The long-shuttered Hickory Knolls Golf Course in Lake Villa is being readied for a rebirth, and a tentative May 6 opening date.
The investment group behind the Restoration of the nine-hole “executive style” grounds is keeping true to a historic Legacy that goes back 75 years.
“The North Shore Capital Group (NSCG) consists of Victor and Jonathan Rigoni, father and son respectively, and myself,” Andy Helzer said. “They both had played the course a long time ago, with wonderful Memories. It was Jon that made the phone call, imploring that if there was ever a property to acquire and revitalize to bring back, it was this one. ”
The original 27-acre parcel was purchased by Frederick Gernhardt in 1947. Although not a golfer, he envisioned the farmland as a golf course. After World War II, Lake County was experiencing a housing boom in the rural areas because of Veterans returning stateside. Gernhardt wanted to offer a site for Recreation, especially to the military in a show of appreciation.
“In learning about the course’s history, military installations like the Great Lakes, Glenview and Fort Sheridan would actually be over their personnel,” said Amber Wilson, NSCG’s marketing manager. “They would play a nine-hole round of golf… for a nickel. These were the Ben Hogan years, bringing in service and first respondents on discounts. ”
The popular course, at 24745 W. Monaville Road in Lake Villa, eventually fell to poor economic conditions, and sat unused for more than a decade.
The property was in foreclosure when bought “as is” by NSCG for $ 400,000 in December of 2020. It suddenly became a “labor of love,” with family members steadily recruited over the following year, returning the course to a reasonable shape.
“Victor and Jon did a lot of the physical lab, whether cutting in drainage tiles, building the sand traps or moving debris,” Helzer said. “They also brought in Victor’s granddaughter, so it became a real family affair. My three kids were all out there, too. We all fell in love with the place. This is its 75th anniversary year. That’s exciting. ”
Helzer said all the greens are new, and the ranch-style residence is being remodeled into an expanded clubhouse. More than $ 450,000 has been spent on rehabilitating buildings and the landscape. The course itself features six par-3 holes, and three par-4 holes. Rows of new golf carts are part of the amenities, and ready for use.
The original Gernhardt Homestead that doubled as the clubhouse still stands near Hole 6. It will be refurbished into a “halfway point” structure, serving food and refreshments. That new building will have the name “Grandma Marie’s Lemonade Stand,” honoring the Gernhardt matriarch’s business, operated by her and their children. They are seen in historic photos from the family.
“The total yardage on the course is just under 1,800 yards,” Helzer said. “Our target groups are the junior golfers, seniors over 60, and ladies of all ages. If you’re a single-handicap duffer, you really won’t have any fun. But if you’re a beginner, a father and son… this is your spot.
“We want to keep it true to the history that evolved out there, and keep it going for another 75 years,” he said.