Wisconsinite Crosses Border To Play Illinois Gem
By Paul Seifert
Just across the Wisconsin/Illinois border is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course that over the past two years has been rated in the top twelve municipal courses in the country: ThunderHawk.
To those who know it, ThunderHawk is the best kept secret in the Milwaukee/Chicago area. The question is: How do golf enthusiasts in our area not know it? A mere one hour south of Milwaukee, ThunderHawk is located in Beach Park, Illinois.
In its thirteenth year of golf, the course is run by the Lake Country Forest Preserve and has matured very nicely over the years. With a sprawling clubhouse and accommodating staff, ThunderHawk is a perfect location to spend a Friday off of work, and is very reasonably priced. Our round today was $53, including cart, and greens fees get up to $85 for weekends in-season. Reasonable twilight and weekday rates make it more viable for those on a budget.
ThunderHawk feels a lot like another Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course, University Ridge, with perfectly rolled fairways and well thought out hole designs that work harmoniously with the existing landscape. Also like University Ridge, ThunderHawk features one of the best collections of par fives around.
The first of these awesome par fives is the 554-yard second hole. A huge oak tree stands directly between the tee boxes and the farther of the two fairways. The safe play is a hybrid or long iron to the initial fairway left of the tees. ThunderHawk features huge, forgiving fairways, and oftentimes another option to test the player's metal. This tee shot is a terrific example of just that.
The greens at ThunderHawk are large and read fairly. The par threes are classic Trent Jones, Jr. holes - huge greens with a lot of break, and almost all feature water and significant carries. My favorite of the par threes here is the 168-yard sixth hole. With water short and left, the massive green is slightly risen above a bevy of sand traps. This is a gorgeous par three, especially when seen from the putting surface.
Following this excellent par three is the second of ThunderHawk's wonderful par fives. With a fairway sloping heavily from right to left, this hole seems to have sand everywhere. At 501 yards from the brass tee boxes, this is a reachable par five in two, but the best bet is to avoid the beach and target shots one by one.
The eighth is a very interesting par four. Short and over water, the wind was directly in to the tee boxes on this hole. With 333 yards to the green, it was difficult to tell how far the carry is to fly the water hazard, but with the right side tight and full of sand, there were few other options! If you're a big hitter, go for it. Otherwise, lay up right and hit a short wedge in.
The ninth is the number one handicapped hole on the course, which I think should probably be numbered 1.5 along with the eighteenth. Both nines at ThunderHawk finish in similar fashion: Extraordinarily long, heavily wooded with sharp doglegs left. The ninth is the one hole at ThunderHawk where hitting less than driver can really hurt. I played a three-hybrid to the fairway, and found myself completely closed out from the dogleg by the trees. A par four over 450 yards, the ninth finishes strongly uphill, and is well guarded in front by greenside bunkers.
The tenth is a welcoming site: Fairly straight and "only" 409 yards. With a slight skew left, the traps around the green here are deep and plentiful. In typical Trent Jones, Jr. style, they are primarily clover-leafed in style, and these juts can leave very uncomfortable sand shots.
The eleventh at ThunderHawk is another beautiful par five. The driving area is downhill and runs slightly right. A massive tree blocks out the left side from a good approach in two, so if you find yourself there then just look for the approach fairway on the opposite side of the fescue.
One of the most interesting par fours at ThunderHawk is the fourteenth. At 317 yards from the brass tee box, the green is absolutely unreachable and requires a short iron to set up the approach. Seven iron off the tee put me right at the 150 marker with a perfect shot at the highly elevated green. A huge marsh area lies between the two fairway areas, and from experience you can spend time in here and literally find dozens of Pro-V1's in just minutes.
Maybe the most magnificent of the par fives at ThunderHawk is the sixteenth. At 568 yards, the tee shot has to be less than 3-wood. Draw a long iron right of the trees on the left side of the fairway to keep your second shot from having to go directly over water. Anything hit too long is destined to find the waste area, or water, that cuts in to the fairway. Hitting the second half of the fairway leaves a border of water on the entire right side of the fairway, as well as in front of the green. This is a tremendous, but tough par five hole.
My other favorite of the par threes here is the seventeenth. The wind was blowing in and towards the pond, and mercilessly the pin location was all the way on top and on the right side of a green that was probably the largest green on the entire course. I had about a 75-foot putt for par, which obviously resulted in double-bogey.
Just as the front nine finishes with a huge challenge, so does the back. The left side of the fairway is covered with sand, while the right side is out of bounds. The fairway is quite wide for the drive, but the dogleg left tightens up significantly. A three-shot par five, the eighteenth finishes over a large rock pile and well above the level of the fairway. This is another great hole to play target golf on for any chance at birdie or par.
What else can I say about ThunderHawk? This course offers a first-class golf experience in one of the most secluded settings anywhere. Wonderfully laid out and maintained, I can certainly agree with those who call it "The best kept secret in Midwest golf."
Article Tags: ThunderHawk Golf Club
Revised: 04/28/2012 - Article Viewed 32,278 Times
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About: Paul Seifert
Paul Seifert is an often-proclaimed golf addict, and publisher of WiscoSportsAddict, a blog started in August, 2011, as a forum dedicated to reviewing courses and sharing the best of the best in the state with other avid Wisconsin golfers.
Having started playing in Hartland-area leagues at the age of 12, Paul is a classic over-thinker who averages between 80 and 120 rounds per year, and despite carrying a 13-handicap, is committed to the ongoing improvement of his game.
A health care equipment salesman by day, Paul does not claim to be an expert golfer, but is certainly an expert golf enthusiast who loves the sport and enjoys the writing, research, statistics and photography that make for interesting golf conversation.
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