What Jim McWethy did at Mistwood was extraordinary

Given the economic climate of the last few years it’s understandable that golf course owners might be reluctant to take on expensive projects. That hasn’t been the case at Mistwood in Romeoville, however.

In the last three years owner Jim McWethy brought back Michigan architect Ray Hearn for a renovation of a course that he designed in 1998. The upgrading included a major remodeling of the practice range and the installation of 21 sod wall bunkers on the course.

And that wasn’t all.

While the course renovation necessitated the closing of the course for parts of 2012 and 2013 McWethy also ordered the building of a spiffy Performance Center. Like the work on the course, it didn’t come cheap.

And that wasn’t all.

Mistwood’s original clubhouse was dismantled in September and a new one is expected to be ready by next June. It’ll be a two-building structure – a restaurant and banquet facility in one building and pro shop, staff offices and men’s and women’s lockerrooms in the other. The two will be connected by a common basement that’ll be used as a storage area for carts and other essentials.

And, even that’s not all.

In the midst of the above work being done McWethy purchased the 10-year old Ditka Dome in nearby Bolingbrook. It had been an indoor practice range with a bar-restaurant. Now it’s much more than that, and more work is in progress there.

Throughout it all McWethy has politely declined to reveal the costs involved.

“I don’t want to give a number, but obviously it’s very significant,’’ he said.

That begs the question: why was McWethy willing to take on all these projects when the golf industry was – to put it mildly – not experiencing the best of times?

“The economy is not good and golf is an activity that is being challenged,’’ McWethy admitted. “It goes back to my fundamental belief that if you do a good job with every aspect of it, there’s still enough business out there. There’s still a lot of people playing golf.’’

But there’s some trepidation, too.

“Is this the best possible investment right now? No. Is it a good investment now? Yes. We can look either real smart or real dumb,’’ summed up McWethy. “We don’t know yet.’’

A true visionary who just turned 70, McWethy grew up in Palos Heights and has been a long-time resident of Downers Grove. He was involved in the Berry Bearing Co., which was started by his paternal grandfather and manufactured bearings and related products in Lyons until the family sold the company in 1992.

Almost immediately after the sale McWethy had an opportunity to get involved in golf and he took it.

While growing up he played, caddied and sold balls at the Navajo Hills course, which was eventually taken over by developers. His grandfather was both a president and club champion at Aurora Country Club but McWethy was never that good a player – though he did play on his high school and college teams. A member at both the Dunes Club in Michigan and Chicago Golf Club now, his handicap once reached six, but now he says it’s twice that.

“Golf was something I loved to do,’’ he said, and his inroad into the business side of the game developed when the owner of the headquarters building used by Berry Bearings, invited him to invest in a family-owned Michigan public course named Mistwood.

A year later that investment was expanded to include another Mistwood, the one in Romeoville that was soon to be built. McWethy became a seven percent investor in both courses and in 2003 he took over ownership of the Romeoville version, and that included hosting the Illinois Women’s Open. Both the course and tournament have blossomed under McWethy’s ownership and the extraordinary recent upgrades suggest that will continue.

“I love the game and take pride in doing things right,’’ he said. “That produces a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. Another twist to it is that it’s nice to be doing something by yourself. It makes you stand out in that respect.’’

The cost notwithstanding, McWethy admits to being “a little bit of a perfectionist’’ and believes the money spent will pay off in the long run.

“If you want something new, there’s not many places to go,’’ he said. “Every other course is kind of the same as it was 10, 15, 20 years ago. I see a little opportunity there. Our course is very popular now, and the people playing it are more serious golfers and come from greater distances to play it.’’

He envisions Mistwood becoming a golf destination (though he has no plans to add lodging to his to-do list) and he wants to host more significant competitions. His biggest concern now is “getting the word out.’’ To accomplish that he’s taken out ads on The Golf Channel and is also using billboard advertising.

“A lot of people still don’t know that there’s a treasure of a golf course sitting right here,’’ said McWethy, “but there’s still a lot of personal pride in doing something as well as it can be done. We wanted to build a great golf course, which we’ve done that. We have a Performance Center without peer and we’re building a clubhouse – the third piece of the puzzle. I don’t want to sound cocky, but we’ll have one of the finest golf facilities in the Chicago area.’’

And then what? Family considerations might play a part in what comes next, and neither his wife, son nor daughter is much into golf yet. McWethy says “we don’t anticipate buying another golf course,’’ but time will tell.