Old Tradition and New Ownership Have Eagle Ridge Resort Ready to Soar Higher
GALENA, Illinois — Before he left Illinois to serve in, and eventually lead to victory, the northern Army in the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant lived in Galena. This is where he worked in his father’s leather goods store. In 1865, the newly retired war hero returned to Galena and was presented with a handsome Italianate mansion as a token of thanks. And a few years later, when he was encouraged to run for president, Grant established his campaign headquarters at the Desoto House Hotel on Main Street.
There is no mention in the historical record of Grant having an interest in golf, as more recent presidents have shown. But were he to return to Galena today — a city so architecturally and historically preserved he would no doubt recognize his old stomping grounds from his home across the river — there’s little doubt Grant would be tempted to try the game.
And where better for the old general to play than at The General, the most celebrated of the four golf courses at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, nestled in the rolling hills of the 6,800-acre Galena Territory.
Worth Writing Home About
Eagle Ridge, the sponsor of our first Great Golf Story Contest, has no doubt been the birthplace of more than its share of great stories over the years.
Golf at Eagle Ridge began in 1977 when the new resort opened the North Course, noted for elevated tee boxes that offer stunning views of Lake Galena and the surrounding countryside. The North Course has dramatic elevation changes; the tee on the par-3 eighth hole is a full 80 feet above the green, which adds an element of math to club selection.
In 1984 Eagle Ridge opened the South Course, which immediately found its way onto lists of top resort courses. The layout winds through a valley where streams come into play on 11 of the 18 holes; while shorter than the resort’s other courses, the South Course is billed as the most difficult test of golf at Eagle Ridge.
The East Course is a nine-hole, par-34 layout popular with families, kids and golfers new to the game; the East Course also features a set of modified family tees and can be used for FootGolf as well on a PGA sanctioned course.
The General opened in 1997, giving Eagle Ridge an expansive menu of top-caliber golf over 63 holes and adding to the resort’s reputation as a golf destination. Designed by Roger Packard and two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North, The General also boasts roller-coaster elevation changes and spectacular views of the rugged Galena Territory.
What The General lacks in length — just 6,700 yards from the back tees and 6,000 from the whites — it more than makes up for in beauty. The vistas and visuals abound throughout the track, which some call Roger Packard’s and Andy North’s crowning achievement.
Golf is not the only recreation offered at Eagle Ridge, which has 80 inn rooms and some 200 homes and villas available for guests. There is also the 6,000-square-foot Stonedrift Spa, an indoor pool, more than 20 miles of trails for hikers and bikers, fishing and paddling on Lake Galena and the nearby Shenandoah Riding Center for those who prefer horses to golf carts. In winter guests can ski, sled or skate at Eagle Ridge or at nearby Chestnut Mountain.
A Rich History, A Bright Future
And, going forward, it all belongs to a new owner. In May, Mark Klausner, a longtime resident of the Galena Territory, purchased the resort from its former California owners. Colin Sanderson, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, said the prospect of a local owner who wants to invest in the property and eventually pass it on to his children makes for an exciting time for Eagle Ridge.
“We all agree here at the resort, having a local owner is the best thing that can happen to the resort and the best thing that can happen to the Galena area. We’re very, very excited about it.”
Sanderson said guests in 2019 will probably notice few changes as the new owner gets involved. Eventually, though, he said the resort might merge the clubhouses for the South and North courses, leaving the other clubhouse available to be turned into a larger, stand-alone spa. The spa is already a major draw for girlfriend weekends and wedding parties, he said, but it’s also increasingly used by golfers for a pre- or post-round tune-up. All of the therapists at the resort’s spa have now been trained in massages specifically aimed at helping golfers and their particular muscle needs.
Still, golf is what Eagle Ridge is most known for. A few years ago, coming out of the recent recession, the courses were not always in the best condition, Sanderson said. But since then the resort has worked hard to improve the playability of the courses by removing long grasses that had crept onto the fairways, removing overgrown trees that had changed some holes from their original design, re-doing bunkers and generally trying to make the courses much more forgiving.
The result? “People haven’t been losing as many balls and play is much more in line with four-and-a-half hour rounds at The General and four hours on the others, because they aren’t losing as many balls.”
A Getaway Not So Far Away
While the number of rounds played may never reach pre-recession highs again, rounds played have gone up in each of the last six seasons, Sanderson said, and not all the credit goes to the traditional four-guy foursomes. Eagle Ridge has made a point of stocking pro shops with as much clothing and accessories for women as for men, and with good reason.
“We get more and more women golfers here all the time,” Sanderson said. Six years ago the Ladies Eagle Golf Tournament drew a field of 103 players. This year’s tournament was sold out over two courses with 288 players and another 80 women were on a wait list.
Sanderson said a second event might be held in the fall to meet that demand.
As it has from its very beginning, the resort draws as much as 70-75 percent of its traffic from the greater Chicago area, but also draws from Madison, Milwaukee, Iowa and even as far as St. Louis.
Many come for more than just golf. While set in a sparsely populated corner of a densely populated state, historic Galena has long been a magnet for visitors who come to walk and shop on a Main Street lined with brick buildings that have changed little since Grant worked in leather or Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the balcony at the Desoto House Hotel. About 85 percent of Galena’s homes and commercial buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, one of many reasons the city routinely turns up on various “top 10 places” lists, including Forbes magazine’s “Prettiest Towns in America” ranking. It’s said that as many as one million visitors a year stroll the pretty Main Street business district, poking into shops and enjoying Galena’s food and beverage offerings.
“We bring a lot of tourists into the businesses — any of the meetings we bring in, any of the golfers all go into downtown Galena (for meals or shopping), and we want them to. The area continues to grow, the brewing companies … there’s always something happening, something good happening.”
Little wonder why Eagle Ridge is one of the Midwest’s very best golf getaways. And little wonder why Galena’s been a popular port for the better part of two centuries — and counting.
A city two centuries in the making
The nearby city of Galena was founded in 1826 as a center for lead mining that was then in full force along the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Ore was shipped from Galena on what was then the Fever River (modern tourism officials must thank their stars that name was later changed to Galena River) to the Mississippi a few miles to the west. The city’s role in mining is prominently featured at the Galena & U.S. Grant Museum found in an 1858 Italianate mansion on narrow Bench Street, where visitors are greeted by a hologram of Ulysses and Julia Grant.
The Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site on Bouthillier Street includes the mansion presented to Grant by the city’s business leaders, along with several smaller structures typical of the time. From April to October visitors can take tours conducted by costumed interpreters who share stories of Grant’s time in Galena, his campaign for the presidency and his years in office.
In fairness to the others, it should be noted that Grant was just one of nine Civil War generals with Galena ties, though the only one who became president. As commanding officer Grant promoted eight of his hometown citizens to the rank of general, including Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who served on Grant’s personal staff for two years and later as his military secretary. At Appomattox Parker copied terms of the surrender given to Robert E. Lee. For nine reasons, then, the General’s Restaurant at the Desoto House Hotel comes by its name honestly.
Much more Grant memorabilia can be found at the Old Market House Welcome Center in downtown Galena. Another house museum is at the E.B. Washburne Home, named for Elihu Washburne, who was both congressman for the area for 17 years and a political adviser to both Lincoln and Grant. And perhaps the most lavish example of early Galena life can be found at Belvedere Mansion and Gardens, a 22-room Victorian dwelling built in 1857 for a wealthy steamboat captain.
The city’s downtown historic district, known as the Helluva Half Mile for the number of shops, galleries and dining spots packed cheek to jowl there, features narrow brick streets and is best experienced on foot or by trolley tour. Across the river, city-facing benches in Grant Park are a great place to relax.
Other small communities in the region offer historical treats of their own. The Apple River Fort State Historic Site in Elizabeth has an interpretive center explaining
the area’s role in the 1832 Black Hawk War, while in Stockton the local Heritage Museum tells the story of how Kraft Company began its cheesy role in American life there in 1914.
Want more Galena history? Head over to www.galenahistory.org, of course.
Visit www.eagleridge.com for more about the Resort. For more on the Galena region, www.visitgalena.org.