INNOVATION
Loop of Faith: Experiment Pays Off at Arlington Lakes October 27, 2016 | Arlington Heights, Ill. By Cassie Stein

Superintendent Al Bevers (left) and head pro Tim Govern have seen very positive results from the renovation of Arlington Lakes Golf Club. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

There’s nothing better than a plan coming together – and quickly, for that matter. Arlington Lakes Golf Club, a municipal course that sits on 90 acres in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Ill., had not been renovated since its opening in 1979.

That changed in October 2014, when principal course architect Mike Benkusky was chosen to move forward with an innovative master plan for the 5,432-yard, par-68 course that was once the site of a U.S. Navy Nike missile base. The Arlington Heights Park District’s board of commissioners gave Benkusky the go-ahead in January 2015, and on June 7 of that same year, the project commenced.

“Everything happened so quickly,” said Tim Govern, golf operations manager. “We all sat there at that meeting, looking at each other saying, ‘Did that just happen?’”

Benkusky, whose work includes renovations of courses originally designed by Donald Ross and Perry Maxwell, among others, reversed the nines at Arlington Lakes while reshaping and regrassing the greens. He also installed new teeing grounds to add course-setup flexibility.

While reversing the nines, Benkusky configured three-hole routings on Arlington Lakes’ front nine that all lead back to the clubhouse. This setup allows golfers to play the course as a three-, six- or nine-hole loop, giving players more time flexibility.

“There were no particularly huge challenges; it was kind of already there,” Benkusky said of the reversal and renovation. “It was just never thought of. I wanted to do something new to attract junior players and families. It was something that was architecturally due.”

The complexion of the course also changed. More than 70 diseased or overgrown trees were removed and 63 new trees were planted. The renovation also decreased the number of bunkers from 106 to 37, helping to save on maintenance costs. 

Golfers with busy schedules have plenty of options to get in their fix at Arlington Lakes. (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

“That’s the biggest difference, but I don’t think people have noticed that as much,” Govern said about the bunker removal. “Because so many bunkers were out of play and so many of them were small, Mike did a good job of combining some and then mounding others into the course itself. It makes the course more appealing, and the bunkers are slightly more prominent.”

Al Bevers, the golf course maintenance supervisor, is a big fan of the renovation and specifically the new greens. “The green design and subtle breaks that were put into them are fantastic,” he said. “There’s plenty of break and speed in them, but they aren’t ridiculous.”

After its $2.4 million course renovation and $400,000 clubhouse makeover, Arlington Lakes reopened on July 1, 2016.

Govern reports that, since the reopening, “98 percent of the feedback from players has been positive.” Between 500 and 600 rounds have been played on the three- and six-hole loops, which is a healthy figure considering that the season was only four months long due to the renovation. Revenue was up 10 percent in September compared to September 2015.  

Future plans for Arlington Lakes include more three- and six-hole options. Tee times for those loops will be sold online (they weren’t this year), plus a six-hole league will be formed, as well as junior leagues and instructional clinics.

“It’s something we need to be consistent and persistent with for the next four or five years in getting the word out, but everyone who has done it and has heard about the concept has been really positive,” Govern said. “We think it’s going to be successful – we’ve seen it be successful – we’ll just have to wait and see if it grows to its fullest capabilities.”

Another new feature at Arlington Lakes is a tee-it-forward option that allows players to choose a less-demanding course.  

“The majority of male players, seniors in particular, don’t want to play from a tee called the ladies’ tees, so we didn’t name the tees, which allows players – men or women – to play from whatever tee they feel comfortable playing from,” Govern said.

The new tee options, and the fact that they spaced out the tee times, allow for more efficient pace of play. Both Benkusky and Govern added that the USGA Pace and Innovation Symposium in Pasadena, Calif., in January, gave them valuable information about pace of play, which they took into consideration when renovating the course.

The potential for Arlington Lakes to serve as a model for other courses around the country is promising, as courses in the Chicago area have already reached out to Govern for advice and insight.

“Another course said that it may not be a three- or six-hole layout, it might be a four- or six-hole layout, but it’s the same concept of allowing people to play as many holes as they can without sacrificing their whole day,” Govern said. “It’s just another way for the game to grow and attract those younger players.

“This new and improved golf course is now accessible to players who want to spend an hour or two with their family,” added Govern. “Instead of going to see a movie for $10 or $12, they can come play three or six holes for $5 or $8, get some exercise, and we’ve seen that. This way, it can be a pleasing family activity.”

Is Arlington Lakes a peek into golf’s future? Only time will tell, but there is no question that the experiment here is a welcome change of course.

Cassie Stein is a golf writer based in the Chicago area.

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