Willow Pond upgrades will be well above par

Willow Pond upgrades will be well above par

RANTOUL — Kipp Bates has been through golf course renovations before, and he predicts the changes in the works at Rantoul's Willow Pond are going to be "magnificent."

Extensive renovations of the clubhouse, a new Golf Tech business and upgrades to the course itself are in the plans for the business that Kevin Applebee and his wife, Rhonda, bought from Ken Roessler last year.

"I think you'd have to go quite a ways to find a package facility better than Willow Pond," said Bates, general manager of the golf course. "I've opened three golf courses, and I've remodeled an additional three golf courses. I believe Willow Pond is among the best this county has seen."

Work has been going on at the club since mid-December. The entire building is being renovated — from bathrooms to offices, Applebee said.

The former pro shop has been relocated to the south end of the building, which will open a dining area that will seat up to 140 people (inside and out) in a sports bar setting. The club, named The 19th Hole, will have seven large-screen television sets.

Gaming machines and two pool tables will also be added.

"We're trying to develop more food and beverage business to help the golf course along," Applebee said.

In the past, the facility was equipped with just pizza ovens and a fryer, and large groups had to bring their own food. They will still be able to do that, but most people prefer to buy on-site.

The clubhouse will be decorated with an Air Force theme. The overhead fans look like propellers, and table tops will have runway lights.

Bates said aviation memorabilia that Applebee has run across in cleaning out several old buildings will be part of the decor.

The goal is to open the bar and restaurant in a week. It will be open year-round.

But the work at Willow Pond isn't confined to the clubhouse.

The forward tee boxes are being remodeled. The driving range is being moved, from the west side of the course back to the north side, where it was originally designed by the Air Force in the 1950s.

"At some point (the Air Force) decided not to do that and put in a swimming pool (there instead)," Applebee said. That former swimming pool building will now house the new Golf Tech shop.

On a recent day, workers for B&K Builders of Arthur were installing a new cathedral roof on the Golf Tech building. The old, flat roof was blown off by strong winds on Nov. 17, the same day the tornado caused heavy damage to Gifford.

Pat Leary, who has operated his Golf Etc. business on Champaign's North Prospect Avenue for the past few years, will move it to Willow Pond and change the name to Golf Tech.

Leary said the move will allow him to give more instruction.

"Being in the mall, it's kind of limited to what's there," Leary said. "This allows us to 'green grass,' to be able to go outside to teach not only the fundamentals in the swing but also have a playing lesson and use the course teaching golf."

He will be doing instruction fittings — "like the pros experience."

The business also does club repair, sells equipment, personalizes equipment for the buyer and offers state-of-the-art technology called Flight Scope to measure a person's swing.

Leary said he hopes to open Golf Tech sometime this month.

Leary, who got to know Applebee at the golf club they were members of, said the Willow Pond owner wants to do things right.

"He's really got the best interest of Rantoul in mind," Leary said. "He's doing a lot to bring that course back to what it used to be."

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