ROCHELLE — Fairways Golf Course has come quite a long way since its time as a private country club several years ago.
Since opening its doors to the public, the par-66 course has seen a dramatic turnaround in rounds being played.
The increasing amount of business is music to the ears of Mitch Hamilton, who serves as the director of golf at Fairways, and Hamilton is looking forward to making more improvements to the course and bringing in new players from inside and outside the city of Rochelle.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We had around 200 rounds played in mid-February when we opened up and that gave us a lot of excitement… Our new restaurant is open right next to us and that’s something we haven’t seen in years, and with some of the different things we’ve been doing on the golf course this year, people are excited about it.”
Hamilton has been hard at work getting the course ready for the spring and summer seasons. He said he’s spent countless hours cleaning up fallen oak tree branches from the roughs and fairways in addition to adding new sand to the bunkers. He also said the bathrooms around the course will be refurbished with new stools, sinks and paint, while both the pro shop and the golf cart barn will receive facelifts as well.
“These are things that have been put off for years so people are definitely going to notice some changes,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice that we’re able to make some of these changes.”
When golfers are finished with their round, they can now rest and fuel up at Salt 251, the new restaurant and bar located next to the Fairways pro shop. Hamilton said the facility will be a welcoming sight for local players, who typically left the course to eat and drink elsewhere prior to the establishment opening.
“It’s an upper-scale sports bar, but it’s a place where you can still sit down and have a nice meal,” he said. “My guys on the maintenance side can go in there and have lunch while feeling comfortable, and a guy wearing a suit can come in and feel comfortable as well… Lately we’ve just been a golf course and we haven’t had anything for out-of-town golfers who might not have anything to do afterward.”
Both Hamilton and the Flagg-Rochelle Community Park District have been cooperating to take Fairways Golf Course to the next level. Park district executive director Roger Bunger said the park district is fully behind Fairways, and both he and Hamilton are eager to maintain their working relationship for a long time.
“Mitch has always taken care of the course and he’s done a nice job,” Bunger said. “He just hasn’t had any of the money to do anything he knows how to do. Now with the city and the park district owning it collectively, we can throw some dollars in the pot so he can get the right equipment and do some of the right things… We’ve already seen positive results and we’re expecting more positive things.”
Hamilton said that Fairways will be implementing several new camps and leagues to draw more attention to the course. Some of those include a junior golf camp taught by local golfer Thomas Brennan, who Hamilton said also gives lessons to youth and adult players throughout the season. A junior golf tournament at the end of July is also on the schedule in addition to Tuesday men’s leagues, senior men’s leagues, “Ladies Days” beginning in May and “Couples Nights” to lighten up the mood around the course. Local businesses are also welcome to start their own leagues, Hamilton said.