The General at Eagle Ridge Resort is the centerpiece of the Eagle Ridge Resort. The 6,820-yard Roger Packard and Andy North design is the newest of the four golf courses at the sprawling four-season resort just outside the historic town of Galena, and it’s the track that guests plan their golf vacations around. The resort’s other two 18-hole courses, The North Course (6,875 yards) and The South Course (6,727 yards), along with the 9-hole East Course (2,648 yards), all traverse the same heaving and plunging “driftless zone” topography unique to this northwest corner of Illinois. But it is The General that takes the best advantage of the dramatic landscape, presenting golfers with hole after hole after hole characterized by two words that sum up the very best resort golf: “Fun!” and “Wow!”
In talking with some of the resort management before I teed it up on the North, South, and General Courses, a frequent comment I heard was that The South (or North) was equally deserving of praise as The General, which is true. Lots of locals and regular vacationers at Eagle Ridge say The North, in particular, is their favorite. But The General has that wow-factor: It’s all carry off the tee – if you can get off the tee, you’re golden. But even if you don’t get off the tee, you’ll have fun trying. Because therein lies the very secret to The General’s brilliance: It allows you to enjoy those tee shots.
The North Course, opened in 1977, and The South Course, opened in 1984, are both stout tests, with narrow fairways snaking through dense woods. But the combination of elevation changes and multiple doglegs have the effect on both of these older layouts of taking driver out of the hands of longer hitters or severely penalizing crooked hitters. In the yardage books, there are numerous holes on both courses where the “preferred” landing area lies around 225 from the regular men’s tees. Moreover, many of these landing areas are blind or semi-blind – over hills, around corners, or uphill from the tees – so players don’t quite get to enjoy watching their balls land safely in the fairway (or see where the balls go if they are offline).
Over the past few years, though, Both North and South have widened a bit. “Lots of trees have been taken out,” says Colin Sanderson, Director of Sales and Marketing, “many because of damage from the emerald ash borer.” So players who haven’t visited for several years need to return to experience the kinder, gentler North and South Courses.
The General opened in 1997, and the input from 2-time U.S. Open champ Andy North produced a somewhat different philosophy. Here, almost every features an elevated tee with broad, clear views out over the fairways below. Players get to watch drive after drive sail majestically out over generous, beautifully framed landing areas. Rarely is anything hidden – not bunkers, not hazards, not water – so even first-time players can see the lines they should try to take. One notable exception is the fiendish 398-yard 7th, where a pronounced draw is required around a fescue-matted hill on the left. Long, straight drives are likely to be lost beyond the fairway’s bounds.
The General is still a stern test for golfers of every playing level—one of the best tests in the state, according to several publications. But it is the sort of test you do not have to study for during multiple rounds. During my two visits to Eagle Ridge, I ran into dozens of groups of golfers, all of whom had been coming back to the resort year after year for 12, 16, 20, even 25 years. Without fail, these players said their favorite course was The General, but the ones who’d been coming back the longest were also more likely to express appreciation for The North and The South Courses as well – they just take time to grow on you. Sanderson, who has been with the resort for about 15 years, admits that The North is his favorite, and the tree-thinning is one of the reasons.
Highlights from The General
The General, named after former Galena resident Ulysses S. Grant, grabs your attention and imagination from the very first hole – which used to be the 10th. The nines were flipped recently for a few reasons. One of the major ones is that the former 9th, now the 18th, plays uphill to a green tucked directly below the clubhouse’s new cantilevered deck, which stretches out behind the completely renovated Highlands Restaurant and Lounge 289. It’s one of the most memorable closing holes I’ve played in Illinois—with a tee shot over a wide ravine to a narrow fairway bordered by trouble on both sides. Now diners at the clubhouse can share in some of the memories.
One of the consequences of reversing the nines, however, is that the lovely downhill 10th used to be a gentle opening hole. Now the 1st hole is 396 yards from the back tees, playing over a pond to an uphill fairway – this is one of the five toughest tee shots on the course, and it serves as quite a welcome. The second shot here isn’t any easier—in fact, it is arguable harder than the drive. The green falls off on both sides and the back, so any shots that miss the green may end up lost.
It is the tee shots at The General that players will remember the most, though. My notebook is filled with the phrase, “Another great driving hole!” The reason is that, with only a couple of exceptions, the landing areas are fully visible off the tees, as is the trouble you want to avoid. The most memorable is certainly the 357-yard 5th hole, where a nearly 100-foot drop from tee to fairway allows bombers to try to play it like a par 3. If you’re going to allow mulligans, do it here until you succeed in really sending one out—and down—Into the fairway.
The green complexes are also memorable, with pristine putting surfaces. Take the green at the 372-yard 17th, which is cut into an amphitheater of limestone, the likes of which I’ve never seen anywhere else. Several other greens require precision as well, with trouble on all sides. The 13th only plays 374 from the tips, but miss the green anywhere, and you might not have any chance at all to get up and down, even if you do find your ball.
Finally, the collection of par 3s are only the 10, 11, 17, and 18 handicap holes, but all are visually intimidating, and all demand careful consideration in pulling the right club.
There is a reason that The General is perennially named among the top 10 best public courses in Illinois. Having played several of the higher-ranked courses myself, I would say it deserves all the accolades.
Highlights from The South Course
The South Course challenges first-timers with difficult club selections off the tees. Fairways curl around doglegs and disappear over hills, sometimes resulting in well-struck shots ending up in poor positions (or lost). There is an abundance of left-to-right doglegs with dense woods on the right of the fairways, setting up for confident fades but punishing slices severely.
This is not to say The South Course is not enjoyable – it has some very fun holes, and if your tee shots generally end up in the short grass, some of the approach shots will stay with you for a long time. It’s just that if you are unfamiliar with the course, you’ll need to pick a line and a club based on the yardage book, and hope the ball goes where you aim.
The 406-yard closing hole is probably the most fun to play, as it is one of the few holes with a landing area that is wholly visible from the tee. Club choice is still key, though, as a stream cuts across the fairway about 250 yards down the hill. If you want to carry it, you’ll need to drive cover least 280 yards in the air.
Highlights from The North Course
The North Course is the best one to start out on to get a feel for the landscape and the large greens. After a wide-open first hole, the fairways tighten back up on the 533-yard, par-5 2nd hole, where the S-shaped fairway calls for a controlled draw around a row of towering trees.
The fun really begins on the 165-yard, par-3 8th hole, which plays 50+ feet downhill to a massive green partially obscured by the edge of the teeing grounds. To the left of the green is a picturesque natural limestone stack, and, when you head down the hill, you realize you were also teeing off over a small inlet of Lake Galena. This is one of the most memorable holes on any of Eagle Ridge’s courses, and one of the prettiest one-shotters in the state.
On the back nine, The North Course opens up off the tee, starting out with a the 512-yard 11th hole, which is reachable in two. But take heed of the barn left of the fairway and green, which sports countless pockmarks and broken windows from wayward hooks. The 16th (180 yards), 17th (439 yards), and 18th (420 yards) holes are three artfully designed closing holes that will beckon you back to this original layout. Even though The General has the wow-factor, The North Course is well worth more than one round.
Summing up golf at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa
Eagle Ridge Resort is the original Illinois golf resort, and it is still the king. In 2018, Mark Klausner took over Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, and improvements have been underway ever since. “Coming from the ‘inner’ south side of Chicago, quite by happenstance, Kathy and I ‘discovered’ The Galena Territory,” says Klausner, who moved his wife and six kids to Galena some 20 years ago. “As a serial entrepreneur,” explains Klausner, “I was most fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. Ensured that the finest staff continued in their employment, I proceeded with the greatest venture of my career. Kathy and I proceeded in our quest to expand the horizons of Eagle Ridge Resort and make it even a greater place.”
“We’re trying to get the courses back to how they were originally designed,” said Sanderson. “The native grasses and scrub had grown up all over, and players were losing balls right off the first tee. No one wants to spend their day looking for balls. We’re filling in nearly all the bunkers on the East Course, too, to make it more fun for families to play.”
These measures are reviving the true spirit of resort golf, striking the perfect balance between challenge and fun, so that guests will return year after year. Even if you don’t golf, there is so much else to do on the expansive resort property itself and in the historic Galena area. For more details, see the companion article about Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa here.