Wednesday, April 21, 2010

GOLF COURSE REVIEW: Mistwood Golf Club

We have all heard the old saying, "if it's not broke, don't fix it", heck, we've all probably said it many times ourselves. That sentence has always been one of my favorite idioms for two reasons. First, its meaning is crystal clear. Second, I couldn't agree with it more...especially in golf! There are great examples everywhere you look, perhaps most notably the Old Course at St. Andrews (they haven't changed that course much, right?)

Well, the reverse of the idiom rings as true, i.e. If it is broke, then FIX IT! Take, for example Augusta National, home of the well known PGA major, The Masters. Way back in its earliest years, the nines actually were reversed due to the fact that Amen Corner (then playing as holes #2-#4) was prone to frequent frost delays in the early mornings. Switching the nines created arguably one of the most exciting back nine holes anywhere in the world. Then and since Tiger Woods blew away the star-studded field en route to his first win back in 1997, Augusta has made additional frequent and significant changes to the course to better protect Old Man Par against the massive advances in technology that had nearly reduced the course to nothing more than a beautiful pitch-and-putt. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but I assume you get my point. The changes appear to have allowed the tournament to continually test the players games, often forcing them to hit clubs they are less comfortable hitting into those treacherous greens.

The same rings true at Mistwood Golf Club, located in the Southwestern Chicago suburb of Romeoville amidst a collection of courses that, in my opinion, are easily the best bang for your buck anywhere in the area. Mistwood opened back in 1998 and though it was a enjoyable layout, conditioning was lacking, customer service sucked, and the price was a bit high making nearby alternatives such as Prairie Bluff and The Links at Carillon much more appealing. I played the course two or three times back then, but learned that it simply wasn't worth it at some point, and consciously avoided the course for several years. I wasn't the only one. Mistwood went through some pretty hard times and had loads of financial problems leading to partner, Jim McWethy to become the primary owner of the course in 2003.

Since then, Mistwood has made several key changes. They put a tremendous effort into improving course conditioning, and it shows. The greens are fast and true (though it doesn't seem to help my putts drop), the fairways are in great shape, and the hole designs have always been a lot of fun to play. Next, they changed customer service philosophy, treating guests like...well, guests! The bag boys greet you in the lot with exuberance, and insist on bringing your bag to the front even if you are walking. The starter (I've got to remember his name next time) is extremely pleasant, and accommodated our foursome before Noon on a Saturday, despite half our group being almost 40 minutes late (inexcusable). Finally, and not to be underestimated, they changed the routing on the front nine. What used to be holes #7, #8, and #9 are now the opening three holes, and though they aren't pushovers, provide a much more gradual start to the course in terms of difficulty. I really like courses that give you a few holes to find you swing before featuring areas where a wayward shot can devastate your score, and the change of routing allows that at Mistwood.

Their value is off the charts, especially right now as they chose to extend their special spring rates, and on a Saturday morning it costs $40 to walk! For a course of this caliber in Chicagoland, $40 is an absolute steal! It defies comprehension that Bolingbrook Golf Club, just minutes north of Mistwood somehow gets away with charging over $100 at the same time of day. I don't think I could even begin to listen to an argument over which course between the two is more fun, more challenging, and more interesting to play, and for 40% of the price, c'mon!

So, how about the holes themselves? It is hard to think of a single one that doesn't have something interesting and different to it. Risk/reward abounds at Mistwood. Between mounding, doglegs, well-placed hazards, and out-of-bounds on a few holes, Mistwood really forces you to think your way through the entire course.

Though most of the Par 4s measure less than 400 yards, none offer simply a straight shot up a flat fairway. Notable among them are the fourth hole (formerly the 1st before the re-route) which runs like a chasm between large mounds on either side of the fairway. It is a relatively mild dogleg left that look more severe than it is due to that mounding which almost blocks your view of the pin from the tee. The bunkering that must be carried to cut off the dogleg seems to cause missing to the right quite common, and poorly struck balls landing on the mounds on that right side will very often leave a severely side-hill lie and a long tough shot to the green. The short 12th hole protects the front of its two-tiered green with a deep gaping pot bunker that demands every bit of ingenuity and skill to get out of, in fact, hitting backwards away from the green might be the best escape from there. Don't fall asleep on 16! Though the wise play off the tee is a mid to long iron, the green is guarded in front by water (more good changes happening right now) and falls off sharply behind. The green is tough to hold, and if you miss it, recovery is no picnic.

The Par 5s are all reachable for longer players, but like their shorter siblings, all come with some degree of potential peril. The 3rd hole has a ridiculously tough green guarded by a creek directly in front. The 8th, which might be their signature hole, has a split fairway, and though the right side might offer a good chance to get home in two, it brings you dangerously close to the water all the way up the right side. The 15th is a severe dogleg left, and forces the player to avoid water guarding the entire left side from tee to green. Though it can be fun, the 15th might also be my least favorite hole on this course because it feels a little forced into the corner of the property. Finally, the 18th doesn't allow for any late round letup as shots to the large green must carry another creek to be safe, while woods, and a small lake guard the right side against wayward drives and poorly struck layup shots.

The Par 3s are probably the easier holes collectively, but the 200-ish yard 14th hole will take your breath away with almost the entire flight from tee to green over the corner of the 60-plus acre, Lake St. James. When a northwesterly wind is howling, you might just want to cross the bridge to the drop zone and hit your third saving yourself the ball.

The clubhouse and practice area are adequate, and the service from start to finish is outstanding at Mistwood. I highly recommend this course not only as an incredible value, but as one of the most enjoyable and challenging tracks in the Chicago area. I hope for their sake, that Mistwood's staff continue their current path to success, and not forget the lessons in their past. With all the quality options in the area, they need to keep their service high and their prices reasonable. They are winning on both counts right now, so get there, and let them know what you think! If you haven't played Mistwood since before 2003, trust me, it's time to come back for another try, you will be impressed with the change.

For some great 360 degree photos of Mistwood, check out here:

Fairways and Greens! (by the way, I lifted that ending from Mistwood)

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