The True Nature of Golf at Oak Meadows
by Ed Stevenson,
Centuries ago in Scotland, the game of golf flourished on grassy areas along the sea that golfers called “links” because of the way the terrain “linked” the land to the water. In areas like DuPage County, the presence of woodlands and prairies means that most golf course landscapes are more accurately described as “parkland style,” but the link between water and land is just as vital. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County will be taking that relationship between water, land and recreation to a whole new level at Oak Meadows Golf Preserve in Addison with an innovative improvement project.
Water has always been at the center of the Oak Meadows story. Salt Creek flows for more than a mile through the middle of the property, and the District acquired the land in 1985 primarily as a valuable flood-control area. But the District quickly realized that the golf course itself — the former Elmhurst Country Club — was a bonus that offered a popular way for residents to enjoy the splendor of the property. Oak Meadows opened to the public the following year as an “enterprise operation” with greens fees instead of tax dollars paying for its daily expenses.
For years the course challenged golfers’ skills, but the waters that flowed over the banks of Salt Creek during floods challenged course operations as well. With each flood, the property served its valuable role by storing water on golf course land and away from homes and businesses, but at the same time golf operations abruptly came to a halt and repairs interrupted business for weeks at a time. Urban development upstream only increased the volume and intensity of these floodwaters, pushing Oak Meadows to a crossroads.
It seemed a given that any efforts to protect the course from flood damage would reduce its capacity to hold stormwater, but in 2011 the Forest Preserve District decided to challenge that assumption by asking a bold question: Could stormwater management capacity and golf course sustainability both be improved at the same time?
In 2012 the District began an ambitious planning process to answer that question and determined that reducing the golf footprint from 27 original holes — 18 at Oak Meadows and nine at the adjacent Maple Meadows East — to 18 would allow elevation changes that would make golf surfaces resistant to flood damage while creating more space for stormwater storage. The concept for the Oak Meadows Golf Preserve Improvement Project was born.
Over the next three years of planning, designing, engineering and permitting, the District’s goals for Oak Meadows expanded beyond stormwater management and golf to include improved water quality within Salt Creek, expanded wetlands, enhanced adjacent natural habitats, and connections to local trail systems. At this point, the Sierra Club, Audubon International and similar environmental groups took notice and offered their input. The DuPage River Salt Creek Workgroup got on board and made contributions to the project a top priority, recognizing the rare opportunity to improve a long stretch of stream corridor in an otherwise developed urban area. Funding and support for a key component — the creation of new wetlands — also spurred intergovernmental teamwork between the Forest Preserve District and DuPage County.
Now, with permits, support and a thoroughly developed plan in place, the District is ready to begin construction in July. When completed in May 2017, the 288-acre Oak Meadows Golf Preserve will feature more than 20 million gallons of additional stormwater storage, 25 acres of new wetlands, and more than 100 acres of restored habitat — 43 along the creek and 65 further upland. The removal of two low-head dams will return this stretch of Salt Creek to a far more natural condition and increase levels of dissolved oxygen, which will create healthier ecological conditions for a diverse range of aquatic animals.
For golfers, 2017 will unveil a course that is expected to earn recognition as one of the top public courses in the country, one that will take golfers on a spectacular tour of a restored preserve with elements of a quintessential northern Illinois landscape, including savanna, prairie, woodland, wetland and waterway. The re-designed par-72 layout will offer expanded practice areas and tee options ranging from 4,500 to 7,200 yards with all of the tees, greens and fairways strategically elevated to allow play to continue even if Salt Creek rises.
For centuries golfers have recognized that a good golf course provides an experience that is fun, challenging and scenic. A great course does all that while improving the communities around it and the habitat within. As the links between water, land and recreation strengthen at Oak Meadows Golf Preserve, the course is certain to be one of the greats and a model of how golf operations and environmental function can coexist within a forest preserve.
Watch more about the design and functionality planned for the Oak Meadows in this video.
The newly renovated Oak Meadows will provide added floodwater storage without sacrificing tee times.
The new 18-hole routing for Oak Meadows will reduce the course's footprint, allowing space for wetlands and a revitalized Salt Creek.
An improved stretch of Salt Creek will serve as a model for how golf operations can coexist next to healthy in-stream habitat.