Prairie Bluff a course for all ability levels
Serious golfers know what it means when a course "meets their eye."
For some reason, you're extremely confident on nearly every tee shot, every approach, every chip and putt.
And that's exactly how I feel at Prairie Bluff in Crest Hill, a track we discovered only last year as my son prepared to try out for Hinsdale Central's varsity team. Run by the Lockport Township Park District, the course opened in 1998 and can challenge every level of golfer by playing as long as 7,007 yards and as short as 5,326.
"Anyone can play it," said Steve Lunde, the Director of Golf Course Operations. "The fairways are wide, but you've got to keep it in play.
"What I hear most is it's always in good shape. That's why people keep coming back."
My first piece of advice is to arrive at least 30 minutes before your tee time because Prairie Bluff has a wonderful practice area. Particularly impressive is an elevated green near the range where players can hit out of a bunker or pitch shots from 40-50 yards.
Once on the course, come out with a scoring mentality because the opening holes (371 and 339 yards) are ripe for the picking.
Choose your club wisely on the third hole, a pretty 168-yard par 3 that sports a massive green but also has a menacing bunker guarding the front.
The signature hole on the front nine is the seventh, a 431-yard par 4 that normally plays into the wind. Put a good, solid swing on your tee shot, but don't overdo it as stray shots can find the long grass on either side of the fairway. Mid-handicappers should then smack a hybrid, chip on, 2 putt and race to the next hole with a well-earned bogey.
The 488-yard, par-5 eighth hole is a lot of fun because long hitters can get to the green in two. We had the wind behind us last week and one of our players just missed on a 12-foot eagle putt.
After making the turn, you'll play four very par-able holes and then stare down the gauntlet of the intimidating 362-yard 14th hole. A massive pond -- and a gargantuan tree -- guard the left side, and there's out of bounds to the right.
"I mean it's about the only tree on the course that comes into play," said Lunde, whose brother Scott is the head professional. "Do you hit it out to the right of the tree and have a longer shot in? Do you try going over the tree? It's a tough call."
My theory? Go slightly right of the tree. If you lose it in the water, so be it. Try to hit on and save your bogey because the last thing you want is to go OB and wreck a round with a triple -- or worse.
If you survive this test, another awaits in the 539-yard 15th hole that normally plays into the wind. A 6 is not a bad score here.
Then comes 16, a daunting 418-yard par 4 with a tree guarding the right side that gobbles up plenty of tee shots.
"It's easier from the gold tees because it's straight away," Lunde said. "When they put the blues on the next tee but to the right? Hooah! I wouldn't want to hit that drive all the time."
Me either. My drive went right into it, dropped into the thick rough and I carded a double-bogey 6.
Getting through Nos. 14-16 is definitely the key to scoring at Prairie Bluff. Successfully navigate these holes and there's no reason not to come in with a solid number. I've played it five times and shot 79-82-83-83-87.
• I'd love to remove the tree that stares you down on No, 16. Flying it is no easy feat, and if you lose it to the left, you could be teeing up again.
• As I've written before, it would be nice to see a junior rate of $10-15 for 18 holes at certain times or on certain days.
This course really is a treat, and it's an absolute steal at $30 to walk during the week (before 8 a.m. or between 11 a.m.-2 p.m.). For much of our readership area, it's a straight shot down I-355 and well worth the drive. It gets 4.5 stars (out of 5) for value; 4.5 for course conditions; 3.5 for accessibility; 4 for walkability.
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Next: Some playing tips
Course spotlightCourse spotlight
Prairie BluffStats: 19433 Renwick Road, Crest Hill. Founded in 1998. prairiebluffgc.com. (815) 836-GOLF.
Yards: 7,007 from gold tees; 6,466 from blues; 6,054 from whites; 5,416 from silvers; 5,326 from reds
Weekday walking rates: $30 before 8 a.m.; $36 from 8-11 a.m.; $30 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; $26 from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.; $20 after 5 p.m.
Senior special: $27 to walk, $39 to ride
Weekend and holiday walking rates: $49 before noon; $39 between noon and 3 p.m.; $32 from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.; $20 after 5 p.m.
Juniors weekday rates: $13 for 9 holes; $23 for 18 holes
Please note: Riding rates are generally $14-16 higher, and $10 higher at twilight
Approximate distance from Arlington Heights and Hoffman Estates: 40 miles
From Naperville: 15 miles
From Wheaton: 25 miles
From Barrington: 45 miles
From Libertyville: 55 miles