While traveling on Lowell Park Road out of Dixon the past year and a half, I always followed the same routine.
By the time I got to where the 16th green of Timber Creek Golf Course was, I’d instinctively look to my right. Trees and bushes hid a lot of the sight line, but upon reaching the 17th green, there was a mostly clear view.
It wasn’t a pretty picture.
As most people know, Timber Creek did not open for business for the 2018 season, and the course became overgrown with long grass and weeds. The 17th green was dominated by dandelions. It had to be heartbreaking for those who care about the course to see it that way.
Rumors were swirling about who would take over the course from longtime owners Ron Keith and his son, Brett, who did the best they could to keep Timber Creek running until it didn’t make economic sense.
In the fall of 2017, the golf course shut down. Not long after the New Year, the restaurant and bar, Bogey’s, followed suit.
Rumors about potential buyers swirled about for a year until finally something finally took hold this spring. Rick and Brenda Humphrey, farmers from rural Dixon, decided to take a 2-year lease on the property, with a third-year option to buy, to see if they could turn the operation around.
Ron Keith had once offered Humphrey the chance to come and harvest some of the long grass for hay, to feed some of the 160 head of cattle the Humphreys raise. Rick declined that offer, but ultimately accepted the challenge of getting Timber Creek back on its feet.
On days when the weather wasn’t too awful in the spring, course members volunteered their services. They’d do things like cut down trees, pick up sticks, and scour the landscape with wave after wave of lawn mowers. The first crew would take a little off the top, the next would go a little lower, the next lower still, the next lower still, until finally it was manageable.
“It was unbelievable, how tall that grass was,” said Rick Curia, a member of the volunteer mowing crew. “To see how the course is today, it’s truly a miracle.”
For the last month or so, I had called Rick Humphrey a few times, checking to see if a Links With Locals would be a possibility. “Not yet,” was always the answer.
On Monday, however, I got the answer I was looking for, and a time to play the course was set up for Wednesday. Humphrey arranged an outing with Curia, his daughter Mandy, and Ryan Harrison. Each longtime course member was so excited to get to the first tee and to hit a ball on the course for the first time in nearly 2 years, it was truly a neat moment.
As for the course, it’s going to need some time. The tee boxes are good, and the fairways are in pretty decent shape, though water grass instead of bluegrass seems to be winning the battle – for now.
The grounds crew has done a fantastic job of managing the rough, and that, along with the tee boxes, are likely the parts of the course that are most ready for play. The spring and summer gully-washers have wreaked havoc with the sand traps; restoring those will likely be more of a long-range project.
Then there are the greens. They simply need more time to heal and mature. Right now they’re on the shaggy side, and we simply played it as a two-putt once the ball got on the green. Harrison stuffed his approach on the par-4 first hole for a one-putt birdie, but making putts of any length was a tricky proposition.
The Curias, Harrison and myself were the first group of golfers to be allowed by Rick and Brenda Humphrey to play the course, and it was much appreciated.
They hope to open it up on Saturday to the public, but make a call or check social media before making the trek to the course to play. Employees were stocking the clubhouse and getting Bogey’s ready to roll.
The Humphreys also want to get the restaurant up and running soon, and hope to use the meat from their own cattle for steaks and burgers.
As early as Saturday, the public may get to sample Timber Creek again.
Rick Humphrey noted he was once interested in the property as pasture land, but is now excited he and his wife are embarking on a new adventure in golf.
“We’re excited and nervous at the same time, looking to try to bring Timber Creek back to the community,” Humphrey said. “Hopefully everybody will understand the condition of the course, what it was in, and what we want to get it back to. It’s going to take some time, but we want to get it open so the public can at least enjoy what’s here.”