Historians know Cantigny for its First Division military museum, and its historic McCormick mansion. Boy Scouts know Cantigny as an awesome place to camp. Artists and photographers know Cantigny for its lush gardens.
But if you haven’t strolled up the stretching fairways, or tried your hand on the immaculate greens of Cantigny Golf, you may not know Cantigny at all. And you’re missing out on an experience like none other in the suburbs.
Cantigny Golf opened in 1989 and it didn’t take long for the Wheaton course to receive some heady recognition. The January 1990 issue of Golf Digest named Cantigny the “Best New Public Course in America.”
Now, as it celebrates its 25th anniversary year, Cantigny remains a favorite with area golfers and has big plans for the 2014 season.
Cantigny Golf was dedicated on June 5, 1989, with two-time U.S. Open Champion Andy North striking the inaugural tee shot. Two years prior, Mike Nass was hired to oversee construction, working with renowned golf course architect Roger Packard.
Nass, now Cantigny Golf’s executive director, finds it a bit hard to believe his “baby” is now 25 years old.
Operations include the year-round Cantigny Golf Academy, the 9-hole Cantigny Youth Links and a full-service clubhouse with dining and banquet facilities.
“This is our 25th anniversary and I have been here for all 25,” says Nass. “It is exciting for me to talk to some of our guests that have also experienced all 25 years of our existence and to be able to reminisce. I am also excited about sharing our history with some of our newer guests and being able to grow our community.”
A first-time visitor might think that Cantigny is actually older than 25 years. The 300-acre, 27-hole layout has a mature look and feel thanks to the stately oaks and hickories lining the fairways and surrounding the greens. Golfers love that aspect of Cantigny, along with interesting “signature” features such as the flowering bridge boxes and the Dick Tracy bunker on Lakeside No. 9. A well-developed caddie program, unusual for a public golf facility, also sets Cantigny apart.
The list of famous visiting golfers includes Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Fred Couples, Juli Inkster, Dave Stockton, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia. The course attracts professional athletes from other sports, too, such as Bo Jackson, Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux and Brian Urlacher. Last year, Jonathan Toews played Cantigny just days after his Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
Current PGA Tour pro Kevin Streelman is the player most closely associated with Cantigny. The Wheaton native played, practiced and worked at Cantigny during his amateur days. He has returned several times to lead junior golf clinics and offer encouragement to area youth.
In fact, when asked what best distinguishes Cantigny from other golf courses in the area, Nass points to a deep commitment to children in the community. Some 1,400 young golfers learn the game (and sportsmanship) at Cantigny every season. Most of them hone their skills on the Youth Links. Still others join the caddie program.
“Watching our young employees mature and develop into the next generation of leaders, has been an exciting part of the process. It’s an amazing journey,” says Nass, who has seen 11 of those caddies go on to win Chick Evans Foundation Scholarships, earning full college tuition and housing.
So what can golfers expect from the 25th season at Cantigny?
“The golf course continues to get better each year,” says Patrick Lynch, Cantigny’s head golf professional. “We developed a long-range master plan for course improvement in 2005, and each year we upgrade one or two of the holes in some way.”
Lynch has been with the facility for the past 16 years.
“Most recently, we completely renovated one of our most memorable holes, #2 on Woodside, which is a par 5, featuring a creek that runs along the right side of the first part of the hole, then cuts across the fairway twice – once at 100 yards out and again right in front of the green.”
The 25th anniversary will be a consistent theme throughout the season at Cantigny this year. “Having been here for 16 of those seasons, it’s been a lot of fun to reflect back on everything we’ve accomplished over the years: hosting big events (including the Illinois State Amateur this July), winning awards for the course and the staff, building successful youth programs, and establishing ourselves as one of Chicago’s top destinations for golf.”
Cantigny also is introducing a new customer appreciation program called “Anniversary Club” to help with the celebration. The fee to join the Anniversary Club is $199 and includes an 18-hole round of golf with cart and a dozen Titleist Pro-V1 golf balls. Cardholders will be treated to special events and offers throughout the year, including complimentary clinics, “play with the pro” opportunities, and “bring a friend” specials.
“We have to stay abreast of the trends in our industry and listen to what our guests have to say,” Nass says. “We know we are competing for our guest’s time not just with other golf facilities. If we can’t provide them with an exceptional experience we will lose their loyalty. We are in the business of building relationships that we hope transcend the game of golf.“
For more information on Cantigny golf, gardens, museums and summer events, visit www.cantigny.org