What makes a model public facility? Chicago's Mistwood Golf Club has many elements

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- The perfect public golf facility probably doesn't exist. How can it? What's perfect for one golfer may not be perfect for another.

For many golfers, conditioning – especially the greens – would be the no. 1 consideration. For others, design of the course is the top priority. Pace of play would rank right up there, too, with many players. And how about customer service, the food and beverage operation, lesson facilities, club fitting and, of course, cost to play.

Is there a course with all of the above? Not with $20 green fees (although there have been great public courses like Pinion Hills in New Mexico that have come close). But if you're looking for such a club that's priced fairly and has high marks in the rest of the areas, yes, there are such facilities, but they're not easy to find.

One that stands out is Mistwood Golf Club in the Chicago area. It first came on line in 1999 with three partners. But when one partner bought the other two out and became the sole owner, everything changed. On the brink of failure, owner Jim McWethy renovated everything about Mistwood Golf Club – the course, the clubhouse, the food and beverage, the instructional program and most of all, the culture. The result is a club that can serve as a model for other daily fee facilities in the country.

The par 3 14th at Mistwood Golf Club near Chicago.

The par-3 14th at Mistwood GC.

Terrific golf course that keeps getting better

Designed by Ray Hearn, this rolling, 7,000-yard plus course (where a half-million cubic yards of earth were moved) sits on formerly flat cornfields and a quarry site. Construction crews moved 1.5 million cubic yards of earth to create rolling terrain, water hazards and a finishing stretch that wraps around 64-acre Lake St. James.

After McWethy bought out his partners in 2003, he started making improvements on this perennial host of the Illinois Women's State Open. In 2007, McWethy called Hearn back to take a hard look at each hole. Some of the changes are more noticeable than others, like the 20 new sod wall bunkers that give the course more of a Scottish feel, which pays homage to McWethy's roots and now the overall theme of the club.

Hearn said the result was collaboration between McWethy and him. They often had conversations that lasted well past midnight, discussing course changes, and they continue to do so today. The latest is talk of perhaps making the signature par-5 third hole, which is the main view from the back of the clubhouse, the 18th hole and rerouting the course to accommodate.

Hearn, who is a Pete Dye protege, recalled what Dye once told him. "He said, 'Going back to one of your original designs and getting to fine tune it – there's nothing's better for a golf course architect."

Beautiful and functional clubhouse

The new 29,000-square foot clubhouse setup at Mistwood looks sort of like a Scottish village, and it's very functional. From dining to the golf shop to banquet facilities and the Golf Performance Center, it all works well together. And even though it appears that these buildings are separate, they are actually connected underground, where the cart storage area is, meaning there's no ugly cart barn taking away from the beauty of this place when you enter the property.

The clubhouse also affords great views of the golf course, particularly from McWethy's Tavern, which has a beautiful bar and a 27-degree bank of bay windows that look out on the par-5 third hole that has a green that plays over a lake. The golf shop is also unique. It looks like an urban Scottish storefront with painted exterior trim colors and a turret focal point inspired by the owner's heritage.

Outstanding golf instruction and technology

Need help with your golf game? There are few places in the Midwest better equipped. Not only is there a staff of well-qualified instructors, but they have most every technology tool at their disposal, from TrackMan and Foresight GC2 to the Sam Putting Lab.

In addition, the 5,000-square-foot Mistwood Performance Center has two hitting bays as well as a putter fitting studio and extensive clubfitting and repair operation.

The experts at Mistwood can pretty much dial up any combination of heads (from nearly every manufacturer), shafts and grips and build many of them right there on site. They can also repair clubs and change grips, often before your round begins if you arrive early enough.

Mistwood also has terrific practice facilities, which is a must for any good daily-fee facility. Just behind a deck in the back of the Mistwood Performance Center are stations from which to hit balls out onto the driving range. During colder days, they're heated. Additionally, Mistwood has an outstanding short game area and practice putting greens.

Mistwood owner Jim McWethy is passionate about making Mistwood one of the best daily fee facilities in the country.

Mistwood GC owner Jim McWethy

Also of note is that McWethy opened McQ’s Golf Dome in nearby Bolingbrook, Ill., in 2012. McQ's compliments the lesson and practice facilities at Mistwood well, offering much the same technology, including TopTracer Range, where players can track and analyze every shot or compete against friends and family in fun skills games or play virtual golf on simulated courses.

Mistwood has been named among "America's Top 100 Clubfitters" by Golf Digest Magazine and a "Top 50 Public Facility" by Golf Range Magazine.

Great food and beverage

The Scottish egg at McWethy's highlights the appetizer menu.

The Scottish Egg at McWethy's Tavern.

This is an area where many facilities fall short, which is a missed opportunity. At Mistwood, the food and beverage operation is exceptional. The food and drink at McWethy's tavern draws non-golfers as well as golfers because it's exceptional.

The menu is Scottish inspired and features a wide variety of appetizers (the Scottish egg is a trademark), sandwiches and premium entrees such as lamb shank, fish and chips, cottage pie and a selection Iowa Premium Angus steaks.

McWethy's Tavern also has an impressive bar that offers a wide variety of local craft beers, wine and the finest single malt Scotch whiskeys.

In addition to McWethy's, there's also a full-service bar and cafe in the Performance Center, which serves terrific food as well.

Superior, genuine customer service

In a sense, Mistwood is sort of like Cheers, where if you come here a couple of times, they will know your name.

This culture starts at the top with McWethy, who treats his employees with respect and makes Mistwood a great work environment. You get the feeling that everyone who works here enjoys their job, from the cart boys and the folks in the shop from the chef to the golf professionals.

A good value

While you can't play Mistwood for $20, the club does clearly illustrate "you get what you pay for." And in this case, Mistwood charges a fair price for a superior product.

Rates run from $65 for juniors and seniors to $115 for premium morning weekend times, but there are also late afternoon ($65-$75 and you can usually get in 18 during the summer) and nine-hole rates ($45). Considering the quality of the turf, the design of the holes and the overall experience, Mistwood stacks up well with any daily fee facility in the Midwest value-wise.

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
Commented on

Sounds like a wonderful facility, bordering on the amenities of many private clubs. I would also note that, as the previous comment noted, it is not realistic for most golfers to pay anywhere near the 100 dollar range if they play a lot. For someone like myself that would like to play 3 or 4 times a week I have to look for the 40/50 dollar max green fee, but, as is often the case you get what you pay for.

Commented on

Both James' and Phil's points are well-taken, and I did mention in the article, that for the consumer, the perfect daily fee facility would be cheaper to play. I'm with you; I can't afford $100 green fees on a regular basis either. But Mistwood is only north of $100 on weekend mornings and there are senior and twilight rates. Most of all, it's important to realize that a facility maintained to this level has a lot of operating expenses, most of all the golf course itself. It's not uncommon to spend more than $1 million per year on golf course maintenance, which means charging $40 or $50 to play it (especially during a relatively short season) just won't pay the bills. Again, this is a high-end daily fee facility, and as such, it fits the bill nicely. I've seen courses with similar standards charge twice as much to play them.

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Commented on

I am a 60 year old retired once a week golfer. I was intrigued by the headline of this article. To say that a close to perfect public facility would have green fees over $100 is the most absurd thing I've ever read in golf advisor. This epitomizes everything that is wrong with today's game. The "perfect" public course would be one that would attract players of all skill levels and be affordable to all. I have played golf all my life all over the country and would never consider paying 100 to play 18 holes of golf. If I won't consider it I can't imagine a newcomer to the game deciding to visit this public course.

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If you are a serious golfer, and you dont want to pay a extra 20$ everyone now and again, then continue to pay 40$ for your local slow pace public course that is infested with bumpy greens and divot marked fairways. The course speaks for itself and will illustrate why the price is listed at what it is

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What makes a model public facility? Chicago's Mistwood Golf Club has many elements