We don’t often find ourselves looking for 9-hole golf courses, as the commitment to playing a round of golf involves making sacrifices to our daily life. So when we are fortunate enough to have time to play we typically make the most of it with 18-hole offerings. That being said, there is usually one or two times a year when 9-holes is the only logistical way to fit some golf in to an otherwise busy schedule. While there are a few public course options close to the city of Chicago, they are usually packed with hackers or offer very little in terms of course layout and overall challenge. This past weekend, with the weather still in the 60’s for late October, but constrained by other obligations, we dug deep into various internet outlets to find a local 9-hole course worthy of our limited time. Stumbling upon a course review for a northern suburb practice facility with what appeared to be a links-style layout, we gave Willow Hill in Northbrook a play. The images online looked to be of a different Scottish course, not believing that something so visually isolated could actually exist so close to the city. To our surprise, those were actual course pictures and we were pleasantly surprised when driving up to the clubhouse. At 3,000 yards from the back tees, this par 35 course provides plenty of distance and challenge, not readily available to most local 9-hole tracks.
We booked this round a couple days out on Teeoff.com, assuming the course may be crowded with locals trying to get a last round in for the year. To our surprise we looked to be the only people there when driving up to the clubhouse. The course sits on an old landfill and is well elevated around the surrounding neighborhoods and shopping centers. From the moment you make your way up to the clubhouse, you truly feel as if you are in a different zip code, with clear views all the way down to the Chicago skyline. The course is definitely links-style, with minimal rough before tall grasses and bunkers make you pay for wayward shots. No trees or water here, but with the elevation wind is definitely another factor to consider. Bunkers were extremely playable, with well groomed sand and minimal lips. The greens and fairways were cut low and provided a great deal of distance on drives and challenged longer putts. What stood out most for us though was the fun layout, with two par 5s and three par 3s paced well enough to be able to play this course twice for 18 holes in the future.
Pace of Play:
As I mentioned, we were the only ones when we arrived, even questioning if the course was open, but perhaps we just caught the course at the right time. Obviously pace of play did not factor in this round, but with the well spaced layout of the par 3s and 5s, I don’t see a typical round having too much lag. One thing we did notice however, was that your ball will easily get lost in the tall grasses, so be ready to play with a few extra in your bag. We also walked this round, which for 9-holes is a great way to play. Walking affords you a little more time to look for your ball while your playing partners can be ready at their next shot.
The clubhouse seemed appropriately sized for the course, but offered little in the form of a pro shop or bar. My advice would be to stop for beverages or snacks before making the long trek up the drive to the clubhouse. There was only one staff member on hand when we played, not sure if there is more service during the regular season, but that didn’t hurt our experience of the course, just an observation. There is both a practice putting green and chipping area, along with a grass driving range.
The standard weekend rate is $23 for walking, with a replay rate of $12 to play 18 holes. You can get a riding cart for an extra $11, but there are no paved cart paths, so walking is definitely the preferred route.
We loved Willow Hill, especially for a 9-hole course. With great course conditions, and a fun links-style layout, this course offers an excellent experience for all levels of golfer. While our enjoyment may have been enhanced by being the only ones on the course, the fact that you feel miles away from your surroundings is a great way to play. The ability to play nine holes and practice your game at their range and putting greens make Willow Hill stand out among other local offerings. Give them a look at Willow Hill Golf Course.