It is 11:45 on a sunny Friday morning as accountants Harry
Argires, Jeff Miceli and Todd Schneider amble out of their
downtown Chicago office building dressed in khakis, golf shirts
and baseball caps. The three are on their way to play golf, but
they won't be away for long. In two hours they will be back in
their charcoal pinstripes, sitting around a table discussing
amortization while dreaming about that blown birdie putt on
number 3, the bogey on the sixth hole and the chip-in from the
fringe on 8.
Argires, Miceli and Schneider are on their way to Illinois
Center Golf, a lush nine-hole course and driving range a mere 50
yards from their office. Billed as "the country's first-ever
urban golf course," ICG features a 1,000-yard par-27 layout with
bunkers and an island green, a 92-stall driving range, full-time
instructors, a pro shop with locker rooms, free parking and a
restaurant--all within walking distance of Michigan Avenue shops
"We think this is a one-of-a-kind facility," says ICG director
of golf Scott Szybowicz. "Where else can you play a challenging
round of golf at lunch, with a spectacular view of the city
skyline, then walk back to the office for a two o'clock meeting?"
While urban golf is nothing new in Japan, ICG is the first
downtown course in a major United States city. Because the
course's holes range in length from 57 to 145 yards, a spin
around the ICG nine takes less than an hour and a half. That's
perfect for the busy business duffer looking to get a fix on his
lunch break. "You don't have to take an entire day off work to
play," says Argires as he, Miceli and Schneider stroll up to the
1st tee. "We have a meeting in a few hours, but we'll have no
problem making it."
August 20, 1995
The idea for ICG arose a few years ago, when an office-space
glut in the Loop derailed plans for a complex of buildings on
the site of the course. The co-owners of the land were unable to
sell the parcel, which at the time contained an abandoned
railroad yard, so they contacted Vintage Group USA, a Denver
golf-course developer. Vintage Group got a 15-year lease on the
property and a chance to create a U.S. golf novelty.
"We couldn't afford to buy the land ourselves," says Charles
Tourtellotte, the president of Vintage Group. "It's worth about
$100 million. So this is a win-win situation for everybody
involved. The landowners make a little money from the lease. The
city gets a park with green grass. And we make a lot of money
from the course, we hope."
At $22 per round, and with full memberships beginning at $1,000,
ICG has seen plenty of the green stuff. Golfers have been
walking and driving to the facility in steady numbers since its
opening a year ago. Though the entrance is a little hard for
first-timers to find because it is located 60 feet below street
level on Lower Columbus Drive, the rookies are undaunted. Billy
Casper Golf Management Inc., which oversees the operation, says
more than 12,000 people have toured the course. Most find the
Dye Designs layout to be an amusing series of short yet tricky
holes, with hilly fairways, hidden sand traps and manicured
greens complemented by breathtaking vistas of such Chicago
landmarks as the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Building.
"The view is incredible," says Mary Lou Newbold, a national
account manager for a hotel chain, who recently took a group of
50 women to ICG for the first time. "We play a different course
every month, but at the other courses you don't turn around and
see the skyline of Chicago."
If you don't notice the skyline at ICG, there is a good chance
that you'll see some larger-than-life Chicago figures. Michael
Jordan, who occasionally works out at a nearby health club,
stopped by the day after Christmas to hit some balls off the
covered, heated practice tees. And Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub"
himself, is one of ICG's 325 full-time members. At ICG Banks can
say, "Let's play two" and still get back to Wrigley Field in
time to see the first pitch.
In creating the layout, ICG took a wide range of golfers into
consideration. "Because of our location and clientele, we wanted
to try to get not only the recreational golfer but also the good
golfer," says ICG designer Perry Dye, whose father is famed
course designer Pete Dye. "A par-3 course is not traditionally
known for attracting good golfers. But we tried to create a
par-3 that required all different shots, figuring that the good
golfer would recognize that and play the course."
That's not to say, however, that ICG would bring Jack Nicklaus
and Arnold Palmer to their knees. Many players shuffling around
the course are beginners, practicing their chips and putts, or
receiving instruction. "I wanted to learn the game because so
many of my friends and associates were golfers," says John
Edelman, a public relations executive who joined ICG this year.
"I work across the street, so this is very convenient for me.
And this course is good for beginners because you can work
through your shots and keep moving without slowing up the people
As Edelman speaks, his playing partner and coworker, Dominic
Scianna, nods vigorously. Scianna is a 17 handicapper who
belongs to a pricey country club in the suburbs, but he too
rates the ICG course as a decent blend of easy and difficult
holes. "It's a good course to work on your short game," Scianna
says. "That's a big problem for a lot of golfers. And there are
some pretty tough holes, like the island green on number 9."
Surrounded by water and accessible only by a wooden bridge, the
142-yard 9th is ICG's signature hole. By far the toughest on the
course, it looks like a carbon copy of the 17th on Pete Dye's
Stadium Course at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but it
has one notable extra hazard. "My father saw it and said,
'That's an exact replica,'" Perry Dye says. "I told him, 'No,
mine's a little better. Yours doesn't have the wind swirling
around it all day.'"
Indeed, Windy City gusts can pose a problem to golfers trying to
land tee shots on greens as close as 50 yards away. Traffic
noise from nearby Lake Shore Drive also intrudes a bit on the
serenity that is usually considered part of an enjoyable round
of golf. But what the ICG course lacks in peace and quiet, it
more than makes up for in convenience and architectural scenery.
"Look at that. What a spectacular view," Schneider marvels as he
plants a tee at number 4 and gazes up at the sweeping skyline.
"I wonder if I could reach the Amoco Building with this drive."
Players who are worried about smashing office windows with their
errant Maxflis need not fear. Because most golfers tend to slice
the ball, Dye designed the course to play left to right.
Although several balls have found their way onto Lower Wacker
Drive, no broken windows have been reported yet.
"Once in a while I'll take a Big Bertha out of somebody's bag,
just in case," Szybowicz says with a laugh. "But it's a lot
harder to hit a building than it looks."
Rather than scorn the golf course as an attractive nuisance,
many neighbors have embraced the facility as an improvement to
the area. The 43-story Swisstel, which overlooks the 9th hole,
offers guests discounted greens fees and features the course in
its brochures. "We consider ourselves blessed to have it at our
doorstep," says Robert Allegrini, a spokesman for the hotel.
"Before, it was just a delinquent field. Now we have an amenity
for our guests, especially Japanese ones."
ICG's success in acquiring such business partnerships may well
lead to the development of more nine-hole courses in big cities
across North America. Tourtellotte says plans are in the works
for similar facilities in downtown Los Angeles, San Diego, St.
Louis and Seattle, and a 220-yard, 50-station driving range with
target areas and nets will soon be built on the roof of the Port
Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. "Cities are finding out
that this is a great interim use for property that would
otherwise go undeveloped," Tourtellotte says.
That, of course, would be just fine with Argires, Miceli and
Schneider. After putting out on the 9th hole and beginning their
short walk back to work, they give ICG solid ratings for
convenience, cost and challenge.
"There's one more thing I liked," adds Miceli, ever the
accountant. "I lost only one ball all day."