Local's picks: The 10 best golf courses in the Chicago area

CHICAGO -- I've had my battles over top-10 lists. Best albums of all time -- the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" is always on there somewhere. The best books of all time -- Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" never misses the top five, depending on what I've been reading lately.

Best defenses ever? Easy. It's the Steelers of the 1970s -- "Mean" Joe Greene, Jack Lambert and company. Seriously, there shouldn't even be an argument.

Then, there's the list of the best golf courses around Chicago. It's not like I'm going to get into a bar fight or anything over this, but the debate always gets a bit contentious.

The reason is simple: There are a ton of really good golf courses in Chicago. A Californian I met recently (we got paired at the first tee) told me he'd traveled extensively and had never experienced a better group of public courses than the ones around the Second City. I think he's right.

So, put up your dukes and let's see if you agree on which are the finest.

10. Heritage Bluffs in Channahon

You think Illinois is flat, don't you? Not in this part of the state. There's a reason Heritage Bluffs Public Golf Course, about 30 miles southwest of the city, is called "bluff." It rolls and tumbles through a pristine piece of land. There are even natural rock formations that come into play -- beautiful and in great shape.

9. Pine Meadow Golf Club in Mundelein

Pine Meadow Golf Club sits on another superb piece of land northwest of the city. Blue spruce trees line the fairways, giving the course a Carolina feel. Not a home in sight. Plus, the practice facility may be the best in northern Illinois.

8. Ruffled Feathers Golf Club in Lemont

Ruffled Feathers Golf Club is a challenging course. It's designed by Pete and P.B. Dye, so of course it is. The conditioning is nearly perfect. Plus, you want unforgettable par 3s? You'll find 'em here, including no. 11, an island green reminiscent of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

7. Prairie Landing in West Chicago

Prairie Landing's front nine is an American links layout with fairways that dip and dodge and where wind can mess with your game. The back is tree lined and reminds you of a course somewhere in northern Michigan, secluded and full of wildlife. Railroad tracks closely skirt the course, another similarity to the linkslands of the British Isles.

6. ThunderHawk Golf Club in Beach Park

Of all the times I've played ThunderHawk Golf Club, I still can't believe it's a municipal course, owned and operated by the Lake County, Illinois Forest Preserve District. Never in a million years would you expect the level of play and detail. Plus, it's a Robert Trent Jones II design, one of my favorite architects. Par 5s are the memorable holes here. Savor no. 18 and its stunning green complex nestled into the hill near the clubhouse.

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5. Dubsdread at Cog Hill Golf and C.C. in Lemont

The No. 4 Course at Cog Hill (AKA Dubsdread) is a classic layout where for years the PGA Tour held the Western Open and the BMW Championship. There are nearly 100 bunkers on this course, and if you are not prepared to throw darts at the greens, you might want to bring two sand wedges. Still, playing where the pros have played is a thrill.

4. Stonewall Orchard Golf Club in Grayslake

Some may not see Stonewall Orchard Golf Club as a top 5. Not because it's unworthy, but because there are just so many others. But what puts Stonewall high on the list for me are its greens and its isolation. It is in the middle of nowhere, hidden on an old pine farm and surrounded by forest preserve and cornfields. It's not a pushover; I haven't scored particularly well here, but boy, is it a treat.

3. Harborside International's Port Course in Chicago

Yep, there's a course within the city limits, minutes from The Loop that is simply a stunner. Two courses, actually. Both are good. But Harborside International's Port Course is just a bit more challenging, I think. And the history behind the birth of this facility is quite a story. The land next to Lake Calumet was once a disposal site for waste-water sludge, incinerator ash and construction debris. Now it's a gorgeous links layout with views of Chicago's skyline.

2. The Glen Club in Glenview

The Glen Club is a Tom Fazio beauty built out of the concrete of the former Glenview Naval Air Station. It was literally shaped from nothing. Now you'll find elevation changes, rolling fairways, lakes, streams and even a few peeks at the Chicago skyline. And The Glen Club has the best clubhouse in all of Chicago. It's an elegant 48,000 square feet with a great grill and top-notch dining.

1. Cantigny Golf in Wheaton

For a golf course to be at the top of the list, it has to have absolutely everything: great golf, great facilities, dazzling natural surroundings, wonderful food and an absolute dedication to the game. Cantigny is built on the estate of Col. Robert R. McCormick, the long-time editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. In his will, he insisted the land be used for philanthropic purposes and recreation. To this day, the McCormick Foundation runs Cantigny Park, and the golf course is devoted to maintaining the property as an oasis for nature lovers and lovers of the game. Sporting three nines (Hillside, Woodside and Lakeside), Cantigny is truly is a landmark golf course -- gorgeous property, superb conditions, unforgettable to play.

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Dave Berner is a long-time journalist for CBS radio in Chicago and has freelanced for CNN, National Public Radio, and ABC news. He created and produced the popular radio feature "The Golf Minute" for CBS-owned radio station WMAQ in Chicago along with writing a regular column for Golf Chicago Magazine. He is also author of "Any Road Will Take You There: A journey of fathers and sons" and "Accidental Lessons: A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed." Follow Berner on Twitter @DavidWBerner
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The 1985 Chicago Bears gave up 10 points in 2 playoff games and the Superbowl. 7 of those points were in the 4th quarter with 2nd string. So, they basically shut out all their opponents. "There shouldn't even be an argument"?

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I am hoping to come to Chicago in June from visiting my son in Toronto. My husband and I would like to play 2/3 courses in Chicago. Close enough to be able to drive to each course and also find somehow here to stay in the area. We would then fly back to England from Chicago. Which would be the best airport to fly from. Val

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Dave, 

Completely disagree with your rankings. A lot of overrated courses on the list as well as a lot of hidden gems kept off.  Here is a list of the top 10. 

10. Pine Meadow in Mundelein9. Makray Memorial in Barrington8. Harborside (Starboard and Port) in Chicago7. Highlands of Elgin in Elgin6. Bowes Creek in Elgin5. Thunderhawk in Beach Park4. Cantigny (Lakeside/Woodside) in Wheaton3. Blackstone in Marengo2. Glen Club in Glenview1. Cog Hill (Dubsdread) in Lemont

The top courses to play outside of the Chicagoland area in Illinois3. TPC Deere Run in Silvis

2. WeaverRidge in Peoria1. Eagle Ridge Resort (The General) in Galena

The top courses to play that are inexpensive5. Big Run in Lemont

4. Kankakee Elks in St. Anne3. George Dunne National in Oak Forest2. Heritage Bluffs in Channahon1. Balmoral Woods in Crete

Most overrated courses 4. Bolingbrook Golf Course in Bolingbrook3. Orchard Valley in Aurora2. The Den at Fox Creek in Bloomington 1. Ruffled Feathers in Lemont

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To Hotspots; I disagree completely with your ranking of The Glen so high, number 2? For the price, it is the most forgettable course I’ve ever played. Pine Meadows, Cog Hill, Even Bolingbrook Golf Club have much more challenging and picturesque holes and I say this as a 3 handicap player.

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Dave - I'd like to give you my ten best Chicago area courses that won't cost you and arm and leg to play but I'll keep them a secret.  All of your courses while "nice" are way too expensive and most if not all are $50+++ during the week or for that matter even a twilight time.   Plenty of great Chicago area tracks to play under $40 and even under $30 (even on weekends) that are just as good and some better.....not debating your choices just observing that every article I seem to read on Golf Advisor highlighting Chicago golf mentions extremely expensive courses which tear a huge bite out of your golfing wallet.

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I think Cardinal Creek in Beecher has come a long way and in that $30 price range. With the three 9 hole courses you don't get bored of the same 18holes. And most importantly the green are so nice! Props to the super over there!

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Local's picks: The 10 best golf courses in the Chicago area