Actually, it’s not that earth-shaking a statement. I’ve had good vibes about this place since my first visit, probably in the early 1970s. There have been a lot since then, the highlights being an invitee to the Grand Opening of the South Course in 1984 and The General in 1997.
Eagle Ridge is, for all intents, Illinois’ only golf resort – and, with its 63 holes, it’s a good one. More recently, however, it’s undergone some significant changes. All were triggered by an ownership change.
The resort has had a few of those over the years, but now – for the first time – it has an owner who lives on site. Mark Klausner and wife Kathy have resided in the Galena Territory for over 20 years.
Klausner lived in the Chicago suburb of Aurora for 30 years and lived in Galena part-time. He became a full-timer in Galena upon his retirement in 2016. That’s when Eagle Ridge became available for purchase and Klausner stepped to the plate. The purchase was completed in 2019, but Klausner doesn’t like the term “owner.”
The Klausners prefer to look on themselves as “stewards’’ of the resort.
“I always loved the Territory and feel privileged to be part of this,’’ said Klausner. “When the opportunity presented itself I said I wanted to be part of it. Who wouldn’t?’’
Once committed, Klausner put his own game plan into effect. A $2.5 million clubhouse renovation has been the most eye-catching but $800,000 was also targeted for course upgrades.
“My first reaction was, I wanted this to be a world-class, first-class place and when it came time to do this transaction I was a little surprised at the lack of maintenance,’’ said Klausner.
To correct that problem he brought in Marty Johnson. He’s a local, too.
“We hired the best architect. He was born and raised in Galena. Everybody knows and loves him, and he knows all the contractors,’’ said Klausner. “We’re very fortunate to have him on our team.’’
The “team,’’ most specifically general manager Thomas Ruhs and director of golf Mike Weiler, were also heavy contributors since Klausner took over but none were more impactful than Johnson. He designed the original clubhouse for The General, the resort’s premier course and one of the best anywhere. Twenty years earlier Johnson had designed Klausner’s home near that course.
This time the Klausner-Johnson combo took on the clubhouse at The Highlands, the headquarters for The General and the first thing you see when you enter the long, winding road to the Eagle Ridge Inn. The Highlands is a lot more impressive now.
Johnson incorporated the General Store into the building. It had been located closer to the Inn. The Pro Shop was moved from the second floor to the first. Johnson found some 110-year old beams to highlight a new lounge. The best part, though, was the creation of a new outdoor dining deck. Garage doors lead to it and can be open when the weather permits.
The outdoor dining deck has magnificent views that stretch to three states (Illinois and neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin) and include several holes of The General. One is a new No. 18. In the old rotation it was the ninth hole of The General. Many players — myself included – long felt the nines designed by the late Roger Packard – should be been switched, and they were shortly have Klausner took over.
Under the old rotation the finishing hole could not be seen from the clubhouse. That par-5 is now No. 9. The new rotation coupled with Johnson’s new clubhouse deck has created a much more intimate connection between players on the course and the diners watching them.
The course remains a rarity in the basically flat state of Illinois. The hills make it special, especially on the tee shots that are now at No. 2, a par-3, and No. 5 – a par-4 that has long been my favorite driving hole in all of golf with its 180-foot elevation change from tee to green.
Klausner said the changes to the resort are only about half done.
“The Spa will get our undivided attention next, then the Inn,’’ he said. “We’re also going to expand the driving range with two more simulators (one is already in operation).’’
And don’t bet on that being the last upgrade at Eagle Ridge. There’s sure to be more to come.