by H. Lee Murphy - Chicago Business Online
Arguments about which public golf course is the best in Illinois tend to center around Downstate destinations such as the General at Eagle Ridge in Galena and TPC Deere Run in the Quad Cities. There may be a less-heralded track, however, that is better than both.
Readers of the influential Zagat golf guide voted WeaverRidge Golf Club in Peoria tops in the state last year, outranking the General, Deere Run and such Chicago institutions as the Glen Club in Glenview. The publicity has spurred a flurry of interest, and the course is now getting some 40% of its play from visitors traveling two hours down Interstate 55 from Chicago.
Few of the state's top courses are surrounded by houses. WeaverRidge is, with more than 300 upscale Georgian- and Tudor-style homes sprinkled along some fairways, though the residences are back far enough from the landing areas to present minimal bother. Some of the million-dollar edifices make the walk seem like a stroll through Architectural Digest.
But what really turns heads is the awe-inspiring topography of the place, sculpted out of the rolling hills and heavily forested valleys of Central Illinois. Opened for golf in 1997 under entrepreneur Jerry Weaver, who is now semi-retired, the course is run day-to-day by his son, Matt, and the family-owned pride remains. The course was designed by Ohio-based Mike Hurdzan and Dana Fry.
The 12th hole, a par 3 of 228 yards, is sheer spectacle, with a tee shot required from a perch fully 100 feet above a heart-shaped green set in a woodsy amphitheater guarded by colossal traps in front. Yours truly parked a hybrid shot from the back tees exactly 4 feet from the cup for one of the great thrills of his otherwise undistinguished career.
No. 18, a par 5 of 556 yards, is breathtaking in its own right. Here the tee rises at least 80 feet above a dogleg-left fairway with a creek crossing it 290 yards away a thorn in the side of the longest hitters. Heavy woods line the entire left side, while a giant oak hangs imposingly over the right side of the fairway. It blocks any offline approach to the raised green, a monster that is nearly 120 feet deep and fronted by two of the oddest clover-shaped bunkers you'll ever encounter. The finish comes in below the porch of the expansive clubhouse, another 70 feet or so above the putting surface.
Local high schools and colleges call WeaverRidge their home course, though even for young athletes, a walk up some of these hills is out of the question. Thus, the kids often carry their own bags on the front nine, where most of the housing is in view, and skip the ascents on the back. Players of all ages will be impressed by the amenities, from the big locker rooms to the 300-yard-long driving range and the fine teaching of resident pro Jeff Roche, who doubles as golf coach at nearby Bradley University.