At first glance, Romeoville looks like a typical Chicago suburb. There’s a high school, chain restaurants, some industry, plenty of homes with well-manicured lawns.
But Romeoville is different, for in that southwest ‘burb, the golf boom goes on. The evidence can be found along Renwick Road, where $6 million is being spent on a golf course.
And not a new golf course. A renovation of Mistwood Golf Club.
That price tag again: $6 million, or $800,000 more than was spent by Cog Hill on the renovation of Dubsdread.
Jim McWethy, a successful businessman from the western suburbs, is writing the checks. Used to investing in projects, McWethy knows this is of a different order, different enough that he’s encountered sleepless nights wondering about the outcome in advance of the planned June 1 reopening.
“More times than I want to describe,” McWethy said last week. “It’s a big roll (of the dice). I do not expect it’s going to be paying handsome rewards. I just want rewards for it. I do believe it can be a successful venture, but I also realize I’m running counter to almost everybody else in the golf business.
“Everybody else is hunkering down and shrinking, and all of a sudden, Jim McWethy comes along and is investing money in golf. That may make us more visible and conspicuous, doing something nobody else is doing right now.”
McWethy is the third owner of Mistwood, a Ray Hearn-designed course that opened in 1988. He was a silent partner in the original investment group, saw another group come in when the first majority owner bailed, and now owns the whole thing.
The key motivation for the renovation, McWethy said, was getting Mistwood on the map as a top-five public course for serious players.
“I’m not saying we’re going to bump anybody out, but we should be on the short list of the best courses,” McWethy said. “I think, in my humble opinion, that we’re going to be there. Everybody who has seen it so far has been blown away by the golf course.”
Hearn, a Michigan-based architect whose Evans Scholar credentials are unique in the profession, was brought in by McWethy to remake his original creation. Or, to hear McWethy tell it, to do what he wanted to do originally.
“This is more what Ray Hearn envisioned 15 years ago,” McWethy said. “He was very much hamstrung by the original owners. Things he was told would be done (with site preparation) were not done. This was a golf course built on a rock pile.”
That’s caused problems with conditioning through the years, but the renovation is fixing the causes.
When Mistwood reopens, players will find a more challenging course, though only a bit longer, at about 6,800 yards from the tips. Where a small marsh once ran along the right side of the par-5 third hole, now a lake – technically a creek leading to the Des Plaines River – will command attention, and likely drown more than a few Titleists, as it impinges on landing areas and wraps around the back of the green.
Expect fairways that play firm and fast, without funny bounces, and greens that are consistent from start to finish. And expect trouble if you land in one of the 18 revetted bunkers.
“For better or worse, that’s what we are,” McWethy said. “We’re very Scottish. It’s a little bit of Scotland here in Romeoville.”
McWethy’s first inclination was not only to remake the course and the range, including the installation of a learning center, across about nine months – Mistwood closed on Aug. 22 – but also to demolish the clubhouse, making room for a lavish new one. When permitting on the learning center stalled, he decided to leave the original up, and live with its poor design for another year. Now he’s glad he did.
“We almost made a serious mistake,” McWethy said. “There has been enough sheer chaos, frustration and stress with the course. The two-phase approach is the only way it can work.”
Steve Gianakas’ Hickory Properties’ $5.9-million bid in U.S. Bankruptcy Court was enough to win Green Garden Country Club, a 45-hole complex south of south suburban Frankfort. First Midwest Bank filed a $21.5-million foreclosure suit against overextended Green Garden owner Bill McEnery last year, and the parties agreed to an auction to settle the suit. Gianakas, owner of the 27-hole Hickory Hills Country Club, picks up a 415-acre property with a recently rebuilt golf dome and separate range. McEnery’s personal bankruptcy filing last year detailed $225 million in creditor claims.
Congrats to Marlene Miller, of Lake Bluff, a recent inductee to the Illinois Women’s Golf Association Hall of Fame. Miller co-founded the IWGA’s Illinois Junior.