Where Eagles Dare

Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, part of the 6,800-acre Galena Territory, a recreational and residential lake community located six miles east of the historic city of Galena.

Sensational Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa Offers High-Flying Fun at Every Turn

GALENA, Illinois — Illinois is known for many things, but diverse geography isn’t one of them. The state’s residents come by their “flat-lander” nickname honestly. In fact, the tallest point in Illinois is at the top of the Willis Tower in downtown Chicago, a whopping 1,451 feet above sea level.

Mostly, it’s land spreadin’ out so far and wide … except in the far northwest corner of the state. Anyone who has driven on Hwy. 20 west of Freeport and toward Dubuque, Iowa, will testify that it’s a white-knuckle series of hairy turns, plummeting drops and four-cylinder-taxing climbs. Get stuck behind a slow-moving semi and your patience will be tested.

The General has some major elevation.

That corner of Illinois is part of the Driftless Area, untouched by glaciers during the last Ice Age and characterized by steep hills, forested ridges and deeply carved river valleys.

It’s where you’ll find the Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, part of the 6,800-acre Galena Territory, a recreational and residential lake community located six miles east of the historic city of Galena.

I spent a recent long weekend at Eagle Ridge and played 54 of the resort’s 63 holes of championship golf, including The General, a rollicking romp through wooded terrain and vertigo-inducing elevation changes.
Let’s start there and work backward. The General was the last of the three 18-hole courses I played, and the best. Designed by two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North of Madison, Wisconsin, and the late Roger Packard, the course opened in 1997 to much fanfare.

Building it was as much an engineering feat as it was an architectural challenge.

“It was really fun to do but there was a lot of rock costs,” North said. “There was tons of blasting. I think we took out more than 1 million cubic yards of rock. And then the year that we planted, it was the summer that we had a couple 100-year rains and a couple 500-year rains. We planted the 17th hole multiple times. It just washed out. We sodded it once and there was a big pile of sod at the bottom of the hill.”
The General is named after President Ulysses S. Grant, who lived briefly in Galena in the 1860s. It’s unlikely that Grant ever stood on what is now the fifth tee; if he did, he likely uttered “Tarnation!” or some such.

The fifth is a 357-yard par 4, but the yardage is almost immaterial because of the 180-foot drop to the fairway. From the tee, golfers can see, on the horizon, the northeast corner of Iowa and the southwest corner of Wisconsin. If you like drama with your double-bogeys, you’ve come to the right spot. Because of the elevation change, the fairway — which looks like a green ribbon far below — is difficult to hit. A slight pull or push is exaggerated and winds up in the woods.

Then, after you’ve hit your tee shot(s), you must negotiate a series of tight switchbacks with your cart to get to the bottom.

North, in fact, wanted the tee boxes to be built lower on the hill.

“I didn’t love that tee but everybody involved wanted it there,” he said. “It’s the hole that people talk about. It’s a hard tee shot. You have no idea if your ball is ever going to come down.”

The General’s par 3 eighth hole.

The rest of The General is a splendid journey through hilly, wooded terrain and rock outcroppings. The nines have been reversed since the course opened and what was once the first is now No. 10, my favorite hole. It’s a par-4 that tumbles downhill and plays considerably shorter than its 407 yards. I’m a short hitter and I hit driver, 9-iron.

A silo standing next to the clubhouse is a reminder that this area once was a cattle ranch. But The General is a course you wouldn’t want to hoof.

The other two courses I played, the North and South, are softer around the edges than is The General. That doesn’t mean they are pushovers.

The North Course offers high-flying fun as well.

The North, the first championship course built at Eagle Ridge, was designed by Packard and opened on July 4, 1977. It is characterized by elevated tee boxes and views of Lake Galena and the surrounding countryside. The tee shot on the par-3 eighth hole crosses the corner of the 225-acre manmade lake.
The South Course opened in 1984 to rave reviews. It winds through a wooded valley, with streams coming into play on 11 of the 18 holes. The signature hole is No. 18, a 406- yard par 4 with the tee on a shelf some 90 feet above a landing area threaded between water on both sides. A stream crosses the fairway 265 yards from the tee.

With a Slope Rating of 141 and a Course Rating of 72.8 from the back tees, the South Course is considered the most difficult of the three championship layouts because of the water hazards and the shotmaking demands.

I didn’t play the East, a nine-hole, par-34 that is ideal for beginners and juniors. The course also has FootGolf tees and modified family course tees.

My accommodations were in the resort’s main lodge, which has 80 rooms featuring whirlpool tubs (say “ahhh” after 18 holes), WiFi and flat-screen TVs. Some have patios, balconies or fireplaces. There are also more than 300 villas and rentals.

Besides golf, outdoor activities include hot air ballooning, fishing, biking and, in the winter, ice skating and cross-country skiing. A resort fee covers use of an indoor pool, a gym and a resort shuttle.

“It’s a very interesting area and it’s a neat place to go spend a weekend,” North said. “You go play golf and if your wife doesn’t want to play there’s plenty of stuff for her to do.”

My wife does not play golf, so she spent an afternoon getting pampered at the Stonedrift Spa, a 12,000-square-foot standalone building a short walk from the lodge. The spa offers massages, body treatments, dry salt experiences, halo therapy and facials.

In the evening we walked down the path leading to Lake Galena and admired the sun- set and the ospreys circling above. It was the perfect way to relax before tackling Hwy. 20 the next morning.

If you’re visiting Eagle Ridge, drive carefully — on and off the course.

For more information on Eagle Ridge Resort or Galena, visit eagleridge.com.

Downtown Galena is a charming trip for thousands of visitors every year.

Galena gives visitors old-world charm and modern comforts

If you’re staying at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, you never have to leave the property. There’s plenty to see and do, plus a general store and a fine restaurant in the main lodge. But then you’d be missing out on what the area has to offer:

GALENA CELLARS VINEYARD & WINERY: Created by the Lawlor family in 1974, the winery offers a behind-the-scenes tour for those interested in learning about the art of winemaking and the history of this vineyard. Guests who wish to stay at the Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery can choose between a one-bedroom Vineyard Suite and a two- bedroom Vineyard Farmhouse. 4746 N. Ford Road, Galena (about six miles from the center of town). (815) 777-3235. There also is a tasting room and restaurant at 111 N. Main St. in Galena. (815) 777-3330.

LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATE SQUARE: One hour east of Eagle Ridge in Freeport, visit the site of the second of the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. It was here on Aug. 27, 1858 that the Freeport Doctrine, an important statement regarding slavery and states’ rights, was proclaimed by Douglas. Although he won the Senatorial campaign for which the debate was held, his statements lost him the support of the South and split the Democratic Party. This enabled Lincoln to win the Presidency in 1860, thus precipitating the Civil War. The site is self-interpretive through a series of waysides and also includes a boulder and plaque dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Grab an ice cream cone next door at the Union Dairy, an ice cream parlor founded as a creamery in 1914. 114 E. Douglas St., Freeport.

GALENA: The historic lead-mining town, six miles west of Eagle Ridge, is known for its well-preserved 19th-century buildings and a picturesque main street lined with boutiques, gift shops and trendy restaurants such as Fried Green Tomatoes, Little Tokyo and Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub. Nearly 62% of Galena’s buildings are in a National Register Historic District. The population is just a bit over 3,200, but the city attracts 1 million visitors annually. The entire downtown is walkable, but parking can be a challenge.

VINEGAR HILL LEAD MINE AND MUSEUM: Founded in the early 1800s by John Furlong, an Irish soldier, and passed down through subsequent generations, the underground mine is maintained as a tourist attraction by Mark Furlong, John’s great-great-great-grandson. Guided half-hour tours take visitors into the mine; the museum features lead and ore samples along with mining tools. 8885 N. Three Pines Road, Galena. (815) 777-0855.

ULYSSES S. GRANT HOME: On Aug. 18, 1865, Galena celebrated the return of its Civil War hero, General Ulysses S. Grant. Following a jubilant procession with much flag waving and speeches, a group of Galena citizens presented the general — and future U.S. president — with a furnished house on Bouthillier Street. Grant’s Home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children. 500 Bouthillier St., Galena. (815) 777-3310.