More than a century after it blossomed into a circus headquarters and hosted dozens of acts, including P.T. Barnum's legendary Greatest Show on Earth, the town of Delavan proudly exhibits its distinctive past. Big-top tributes can be seen at Tower Park, where statues of circus animals such as a giraffe and an elephant savor their amnesty from mini-golf courses. Delavan's early days live on through Greek Revival architecture that dates back to the mid-1800s, including the Allyn Mansion and the Israel Stowell Temperance House, originally an alcohol-free safe haven that eventually served as a government meeting center.Delavan's quaint downtown district, lined with old-fashioned lampposts and brick-paved walkways, boasts an assortment of antique stores and small cafés. Throughout the rest of the town, well-manicured parks and 13 miles of forested shoreline along Delavan Lake create a scenic backdrop for horseback rides, hiking, water recreation, and composing haikus on the ground with leaves.
Painted the distinctive international orange of the Golden Gate Bridge, to which it bears more than a passing resemblance, the signature bridge at Browns Lake Golf Course crosses the Fox River in style. Players walk over this sleek structure after they’ve made their play off the tee on the par 3 12th hole. Thankfully, they need not fly the San Francisco Bay or lay up on Alcatraz to reach the green in regulation: a 150-yard strike with enough loft ought to do the trick.
Players have been attempting this feat with varying degrees of success since 1921, when the course opened. Wedged between the river to the west and Browns Lake to the east, it's designed to challenge golfers of all handicaps. A round here represents a 6,449-yard loop from the back tees, filled with enough elevated greens to make players reconsider both their club selections and their reluctance to ask their caddies for a piggy-back ride. Though they may want to steer their golf balls clear of it, visitors can admire a bunker in the shape of comic-strip character Andy Gump on the par 3 fourth hole, which was designed to pay homage to local native Sidney Smith, his creator.
Course at a Glance: * 18-hole, par 72 course * Total length of 6,443 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 70.8 from the back tees * Course slope of 124 from the back tees
As the former host to the U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying tournament and numerous Illinois PGA events, the course at Plum Tree National Golf Club welcomes amateurs of all stripes to its 200-acre compound with a professional-worthy pedigree. Since the first swing in 1968, groups have been taking special care to avoid the course’s 105 sand traps, each strategically placed during architect Joe Lee’s attempts at building an ocean. While crossing the picturesque passage, players witness more than 4,000 trees of assorted species rooted firmly in the rolling hills of rural McHenry County. Before each round, golfers can hone their swings at the practice area’s all-grass hitting stations to prepare for difficult shots, such as the tee-to-green first shot on the 173-yard par 3 fourth hole and the long, narrow fairway leading to a contoured green on the par 5 12th hole. Course at a Glance: * 18-hole, par 72 course * Total length of 6,695 yards from the back tees * Course rating of 72.6 from the back tees * Course slope of 133 from the back tees * Four sets of tees per hole
The Golf Club at Waters Edge presents golfers of every stripe with a nine-hole layout that puts iron accuracy and short-game touch to the test. The Randy Wirkus design extends to 1,700 yards for a par of 33—an ideal setup for beginners who want to focus on fundamentals and ex-players who want a reason to sport their bygone golf fashions. After the round, golfers can unwind at the onsite restaurant, which offers a full-service bar, a Friday fish fry, and a pool table.