Stone Creek Golf Course, Urbana, Illinois, was gifted to the University of Illinois in 2020. Now, the newly-renamed Atkins Golf Club will be renovated by Drew Rogers, ASGCA (J. Drew Rogers, Golf Course Architect). Dick Nugent, ASGCA, designed the course, which was built by Wadsworth Construction in 1999.

Golf Course Architecture reports:

“The athletic department received an incredible gift from The Atkins Group this past summer, which included the 18-hole golf course and its associated buildings,” said Jackie Szymoniak, assistant athletic director of golf operations at the University of Illinois. “The bones of the golf course were already strong, which put us in a great place. However, we identified some areas that could strengthen the golf course to better challenge our Fighting Illini team members and enhance the overall enjoyment for the general public. An additional donation from an anonymous donor in the fall put us in a great position to turn our vision of a championship golf course into a reality.”

Rogers was appointed by the university, to work with the coaches and to begin assessing the potential improvement opportunities.

“We have been consulting with Drew to transition the Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois into a course with increased distance and properly repositioned fairway bunkers in order to accurately and fairly challenge the modern collegiate players,” said Mike Small, the men’s head golf coach at U of I. “Drew and I have often discussed the distance boom in the game of golf, and how today’s collegiate golfer is contributing to that change through their improved physical training along with the innovative equipment that they are using. With the game of golf moving in this direction, Drew and I are excited about the improvements that are being made to the Atkins Golf Club, and how the changes will challenge our players from both a training and competitive standpoint, while at the same time giving us the opportunity to host future NCAA and amateur competitions.”

Design planning is advancing, with construction expected to begin in spring 2021.

“There will be no changes in the routing – although we intend to shift hole numbers on the front nine – much because the course is already established and part of an existing residential community, so the envelope for golf is essentially fixed,” said Rogers. “Not uncommon with a public golf course over 20 years old, certain components need a full transformation, such as the bunkering. There is a strong likelihood that we’ll resurface the greens as well. There is also an overabundance of bentgrass fairways, over 35 acres, even after some reduction efforts prior to the acquisition of the course.

“Along with the primary infrastructure and management needs, there are also needs for the Illinois golf programme. The course, as it sits today, doesn’t really pose much of a challenge to collegiate level players… it plays too short, too wide and the strategic shot values are not as impacting as they can and should be. As a result, we’re looking to add a good bit of length to the course where space allows. We’ll be varying the fairway widths to place a greater premium on tee shots and the overall approach to the bunkering will be to reduce their numbers, while making their specific placements more impacting to shot values and strategic options.

“And this overall approach is entirely complementary of a ‘less is more’ movement to promote a more manageable facility, and a course that will be enjoyable to the everyday player, not just the golf teams.”

Rogers is working closely on the project with both the men’s and women’s golf coaches as well as Szymoniak, who is leading the project for the university. “Their interaction has been vital as we have developed the design refinements to the course,” said Rogers. “Nobody understands the needs of the players like their own coaches, and they want this course to challenge their teams, both physically and mentally.”

Renee Slone, head women’s golf coach at U of I, said: “We have appreciated the opportunity to work with Drew and create a plan that will provide our team members with a great test. He has solicited information and feedback relevant to college golfers to formulate a design that will make our team members weigh the various options presented. These options will help us continue to refine our strategic decision making and prepare for competition.”

Rogers stresses that the project is not going to be a “blow-up” of the course as it has “a very good set of greens and plenty of width in the landing areas”.

“The course is quite solid and has been a popular experience since its inception, so, there is really a lot to work with already,” said Rogers. “We just have to execute the necessary adjustments to make it a more compelling test for the golf teams while helping the infrastructures to go on living.

“With any renovation effort like this, there is also the need to ‘up the game’ on course conditioning and the ability to enhance the presentation of the playing surfaces in promotion of the design intent. That is certainly the case here at Atkins as well and efforts will be made to become healthier and more efficient going forward.”

“We want the golf course to be a tremendous resource for the golf teams so team members can challenge themselves and get better each and every day they tee it up at Atkins Golf Club,” said Szymoniak. “Additionally, we want the golf course to be a welcoming public course for university students and staff, neighbourhood residents and the entire community. When alumni come back to town, we want them to make plans to experience great golf at Atkins Golf Club, where they can expect to find a quality golf course, maintained at a very high level.”