Chicago getaways: The best golf resorts within driving distance of the Windy City

I've always wanted to live in Chicago for a summer.

It's my favorite city in the country. When Lake Michigan thaws and the weather warms up, the Windy City comes to life with festivals, Cubs games and lately, parades to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup.

No city in the Midwest is more strategically located, either. Golfers can hop in their car and choose from several dozen golf resorts in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, all within a six-hour drive. The best part is the variety: from bucket-list resorts that host major championships, to boutique inns home to 36 holes of affordable golf. Just pick your price point, fire up the GPS and go!

Wisconsin

The big fish -- and it will cost you -- is a weekend at The American Club, the posh retreat in Kohler, an hour north of Milwaukee (three hours north of Chicago). The five-star destination is the rare retreat where buddies trips go off just as well as couples getaways. Your wife will love the Kohler Waters Spa, the Kohler Design Center (get ready to remodel your kitchen or bathroom) and the restaurants. Your buddies will dig the four Pete Dye courses at Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run. The Straits Course, home to the 2015 PGA Championship and 2020 Ryder Cup, is one of my all-time favorites, but the River Course at Blackwolf Run isn't far behind. The Irish Course at Whistling Straits, the Meadow Valleys Course at Blackwolf Run and The Bull at Pinehurst Farms all regularly rank among the top 100 public courses in the country.

The 2017 U.S. Open is creeping up on Erin Hills Golf Course, another great stay-and-play option about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Golfers can stay in rooms upstairs in the Lodge or in the four-bedroom cabins that have been built since 2011. The golf course is walking only, so bring a couple pair of comfy shoes and tip money for a caddie.

Chicago's most accessible golf getaway is Lake Geneva just across the state line. The golf isn't major-championship-worthy, yet there are a handful of strong options -- the Brute at Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, the Lee Trevino Course, Arnold Palmer Course and Gary Player Course at Geneva National Golf Club, Hawk's View Golf Club and Abbey Springs Golf Club. The Grand Geneva offers the most luxurious lodging, but I found the charm of the Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan intriguing.

The Wisconsin Dells, a four-hour journey from Chicago, became a legit golf destination when Wild Rock Golf Club at the Wilderness Resort opened in 2008. That gave the water park capital of the world a headliner to complement the 27 holes at Trappers Turn Golf Club.

Iowa

Don't roll your eyes. Iowa isn't all cornfields. I was pleasantly surprised by the luxury of the rooms and golf at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, located 20 minutes south of Iowa City (roughly four hours from Chicago). Its Blue Top Ridge Course, designed by Rees Jones, recovered from the devastating floods of 2011 to become one of the state's best places to play again. The back nine climbs up a ridge overlooking the casino hotel.

Illinois

Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa might be in the boonies, but it's the best golf resort in the state. Galena is three hours west of Chicago near the Mississippi River and the Illinois-Iowa border. There are 80 rooms at the inn and 63 holes of golf. The General Course, the resort's top play, drops 250 vertical feet from the first tee to the 18th hole.

Indiana

Forget Larry Bird. French Lick -- the tiny blip on the map in southwest Indiana roughly five hours from Chicago -- shouldn't only be known as the home of some jump-shooting basketball legend. French Lick Resort offers a double dip of greatness -- two historic hotels and two contrasting golf courses -- with a casino thrown in for good measure. The demanding Pete Dye Course, host of the 2015 Senior PGA Championship won by Colin Montgomerie, and the playable Donald Ross Course, host of the 1924 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen, were designed nine decades apart (1917 vs. 2009). How's that for two completely different architectural styles? Only the luxurious Sea Island in Georgia has two lodging properties as unique as the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel.

Michigan

Chicagoans regularly invade Michigan's west coast for its convenience, beaches, tourist towns and golf resorts.

My recent stay at the JW Marriott Grand Rapids introduced the cool vibe of "Beer City USA." A handful of breweries like the B.O.B. and Founders are easily within walking distance of the hotel. Pilgrim's Run Golf Club, the Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe and Thousand Oaks Golf Club are all within a 30-minute drive of downtown Grand Rapids and less than three hours from Chicago.

Golfers from Chicago who time it right can be playing golf near Traverse City after less than five hours in the car, especially if they avoid the weekend traffic snarls. The choices include the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, The Homestead and Shanty Creek Resorts.

There are many distractions along the way, though, like the nationally ranked Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club on the lake. The Tullymore Golf Resort in Stanwood and the Manistee National Golf & Resort offer 36 holes of golf that is slightly cheaper and closer, yet still of good caliber. Driving farther up north opens up the possibility of visiting Boyne USA Resort's three properties or heading inland to Gaylord's Treetops Resort. Then again, it might be tough to justify the extra money spent on gas and the extra time spent in the car.

But we're curious, Chicagoans. Where are your favorite places to go, courses and destinations, for a golf escape?

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
2 Comments
Commented on

Nice list Jason!  Treetops is definitely worth the extra hour in the car.  A blast for golf groups - been there twice.  Agree with all you mentioned, but also encourage including University Ridge in Madison, WI.  Just played this past weekend and would rank just as good (if not better) than Wild Rock and anything else in the Madison/Dells area.  Also heard Lawsonia in central WI is good, but haven't played there.  In Iowa, played Spirit Hollow in Burlington and one of the best courses for the value in the Midwest.  Also heard The Harvester is great but not really a resort course.

Staff
Commented on

I tried to keep it to golf resort properties so single courses without lodging - like University Ridge/Lawsonia, etc. - were left out. 

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Chicago getaways: The best golf resorts within driving distance of the Windy City