Wilmette Golf Course fix-up dream rolling closer to reality
Mike Matchen walks across a section of the Wilmette Golf Course, where he has worked for almost 40 years. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
Plan by the numbers
FAIRWAYS: Regraded on Holes 1, 3-6, 8, and 11-14; partly regraded at Holes 9, 10 and 15.
GREENS: New at Holes 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 11-13, 15 and 16.
COST: $1.977 million, hard cap of $1 million
Updated: June 29, 2012 8:44AM
Mike Matchen joked this week that when the Wilmette Park District’s long-awaited Wilmette Golf Club course improvement project is done, he’s not going to be very popular with area birds.
He doesn’t mind, he said; birds may miss the “birdbaths” dotting the course when it rains, but golfers won’t mourn the loss of the bumpy, poorly drained terrain they now must navigate on some fairways and greens.
Matchen himself looks forward to the day that he doesn’t have to, for instance, re-seed sections of his No. 3 fairway when it falls victim to “turf wilt.” (For the uninitiated, that’s what happens when standing water heats up on hot summer days and actually cooks the grass to death.)
In fact the project -- the scope of which was chosen this spring by district commissioners from among seven options in the district’s golf “Master Improvement Plan” -- should not only fix waterlogged trouble spots across the 18-hole course, but also make the entire golfing experience better for patrons, Matchen said.
“The problems have always been here, ever since (the Park District) took over the course back in 1972,” said Matchen, general manager at the club, who has spent almost 40 years with the district.
“The other problem is that the course doesn’t have one consistent style, because improvements and drainage solutions have been piecemeal. With this, we have a chance to have a consistent course.”
The improvement plan, initially projected to cost $1.98 million, ultimately should provide golfers with 10 new greens, 10 completely regraded and three partly regraded fairways, three improved course ponds and up to 56 redesigned bunkers that would challenge players while taking up a smaller course footprint.
But there’s a long way to go, and numerous hurdles to leap, before the project moves from paper to reality, Matchen and other district officials ruefully acknowledge.
Because of the course’s location in a floodway, any final improvement plan must not only must meet village zoning requirements, but also standards set by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Army Corps of Engineers, district Director Steve Wilson pointed out.
“The plan at this point comes with that huge caveat, because we’re determined to work through the right channels and we have to ensure that whatever we come up with meets all the rules,” he said last week. Discussions with the various levels of government have begun already.
If the current project doesn’t meet guidelines, planners will go back to the drawing board to ensure the final product will have the right drainage angles, the correct amount of water-retention capability and whatever else is required, Matchen said.
Getting past the bureaucratic hurdles means that a projected construction season of August 2013-May 2014 could be delayed. And a hard cap of $2 million on construction costs, to which commissioners agreed to adhere this month, will impose further challenges, Park Board president Jim Brault said this week.
The efforts, though, will be worth it to course users. Many of them provided input during the planning process, and they repeatedly pleaded for drainage improvements, Matchen said.
“One of the great things about the process is how much it involved the community,” he added. “And we want everyone to know that this is an opportunity to make this community course even more of a treasure....”