during your round, even if you stop into the snack shacks four times for freshly-grilled burgers and custom cocktails.
Beyond the sumptuous victuals and relaxed pace of play, the course itself packs a smorgasbord of challenge and beauty into 200 acres. There are five tee boxes and four combination tee sets such that players can choose a comfortable yardage from 4,652 yards all the way up to 7,320 yards. The greens, which run between 11.5 and 13 on the Stimp meter, are brilliantly contoured and the bunkers are almost blindingly white. In 1982, Robert Trent Jones, Jr., went so far as to call the 204-yard, par-3 16th – aka “The Flower Hole” – his “Mona Lisa,” with 33,000 flowers surrounding the idyllic green. In the 2013-2014 redesign, 1,000 trees were removed to improve sight lines and make off-line shots easier to find and play.
But don’t let the beauty and pristine conditioning fool you – SentryWorld has some sharp teeth, too. Jones, Jr., fully embraces his father’s mantra of “easy bogey, difficult par.” Unless players choose wildly inappropriate tees, there will be plenty of scoring opportunities. But this doesn’t mean that low scores will materialize. For example, on the par-5 5th, the number-one handicap hole, players face a crescent-shaped cape hole around a lake with a huge tree guarding the approach. Pick your line wisely off the tee, and you’ll have a nice look to make the green in two shots. I was over the green in two, actually, in a bunker behind the green. Three shots later, I had to settle for par. Danny Rainbow, on the other hand, dunked his tee shot, reteed and reclubbed, and hit his third next to my drive. He stuck his approach and made the putt for a rare eagle-par.
The par-5 9th is similarly difficult, despite only measuring 501 from the championship tees. There’s a stream that meanders down the right side of the fairway before splitting it further toward the green. The green complex is magnificently devious, just as likely to punish two good shots as to reward them.
The 436-yard 18th is a stout two-shot closer with OB (and The Inn) left and a completely new green complex, sternly bunkered and elevated above the fairway so that some parts of the green are blind, depending on your angle.
In short, SentryWorld is quite brilliant in conceptualization and in execution. It is extremely difficult to design a “destination” resort course that is also capable of challenging top players in a U.S. Open, “senior” or otherwise. One of the newer USGA-requested tweaks was that fairways would be shaved leading up to the edges of bunkers and that the bunker lips would be rounded to encourage balls to funnel into them. Another one was a few green alterations, creating some narrow fingers for pin positions accessible to only some of the best players in the world.
The Inn at SentryWorld
The Inn at SentryWorld opened in March, 2022, and when I visited, it still had that new-inn smell. Everything was crisp and immaculate. I would call the motif “northwoods chic,” first-class luxury framed by charming rusticity. Rates are around $255 per night, depending on room type. I know the mattresses are all new—like the entire inn—but nevertheless, my bed ranked easily in the top three most comfortable I’ve ever experienced on a golf trip.
The Fieldhouse, connecting to The Inn via a covered outdoor promenade more reminiscent of northern Italy than northern Wisconsin, houses indoor tennis and volleyball courts, golf simulators, meeting and event space, the pro shop, and the cavernous PJ’s restaurant and pub, perfect for a casual post-round drink or meal. If you’re in the mood for a formal dining experience, Muse at SentryWorld delivers gourmet fare in an elegant atmosphere.
SentryWorld is not only ready for the best senior players in the world in 2023, it’s ready for players of all skill levels now. Walking is allowed, and there is a caddie program if golfers call ahead to arrange for a caddie. With the addition of The Inn, SentryWorld is ideal for weekend getaways, weddings, events, and family vacations, too. The all-inclusive greens fees make the original Wisconsin destination course one of the most reasonably priced, too.
Japan is a golf-crazed nation. The sport is associated with status, leisure, and wealth. When I lived there in the early and mid 1990s, I would sometimes spend $200 in an evening just at a driving range–and the range was packed with golf nuts like me.
Honma is one of the top golf equipment companies in Japan, and it has the second-largest following outside of the Land of the Rising Sun, after Mizuno. Dozens of players on professional tours around the world fill their bags with Honma’s high-tech, high-performance sticks.
Honma’s TW757 line includes drivers, fairway woods, hybrids, and irons. Because fairway woods are particularly difficult for amateurs to strike consistently, this is an excellent entry point into Honma equipment – if the fairway woods perform for you, you can be confident the rest of the clubs will, too.
For a decade, my 3-wood – which used to be one of my favorite clubs – has been balky. It seems I can only hit low hooks. So I was eager to test the Honma TW757 3W ($415) to see if it would address this chronically dismal state of affairs.
How it plays
The TW757 3-wood has 15 degrees of loft and a 175cc clubhead constructed of a 455 maraging steel cupped face and an ultra-light carbon fiber crown. Honma builds all of its own graphite shafts in its Sakata plant, so even the stock Vizard shaft for TW757 is precisely tuned for performance with Honma clubheads.
There’s a slot on the sole parallel to the face to expand the effective hitting area and maintain ballspeed even on mishits. The center of gravity is extremely low and deep (with a standard 9-gram tungsten weight at the back of the sole). This weighting scheme delivers the most solid, powerful-feeling strikes I have ever experienced with a 3W. The compact head feels like a true fairway wood, unlike the oversized semi-drivers some companies call “fairway woods,” so contact from the fairway or rough is extremely consistent.
Most importantly for me, though, I’m finally once again able to get the TW757 in the air. I can even hit a high cut with it – something I have been vexingly unable to do for so many years now. At least, I can hit that shot on the (much cheaper American) driving range; we’ll see if I can transfer it to the course regularly. In any case, confidence is beginning to return to my long game.
Golf is a passion in Japan, and Honma builds top-quality clubs to fuel that passion. The TW757 fairway woods are rock-solid, with tour-proven performance and power. I’ve even hit it off the tee a few times on the course to see how it stacks up to my driver, and the distances are not that different. It makes the round much more fun to have confidence once again to stand 250 yards out from a par-5 green and think, “Gambatte-yo!” – “Go for it!” in Japanese.
You’ve likely seen the infomercials for the putters that stand up behind your ball. This review is NOT about those putters. The Bloodline Vale (HPP) ($299) does stand up on its own, but there is no infomercial for Bloodline putters, the original self-standing putters.
The Vale is Bloodline’s newest addition. It’s a mallet with a “sabretooth” head shape – two “fangs” (flanges) extending from the rear to provide heel-toe balance and a big sweetspot in the center of the face. The head is exquisitely face-balanced. Two of the three alignment lines on the top of the putter head extend from face to the tips of the flanges, with the short line in the middle. This system precisely frames the ball, too, so when the putter is standing up behind the ball, the optics are ideal.
I played The Vale for several rounds, testing on faster and slower greens. Although a couple of my old-school playing partners (like, playing for 60+ years old-school) ridiculed it as a gimmick, after they saw putt after putt struck on the precise line I was trying to hit, even they had to admit it worked.
How does it work, exactly? Well, The Vale (HPP) has a high-performance polymer head that is quite heavy, and the carbon fiber shaft and custom grip are extremely light. (You can find several other models at Bloodline, including The Vale (AA), with aircraft-grade aluminum head construction.) There are four small nubs on the bottom of the clubhead to level it out and stabilize it when it stands alone. The Vale comes with a tiny Allen wrench to adjust the lie angle, too, though if it is set too flat, balance might be affected.
As already noted, when I played with The Vale, it felt like every putt took the line I intended. Sometimes my reads were off, but I never questioned what line I *thought* was right.
The one detractor from The Vale’s performance for me was due to the weighting scheme. The balance point (when you balance the putter across your finger) is just a couple inches above the putter head – again, that’s how it stands by itself. This weighting is opposite that of putters with counterbalanced grips and shafts, which has become extremely common in recent decades. So it was difficult for me to dial in the speed with such a head-heavy putter. The Bloodline Vale rolls the ball beautifully off its grooved face, and during my first couple of rounds, many putts either flew past the hole or, as I tried to adjust, came up just short—but online.
“Vale” means “farewell” in Latin. With some practice to dial in the speed, you’ll be saying “vale” to a lot of putts as they dive into the hole like homesick gophers. Don’t listen to the old farts who needle you about your self-standing putter – just tell them you’ll show them the line.
The Bloodline Vale is a visually striking putter, too, aside from the stand-alone capability. The headcover is made from bright red vinyl with a knight and coat of arms (evoking the Knights of the Vale from Game of Thrones) and a magnetic closure. The quality throughout is top-notch – definitely not the stuff of infomercials.
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.
Terry Koehler has been in the golf equipment industry for 40 years. He began with Ray Cook Putters in the early 1980s. He joined Ben Hogan Golf in the early 90s. He founded both Eidolon Golf and Scor Wedges, where he developed the first progressive weight wedge system. Then he brought Ben Hogan back to life. He planned to retire and write as “The Wedge Guy.”
But Koehler felt he had some unfinished business. So he founded Edison Wedges. What makes Edison Wedges different from the wedges of big-name companies? In a recent interview, Koehler opined about Edison, wedges in general, and what average golfers need in their wedges.
Terry Kohler: In all major companies’ wedges, the top two-thirds of the clubhead in most wedges is thin. The biggest wedge mis-hit for most amateurs is high on the face. The smash factor decreases dramatically when impact is above the 5th groove. Spin decreases, too. 87% of spin on full shots comes from wedge weighting; only 13% comes from the grooves. The gear effect is also accentuated because the weight is below the ball. So most amateurs hit wedges too high, offline, and with not enough spin.
Kiel Christianson: What’s keeping major manufacturers from making wedges for average golfers?
TK: They make wedges for their tour pros. Wedges are the only clubs that don’t have many game-improvement elements. Less than 2% of recreational golfers play blades as their irons, but 98% play wedges designed for pros. Impact is optimized between grooves 2-5. This is where pros hit it. Average players usually contact the ball between grooves 4-8. Edison wedges are built for center of impact between grooves 3-8. This is what 8-20 handicappers need. All companies are trying to sneak weight higher in the face, but hampered by what tour players will let them do. Iron Byron proves what is good for pros is not appropriate for the vast majority of recreational players.
KC: What about those wide-soled, anti-chunk wedges?
TK: I call those one-hit wonders. They’re good for getting out of the sand, but not for full shots or creating shots around the green. Nobody knows what their next lie is going to look like, or what the conditions will be. When I looked around at wedges on the market, I said, “For Pete’s sake, let’s build a sole that will work in all conditions.”
KC: So what features of Edison Wedges are specially designed for average golfers?
TK: Edison has more weight above impact than anyone has ever done before, and they’re forged. The top section is 34% heavier than low section – this makes for a more penetrating flight and more spin. Testing shows that Edison wedges without the grooves cut in yet produce more spin on a dry ball than our competitors’ grooved wedges. Again, grooves only account for 13% of the spin equation. On short shots around greens, grooves matter more.
KC: Do they look chunkier at set-up?
TK: Our wedges are obviously thicker from back or in cross-sections – about 2x as thick on top half of the clubface than big-name wedges. At address the topline is slightly thicker, but not distracting.
How Edison Wedges play
The Edison Wedges website features a Wedgefit page, where shoppers can enter information about their game, tendencies, and current wedges. Koehler personally inspected my profile, and set me up with a three-wedge set: 49-deg., 53-deg., and 59-deg ($184 each). The lofts were somewhat surprising when I opened the box, as I usually play a 52, 56, and 60 set. And, importantly, I know precisely what my yardages are with these lofts.
Nevertheless, I took the Edisons to my local course (and some not-so-local ones) to play them for ten rounds. I remember quite clearly what I thought when I hit my first shot with one, too: “Wow—Koehler wasn’t kidding.”
You can feel immediately that Edison Wedges are forged, as they feel rock-solid yet exquisitely soft. The soles have worked perfectly in both the sloppy early-spring conditions and now in what has become a very dry early summer. Bunker shots with both the 53 and 59 have been better than ever – I got up and down for three rather improbable pars at Fyre Lake Golf Course from some very deep greenside bunkers with the 59, despite being short-sided every time.
Not only is the feel of Edison Wedges fabulous, but as Koehler described, the ball flight is generally lower than most wedges, and the ball spins more. I have “backed up” these wedges more than ever before (except, perhaps, Koehler’s old Scor Wedges, which I also reviewed).
The only downside to the wedge set are the yardages of the unfamiliar lofts. The 49-deg. Edison traveled considerably farther than my old 52-deg., about the same as a soft pitching wedge. So it was difficult to figure out how hard to swing for a standard 125 yard “gap” wedge. The same went for the 53-deg., which required trying to swing softer to hit my normal 100-110 56-deg. yardage. As a result, I found myself over the back of more greens during those ten rounds than I recall all last season.
On the other hand, I had given up trying to hit full 60-deg. wedges, as they often came out soft and right because they were contacted so high on the face. Edison’s weighting has put an incredible 80-yard full-swing option into my bag. In fact, the 59-deg. now gets the call for any shot less than 80 yards.
If you’re not a pro golfer, and if you struggle with your wedges, Edison is well worth a try. According to Koehler, most Edison customers come for one wedge to try them out first, “And they come back for a whole set after a round or two.”
“I’ve got Iron Byron data from 60,000 average golfers,” says Koehler. “There’s not another wedge on the market that’s built like Edison.”
In other words, they were invented specifically with players like you—and me—in mind.
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.
My son—the younger of my two kids—just graduated from high school, and he’ll soon make his way out of state for college. He won’t be playing golf there, but I hope he takes the work ethic embodied in the photo below with him when he goes. This was his sophomore year on the golf team, as I waited for him in the parking lot while he conscientiously completed a putting drill. It’s my favorite phot of him in 4 years on the golf team, where he played well—consistently low-man on the team in post-season play.
I guess, in the end, all that fathers can hope for is that they’ve equipped their children with sufficient life-lessons before they leave home. It’s sort of like making sure they’ve got golf balls and tees, a towel, a scorecard, and decent clubs before teeing off. This Father’s Day, return the favor and make sure your old man is equipped to handle whatever the next round – of golf or of life – has in store for him. Here are my favorite golf gifts for Dad this year.
You know what? I think I’m going to start this gift guide at the 19th Hole for a change—it’s been a rough year already. In 1979 Fuzzy Zoeller, one of golf’s biggest personalities, burst onto the scene with his surprise win at the Masters. Today, his eponymous Fuzzy’s Vodka is made from 100% American corn, five times distilled and ten times filtered, and a portion of each batch is rested in new American oak barrels. The result is crisp, smooth, and incredibly clean. In response to Russia’s war on Ukraine, Fuzzy’s is promoting the American Stallion – same ingredients as a Moscow Mule, but different name and only all-American Fuzzy’s Vodka.
Arnie and Jack: Stories of My Long Friendship with Two Remarkable Men by Charlie Mechem
Maybe the Dad in your life is feeling reflective like me, and maybe a little bit sentimental after an American Stallion or two (also like me). Roll with the mood and gift ol’ Dad a book about two of the nostalgic icons of golf, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The author, Charlie Mechem, had a long and remarkable legal and business career that included serving as a longtime advisor to both Palmer and Nicklaus. “I was honored and privileged to know Arnie and Jack for many years as good friends and to be blessed by those relationships,” said Mechem. “My life has been greatly enriched by my friendship with these two men.” Nobody has stories like Charlie of a couple of the great “fathers” in golf. To learn more about Mr. Mechem and to learn more about the book, visit HERE.
As a golf writer, I play a lot of different courses around the world, from the Bahamas to Iceland. It’s often tricky to get a feel for a course or for certain holes never having seen them before. The SkyCaddie SX550 GPS ($400-$480) is the newest release from SkyGolf. WiFi connectivity, a 5-inch touch screen, IntelliGreen® and Holevue® technologies, with contours of all greens for 35,000 preloaded, ground-verified, error-corrected courses. Frankly, there are too many features and functions to list here. Suffice it to say you will be able to pinpoint every shot yardage to every feature of the course and track all your shots and stats, too. The basic unit comes with a free 1-year subscription, which can be expanded to a 3-year subscription for a fraction of the cost. Totally worth it, especially if Dad plays lots of new courses or is planning a bucket-list golf trip.
GOLFFOREVER Swing Trainer and Fitness System
GOLFFOREVER is a comprehensive, customized at-home training system ($199) that takes a science-based approach to maximizing golfers’ performance by improving flexibility, core strength, balance and rotational power. Think Peloton for golf. It is the first golf-specific home training program to combine home exercise equipment with streaming instruction. Then GOLFFOREVER takes it one step further by customizing each golfer’s exercise routines just for them, based on a proprietary strength and flexibility test users take when starting. This consists of three videos and associated exercises to see where you’re at. It is used by more than 50 PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players—including World #1 Scottie Scheffler—and thousands of everyday golfers alike. For more information visit HERE. The equipment comes with a 30-day free trial of the video lessons, which cost $25/mo month-to-month or $16.58/mo billed annually.
FootJoy FUEL and Field Golf Shoes
FootJoy has redefined comfort while maintaining its spot at the top of the golf shoe pyramid. The FJ FUEL ($130) is new for 2022. Available in men’s, women’s, and junior’s sizes, the FUEL has a sneaker-inspired design that features the StratoLite foam compound. These shoes cradles your feet and weigh practically nothing. I walked 36 holes in these straight out of the box, and my feet felt fantastic. And the stability is really impressive.
If Dad is more of a traditionalist, he FJ Field ($200) is the newest addition to the FootJoy Premier Series. It was the most-worn shoe in this year’s Masters, so you know the quality is second to none. The spikeless outsole is constructed of multiple compounds to provide both traction and stability, and the OrthoLite insole is luxurious—ideal for protecting the feet of the best golfers on the planet. Doesn’t Dad deserve both timeless fashion and modern comfort?
Cole Haan ZERØGRAND Overtake Golf Shoe
Iconic shoemaker Cole Haan is expanding its golf offerings in 2022. If Dad’s footwear tastes run toward styling reminiscent of crossfit or basketball shoes, the ZERØGRAND Overtake Golf Shoe ($150) is for him. Superb traction and comfort are guaranteed, and the mesh bootie inner lining hugs your feet and wicks moisture away from them, making blisters nearly impossible. These shoes feel like a second skin.
The go-to gift: Balls
Titleist is most famous for the ProV1/V1x models, but their lower-priced balls, geared towards various amateur players, boast the same top-tier quality control and consistency. The Titleist Velocity ($30/doz) is geared toward squeezing the most distance as possible out of your long clubs while maintaining acceptable greenside feel. On the other end of the spectrum, Titleist’s softest ball is the Titleist TruFeel ($25/doz). It still generates distance, but its real strength is exquisite feel and control around the green. Finally, the Titleist AVX ($50/doz) is a 3-piece performance ball that produces low spin and low ball flight with tremendous greenside control If the ProV1 is made for pros, the AVX is for the scratch handicappers at your club.
My first review of Srixon golf balls—which appeared some 15 years ago—introduced them as the best ball whose name you can’t pronounce. Today, Srixon has become a household name amongst avid golfers between their high-quality equipment and their high-profile sponsorships on Tour. At the top of these high-profile Srixon staffers is Brooks Koepka, who plays the brand-new Z-Star Diamond ($45/doz). The Z-Star Diamond is a 3-pc Urethane ball, with high greenside spin, mid driver spin, and mid-high iron spin. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better all-around balance in a golf ball. The redesigned Q-Star ($28/doz) is a low-compression ball for higher handicap players who want all the benefits of a premium ball without the premium price tag.
Maybe the most aggressive ball marketing campaign this season has been rolled out by Bridgestone. The Tour B Series (all $50/doz) consists of four ball models, with one model in two versions. The Tour B X has been designed in consultation with Bryson DeChambeau, and he and Matt Kuchar play it on Tour. The Tour B RX is played in competition by Lexi Thompson. The Tour B RXS is played by Fred Couples. The Tour B XS was designed with input from Tiger Woods himself, and Tiger plays it in competition (well, limited competition, so far). And finally, if Dad REALLY wants to feel like Tiger when he plays, pick up a box of the limited-edition Tour B XS – TW Edition, stamped with the “TIGER” name. After Bridgestone introduced these last year, you’d see the occasional Twitter post by people who found them at their local courses and were convinced Tiger had played there!
Golf Pride CPX Grips
Golf Pride’s new CPX is the first grip completely concepted and developed at Golf Pride’s new Global Innovation Center in Pinehurst, NC. CPX, which stands for “Comfort Performance Extreme,” is constructed from a very soft and responsive rubber compound that molds to the golfer’s hands for the ultimate in comfort and stress relief. The soft and tacky material features a 45-degree diamond pattern inspired by the grips on BMX bikes. In addition, the innovative Control Core® in the grip’s end-cap complements the soft rubber compound to afford the best of both worlds: maximum softness and maximum control. I love the texture of these grips, and even though my previous grips still had some life in them, I regripped everything to take full advantage of these innovative grips.
Sun Mountain Speed Cart V1R
Give Dad the gift of more golf-related exercise with a new push cart. Sun Mountain’s Speed Cart V1R ($270) is updated for 2022. The V1R opens and closes with the flip of two levers. It has an ergonomic storage console and a headcover basket, is available in 10 different colors, folds down to W 37” X H 16” X D 13”, and weighs just under 18 lbs. When folded, the V1R is long and narrow – perhaps a bit too long for many sedan trunks, but ideal for a pick-up or SUV. And it fits perfectly in full-sized golf course lockers. This is probably the smoothest-rolling cart I’ve ever used. It feels like your bag is floating down the fairways.
There you have it – a wish-list fit for any golfing Dad. My only wish is for a few more rounds with my son before he heads off to college. So maybe find some time to play with your old man, too.