Fall, of course, is for football. But it's also great for golf. The leaves start to change, the weather cools and the courses generally often look their best. Of course, if you're not a big football fan, game time is often the best time to play (see Thornberry Creek in Green Bay, Wis.).
Of course the ultimate would be following your favorite team to away markets and taking your golf clubs. So with that in mind, we've broken down the NFL by divisions. Here's a look at the NFC North and where our readers are recommending that you play:
Top rated on Golf Advisor: It's not super close to Soldier Field, but The Glen Club is the official golf course of the Chicago Bears. Located about 15 minutes from the Bears practice facility and headquarters in Lake Forest, The Glen Club is a Chicago-area favorite. This semi-private course was designed by Tom Fazio, so you know it's going to be pretty good.
Just 15 miles south of Soldier Field, one of the most popular and highly rated courses is Harborside International, which has two courses, the Port and the Starboard, both designed by Dick Nugent. Among the best munis in the country, the courses feature plenty of water features and views of the Chicago skyline, plus the Starboard Course once hosted a Champions Tour event.
And although it's about 25 miles west of Soldier Field, if you've got time, you should definitely check out Cog Hill in Lemont, Ill. The famed Dubsdread Course, which was redone by Rees Jones in 2008, is the former home of the PGA Tour's Western Open. It's not for everyone since it's fairly difficult, but there are three other courses at this daily-fee Mecca as well that play far easier.
Other highly rated courses include the Arthur Hills-designed Stonewall Orchard Golf Club in Grayslake, Arrowhead Golf Club and Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton, The Highlands of Elgin (Ill.), Bonnie Brook in Waukegan and Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, just to name a few. Ravisloe goes back to 1901 and was actually renovated by Donald Ross in 1919.
Close to Soldier Field: There are several nine-hole courses close to Soldier Field, most notably a couple of Tom Bendelow-designed layouts. South Shore Golf Club, which goes back to 1903, is one of them. One Golf Advisor rater called it a "perfect city course – unpretentious and full of character." The other Bendelow design is even older (1898) Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, and located right on North Shore Drive.
Green Bay Packers
Top rated on Golf Advisor: Any discussion of golf in the Green Bay area has to start with Thornberry Creek at Oneida, which not only has an outstanding regulation-length course but a cool nine-hole "double flag" course as well. Rick Jacobsen designed both courses at Thornberry Creek, which is the golf facility of the Green Bay Packers. Thornberry Creek's Championship Course measures nearly 9,000 yards, is always in good shape and features a wide variety of holes. The nine-hole course, which is the original layout at Thornberry, is a family-friendly short course with two greens options on every hole. There's also a sports pub with plenty of innovative appetizers and draft beers. And check this out: On game day during the fall, you can play the course for under $20 (trying to get Packer fans away from the TV is probably the toughest draw in America).
Thornberry has competition in the area, though. Eagle Creek in nearby Hortonville, Wis., a links-style Bob Lohman design that garnered four stars on average from Golf Advisor reviewers, and Sherwood Forest G.C. is a highly rated nine-hole layout in Green Bay. Another worthy play is Brown County Municipal, which has a similar look to Brown Deer G.C. in Milwaukee, former host of the Greater Milwaukee Open. The Golf Course at Branch River is a former private club (since 1954), recently turned public and also offers a solid golf experience. Other popular venues include: Golden Sands Golf Community, The National Course at Fox Hills in Mishicot, and Royal Scot Golf Club in New Franken.
Close to Lambeau Field: Village Green Golf Course may not be the official course of the Packers, but it's actually closer to Lambeau Field and a little cheaper to play. It's just nine holes, but you can walk it for $16 and play it in a couple of hours. Opened in 1969, this muni also has undergone recent improvements that include a new creek on the ninth, new cart paths in some areas and fountain on the fifth hole.
Top rated on Golf Advisor: Just south of Dearborn Heights in Taylor about 15 miles from downtown you'll find Lakes of Taylor Golf Club, done by one of the Midwest's (and Michigan's) most prolific architects, Arthur Hills. Lakes of Taylor is a popular 7,028-yard, par-72 layout that challenges all levels of players. However, in the opposite direction, in Clarkston, north of Detroit, is another Hills layout considered to be on the best in the Detroit area. Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club is 27 holes of adventure on a very well maintained course that meanders up and down hills with a smattering of elevated tees, raised greens and formidable bunkers.
If you're making your way to Detroit, however, you should definitely consider a trip over to Ann Arbor to the west off I-94. The reason? The University of Michigan, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of its Radrick Farms Course, is offering unaccompanied guest golf packages that not only include Radrick Farms but the University of Michigan's Alister MacKenzie-designed Blue Course as well. Considered one of the best college courses in the country, the Blue Course is right next to the "Big House." Radrick Farms has a great pedigree as well, of course. It's one of Pete Dye's very first designs.
Other highly ranked courses include Northville Hills Golf Club in Northville, just west of Detroit. The Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay-designed course runs through a subdivision, but the houses are set far enough back that they don't really come into play. What's left are plenty of lakes, wetlands and native grasses, defining a course that provides a playable yet tough test for any level. There's also a welcoming family atmosphere of the operation, which adds to the experience.
Some other top-notch courses worth considering are: Detroit's Rouge Park Golf Course, which opened in 1923; The Orchards Golf Club in Washington Township; The Majestic at Lake Walden in Hartland; Moose Ridge Golf Course in South Lyon; Boulder Pointe Golf Club in White Lake; Blackheath Golf Club in Rochester Hills; and Cherry Creek Golf Club in Shelby Township, just to name a few.
Close to Ford Field: Ford Field is in downtown Detroit, so there's not a lot of golf real close to the stadium. But less than eight miles away near Grosse Point Park and Windsor is the popular municipal Chandler Park, a 5,832-yard par 71, where green fees top out at $35 during the weekend. Just about as close, however, is Ambassador Golf Club, even though it's not in America, but rather Canada (over in Windsor, across the Detroit River). This 2005 Thomas McBroom layout is a challenging 7,033-yard par 71.
Top rated on Golf Advisor: The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has no shortage of highly rated golf courses, so you can take your pick. Plus, most of the daily-fee courses in the area are fairly affordable.
For example, you can play Hidden Greens Golf Course, built on a wooded State Game Refuge in Hastings, Minn., southeast of Minneapolis, for just $30 or so on the weekend (not including cart). Or you can pay a little more and play the very highly rated (nearly five stars), 7,200-yard White Eagle Golf Club just across the border in Hudson, Wis. Or check out Mississippi Dunes in Cottage Grove, Minn., right next to the Mississippi River. Other highly rated courses in the area include Eagle Valley in Woodbury, Minn., Deere Run in Victoria, Minn., and The Refuge Golf Club in Oak Grove, Minn.
The Twin Cities area also has some good muni values, like Minneapolis' Francis A. Gross Golf Course, a 6,600-yard par 71 that can trace its roots back to 1925. Or check out another Minneapolis muni, the par-71 Columbia Golf Course, which first opened in 1919. Over in St. Paul you'll find Highland National. Renovated a little over a decade ago, Minnesota native and cartoonist Charles M. Schulz used to caddie and play there. In honor of Mr. Schulz, there's a bunker shaped like Snoopy.
One of the more popular courses is about 20 miles north of downtown Minneapolis in Ham Lake: 36-hole Majestic Oaks Golf Club. The Signature Course plays more than 7,000 yards from the tips, while the Crossroads Course is 6,400 yards, perfect for all levels of play.
Close to TCF Stadium: After leaving the now-demolished Metrodome, the Vikings have been playing at TCF Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota since 2011. In 2016, however, the team will play its home games at US Bank Stadium just three miles to the east, so it isn't a far move. So as far as close golf goes, the courses will pretty much remain the same. A good place to start would be the University of Minnesota's Les Bolstad Golf Course, a 6,300-yard, par-71 course that opened in 1929. Not only is it cheap enough for students to play, but outside play is just $27 for 18 holes.