ASIDE FROM the disconcerting possibility that a skyscraper
might cast a shadow across your putting line, an urban golf
experience in downtown Chicago can be very rewarding.
The 2 1/2-year-old Illinois Center Golf is a green oasis tucked
amid towering office buildings, hotels and high-rises, just a block
off Michigan Avenue. The complex consists of a nine-hole par-3
course, a driving range that can accommodate up to 90 golfers at a
time, a practice green and two water hazards that don't come into
play - the Chicago River on the north and Lake Michigan to the east.
While St. Louisans ponder the benefits of a proposed nine-hole
public golf course a few blocks northwest of downtown, consider the
case of Mark Armitage and Willem van der Loo, two golf-minded
Dutchmen who arrived in Chicago last week for a trade show.
"We're staying at the Marriott, and we got in late last night,"
said Armitage. "We asked about a golf course. We found one, but it
was an hour away. The concierge said, `Why don't you go down the
road? There's a golf course 5 minutes away.' And I said, `Sure, and
my father's the prime minister.' "
A couple of hours later, after a satisfying round of golf,
Armitage and van der Loo had a look that said "it doesn't get any
better than this" as they lunched alfresco on the Illinois Center
patio on a day when the weather couldn't have been better.
"To have a facility so close to the downtown area is
unbelievable," van der Loo said. "We didn't expect it."
A few feet away, a golfer on the driving range sent balls
soaring against the backdrop of a high-rise.
"I've never seen anything so spectacular," Armitage said,
"smashing a ball into the skyscraper."
The golf project, called Gateway Village, that the city is
planning for downtown St. Louis is different in some respects from
the Illinois Center complex. The nine-hole course in St. Louis
would include a golf learning center (complete with driving range)
and would be surrounded by new townhouses, single-family homes and
It would be far enough from the downtown core that the backdrop
would not be as appealing visually as the one in Chicago.
Illinois Center Golf is privately owned by Denver-based Metro
Golf Management Inc., which leases the land from the suburban
Chicago-based Whitman Corp. The 33 acres on which the complex sits
was once an Illinois Central railyard but had sat vacant for many
years. No residents had to be displaced. Although the Gateway
Village project would be situated on 180 largely vacant acres at
the site of the old Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, it would
necessitate the razing of 209 residences and 16 commercial
buildings while creating 781 new homes.
Karl and Barbara Quast have lived for 20 years in the 54-story
Harbor Point condominiums overlooking what is now the Illinois
Center Golf complex, and they remember what it was like before.
"This environment is so enticing," Barbara Quast said. "You
should have seen this area, an old railyard with rusted cars and
scrap heaps. Now you come out and it's like heaven."
The Quasts, both avid golfers, met in the United States after
immigrating from Germany more than 30 years ago. They lived in
Chicago's suburbs until their children were grown, then moved
downtown. One of their neighbors in the high-rise is Mr. Cub, Hall
of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks, who was one of the original
investors in the golf complex.
"Things like this revitalize cities," said Karl Quast, a
transportation broker. "Everybody can't live in the suburbs.
"They were going to build high-rises here, but they have too
many already. You might as well use it for recreation. Within six
blocks of here are all the major Japanese trading companies, and
the Japanese love to hit golf balls."
"So instead of going out to lunch," Barbara Quast interjected,
"they come here. …