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Time to hit those links

The ending of the high school sports season means the beginning of summer, and for yours truly, it means it is time to visit some area golf courses for the seventh annual “Links With Locals” series.

It’s pretty simple. I make a phone call or two, play golf with some people, a photographer snaps some pictures, and it all runs in Thursday’s paper. This will happen until we get hopping again with the area football season in August.

The first foray in 2019 on Tuesday was a return to my roots, at Shady Oaks Country Club near Amboy. It was my home away from home growing up, as many long-time club members will attest. Either my dad, sister or some club member would give me a ride out there in the morning and I’d go round and round on the then 9-hole course. Kids don’t seem to do that much around here anymore, but for me, it was a little slice of heaven.

Like a lot of courses, Shady Oaks, now an 18-hole facility (my story about the 1996 expansion hangs in the clubhouse to this day), has been hit hard by seemingly never-ending storms. The creek that meanders through much of the course was over its banks a lot of days, forcing the course to occasionally close.

The grounds crew didn’t know which days would be suitable for mowing, or which parts of the course would be dry enough to get the mowers on. It was a daily challenge, but by Tuesday, things were starting to return to normal after a stretch of warm, sunny weather.

Only the dampest of areas were left unkempt, with the vast majority of the fairways and roughs at a low level. Kudos to superintendent Eric Henkel and the rest of the staff making the best of a tough situation.

On this day, I played a round with some of my old cronies at Shady Oaks, and a few new ones.

For the first nine holes, it was with Dave Kemp, Clayton Kemp, Greg Ohlendorf and Ed Dunn.

Dave and I go way back. We butted heads in many a club championship back in a day at Shady Oaks, and if there’s a golfer in the area who basically has the same game as me, it would be Dave. Neither of us hits it particularly long, but we are usually accurate with our irons and can chip and putt well enough to put a decent number on the scorecard.

Dave is 57 now, and won the Senior Rock River Classic last August. Me, I’m just a young buck of 54 and will have to wait until the summer of 2020 before competing for that title. You all are on notice.

Clayton Kemp, Dave’s son, is a recent graduate of Amboy High School, and certainly didn’t get cheated during his days as a Clipper. He was an honor student, played some mean drums in the band, was an all-conference second baseman for the baseball team, and last fall became the first golfer in AHS history to qualify for the state tournament.

This fall, Clayton is off to Augustana College, where he will play golf for the Vikings. The arrow is definitely pointed up when it comes to his golf game, now that his baseball spikes have been hung up.

Growing up, I played a lot of golf with Greg Ohlendorf, as both of our families were some of the earliest members at the course. Greg continues to hit it quite nicely, and is a hoot to play with. Lively conversations, about golf and otherwise, are never in short supply.

Another golfer I played quite a few rounds with in my formative years was Dunn, a member at Shady Oaks since 1972. His job as an insurance salesman for Country Companies for 37 years (he retired in 2013) afforded him many opportunities to play golf. One thing about Ed – he could always putt, and that doesn’t appear to have changed.

Dave, Clayton, Greg and myself were joined by former Shady Oaks member Marty Eccles for the Tuesday night men’s league, a staple at Shady Oaks for more than 40 years. A little bit of money is involved in the league, but it’s mostly about camaraderie before, during and after.

About 50 guys played on Tuesday, so it’s still going strong.

There are also some neat programs to encourage junior golf at Shady Oaks. Kids 13 and under play for free with a paying adult. For adults who don’t have time to play nine or 18 holes with their children, they can play three holes with a cart for $5 or six holes with a cart for $7.

Golf for juniors between 14 and 18 is half price. Also, the club applied for and received a grant for eight new sets of junior clubs, so those without that equipment can still play.

It’s about getting people out to one of the nicer golf courses in northern Illinois, and a place that will always be special to me.

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