The newsletter below was published in the “Gateway Green” which is the Mississippi Valley Golf Course Superintendents Association Newsletter
Course of the Quarter
Rolling Hills Golf Course: Growing With the Game
By Virginia Woulfe-Beile
Certainly the last fifteen years have been a time of metamorphosis for the golf industry. The phenomenal growth has proven to be a double-edged sword of boon and bust. Favorable in that it has introduced a great number of people to the game that is our passion and livelihood and regrettable that the bar has been raised to such lofty heights that many fine facilities can no longer compete. As the trend continues and new developments come on line the delicate balance of the industry dictates that another facility will eventually shutter. Foresight and business savvy are essential elements to sustain a viable enterprise in the daily-fee golf as alternative sources of revenue are always being sought. Rare are the instances where greens- fees alone support the demands of maintaining a golf course.
One true success story is that of Rolling Hills Golf Course in Godfrey Illinois. As I negotiated the serpentine curves of Pierce Lane en route to meet with Superintendent Bob Kane I realized that I was going to get more out of this meeting than a short course on in-house bermudagrass conversion. Lucky for me my steno pad and camera had been conveniently neglected in the back of my truck so that for sake of economy my mission would have a double benefit.
What is known today as Rolling Hills debuted in the spring of 1965 as Country Fairways, a nine-hole golf course, carved out of a 40 acres parcel of pastureland on Droste’s farm in rural northwest Madison County. The course was like many operations of its time; pure golf no strings attached. The patrons of the course were spared any hint of ceremony as they laid down their modest greens fee on the counter of an unassuming starter “shack” that was fashioned from the bed of a long retired grain truck. At this point in the courses life there was no need for a “maintenance facility” for there was little equipment or staff to house. The golf industry was seeking its level, the course to player ratio in the favor of the golf course. These were the days before golf carts, color television and the manufactured ideals of today’s maintenance expectations. Many unpretentious rounds were ushered through the course as America endured Viet Nam, Flower Power and Free Love.
As time marched on and disco reared its ugly head Country Fairways found itself under new ownership as Godfrey Fairways Inc. bought the course in 1976. It was two years later that the name was changed to Rolling Hills Golf Course. The fuse of the industry had been lit and as the spark raced its way to the powder keg plans were being laid in anticipation of the inevitable explosion.
The principals of the corporation were no strangers to business and commerce for Pat & Dottie and Mike & Joyce Kane owned and operated the very successful Kane Mechanical Inc. Even the most venerable Japanese families couldn’t have arranged such a logical marriage, a golf course and a plumbing contractor! Beside the obvious compatibility the Kane’s shrewd business acumen and foresight would prove to be the key in the success of the business as expectations and the golf industry grew.
The Kane’s immediately began compiling a strong staff by bringing in Howard Schumacher as course superintendent and Lou Miller “Golf god of the Metro East” as consultant. Miller and Schumacher were well known in the area for their association with Rock Spring and Lockhaven Country Clubs. The team was completed with Bob Van Hatten who served as golf instructor and all around inside man. Schumacher and Von Hatten are testament to employee loyalty as they are still with the course today respectively as Assistant Superintendent and Director of Golf. After the death of Lou Miller in the early 80’s Paul Owens, well-respected plant man and former caddy buddy of Pat Kane was retained as consultant.
During the 1980’s the course experienced many growing pains as the clubhouse was expanded and a maintenance building constructed. The course remained a 9-hole facility as land was scouted for additional holes. In 1989 the first 80-acre tract was purchased with an additional 42 acres to follow. The great Rolling Hills expansion was now in full force as ground was broken in 1990 for the new nine. The design by committee approach was instituted for the project as Pat and Mike Kane, Owens, Schumacher, Von Hatten and golf course architect Gary Kern set out to route 9 golf holes through what was formerly known as the Crotz farm.
The new nine opened for play May 1st 1992. The eighteen-hole course also boasted a driving range and a new 5,000 sq. ft. club-house that would be completed in 1993. Progress marched on as the greens on the original nine were completely renovated and the irrigation system upgraded.
In the midst of the growth Godfrey Fairways Inc. was nurturing yet another valuable asset for the company. Mike and Joyce Kane’s son Bob had been working on the course since 1988 and studying plant and soil science at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He gained valuable experience in course construction when the new nine was built. After graduating from SIUC with a bachelor’s degree in 1993 and having been employed at Spencer T. Olin Golf Course in Alton from ’92 to ’97, Bob accepted the Superintendents position at Rolling Hills in November of 1997.
With the new position Bob was ready to hit the ground running for plans were already in works for a new par 29 executive course. Again employing “design by committee” with the circle expanded to include Mike Quallen, the previous superintendent, and Bob. This most recent addition was opened in September of 1998 and has proven to be a hit especially as it enhances there already wildly popular Junior Golf program.
Rolling Hills is a shining example of anticipating industry trends and taking a proactive approach in keeping viable. The product to date has grown from a utilitarian nine-hole operation to a twenty-seven-hole complex with all the amenities save swimming pool and croquet lawn. Although the earthmovers are silent the planning and improvements continue. Paul Owens continues to carry out his master plan of the trees and ornamental plantings on the course. Bob continues to improve the course with his high standards of maintenance and has met with much success in the ongoing bermuda conversion in his fairways. The original nine holes were contracted and the remaining holes have been done in-house.
Bob’s innovative method of sprigging piqued my interest from previous conversations we had had. His kind invitation for a course visit and lesson on the fine art of sprig harvesting was the impetus for this feature. Unfortunately by the time I was able to logically process this as an opportunity for an article I was already in route to the course. Since I have yet to go cellular I very unprofessionally sprung the request on Bob after my arrival. Now that my confession is made the ethics committee can do with me what they may, but I do beg forgiveness from Bob and thank him for his grace under fire and fine contribution to the Gateway Green.
Golf Course Facts
Name: Rolling Hills Golf Course
Location: 5801 Pierce Ln. Godfrey, IL
Greens 160,000 sq. ft.
50,000 sq.ft.Westwood bermuda
Special: Course and club-house designed to accommodate leagues and outings. Well maintained fun golf course.