Golf Chicago!
Jeff Rude
Dave Berner
Great courses that don’t cost a fortune.

Best Buy Archives

A diamond in the rough—we all know what that means and we’ve all experienced finding that diamond golf course in unsuspecting places. It’s that gem that just needs a little bit of a jeweler’s touch to make it shine. The diamond doesn’t have to be 14-karat; it just has to show some elegance and possibilities. There are at least three of those diamonds (to varying degrees) in the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
In reality, the courses of Cook County have been praised and scorned over the years. The maintenance has always been a problem; conditioning and care has never been what we all hoped it should be. But that’s about to change. See sidebar. But between the traps that need raking, the rough that needs cutting, the fairways that need fertilizing and the greens that need rolling, there are golf courses that are ultimately playable and, in come cases, as challenging as some of the Chicago area’s better venues.
Three courses in particular fall into that category, and because of the reasonable green fees at these facilities, each deserves recognition from the Best Buys department.

Here’s a reminder on how we rate our Best Buys.

Staff Courtesy
Course Services (pro shop, food, practice facilities)

Each is rated on a scale of 0-25 for a total of 100 possible points.

Golf Chicago Golfer

George W. Dunne National Golf Course
16310 South Central Avenue
Oak Forest, Illinois
Par - 72
Yardage - (From the back) 7170
Slope - 134
Rating - 75.1

I remember the good old days. The middle-of-the-night naps in the cars lined up at the entrance to Forest Preserve National; the ritual and the camaraderie of getting a tee time at this wonderful golf course and paying a green fee that was about as much as a bucket of balls costs you today. This, of course, was before tee time reservation systems, green fee inflation, and before Cook County’s tradition of naming places and things after people that eventually will be forgotten by the general public. Now folks under 30 can ask why George Dunne got a course named for himself.

With all the stories earlier this season about the process of getting a tee time at Bethpage in New York, the memories of Forest Preserve National came rushing back for many of us. Those were great times at a great golf course.

Today, new reservation systems have changed all that and, frankly, I think we lost a little something special. But the golf course—oh, the golf course—the core beauty and greatness is still there.

We are all aware that George Dunne National is not in the best of shape for such a fine layout. But this Ken Killian-Dick Nugent collaboration still holds its own. The design itself is what brings us back. It’s the challenge and the land—a great piece of land. And we all remember the awards from Golf Digest in 1982.

George Dunne National is the finest of the Cook County courses—an 18-hole gem built on relatively flat, but at times rolling, terrain. There’s water on 11 holes and more than 60 bunkers. And the best holes? The final three. The 16th is a short-ish par 4 that gives you a chance to make up for earlier mistakes. But 17 is a 205-yard par-3 with a green tucked left and water all along that left side. The finishing hole is marvelous. From the middle tees it plays 390 yards and the landing area off the tee is one of the tiniest on the course. Plus, did I tell you? There’s more water to navigate. It sits on the left side off the tee and forces you to consider how much you want to try to cut-off to find a safe place for your drive.

Yes, it needs a little tender loving care, and will get it soon, but George Dunne National is still a good track and at $43 on a weekday for a Cook County resident the place is a nice buy.

Conditioning - 20
Staff Courtesy - 21
Playability - 22
Course Services - 23

Total - 86

Golf Chicago Golfer

Joe Louis the Champ
13100 South Halsted
Riverdale, Illinois
Par - 72
Yardage - 6869
Slope - 123
Rating - 71.7

Yes, it’s named after the fighter. But Joe Louis was not only a legendary boxer and a Chicagoan, he was a fanatical golfer. Good a reason as any to name a golf course after him. And in fact, Louis played a whole lot of golf on this layout.

This is a no-nonsense golf course in the old tradition. It was built in 1918 but tweaked by architect Dick Nugent in later years. There’s not much water and most of the holes are straightforward challenges. But Joe Louis does boast one of the longest regulation golf holes in the Chicago area. At 614 yards, the par 5 seventh hole is a monster. It plays pretty much out in front of you until the last 100 yards when the fairway takes a little turn right and tucks the green. It’s a big hole, but it’s not the hardest on the course.

The number-one handicap is the hole just before it. It’s a par 4 running nearly 440 yards that seems to regularly be into the wind. The 6th and 7th holes combine for a good challenge.

Joe Louis has a putting green, a decent range, pull carts, power carts and some clubs to rent, although not the best. But get this: On a weekday a Cook County resident can play 18 holes of golf for just $20. And it’s only $23 on the weekends. That’s tough to beat.
Conditioning - 20
Staff Courtesy - 20
Playability - 23
Course Services - 22

Total - 85

Golf Chicago Golfer

River Oaks Golf Course
1 Park Avenue
Calumet City, Illinois
Par - 72
Yardage - 5863
Slope - 115
Rating - 68.6

This is the easiest of the three Cook County courses on our list. And that’s good. River Oaks is a nice place to refine your skills, get some confidence and take friends and family who are fairly new to the game. River Oaks will not beat you up.
The one thing that brings challenge to this layout is water. Winding water is found on 15 holes. There are also plenty of trees helping to build challenge, but also adding to the scenery.
River Oaks is generally flat with only a few holes presenting you with doglegs. Number 5 in particular makes a big turn to the left with water hugging the left side all the way to the green.
River Oaks has a putting green, but no range. And just like other Cook County courses there is a pro shop and snack bar and a great green fee - $20 during the week and $23 on the weekends.

Conditioning - 20
Staff Courtesy - 22
Playability - 22
Course Services - 19

Total - 83

For more information about resident discount ID cards for the Cook County Forest Preserve courses and advance reservations contact the FPD at 708-366-9466.

Golf Chicago Golfer

As always, if you have a Best Buy to share, contact us at Golf Chicago!
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Last Updated: 10/5/02