Over the past 700 years thousands of professional and amateur golfers have crossed over the famed Swilcan Bridge separating the 1st and 18th holes on St. Andrews world famous Old Course. Now you can do the same without having to span the Atlantic to visit Scotland. Well, almost. You can cross over a replica of the bridge when you play golf at one of Illinois’ top public courses, the Aldeen Golf Club in Rockford, Illinois.
In 1991 with land and “seed” money donated to the City of Rockford to build the course, Norris and Margaret Aldeen succeeded in their desire to provide a high quality yet affordable golf club for Rockford residents, their families and visitors to the Rockford area.
The Aldeen Golf Club is a public course with a private course feel at very reasonable public rate prices. It has narrow manicured tree-lined bent grass fairways with water coming in to play on 12 holes. Its greens, also bent grass, are smooth and fast with subtle breaks.
A championship par 72 course, with six sets of tees ranging from 5075 to 7131 yards, “Aldeen” as it is affectionately known, is an outstanding course for golfers of all ages and skills. It has been recognized by Golf Magazine as one of the top 50 courses in the US priced under $50; was voted the #1 Municipal Course in Illinois in 2009 by Golf Digest and has hosted the 2001 and 2013 Illinois State Men’s Amateur Championships and the 2004 Illinois State Women’s Amateur Championship.
My two favorite holes when playing the Aldeen course were the 536-yard Par 5 eighteenth hole which has a lake on the left running almost from tee to green and the Par 3 island green eighth hole with its replica of the Swilcan Bridge. When I walked across the bridge it brought back memories of Jack Nicklaus standing on St. Andrew’s famed bridge as he gave his final farewell to professional golf.
Complementing its outstanding course, The Aldeen Golf Club has a 26-acre lighted Practice Centre with the same type of bent grass fairways and shaped greens, trees and rough areas so you can “practice like you play”. It also has Noonan’s restaurant known for burgers, brews and great views of the eighteenth hole.
In addition to the Aldeen Golf Club, Rockford has four other golf courses operated by the Rockford Park District including Sandy Hollow, a casual municipal course that lives up to its slogan, “Your Game Is Our Business”.
Sandy Hollow, which opened on July 4, 1929 is a traditional parkland course with heavily forested tree-lined fairways. Although it has only two sets of tees, White at 6228 yards and Red at 5883 yards, don’t let the course length fool you. With trees, trees, trees everywhere, strategically placed fairway bunkers, numerous left and right dog legs and hard fast greens, accuracy rather than length is important.
Sandy Hollow is a delightful course with plenty of challenges including a 220-yard Par 3 and a 583-yard Par 5. Before or after golf you can enjoy a quick lunch or beverage in the café, grill and bar.
When on vacation in Rockford, there are a multitude of things to see and do when not playing golf. It is a city of gardens, rivers, family friendly museums, unique shops and fun restaurants. Established 1834, and known as the “Forest City”, Rockford is “Real and Original”.
Touring the Midway Village, and its 148-acre museum campus with 26 structures and gardens representing a rural community during the era 1890-1910, is a fun experience. The Village holds the largest World War II re-enactment in the US, has one of the seven exact replicas of the Liberty Bell and has a wonderful display about the Rockford Peaches, Rockford’s team in the women’s fast pitch team league upon which the movie “League of Their Own” was based.
In Rockford, you can take in a play or musical performance at the opulent Coronado Performing Arts Center which was built in 1927 as a movie palace and vaudeville hall and totally restored in 2000. You can have a relaxing day enjoying nature along the Rock River when visiting the Sinnissippi Riverfront site of the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens with 22,000 square feet of total space including an 11,000 square foot glass exhibition area housing species of plants, tall grass, and trees from all over the world. You can walk, run or bike ride along the 10 mile Rock River Recreation Path or take a Rock River boat ride on the historic Forest City Queen.
Both children and grown-ups can see Jane, the world-famous juvenile T-rex dinosaur when visiting the Burpee Museum of Natural History. Ice skaters and hockey fans can enjoy the Carlson Ice Arena, a 200 x 85 foot ice rink with seating for 600 spectators.
For shoppers in the family, Rockford has a wide variety of opportunities including small boutique stores, major chain department stores and the unique Crimson Village, which has a complete shopping experience with something for everyone.
Motorcycle enthusiasts will marvel at Kegel Harley Davidson, the world’s oldest family owned Harley Davidson Dealer having begun selling Harley-Davidson motorcycles in 1910. Recognized in 1998 as the #1 Harley Davidson Dealership in the US, it offers motorcycle sales, parts, service, clothes, home gear and a fun Harley Diner.
An absolute must when in Rockford is a visit to the Anderson Japanese Gardens, 12 ½ acres of walking paths, koi pools, streams, waterfalls, and an authentic tea house and guest house. Once the home of Rockford residents Linda and John Anderson, it is the #1 Japanese Garden in North America.
When eating out, you can have an outstanding meal indoors or outdoors at Garrett’s, the excellent full service restaurant adjacent to the large and well stocked Golf Shack retail golf shop near the Aldeen Golf Club. When your want to kick back and enjoy a cold craft beer, you can sit and relax at the Prairie Street Brewhouse located on the shores of the Rock River. If you would like to eat at a restaurant that echoes Rockford’s Swedish heritage, dine at the Stockholm Inn. If you are there for breakfast, be sure and have Swedish pancakes with imported lingonberries. Over a half million are served a year and they are delicious.
For a clean, comfortable and convenient hotel in Rockford, I heartily recommend the Hilton Garden Inn. There you will enjoy freshly baked cookies and the casualness of Giovanni’s Bar and Restaurant which serves excellent buffet breakfasts and lunches.
For additional information about golf, places to see and things to do in Rockford, go to www.gorockford.com or call the Rockford Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-521-0849. And remember, when golfing in Rockford, don’t forget to Cross Over The Bridge.
Story by Chuck “The Traveling Guy” Miller