Mistwood’s new Performance Center is spectacular

Mistwood Golf Club, the long-time Illinois Women’s Open site in Romeoville, closed early the last two years and opened a bit later than most of the other Chicago public courses this spring. Now those hard decisions, made by owner Jim McWethy and his veteran staff, are paying off.

The August closings in 2011 and 2012 enabled architect Ray Hearn to more easily put the finishing touches on his elaborate renovation work. The slightly delayed opening this weather-hampered spring was done for the same reason.

“Some areas held a little more water than we wanted,’’ said director of golf Dan Phillips. “We did some drainage work and some irrigation. We wanted to make sure everything was perfect.’’

Now it is.

Not only is the course – featuring 19 unique sod-wall bunkers – ready for a big season, but the long-awaited 5,000 square-foot Performance Center will soon become the talk of the Chicago golf scene. It is truly spectacular. There may be bigger practice facilities in the area, but there are none better. That’s why Mistwood is Chicagoland Golf’s next Course-of-the-Month.

Golfers managed a look at Hearn’s re-design last year and liked it. The IWO was even played there. This year those same golfers will be able to warm up at the new Performance Center and also stop there between nines or after their rounds, since the facility is also serving as a halfway house.

It’s not your average halfway house, though. It has a full-service bar and snack show along with eight televisions.

“We can put on anything we want,’’ said Phillips. “No one has done this before.’’

What McWethy has done with the entire Mistwood facility since taking over ownership in 2004 is extraordinary – especially considering the tough economic times that saw most courses cutting back rather than expanding. While Mistwood was a long-term project, McWethy also took over the former Ditka Dome in Bolingbrook, upgraded both the indoor range and restaurant and renamed it McQ’s. It lured golfers during the winter.

Work at Mistwood took much longer and isn’t quite done, though the parking lot has been doubled in size to eventually accommodate 240 cars.

Hearn was the course’s original designer before McWethy took over, and that finished project was well received. Golf Digest even gave the par-5 No. 8 hole a two-page spread in 1999. Hearn’s updates, done in the renovation, simply make for a better course.

No. 8 was lengthened from 552 to 590 yards, and the overall course grew from 6,702 to 7,028 yards from the back tees. The “new’’ Mistwood has a slope of 144 (up from 140) and a 74.7 rating (up from 73.0). While some holes (especially No. 3) have been given a new look and the new stone bridges at striking, the unusual sod-wall bunkers have been the most-discussed aspect of the course renovation.

Now the Performance Center is going to surprise its first-time visitors. Some of this year’s first ones thought it was a clubhouse. It’s that big and striking from along the entrance on Renwick Road. A new clubhouse, though, is just the next in McWethy’s plans for Mistwood. The Performance Center was a major project in itself.

“The planning took close to seven years,’’ said Phillips. “A lot of thought has gone into this project, and the architect (Elmhurst-based Dan Wohlfeil) hit a home run. We have a year-around facility now.’’

Not only are 11 climate-controlled hitting stations and two indoor/outdoor teaching bays heated for winter use, so is the cement floor. The hitting mats will always be nice and warm.

Most of the indoor bays won’t become a major factor until late fall. Of more immediate interest will be the expanded outdoor range.

“It’s really contoured now,’’ said Phillips. “It looks a lot like the golf course, with hills and bunkers. When you’re hitting into the practice greens it feels like you’re on the course.’’

While indoor space is available in case of inclement weather (mats in front of the Performance Centre are also an option), the outdoor range is as spacious as it needs to be for big events like the American Junior Golf Association’s Midwest Players Championship, coming June 17-20, and the IWO, which will run July 31-Aug. 2.

“Thirty-two spaces are available all the time,’’ said Phillips, “but we can have as many as we need to. We can get everybody on the range before our outings.’’

Make no mistake, though. The Performance Center is more than a practice range. In addition to the bar, snack shop and TVs the facility is equipped with high-tech teaching aids like Trackman ball flight analysis, SAM Putt Lab and Quintec ball motion putting analysis. There are also separate areas for custom club-fitting and club repair.

Club-fitting options include Fujikawa shafts. Mistwood is one of that company’s few dealers. Fujikawa produces one of the most popular shafts for tour players and doesn’t sell to traditional consumers.

Coinciding with the opening of the Performance Center, Mistwood added John Platt to its teaching staff. The Illinois PGA’s Teacher-of-the-Year, Platt joins Performance Center director Mike Baldwin and Chris Ioriatti as heavy-duty instructors. Phillips and Mistwood head professional Visanu Tongwarin also include teaching as part of their duties.

“As a whole, our goal is to offer a complete performance experience,’’ said Baldwin. “We can work on every aspect of your game. We can make any tweak from the club performance side and the player performance side.’’

While Platt focuses on tournament players and Ioriatti is U.S. Kids-certified, the Mistwood staff can accommodate all types of players.

“We try to create an overall experience that is memorable, makes you better and touches every level of performance there is,’’ said Baldwin. “And we want to have some fun doing it.’’