The drive west on Route 20 offers occasional glimpses of the increasingly majestic views as the topography gradually changes from farmland flat to the rolling hills of the Galena Territory in the northwest corner of Illinois. Upon arriving at the vast Eagle Ridge resort property, the thick woods, rock outcroppings and steep elevation changes made me wonder if I had somehow took a wrong turn and left Illinois, as what I found is unlike 99.9% of the state I’ve called home my entire life.
The golf at Eagle Ridge consists of 63 holes that incorporate the dramatic landscapes into an upscale Midwestern golfers paradise. The original 18, the North course, was opened in 1977, while the sister South course debuted 7 years later. Both are top shelf layouts, but the attention grabber at Eagle Ridge is The General, a course worthy of being named after Galena’s most famed resident, 18th President and Civil War hero Ulysses Grant. All the courses, including the 9 hole, par 34 East course, were designed by Roger Packard, best known locally for his superb work at Cantigny, and Eagle Ridge is prominently displayed on Packard’s website as among his crowning achievements.
The three 18 hole, par 72 courses play to similar 6,800 yard lengths from the back tees, and though The General is normally considered the most difficult, the South course has an identical 73.7 rating and a similar slope at 140. A touch of quirkiness that is equal parts endearing and maddening, the South features a visually deceiving double fairway (#10), a twisting double dogleg par 5 which zigzags up and down the side of a hill where a level lie is impossible to find (#16) and a crazily narrow par 4 cut through a forest (#4). The 18th is arguably the best finish on any of the layouts, with a tee hovering over the fairway that drops down toward a creek which runs across between two flanking ponds, before heading up to a large sloping green.
The North course seemingly has more elevation change than the South, with a sweeping vista unfolding from the tee perched high above the 11th hole one of several big views. Lake Galena provides the backdrop to the green on the 7th hole, before the 8th tee unveils the full beauty of the lake from 80 feet above the water, with the tee shot on the 165 yard par 3 carrying a finger of the water to reach the two tiered green. The longest hole is the 566 yard 15th, a dogleg left that starts relatively flat before terracing steeply down to the pin tucked tightly between the woods and a fronting creek. The 5th hole is a short par 5 at barely over 500 yards, but the wide fairway narrows considerably and funnels through a narrow opening in the woods to an elevated green, and I’ve played one of the easier par opportunities in +7 over two rounds, a testament to both my average skills and the overall challenge at Eagle Ridge.
The General, however, rightly deserves the bulk of the attention here, and Golf.com currently has it rated as the 5th best public course in golf rich Illinois. Spectacularly cut through a combination of woods and ravines, a 250 foot change occurs during the balance of the round, with both Iowa and Wisconsin in sight in the distance from the tee box on the 14th hole as the drive drops180 feet to the fairway below. There are only 25 sand traps on The General, but the ankle deep native grasses that border most every fairway and green more than compensates for the lack of bunkers. The 1st hole, a 407 yard par four, sets the stage with a magnificent view from the tee, with many more to follow. The short par five 6th hole may be the best chance at birdie, if you can focus on the hole and not the gorgeous sight of the fairway curving around a pond with a heavily forested hillside bordering on the left.
“We expanded the landing areas on most of the par 4’s and 5’s on The General back to the original look and feel and improved considerably the playability on one of the true gems of the Midwest,” shared Reagan Davis, Director of Golf at Eagle Ridge. “We are also restoring the native areas on The General back to their former glory. On the steeper areas that our maintenance team could not reach with power equipment, we called in for some special help with a herd of goats, which is a guest favorite and becoming one of the signature experiences here at Eagle Ridge.”
The East course may be short on distance but shares many of the same features as the 18 hole tracks. The par three 2nd hole drops precipitously to a wide green surrounded by mature woods, and the par four 3rd features a unique exposed rock wall that borders the right side of the 282 yard hole. The only par five, #5, is an excellent risk / reward opportunity, as it is reachable in two if you can hit a high fade to carry the creek that runs diagonally in front of the large putting surface.
Green fees at Eagle Ridge for the general public are $115 with cart at the North and South courses and an additional $20 to tour The General in peak season, but a $40-45 discount is afforded to resort guests. There are several golf packages available to fashion the proper experience for your visit, and the group I’ve played with the last few years has been going for 22 years and counting. Fine dining options are found on the resort property at the Woodlands Lodge and the Woodstone Restaurant, and historic downtown Galena is a 15 minute drive away with more excellent restaurants to choose from (Vinny Vanucchi’s is the favorite of our outing).
Eagle Ridge has undergone several additional upgrades in the last few years. “The clubhouses were updated with carpet and paint inside and out, and we’ve replaced many aging pieces of maintenance equipment to improve cutting consistency,” added Davis. “We also completed extensive tree work, and a cart path repair plan is ongoing at all the courses.” In an effort to cater to the younger generation, Footgolf and Hackgolf have been added to the East course. But for this AARP member it’s all about the golf, and what Eagle Ridge has to offer has yet to disappoint. At just under 3 hours from Chicago, it’s a much easier drive than the similar experiences found in Northern Michigan, plus you can check out the goats, too! Get your friends together and plan a trip to the Galena Territory, it’s well worth your golf time and treasure.
Eagle Ridge Golf Resort – 63 Holes
Galena Territory – 800-892-2269
The General – 4 tees – 6,820 / 5,335 yards Par 72 – 73.2/142 – 66.4/126 rating / slope
North Course – 3 tees – 6,875 / 5,578 yards Par 72 – 73.2/135 – 67.3/120 rating / slope
South Course – 3 tees – 6,762 / 5,609 yards par 72 – 72.7/134 – 70.9/130 rating / slope
East Course – 3 tees – 2,648 – 2,255 yards par 34 – 33.0/117 – 32.1/113 rating / slope
Green Fees (cart included)
North/South/The General – $115-135, $75-90 for resort guests, $55-60 twilight / replays
East Course – $50, $45 for resort guests, $30 twilight / replays