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Len Ziehm On Golf

Upgrades provide big boosts at Eagle Ridge, Ruffled Feathers

Eagle Ridge, Illinois’ premier golf resort in Galena, has changed – and for the better – since its latest ownership change.

Capital Crossing acquired the facility in 2013 and brought in Texas-based Touchstone Golf to manage Eagle Ridge’s 63 holes and Mount Prospect-based Bricton Group to manage the rest of the resort. Touchstone manages courses in 10 states but Eagle Ridge is its only facility in the Midwest.

The bulk of Touchstone’s 36 properties are in California (16) and Texas (7). Steve Harker, formerly with American Golf, started the company in 2005. His team now includes Mark Luthman who — as regional director of operations for Chicago-based KemperSports — was a leader in the planning, pre-opening and operations of Oregon’s Chambers Bay, site of the 2010 U.S. Amateur and 2015 U.S. Open. Luthman is Touchstone’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Bricton, a major hotel management group, is headed by president Ed Doherty – a former Evans Scholar. Touchstone and Bricton combined to form Brickstone, the firm that oversees Eagle Ridge’s total operation, and its first order of business was to address the shortcomings on the golf side.

While the resort’s website alludes to “renovation’’ work done on its three 18-holers – The General and the North and the South courses – as well as the nine-hole East course, that’s a bit misleading. Renovations generally connote total revamping of a course and usually include design changes. That wasn’t needed at Eagle Ridge.

All four courses were designed by one-time Chicago-based architect Roger Packard, with two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North helping out on The General – the showcase course. All four courses – which opened between 1977 and 1997 — are blessed with the “wow factor’’ thanks largely to the elevation changes throughout the 6,800-acre property.

While Packard’s designs have remained intact, the work done since Touchstone arrived has still been extensive.

“There wasn’t any construction on the fairways,’’ said Reagan Davis, the director of golf. “Packard did a great job, but a lot of places were overgrown and a lot of the tees and landing areas were claustrophobic. The native areas were overgrown, and a lot of the trees weren’t trimmed. People would measure a round on The General by how many balls they lost.’’

That’s not the case anymore. Davis estimates that $700,000 was spent on cleaning up the courses.

“We went in and trimmed all the trees we could,’’ said Davis. “We pushed back the tee boxes and tried to make the courses like they were originally. It speeded up play on The General. We picked up 35 minutes of time (per round).’’

On a busy day a round might have gone 5 hours 25 minutes before. Now it’s more like 4 hours 30 minutes, and rounds are rarely over 5 hours.

The General also got a new restaurant. “Spikes’’ is gone and has been replaced by WoodStones, which features a $30,000 oven that can cook a wood-fire pizza in four minutes. The restaurant is even featured on the more dramatic welcoming signs at the main entrance.

“We wanted something more for the community and not so much for the resort or the golfers,’’ said Davis. “We keep it open about 10 months out of the year, and it’s done well.’’

There’s some other newcomers at Eagle Ridge as well – 30 goats. They’ve been brought in to roam the steep slopes where mowing equipment can’t be used.

ANOTHER NEW LOOK: Ruffled Feathers, in Lemont, has completed its own major renovation project. Dallas-based Arcis Golf has unveiled its $2 million renovation of the only Pete Dye-designed course in the Chicago area. Both the course and clubhouse underwent extensive upgrades, and Arcis has announced it will spend $50 million in major capital improvements at its 66 public and private facilities nation-wide.

As for the Ruffled Feathers work, general manager Victor Rodarte described it as “a true revival of the entire property.’’

Arcis also operates five other Chicago area courses – Fresh Meadow, in Hillside; Mill Creek and Eagle Brook, in Geneva; Tamarack, in Naperville; and Whitetail Ridge, in Yorkville.

LOOK OUT FOR SOBB: August won’t be as busy a tournament month as July was, but there will be two section championships conducted by the Illinois PGA and Ivanhoe’s Jim Sobb could wind up in contention for two player-of-the-year awards when they’re done.

The IPGA Senior Championship is Aug. 8-9 at Whisper Creek, in Huntley, and the IPGA Championship proper is Aug. 29-31 on Olympia Fields’ South course. Sobb, who was the overall player-of-the-year in 2000, is sixth in the standings now behind leader Travis Johns, of Medinah. Last year Sobb was eighth, so he’s remained consistently competitive after passing the age of 50.

He was also the senior player of the year in both 2014 and 2015 and ranked second behind Mistwood’s John Platt in the senior standings at the time of this printing.

BITS AND PIECES: The Chicago golf community lost two giants from the club professional ranks with the passing Leon McNair and Hubby Habjan in a span of a few days in July. McNair, 75, led in the development of Fox Bend, in Oswego, and Habjan, 84, was a long-time head man at Onwentsia, in Lake Forest. Both are members of the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame.

The LPGA’s UL International Crown may be over but its Legends Tour will hold its main event not far away – at Indiana’s French Lick Resort from Aug. 18-21. The Legends Championship festivities will include the inductions of Elaine Crosby and Sandra Haynie into the Legends Hall of Fame that is permanently housed at the nearby West Baden Springs Hotel. Crosby and Haynie will become the seventh and eight members of the Hall, joining Jan Stephenson and Kathy Whitworth, who went in in 2013; Nancy Lopez and Jane Blalock, who were added in 2014; and Joanne Carner and Rosie Jones, who were inducted last year.

KemperSports has taken over the management of Boughton Ridge, the nine-hole executive length course that has served Bolingbrook residents for over 35 years. KemperSports will also manage its Ashbury’s restaurant.

The Schaumburg Park District’s ninth annual Links Technology Cup has been scheduled for Aug. 10 at Schaumburg Golf Club. It includes a Taste on the Tee showcase of food and beverages on most every hole. Proceeds benefit the district’s recreation scholarship program.