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How a bunker reduction benefited Lick Creek GC

By |  March 11, 2024 2 Comments
The closing hole at Lick Creek GC in Pekin, Ill., is a 502-yard par 5 with a carry over water. (Photo: Casey Smith)

The closing hole at Lick Creek GC in Pekin, Ill., is a 502-yard par 5 with carry over water. (Photo: Casey Smith)

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Greg Funk

Greg Funk has seen a lot of golf over his 48 years in the business. He started at age 16, running a hand mower at Lick Creek GC, Pekin, Ill. He’s made various moves throughout his career but always stayed in golf. Both the game and the business have also made changes over those 48 years, Funk says.

“I still hold a grudge against Arnold Palmer because Palmer started the Golf Channel, and when golfers got to see golf 24 hours a day, that upped what they expected of us,” Funk laughs.

Now, at age 64, he’s back where he started and ready to semi-retire. As a grand finale to his career, he can say he made a positive impact on the look of Lick Creek GC by reducing the course’s bunkers.

“I thought the bunker project was fantastic. I loved doing it. I was 16 years old; they were building a golf course and I worked here 10 years. And then I left and went into being a superintendent and sales and stuff,” Funk says. “Five years ago, I came back and it’s great to finish my career up where I started. I enjoyed doing the project. I look forward to it because I love improving the golf course. I’ve got my life in this thing.”

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Larry Denton Golf Course Construction created the plan for the bunker renovation, shaped the bunkers and installed new drainage. (Photo: Casey Smith)

Less is more

Located south of Peoria, Ill., Lick Creek is known locally as the place to get a good test of your game. The greens are fast and the fairways are narrow. Cory Proehl, PGA, director of golf for the Pekin Park District, which includes Lick Creek GC and Parkview GC, doesn’t hesitate to say it’s one of the best and most challenging courses within 100 miles in any direction.

(Photo: Casey Smith)

(Photo: Casey Smith)

(Photo: Casey Smith)

(Photo: Casey Smith)

“It’s one of the toughest tests of your game you can find,” Proehl, who has worked for Pekin Park District for five years, says. “From the back tees, you’re looking at just under 7,000 yards and 140 for slope. Larry Packard designed it. When it was built, it was in the top 75 of Golf Digest’s public courses.”

While Funk and his crew were doing good work keeping the course in fine condition, considering the size of the crew and maintenance budget, the bunkers became problematic for the course. They were too big, too deep and sometimes misplaced.

As Funk says, that’s just the way courses were built in the 1970s.

“We had one bunker on No. 8, which is a par 3. It was probably 120 feet long and I had a maintenance rake as a kid and I couldn’t reach the bottom of it from the top of it to rake the bank. Granted, I wasn’t very big at the time, but I mean, still,” Funk says. “Looking at what we did this year, we wanted to make, basically, a flat bottom bunker because we couldn’t afford (bunker liners) and we’re trying to keep the sand as clean as we can and trying to lower maintenance costs.”

Funk and Proehl put their heads together to form a plan for reducing the size and the number of bunkers on the course. Players were supportive and the maintenance team welcomed the idea of less bunker area to maintain.

(Photo: Casey Smith)

(Photo: Casey Smith)

Larry Denton Golf Course Construction created the plan for the bunker renovation, shaped the bunkers and installed new drainage. From there, laying sod and installing the new sand was performed entirely in-house, lowering square footage from 75,000 square feet of bunkers to 48,000 square feet. The team at Lick Creek removed 14 bunkers entirely, going from 59 down to 45. The project took two waves and approximately four months to complete featuring 638 tons of White Pro Angle Sand. The Lick Creek maintenance team put in 650 hours of labor in laying, stapling and watering sod. They also got an assist from the local boy’s golf and hockey teams. Volunteers from Pekin Community High School came out and lent their muscle to the course.

Ready to rock

(Photo: Evan Schiller)

Norby Golf Course Design worked on Eau Claire G&CC in Wisconsin. Pictured here is the par three No. 16. (Photo: Evan Schiller)

Lick Creek will reopen with its new bunkers on April 1. At the end of last season, nine bunkers were ready for play. Golfers were pleased with the sneak preview of what was to come.

“Golfers were ecstatic. It’s all they could talk about last year,” Proehl says. “These guys are pumped. They’re ready to rock. They’re ready to play.”

Funk says the new course setup will make the course more enjoyable for the high-handicap players, but will also offer something to the lower-handicap players.

“A lot of the bunkers we took out, we felt hurt the higher-handicap player a lot of times because of the change in the game. Some of the fairway bunkers, the good players, they’re 50 yards past it. They don’t even look at that fairway bunker,” Funk says. “We felt taking those and some bunkers over the green or on the high side of the green out, would actually make the shot more challenging for the low-handicap golfer.”

Funk’s crew uses a motorized bunker rake on most bunkers, while a handful are small enough to be hand-raked. He told the hockey and golf teams that if they wanted a job, they needed to put it on their application that they volunteered on the bunker project and he’d hire them. He’s hopeful three or four of them will take him up on the offer. Of course, now that Funk is retiring from the full-time superintendent to part-time, those students will report to someone else.

It’s been a good career, Funk says, but he’s happy to take a step back now.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in Featured, From the Magazine

About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 18-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.


2 Comments on "How a bunker reduction benefited Lick Creek GC"

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  1. Karl(Vic)Bricka says:

    Can’t wait to play the new bunkers this Spring. Lick is a premier course and we’re fortunate to have such great golf in Pekin!

  2. Mike Murray says:

    Love playing Lick Creek. Greg & Staff do a great job. I am really looking forward to playing Lick this year. Hope Greg is around enough to help keep the same conditions. New sand is awesome!!!

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