First-ever renovation worked wonders at Arlington Lakes

Arlington Lakes has been an 18-hole facility operated by the Arlington Heights Park District since 1979, so it was due for its first renovation. The result, though, was far beyond most expectations when the course re-opened on July 1.

The course had been closed for 13 months to allow architect Mike Benkusky to completely renovate a layout that was designed by the late St. Charles architect David Gill on what had been a Nike Missile Base. The course is built on just 90 acres so expanding beyond the 5,432 yard, par 68 specifications wasn’t possible.

What Benkusky could do, though, was modernize the layout and make it much more versatile for its players. That was done in two major steps: Benkusky flipped the nines, allowing for the creation of three- and six-hole loops for shorter rounds at certain times, and the extraordinary number of bunkers was reduced by two-thirds.

Tim Govern, operations manager for Arlington Lakes, is intrigued by the possibilities that the loops will create. He envisions more players – those with some time constraints — being enticed by the option of playing just three or six holes. Nos. 3, 6, 9 and 18 all come back to the clubhouse. Such playing options will be priced accordingly, and attractively. For example, a quick three holes would cost just $5 for juniors and seniors on weekdays.

“We’ll probably never be the most prestigious course to play, but we’ll always hope to be a course for fun golf at fantastic rates,’’ said Govern. “The course is finally going to be what it should be – a great, community municipal course.’’

Govern was understandably excited about that aspect of the new look but players teeing off during and immediately after the July 1 grand opening also were delighted by the well-conditioned putting surfaces, nine of which are brand new, and the increased number of tee placements. The course also has wall to wall cart paths now, allowing for play in more inclement weather conditions.

The new loops and the terrific greens are big improvements, but the bunker reduction will be the most appreciated aspect of the renovation for players who visited the course frequently in the past. It certainly is a boost for superintendent Al Bevers.

“We went from 106 traps to 37, or from 97,000 square feet (of bunker space) to 37,000 square feet,’’ said Bevers. That makes for much less maintenance work and much less frustration for more casual players.

Gill’s original design likely called for more bunkers to offset the inevitable lack of length. They did serve the purpose of making a short course more challenging, but that had drawbacks as well.

“The crazy bunkers that we had before were just too darn difficult for the clientele,’’ said Govern. Many of the surviving bunkers are now adorned with fescue edges.

Bevers and a five-man crew handled the bulk of the work, which also included the adding of a half-acre of lake space to provide better drainage. Seventy trees were also removed and some new ones were planted in strategic places.

As far as the rotation goes, Benkusky did much more than switch the nines. He also created three new holes (Nos. 7, 8 and 9) to improve the flow of play and congestion around the clubhouse, but water still comes into play on nine of the holes. The clubhouse also was upgraded in the $2.4 million project with a new patio area the most eye-catching improvement.

“This offers a lot for everybody,’’ said Benkusky. “We hope it brings the families out.’’

Based in Lake in the Hills, Benkusky has worked on a wide variety of Chicago area courses since opening his design firm in 2005. Among them are public facilities Ft. Sheridan, Brae Loch, Countryside and Red Tail and privates Hawthorn Woods, Itasca and St. Charles Country Club – the site of this year’s Illinois State Amateur.