Many companies were devastated during the coronavirus pandemic, but one industry saw a significant boom.
The number of golfers in the U.S. was 24.8 million in 2020, up 2 percent year over year, according to the National Golf Foundation. That’s the biggest increase in 17 years.
6.2 million new players counted, an all-time record. All golf numbers are comparable to the peaks in the 1990s when Tiger Woods first came to light.
The nature of outdoor golf made it one of the few social activities that did not adversely affect COVID-19, despite the fact that Illinois golf courses were closed for the first few months of the pandemic.
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Long-term golf trends have not been favorable. The steady decline in interest over the past few years has resulted in hundreds of courses across the country being permanently closed, including some in central Illinois.
Of the no longer open golf courses in the Journal Star area, two are in Mason County – Crane Creek Golf Course near Kilbourne and Lakewood Golf Course north of Bath.
The Crooked Knee Golf Course near Henry, the Laurel Greens Golfers Club in Knoxville, and the Swan Creek Golf Club west of Avon have also closed.
Some of the courses have been converted to farmland. Jack Nicklaus was crying.
Many golfers don’t mind traveling to try different courses, and some of the closed courses were pretty good. Lakewood, in particular, might have been one of the best nine-hole golf courses in the state.
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Of the golf courses that remain open, there are five outside the Tri-County area but within the Journal Star area that are well worth a trip regardless of golfers experience. We can vouch for four. The other has the support of a national golf publication.
Here they are in alphabetical order. Private courses were not included unless they are open for public gaming.
Earlier this year, Golf Magazine listed Bunker Links among 25 of the country’s undervalued golf courses, as recommended by readers.
The par 71 layout was characterized, among other things, by its playing condition, its clubhouse and its general cleanliness.
“I was at home browsing my cell phone and stumbled upon the article by accident. My jaw almost dropped to the floor,” Bryan Lüdtke, executive director of Bunker Links, told Galesburg Register-Mail. “But I also had the feeling that we have made a lot of improvements in several years and we are worth mentioning.”
Bunker Links opened almost 100 years ago and expanded to 18 holes in 1929. The name does not come from a synonym for sand traps, but from the golf course architect Dwight Carpenter Bunker. He was director of the Galesburg parking system.
For 25 years this Putnam County course had only nine holes. But in 1994, architect Jim Spears (not the Jim Spears who owns Jimmy’s Bar in West Peoria) helped Edgewood Park double the number of holes.
The change is palpable.
Edgewood Park’s Front Nine is fine, but the Back Nine has more character and is a tougher challenge. In that regard, Edgewood Park is similar to Woodford County’s El Paso Golf Club, another nine-hole course that has been expanded.
Overall, Edgewood Park with par 72 offers a good test for the average golfer. And it’s not far from some of the LaSalle-Peru-Spring Valley region’s old school Italian restaurants, perfect for a post-round meal.
There are reasons why Monmouth high school boys golf teams have won 13 state trophies, including eight championships. The coaching and mentoring of Bill Pieper and the former Peoria Men’s City tournament champion Tim Sweborg are prominent.
But another important reason can be found along US Route 34 on the eastern edge of Monmouth.
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Par-71 Gibson Woods is a solid old school course. Its narrow fairways, tricky greens and optimal conditions can put every skill to the test.
Also, not many golf club houses have hosted the British Open Championship Trophy here. Oquawka-born Todd Hamilton, the 2004 Open winner, brought the Claret Jug to Gibson Woods, one of the courses he played regularly as a teenager.
This par 71 course is one of the focal points of the Oak Run housing estate in Knox County between Galesburg and Williamsfield.
Oak Run has a nice selection of golf holes. Not too long, not too short. The par 3 holes are strong. Water is more pronounced on the second nine.
When it comes to green fees, Oak Run is an absolute bargain – $ 35 including cart, before 3 p.m., seven days a week. Oak Run is also notable for its clubhouse.
The restaurant menu includes steak, shrimp, and pasta, as well as sandwiches. When you consider that a lot of natural cuisine doesn’t go beyond hot dogs sitting in the microwave or on a rotisserie spit all day, such variety is welcome.
Located off Interstate 80 between Ladd and Spring Valley, Spring Creek is a story of two courses.
The par 35 Front Nine is narrow, full of trees and relatively short, only about 3,000 meters from the peaks. It’s on the hilly side.
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But the par 37 back nine is more than 500 yards longer than the front. It’s also more of a grip-it-and-rip-it affair – wider fairways and three par-5 holes.
Spring Creek’s location is convenient for Peoria golfers wanting to meet friends from Chicago, Quad Cities, or Rockford. It’s about in the middle of all of these places. It’s also very close to the old school Italian pubs mentioned above.