The vaudeville saying of "if it plays well in Peoria, it will play well anywhere," was supposedly based upon the observation that folks in Peoria, Illinois are hard to please. But after meeting so many nice people during our time working on WeaverRidge, I think the root of the saying lies in that Peorians (if that is a term), are honest in their opinion and they don’t like wasting time and money on worthless things. We didn’t know that when we started, however, we were aware of the vaudeville label.
Two prominent business people hired us, Dianne Cullinan who ran a large real estate firm, and Jerry Weaver who with his wife Nancy, were in so many successful and diverse ventures that they were hard to characterize. Dianne enjoyed golf while Jerry tolerated it, but they both agreed to be partners in a golf course and housing development on 370 acres of ground that the Weaver's owned. The land was a mix of rolling, fertile, crop fields, interspersed with woods and wetlands, and a wide but dramatic creek valley that was over eighty feet deep, and populated with all types of trees on the steep hillsides. It was not the typical flat farm land that we saw as we drove from Chicago to the site. In fact we had no idea just how pretty Peoria and the area around it really is, compared to what we imagined. But the varying elements that made the Weaver property so dramatic were also the main challenges we faced in routing a golf course. To make enough ground available for housing so that the deal made economic sense meant trying to find ways of putting the golf course on the least desirable ground for development, which was the steep hillsides, the creek flood plain, near wetlands and through the woods.
Our selected routing was the doodle on a U.S. Geologic Survey map on the airplane ride home after our first visit, as it proved to be the only one of a couple dozen we subsequently tried that actually worked. After finally conceding that routing was best and the land planner was satisfied with lot densities, we completed our plans and specifications and bid the project out to a certified golf course builder.
Obviously the Weaver in WeaverRidge came from Jerry’s last name, and the Ridge came from Jerry’s insistence of building the clubhouse as far out on the ridge as possible to give views down the creek valley. As usual, Jerry made good judgments and the clubhouse is attractive, functional, and offers spectacular views. The golf course just missed winning Golf Digest’s 1998 "best new upscale course" by 0.04 points behind Pete Dye’s Bulle Rock.
WeaverRidge offers such a fabulous overall golf experience that it is not uncommon to see cars in the parking lot from all over the Midwest, especially from around the Chicago area. The golf course superintendent, Geoff Kemp and his wife have been there since early in construction to help prevent or solve problems, and now offers one of the best-manicured public golf courses in North America.
So if you visit there and you are welcomed to the course by a middle-aged man with a big smile on his face and a kind word for everyone, chances are you just met Jerry Weaver. Jerry and Nancy spend a good deal of time at the golf course personally attending to all details be it as simple as picking up paper in the parking lot or waiting tables, for that is their style. WeaverRidge is a hometown, family run golf course that has a big city, resort feel. And by the way, it does play well in Peoria.