My Kind of Golf St. Louis' Proposed Nine-Hold Course Could Be a Downtown Oasis like Chicago's Illinois Center Complex

Article excerpt

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 rent-to-own condos. 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. …

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