Chicago District Golfer April 2017 : Page 1

G U ES T ES S A Y M BY BILLY HOLTZ y wife and I always thought that coming back to the Midwest was where we wanted to end up. When the opportunity opened earlier this year for a head golf professional at Illini Country Club, I jumped at the chance. Illini is a special place — a hidden gem. Quite honestly, when looking at this opportunity, I noticed right away that hosting a U.S. Open local qualifier was something that Illini was advertising, and that meant so much to me. First and foremost, it showed the pride that the BADGE OF HONOR An annual rite of spring is here as Illini Country Club once again opens its doors to U.S. Open qualifying club had in hosting this event. For me, this shows an attraction, an opportunity, that really defines the support this facility has for amateur and championship golf. When a club hosts an event like this, you’re committing to giving up your golf course for a weekend and allowing practice times so players can come out and get the feel of the course. Remember, we’re talking about a private club that tries to maintain a sense of exclusivity — and the members here and other qualifying sites are opening the gates for these highly accomplished players to come out and test their skills. What I’ve learned since arriving here is that the Illini members consider it a great honor to be holding a local U.S. Open qualifier; it’s an annual part of the club’s golf calendar. Illini has to be one of the United States Golf Association’s longest-running qualifying sites — it’s had a U.S. Open qualifier every year but once since 1973 — and that’s special. To have anything going for that length of time, let alone something that helps determine the U.S. Open champion, says a great deal. Events like these help create a club’s history. Coming here from Lakeside Country Club in Houston, I know what it’s like to have professional-level players competing on this kind of stage. During my time there, Lakeside was the host course for two U.S. Open sectionals — including a particularly memorable 2012 playoff between one of our club members, Cory Whitsett, and an amateur from Dallas named Jordan Spieth. Now that I’m back in the Midwest, I’m excited to learn who the best players in the state are — and to have them come out to play Illini. Certainly the level of the golf team at the University of Illinois plays into this. Some of the top U of I players customarily participate in this event, and the strength of that program since Mike Small took over as coach has been amazing. The local qualifier also provides an opportunity for junior golfers, and all players from the area, to watch highly skilled players come onto our course, watch how they play and see how they navigate their way around. You can learn a lot from watching players of this caliber. From my perspective, Illini is a very traditional Midwestern layout. There’s a good level of terrain and elevation change throughout the golf course with elevated greens — most notably on the 18th hole. There’s a fair amount of elevation change, on both the front and the back nines, that provides a challenge. Probably the biggest thing is the rough. This is a shorter golf course relative to what you’ll see in the U.S. Open events, but the rough has a way of really lengthening the golf course. Not only that, but we have hazards and some waterways that meander and play to the strengths of a true shotmaker. This is not a golf course that can easily be overpow-ered. You have to be creative and pick your positions — and carefully pick your opportunities to score. Illini is a course worthy of testing these players. I’m excited for all our events, but I’m really anxious to see the U.S. Open local qualifier. Billy Holtz recently was named the head golf professional at the Illini Country Club in Springfield, Ill., after spending nearly five years at Lakeside Country Club in Houston. A graduate of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, he previously worked in the area as a first assistant golf professional at Mission Hills Country Club in Northbrook. In May, Illini will be hosting a U.S. Open local qualifier for the 43rd time in the last 44 years.) Comments are solely the opinion of the author and not necessarily those of the CDGA. Letters and opinions are welcome at info@cdga.org. APRIL 2017 • CDGA.ORG 1

Guest Essay

Billy Holtz

BADGE OF HONOR

An annual rite of spring is here as Illini Country Club once again opens its doors to U.S. Open qualifying

My wife and I always thought that coming back to the Midwest was where we wanted to end up. When the opportunity opened earlier this year for a head golf professional at Illini Country Club, I jumped at the chance. Illini is a special place — a hidden gem.

Quite honestly, when looking at this opportunity, I noticed right away that hosting a U.S. Open local qualifier was something that Illini was advertising, and that meant so much to me. First and foremost, it showed the pride that the club had in hosting this event.

For me, this shows an attraction, an opportunity, that really defines the support this facility has for amateur and championship golf. When a club hosts an event like this, you’re committing to giving up your golf course for a weekend and allowing practice times so players can come out and get the feel of the course. Remember, we’re talking about a private club that tries to maintain a sense of exclusivity — and the members here and other qualifying sites are opening the gates for these highly accomplished players to come out and test their skills.

What I’ve learned since arriving here is that the Illini members consider it a great honor to be holding a local U.S. Open qualifier; it’s an annual part of the club’s golf calendar. Illini has to be one of the United States Golf Association’s longestrunning qualifying sites — it’s had a U. S. Open qualifier every year but once since 1973 — and that’s special. To have anything going for that length of time, let alone something that helps determine the U. S. Open champion, says a great deal.

Events like these help create a club’s history.

Coming here from Lakeside Country Club in Houston, I know what it’s like to have professional-level players competing on this kind of stage. During my time there, Lakeside was the host course for two U.S. Open sectionals — including a particularly memorable 2012 playoff between one of our club members, Cory Whitsett, and an amateur from Dallas named Jordan Spieth.

Now that I’m back in the Midwest, I’m excited to learn who the best players in the state are — and to have them come out to play Illini.

Certainly the level of the golf team at the University of Illinois plays into this. Some of the top U of I players customarily participate in this event, and the strength of that program since Mike Small took over as coach has been amazing. The local qualifier also provides an opportunity for junior golfers, and all players from the area, to watch highly skilled players come onto our course, watch how they play and see how they navigate their way around. You can learn a lot from watching players of this caliber.

From my perspective, Illini is a very traditional Midwestern layout. There’s a good level of terrain and elevation change throughout the golf course with elevated greens — most notably on the 18th hole. There’s a fair amount of elevation change, on both the front and the back nines, that provides a challenge. Probably the biggest thing is the rough. This is a shorter golf course relative to what you’ll see in the U. S. Open events, but the rough has a way of really lengthening the golf course. Not only that, but we have hazards and some waterways that meander and play to the strengths of a true shotmaker. This is not a golf course that can easily be overpowered. You have to be creative and pick your positions — and carefully pick your opportunities to score.

Illini is a course worthy of testing these players. I’m excited for all our events, but I’m really anxious to see the U.S. Open local qualifier.

Billy Holtz recently was named the head golf professional at the Illini Country Club in Springfield, Ill., after spending nearly five years at Lakeside Country Club in Houston. A graduate of Buffalo Grove (Ill.) High School, he previously worked in the area as a first assistant golf professional at Mission Hills Country Club in Northbrook. In May, Illini will be hosting a U.S. Open local qualifier for the 43rd time in the last 44 years.)

Read the full article at http://bluetoad.com/article/Guest+Essay/2747440/395670/article.html.

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