Willow Pond course changes hands

Willow Pond course changes hands

RANTOUL — One of the largest golf courses in Champaign County is under new ownership.

Kevin and Rhonda Applebee of Urbana have purchased Willow Pond Golf Course in Rantoul from Ken Roessler.

Kevin Applebee said they bought the 185-acre course, located on the former Chanute Air Force Base, because they were "looking at a different opportunity because I sold some real estate."

"It's beautiful property," he said.

The Applebees own and operate Flooring Surfaces in Champaign and several other businesses.

It is the first time they have owned or operated a golf course, but Kevin said he is attacking the challenge with vigor. One of the challenges during the wet spring has been having enough dry days for his staff to mow the grounds.

Roessler said he had entertained an offer to sell part of the golf course to farmers, who wanted to turn it into farmland, which would have meant changing the 18-hole course into a nine-hole one.

Both Applebee and Roessler said because the golf course originally lay on Air Force property, many area Air Force veterans hold fond memories of the facility and continue to play there.

Built from 1958-1960, it was laid out by military engineers. Golfers who play the long game will like the course. The front nine, which has a par of 37, is 3,736 yards, one of the longest nines in central Illinois. The back nine is par 35 and only 3,049 yards.

Applebee said some changes are planned. One includes reshaping and moving the driving range to its original location when it was an Air Force course. The driving range will be moved back up near the pro shop.

Applebee said basic maintenance is ongoing to the golf course's six buildings. New roofs will be put on.

During the winter when the course is shut down, the pro shop and snack bar will be remodeled. The snack bar will be renamed Applebee's 19th Hole.

"We hope to have people come out there (on) an evening, have a drink, something to eat," he said.

Applebee said competition is tough, having two 18-hole golf courses in a town of about 12,000 residents, "especially when you're competing with the government."

Brookhill is owned by Rantoul Park District.

"There still is a good flow of local people who play the course quite regularly," Applebee said. "That was one of the things that attracted me as well. Obviously we want to increase that."

Willow Pond employs 25, with four of them full time.

Applebee has plans to bring more people out to Willow Pond.

For one, he plans to start a youth program to get youngsters started golfing at an early age.

Another is the start of a summer concert series. Willow Pond will host three bands. Two popular bands — Ryan Ideus and the Feudin Hillbillys, and The Brat Pack — have already been booked. Applebee said the third band will be announced later.