College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

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URBANA - The Illinois men’s and women’s golf teams have a second home.

Mike Small and Renee Slone’s programs will still be based out of the the Demirjian Indoor and Lauristen/Wohlers Outdoor practice facilities, but a gift from The Atkins Group announced Tuesday morning of Stone Creek Golf Club to the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics will expand the Illini’s footprint in Urbana.

The DIA will own and operate what will now be called Atkins Golf Club. The facility will remain closed for the remainder of the 2020 season while undergoing improvements and renovations. It will reopen in 2021, maintaining its status as a championship-caliber public course in adding to the home course for Illinois golf.

“We are so grateful to Susie, Spencer, Todd, Suzette, and the entire Atkins family for their continued generosity to the University of Illinois and Fighting Illini Athletics,” Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman said in a statement. “Working with them to develop the full breadth of this remarkable gift has been a true pleasure. We are excited about the future of the golf course and the benefits it will have for our varsity golf programs and, of equal importance, our entire community. We believe such a broad-based, visible presence from the University will help generate great value and stability to the homeowners and businesses in southeast Urbana.”

The gift from The Atkins Group also includes all of the associated buildings and equipment at the golf course in addition to more than 300 acres of real estate in southeast Urbana. The gift’s total value exceeds $15 million. The DIA’s plan for Atkins Golf Club is to hire a golf course management company while developing plans to reopen the restaurant and dining facilities on site, the pro shop and other banquet and hospitality services ahead of a spring 2021 reopening.

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URBANA — The Atkins Group may hand over Stone Creek Golf Course to the University of Illinois athletics department, the two organizations announced Friday.

The groups are “exploring opportunities to continue operation” of the golf course, which “could include The Atkins Group donating the golf course and related real estate to the University of Illinois,” they said in a joint news release.

Stone Creek has been used as the home course of Illini golf programs for many years, the news release noted, and the Atkins family has long been supporters of Illinois athletics, most recently pledging $3 million to the new Susan and Clint Atkins Baseball Training Center.

“We can now talk openly with the university, and we are excited to see what could come of it,” The Atkins Group spokeswoman Kate Klipp said.

“The parties hope to reach some resolution on a potential partnership or transfer of Stone Creek in the coming weeks,” the joint news release said.

The move would provide stability for the neighborhood around the golf course, which dealt with years of rumors that it may be shuttered followed by its sudden closure at the end of January.

“I’m excited about it simply because it brings stability to this part of Urbana,” said Urbana school board President John Dimit, who lives in the middle of the course. “I just want a permanent solution. If this happens to be it, that’s wonderful.”

Having the UI involved “would indicate some significant confidence that the course will be properly maintained and operated,” he added.

The Atkins Group said it closed the golf course due to “a waning demand for golf” and hoped to redevelop the land into “natural green open space, walking trails and other community benefits.”

The Atkins Group hired Applied Ecological Services to develop a master plan for the land.

Homeowners had been scheduled to meet with the consulting firm Monday, but that has now been canceled, Dimit said.

The Atkins Group and the UI said they plan to consult with the nearly 200 homeowners who live in the neighborhoods in and around the golf course.

And they said they have opened discussions with the city of Urbana, which could benefit from the business the course brings in but be hurt by property being taken off the tax rolls if the UI owned it.

“There’s bound to be some pushback from some people about the university taking over taxable property in Urbana,” Dimit said. But “whether it was a nature preserve or a golf course, it was going to be tax-exempt. … I think it’s a very, very, very welcome possibility.”

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said “we’re excited about the opportunity that this presents,” but did express concern about losing property that can be taxed.

“We don’t want any more land going off the tax rolls than the course and the immediately related facilities,” she said.

But overall, she was optimistic about the development.

“I think it will bring stability to the neighborhood,” she said. “It will be good for the university, good for the neighborhood, and it will be good for Urbana.”

Marlin said she had also been supportive of the plan to turn the land into more of a nature area.

“We were supportive of that vision, too, if it had been implemented,” she said. “I’m just supportive of having a plan and carrying it out and having something people can count on out there.”

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).