URBANA (WCIA) — Stone Creek Golf Club is getting a new look and name, thanks to a $15 million-plus donation from The Atkins Group. The University of Illinois will own the golf course, along with more than 300 acres of real estate on the southeast end of Urbana. Closed in January, the club will undergo extensive remodeling and upgrades to both the course and clubhouse, and is expected to reopen next spring. It will remain a public facility and formally be called Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois, pending Board of Trustees approval.
“We knew that we have needed a long term golf solution,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said during a press conference on Tuesday. “I think as everyone knows, we have one of the premier men’s and women’s golf programs in all the United States and we’ve needed a place for them to call home.”
The Illini golf programs have practiced at Stone Creek for years but haven’t hosted a tournament there in nearly a decade. The last time the men’s team played an actual competition was 2011, the women’s team hasn’t teed it up there since 2008. Whitman says a lot of thoughts were on the table to get a course suitable to host big time events, even building one. Ultimately, the opportunity to be gifted a property was ideal.
“We’ve entertained a lot of different ideas, we’ve ran a lot of different concepts through consideration including building our own and trying to acquire one,” Whitman said. “And as Stone Creek became available, that option was one that we felt we needed to provide significant due diligence to.”
The University of Illinois Orange and Blue course in Savoy was once home to Illini golf before Stone Creek was built. The men’s and women’s teams have practiced there in the past, along with other country clubs in Champaign-Urbana. The Demirjian Indoor Practice Facility and the Lauritsen/Wohlers Outdoor Practice Facility both offer state-of-the art places for players to work on their games, but playing 18 holes is different than practicing. Having a championship caliber course to call their own was always the hope for head coaches Mike Small and Renee Slone.
“When this opportunity was presented, the structure is already in place,” Slone said. “So now it’s just a matter of making some enhancements and a few tweaks and we’ll have a true gem.”
Adding more than 500 yards to the back tees, tightening fairways in places, making the greens faster and new bunkers are in the works.
“If you’re looking for a challenging venue for a collegiate event to test the best players in the country; the thing that toughen golf courses up at that level are firmness and wind and the speed of the greens,” Small said. “If we can firm it up and get the speed up and add some length, along with the wind out here, this will be a good venue.”
A golf course architect will be hired, according to Whitman, along with a management team. Some DIA employees will work at the property as well. A multi-tiered plan is in development to make changes that are expected to be rolled out in the coming years. Rates to play the championship level course are also being talked about, with Whitman adding he doesn’t want it to be too high to price people out of playing.
“I think it’s fair to expect that it probably won’t cost the same as the Orange and Blue course does,” Whitman said. “We are striving for a certain quality of play here in this environment, taking care of the course and not putting so much traffic on it that it can’t sustain of what we hope to make a nice investment and improvement.”