More a facelift than major constructive surgery, this golf club still has a new look.
Conway Farms Golf Club, in suburban Chicago, has a distinctive atmosphere. Golf is held in the highest esteem, and everything revolves around the sanctity of the game. The club’s pride and joy is the 18-hole, Tom Fazio-designed, walking-only course. Caddies, when available, are required, and only those with medical needs may take out carts. Such is the focus on golf that nothing is allowed to detract from that experience—not even the clubhouse.
General Manager Todd Marsh, among others, prefers to call last winter’s renovation at Conway Farms an “enhancement project.” Sure, the roof was torn off a portion of the clubhouse to accommodate kitchen and locker room additions, but the overall effect was to make the facility more conducive to a relaxed and enjoyable game of golf, from the time players step onto the property to the time they leave.
Growing Up as a Teen
A relatively new club, Conway Farms opened its golf course in 1991 and its clubhouse in 1993. But, even with the club not yet in its teens, members felt a need to shape it into better form. Perhaps that reflected the nature of Lake Forest, Ill., the affluent suburb along Lake Michigan where the club is situated, and where the mindset is generally that only the best is good enough. In the little more than ten years since the clubhouse was built, city codes had changed and the club, while not technically in violation, was behind the times.
Conway Farms formed a long-range planning committee that included the chairpersons from each of the club’s main committees—golf, greens, house and finance—and five additional Board members. The group already had a good handle on what members wanted from regular bi-annual surveys. The prevailing sentiment was for a homier atmosphere that stayed away from a “clubby” feel—again confirming that golf, not social standing, was the desired focal point of members’ energies.
After interviewing five architectural firms, Chipman Adams was selected, with John Chipman leading the team. “They were the most respectful of the Conway Farms Golf Club philosophy,” says Marsh. After the planning committee explained what the club needed, Chipman Adams prepared drawings and plans for the proposed design. The approval process took place in 2003. Correspondence was sent out to about 300 members, and a series of three roundtables were held with groups of 30 members. Everything was conducted as openly as possible.
After the dust settled, construction probably could have begun in the fall of 2003, but that timeframe was seen as being too rushed, and a decision was made to hold off until the following fall. The $2.7 million budget was approved by 92% of Conway Farms’ members and assessments were levied—$2,000 in 2004 and $1,500 in 2005. Marsh attributes the overwhelming acceptance of the plan to open communication and the representation of all facets of the club on the long-range planning committee.
Nothing Stands in the Way of Golf
To begin construction, the locker rooms were closed and the kitchen was shut down. The club went back to its roots and operated as in its initial two years, when the course was open but the clubhouse was not. Golfers leaned on the backs of their cars to change shoes then, and so they did again during the “enhancement.”
The roof was torn off the locker rooms and kitchen and covered with a tarp to keep out the elements. But as Jim Krutsch, the foreman on the Riis Borg Construction team, says, “The roof over the men’s locker room was difficult.” The tarp kept blowing off and it became a frustrating game of man against nature to see who could win the battle. Unfortunately for the club’s staff, the administrative offices were directly below the roofless area of the clubhouse, making it very difficult to work during the winter, to say the least.
Despite the condition of the partially roofless clubhouse, the holiday season was not ignored. The construction crew did the best it could to seal off the unaffected areas of the clubhouse and, for three weeks in December, the club was back on line to host various holiday parties.
A new turn house was also a welcome addition to the golf club. Previously, golfers stopped back at the main building for halfway refreshments, but that wasn’t proving to be very efficient. Now a stand-alone building provides this service. Currently the turn house is without air conditioning, but that may change in the near future, as the breeze doesn’t seem to be able to handle the stifling heat that settles in for much of the summer.
To get utilities out to the new location, a decision was made to use directional boring, rather than trenching. While it’s a slower process that costs more than double what a trench would have, directional boring had the benefit of greatly minimizing any damage to the golf course.
As part of the project, some work was also done on the course. New trees were added to the perimeter areas to provide privacy for the neighboring homes without greatly affecting play. The addition of new “Conway Tees” by Tom Fazio added 300 yards to the course. Some of the fairways were also narrowed through the planting of additional prairie grasses and widening the rough with Kentucky bluegrass.
New to Look Old
Part of the “enhancement” at Conway Famrs included brightening the interior clubhouse atmosphere by doing away with the previous palette of mostly cream. Now, touches of warming color add a more inviting tone. The dining room has deep maroon walls and the more casual area just beyond it is swathed in rich neutral tones, with white ceiling beams for contrast against the mossy toned ceiling paint.
The detailed millwork is consistently present throughout the club. Each room handles it in a different way, but the final effect brings a sense of comfort to life. Inside the modest clubhouse, it’s easy to forget that you aren’t in someone’s home—that is, if it weren’t for the commercial exit signs.
The living room, which joins with the formal dining area, has a hardwood floor, but is covered in rugs of varying shapes, sizes and colors. They’re new, but great care was taken to ensure that they could easily be mistaken for family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. In fact, a special trip was made to Green Front Furniture in Farmville, Va., to pick out many of the décor elements. For this facet of the project, a much smaller group of people took control of the design decisions, as the club recognized that this is one area in particular where too many opinions can really slow down the process.
Showing it Off Ahead of Time
May 21, 2005 was the goal for finishing the project, but—as rarely happens in the construction world—the project was finished early. The club actually opened on May 16, and the grand opening celebration took place on the 21st, with about 300 in attendance. Instead of leading everyone around on tours, the club experimented with a “Dine Around,” setting up a food station in each area of the club. For example, Executive Chef Michael Paulsen set up a station in the kitchen, where he served foie gras with a savory banana pudding and a chocolate demi-glace.
And in keeping everything golf-centric, Jeff Mory, Director of Golf, thinks the clubhouse “enhancement” was a success that complements the course well. “It’s extended the golf day by keeping people at the club longer,” says Mory. “The more accommodating environment has led to more relaxed usage. The members are proud, and are anxious to show guests the club.”
Conway Farms Golf Club
Location: Lake Forest, Ill.
Design Firm: Chipman Adams Ltd.
Cost: Nearly $3 million
Timing: Fall 2004 to May 2005
• Enlarged the locker rooms and kitchen
• Added color to the previously dull palette and bought new furniture and fixtures with a “new to look old” theme
• Built new turn house