New Decatur Course Shaping Up Nicely

Thanks largely to two experienced construction firms based in Illinois, the new municipal golf course in Decatur, Ill., is ahead of schedule. In August, site prep was continuing on the new Raymond Floyd Signature layout. Handling the earthmoving is Beyers Construction of Pana, with the shaping and fine-tuning of the course overseen by Wadsworth Golf Construction of Plainfield.

Work on the project began this spring following the completion of a land-swap agreement involving the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and the city of Decatur. ADM successfully bid $7.35 million for 290 acres of city-owned land in Faries Park and another eight acres next to Brush College School. The bid was based on an agreement signed last November by ADM and the Decatur Park District. In turn, the park district purchased 115 acres of ADM land off U.S. 51 and Grove Road for $800,000. On March 16th, Decatur voters approved the transaction.

The former ADM land is now being converted into a championship-caliber golf course. Funds from the transaction are being used to build the facility, which, when completed in spring 2006, will replace the par-3 Wildwood nine off Grove Road on Decatur's south side.

By July, Beyers Construction had completed its earth-moving on the front nine and Wadsworth began shaping the fairways, bunkers, catch basins, tees and greens. If nature cooperates, the front side will be grassed in late August. Site prep on the back nine is expected to be finished by early fall, with grassing to commence immediately to the turf enjoys at least one growing season before winter.

Floyd, a Hall of Famer on the PGA Tour and now a semi-regular on the Champions Tour, visited Decatur and his signature golf course after playing in the U.S. Senior Open at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. He also plans return visits this fall. His associate, Harry Bowers, has been the lead man on the Decatur project.

“Raymond likes themes and he likes consistency,” said Bowers, who discussed Floyd’s design philosophy and the project specifics with Mark Tupper of the (Decatur) Herald & Review. “I told him, ‘Decatur is known as the Pride of the Prairie. There’s not much vegetation on the course. What if we do a prairie style?’

“I’ve been to Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan. (voted one of the top courses in America) and Raymond is a member at Shinnecock Hills (site of this year’s U.S. Open), and there’s really not a whole lot of difference. There are very few trees on Shinnecock and long fescue grasses everywhere,” continued Bowers.

“You get bunkers and on the back side of the bunkers are long grasses, a very natural look and that’s what we’re trying to do here. The difference between here and Shinnecock Hills is that Shinnecock has 160-some bunkers and we’re going to do about 40 with 13 or 14 waste bunkers. Our fairways are going to be twice as wide and our greens are not going to be nearly as undulating or severe.

“But the whole idea of getting movement through the fairways and having prairie grasses frame it is very similar. We’re creating a prairie look and winding this green golf course through it,” concluded Bowers.

Helping with selection of grasses is Dr. Tom Voigt of University of Illinois. The turfgrass expert will be working on-site to advise on the best prairie and native plantings.

As compared to the back side, the front nine will have fewer changes in elevation, fewer trees and no water hazards. The inward side, on the other hand, will feature more hills and mature trees. Instead of Augusta National’s fabled “Amen Corner,” the unnamed Decatur track will have “Ray’s Corner” on the back, with tree-lined fairways and considerable variety impeding the quest for par.

Local officials are viewing the new golf course at the city’s entrance as an economic boost. Meanwhile, Decatur golfers can’t wait to have their mettle tested on “Ray’s Corner.” If all goes well, that’ll happen in April or May of 2006.