For 98 years, Sunset Valley Golf Course has been a valued part of the Highland Park community. Generations of residents learned to play golf at Sunset including Illinois Amateur Hall of Famer Joel Hirsch and newcomer to the PGA tour Patrick Flavin. Even PGA Champions and World Golf Hall of Famers including Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Jock Hutchinson, Harry Cooper, and Archie Compston played at Sunset. However, the clubhouse built in 1956 and the course, which still featured some of the original 1920 elements, were in vital need of renovation to provide a great golfing experience for today’s community.
In August 2018, the Park District of Highland Park reopened Sunset following an extensive $7 million renovation that took 18 months to complete. The new Sunset Valley accommodates every level of golfer and reflects an open British Heathlands course design with strategic landforms, flowing masses of native grasses and groves of trees which harken back to the character and aesthetics of a 1920’s era golf course. The project included renovation of all tees, fairways, greens, bunkers as well as overall infrastructure, drainage and storm water management.
The remodeled clubhouse offers a classic vibe with striking views of the course. Now featuring an expanded golf shop, the new “13ninety” restaurant, as well as a cozy lounge with fireplace, the clubhouse is no longer just a “pass through” to the course, but a destination for guests and golfers to shop and relax with a cold drink, a meal, and a beautiful view.
Renovation of Sunset Valley Golf Club was a major initiative in the Park District’s 10-year master plan and community involvement played a key role in the ultimate outcome. It was vitally important to continue its long-held practice of seeking input from the community for the project. The District made sure the entire Sunset Valley planning process was conducted publicly and with multiple opportunities for public input. In addition to presentations at public Park Board meetings, a Golf Advisory Committee comprised of avid resident golfers met monthly to provide design input. Four public meetings were also held during the design process allowing for additional resident feedback.
The two-phased project included renovation of the course from April through October 2017 and renovation of the clubhouse from October 2017 through July 2018. Throughout the process, the District sent letters to neighbors introducing them to the project, informing them of community meetings and public hearings, and providing project progress updates. Several weeks prior to the project’s start, neighbor letters were distributed letting them know that the project was set to begin, what equipment they would see on-site, what initial work would take place, assuring them that construction traffic would not enter neighborhood streets and construction crews would abide by City ordinances.
Project updates were also posted on the Park District’s website and linked to the District’s bi-weekly e-newsletter. With a database of over 12,000 email addresses and a website with 12,000 visits monthly, the project was constantly in the public eye.
Creative Use of Materials
Like many courses, Sunset Valley is in a flood plain and moving water off the course was a constant challenge. The new course features a combination of strategic design, creative use of hearty grasses and a quality drainage system that manages water for increased playability and lower down time.
The new design strategically raised the areas where people normally hit their second shots. Higher elevation means those areas are naturally dryer for better play. A mix of new hybrid grasses on the fairways, tees and putting surfaces can withstand draught and heavy rains to increase playability.
In the past, a heavy rain could have closed the course for three days. The new drainage system includes a whopping 15 miles of drainage pipe that moves water off the course faster allowing it to re-open in mere hours after a heavy rain. Ponds and lakes were expanded allowing the property to hold more water from the course and the surrounding neighborhood which is an added benefit for the entire community.
The new clubhouse was designed to maximize space using the same footprint as the old clubhouse and eliminated the need for additional and expensive foundation work. No longer just a pass through to the course, the clubhouse features an expanded pro shop, comfortable lounge area with a fireplace, restaurant, bar, covered patio and veranda – all with sweeping views of the new course. The clubhouse is now a popular destination for golfers and residents to relax over a meal and enjoy the sunset.
In 2012, the District began its 10-year master planning process by conducting a communitywide Interest and Attitude survey as well as an in-depth evaluation of the District. Among the priorities identified in that process it was determined that Sunset Valley was in vital need of renovation to continue to provide a long-term golfing experience for the community. At the time, the District was also presented with the opportunity to acquire the Highland Park Country Club, an 18-hole public course built in the 1960s, as part of an existing intergovernmental agreement with the City of Highland Park.
After careful analysis and recommendations from Pellucid Group and Jacobson Golf Course Design on the local golf market as well as the condition of both courses, the Park District Board determined that Highland Park could successfully sustain only one public course. And, though both courses needed renovation, Sunset Valley offered the best opportunity from a golfer experience and architectural standpoint and would be less expensive to renovate.
From an historical standpoint, Sunset Valley had served the community for nearly a hundred years and had important meaning to many resident families who grew up playing at the course with friends, parents and grandparents. It was and continues to be the home of the Highland Park High School golf teams.
As an added benefit to the community, the Park District is now converting the 100-acre Highland Park Country Club course into a natural area. This project fulfills the community’s desire for additional open space and trails.
2018 Design Excellence – American Society of Golf Course Architects
2019 Facility of the Year – Illinois Parks and Recreation Association