Published on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Golf and community in Illinois

TravelMole MD Graham McKenzie completes the last leg of his Illinois tour.

Leaving Galena was never going to be easy. It's not quite up with Nicholas Cage leaving Las Vegas but the small town is the epitome of what you want America to be like. Hospitable, interesting and looking like a Sherriff should be walking down the middle of the street giving warm greetings to one and all as he keeps law and order.

Unfortunately, I have to leave for the last leg of my Illinois odyssey, but before I depart the area there's just time for one more thing - golf!

Just a few minutes away from down town Galena is the Eagle Ridge resort and Spa with its four (yes four) championship courses. If time is tight then the 9-hole East Course will be your best choice. With more time, try out the North or South but if you are in for a golf treat then the Andy North (two-time winner of the US Open) designed 'The General' is the one for you. All courses are set in the lush rolling hills of Illinois and, as you would expect from Ryder Cup Country (Medinah is only a few 3 irons away), the standards of course maintenance, design, equipment and service are second to none. Green Fees are more than reasonable and compare extremely favourably with European courses of a similar standard. Eagle Ridge also has good spa facilities and accommodation.

Clubs away and onto Rockford, my destination for the Illinois finale. Rockford is the third largest city in Illinois and is well known for many of its historic assets and attractions featuring the Anderson Japanese gardens, 19th and 20th century theatres, design centre and, of course, the Rock River which runs through it.

The most impressive thing for me however was that despite its size Rockford has a very strong sense of community. Recovering from two periods of economic downturns, namely the move away from manufacturing in the late 50's and 60's, plus the economic crash of 2008, it has emerged with a truly comprehensive set of events to attract not just visitors but perhaps more importantly to please local residents.

Visitors are welcome but as with all good event-based tourism destinations they must be first and foremost be supported by the natives. Regular farmers markets selling genuinely local products are supplemented by music, sports and arts. Many of the music events are held at the world-famous Coronado Performing Arts Center, which was originally built as a cinema house in 1927 and then refurbished in 2000.

A truly fine example of community spirit can be found in the Rockford Art Deli, which produces hand- designed printed T-shirts made in the USA. This is no ordinary T-shirt shop as each item is unique with its own small blemishes and differences. Screen printing, all done manually, is carried out on the premises and the owners encourage you to view and discuss the whole operation. An entire range of shirts known as the 815 collection bursts with civic pride as it is the main area code for Rockford. Young people with community pride acting in an entrepreneurial manner producing unique goods that are Illinois Made.

This was my last stop on the Illinois Makers route. I discovered lots of businesses that were fired by enthusiasm and devotion to their businesses, be it hats, liquor, beer, pottery or T-shirts. The key thing is that they were all unique and as such proved much more attractive and interesting that any amount of clone global brands. Illinois Made and Illinois Interesting.

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