From the first drive to the final putt, Thunderhawk Golf Club in Beach Park is pure golfing pleasure and a must-play course for serious enthusiasts.|
World-renowned golf architect Robert Trent Jones, jr., was given a 243-acre Lake County Forest Preserve to create a championship layout designated as an Audobon Signature Sanctuary, one of only a dozen worldwide. Routed through and around prairie, woods and wetlands, the tract blends a modern sculpted look with the feel of classic tradition.
A Centerstage Golf threesome played a Sunday twilight round in mid-July, 2003, and found the course in great shape. After playing through a beleagured foursome on the Par 3 third hole, we had the course to ourselves and played in an amazing 3 1/2 hours. (Our Saturday foursome a week later played a 4 1/4 hour round, teeing off at 3 p.m.) The only fault we found with the course is the yardages available from the tee selections. At 7031 yards, the Black Tees are fine for the championship caliber players; the Bronze tees (6631) are too long for average golfers; and the Silvers (5905) are too short. On our initial trip, we mixed and matched Bronze and Silver to play the course at 6400 yards. We would like to see a fifth set of tees (at 6200-6400 yards) incorporated to provide a mid-range length for distance-challenged players seeking a solid test without having to hit the ball 250+ yards off the tee. Just a suggestion.
All the 3-pars are good golf holes, but #3 is perhaps the most intimidating. At 183 yards (all yardages are noted from the Bronze Tees) into the prevailing southwest winds, across a protected marshland and with little room to bail, it is very strong hole. No. 17 (at 154) is a beauty with water right, a steep grassy hill and sand trap left and a huge 2-tiered green set an angle to the tee.
Of the 4-pars, #5 (391) is straightaway down a tree-lined fairway to set up a mid-iron over a creek...one of the prettiest holes this reviewer has played in 2003. The 9th (452) is the #1 handicap hole for good reason. It requires a long ball to the right side of a generous fairway and a long iron (at least) to an uphill green tightly guarded by trees and sand. The 12th (363) requires a solid tee shot over wetlands to a narrow tree-lined fairway to give players one of the few birdie opportunities on the back. No. 14 (317) is an excellent short 4-par requiring a 200-yard tee shot to the left side of the fairway, opening up a short iron to an elevated green on this "L"-shaped dogleg right.
The five Par 5's are all good. No. 2 (554) is a 3-shotter for most players who will take a conservative approach down the left side off the tee, safely across the wetlands on the right, with a short iron in to set up birdie. The 7th (501) forces a drive away from the bunkers on the left, a second shot that avoids the cross bunkers 100 yards from the green, and another short iron approach. On the back #11 is a diabolical 5-par that presents a high degree of risk vs. reward on the second shot. Lay up to about 160-170 or try to carry the marsh for a short shot in? No. 16 receives Centerstage Golf's vote for the signature hole. Any tee ball pulled left over 200 yards will find the hazard that runs diagonally through the hole. Keep it right and long and avoid the giant oak on the right side to set up a shot across the wetlands. The approach should be kept left to allow for a steep slope down toward the green. The 18th (559) requires a big ball to the right side of the fairway, a long layup, and a precise approach over a rock-strewn creek to an elevated green for any hope of making par.
A rustic, half-timbered clubhouse houses the pro shop, the Tall Tails Grille, and a full-service events pavillion. A shady patio off the bar and grill offers a view of the 18th green. The friendly staff provides private club service from the bag drop to the pro shop to the starter to the rangers to the grill room. All-in-all a terrific atmosphere.