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Peoria Park District gears up for $4.5M renovation to driving range facility, with ‘Topgolf-like’ addition

Golfers practice their swings on the driving range at the Peoria Park District's Golf Learning Center.
Joe Deacon
Golfers practice their swings on the driving range at the Peoria Park District's Golf Learning Center.

Planned upgrades at the Peoria Park District's Golf Learning Center will bring a new and popular attraction to the facility.

Park district officials believe the learning center's transformation will make the venue more of a year-round entertainment destination.

Executive Director Emily Cahill says the plan is to augment the traditional driving range experience with the addition of a gaming opportunity similar to Topgolf.

“It will be the exact same technology, that's the part that people need to really pay attention to,” Cahill said. “So that Toptracer experience that you have when you go to a Topgolf in a larger city will be exactly the same experience that you’re having here in Peoria. The why we say ‘Topgolf-like’ is because it's not branded ‘Topgolf.’”

The entire plan calls for adding a 21-bay multi-level hitting structure on the south side of the Radnor Road facility’s existing building, along with interior renovation for a golf simulator room and a full-service restaurant and bar.

“We are in collaboration and in talks with Fox Pub and with the former owner of Bearded Owl Brewery, and they are working with us on a collaborative to bring a really unique restaurant experience to that facility that will serve not only folks who want to come in and have a drink and eat dinner and watch people be silly out there hitting golf balls, plus those folks who are in the bays themselves,” Cahill said.

The full project is largely funded by a $4 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity announced in August 2022. The district’s board of trustees is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a $4.46 million construction bid from Peoria Metro Construction for the renovation.

Cahill says the administration has identified potential sources for the extra cost beyond the state grant.

“Nobody is surprised to hear that a project that was dreamed about in fall of 2021 is now over budget, right? So we are finding the pieces, and we'll be working with our board over the next several meetings to talk about ways to close that gap,” said Cahill, adding that the hope is for work to start this summer so the additions will be ready in time for next year’s golf season.

“We are looking for other (funding) sources, and we believe we've identified them. We will work with our board to get that moving, and we don't anticipate issues to get us to next spring.”

Board member Tim Bertschy, who also chairs the district's ad hoc golf advisory committee, says he's eager and excited to see how the Golf Learning Center renovation will expand the clientele.

“We see it as an opportunity for families, couples – dates and the like – to go to a place where they can enjoy golf in a different way than if they were to go to a golf course,” Bertschy said. “For anyone who's ever experienced this type of facility before, they can appreciate what I'm talking about. There'll be targets, there'll be just all kinds of things for people to do that don't involve going out to an 18-hole golf course and playing either nine holes or 18 holes.

“As you drive across the country to cities of moderate and larger size, it's not unusual to drive by one of these TopGolf-type facilities, and it's not lost on us that they are bringing us – as an audience and as participants – people who would not be attracted by a golf course itself.”

Cahill echoed the belief that adding Toptracer gaming technology will be a great way to attract non-golfers to the sport.

“It’s really important to our golf inventory system to be able to keep up with the times and bring that technology experience to Peoria,” she said. “In addition to that outdoor piece, we will have the indoor simulators as well. It's actually really unique; if you are a traditional golfer, the indoor simulators that we are bringing are the kind that give you golf lessons as you play.

“It's something that is only maybe in one other place in the entire Midwest, so it's something that really will be an asset to our golfing community and our larger community, and we can't wait to get going.”

The Peoria Park District is planning a $4.5 million renovation of its Golf Learning Center, with the addition of Top Tracer technology in the driving range bays as well as a full-service restaurant and bar.
Joe Deacon
The Peoria Park District is planning a $4.5 million renovation of its Golf Learning Center, with the addition of Top Tracer technology in the driving range bays as well as a full-service restaurant and bar.

Bertschy stressed that even with the upgrades, the learning center's purpose for traditional golfers will remain the same.

“That is to say, we'll have a wonderful, updated place to hit golf balls, to work on your game, whether that's the long game, the short game, putting sand traps and the like,” he said. “We intend at present to keep the little 9-hole – it's not really a chip-and-putt course, but an extended chip and putt course, I guess you might say – that will continue as well. So for the traditional golfer, if anything, this project will make the Golf Learning Center even more attractive to them.”

Cahill says the park district is seeing participation in golf at its highest level in about a decade.

“Last year, we ended the year in excess of 110,000 rounds supported across our system. That's the first time we've topped 110,000 rounds since 2014 I believe, or 2013,” she said. "We're on pace to do that again this year. So we're really pleased with where golf is. But you can't just relax, right? You got to keep folks engaged.”

She says that increased golf activity indicates the learning center’s Toptracer attraction will be able to coexist with The Putt Club venue that opened in East Peoria earlier this month.

“I think that there's absolutely room for both experiences. They're different and unique, and they will complement each other as a community,” Cahill said.

“It's really interesting to me, because across the country, about 8% of people play golf. That's not very many, right? But golf in this part of the country is really growing by leaps and bounds, and we see folks who are engaging in the sport in lots of different ways.”

Bertschy says he believes the upgrades to the Golf Learning Center will make the location a destination site for people across the Tri-County area and beyond. He hopes that also will spark even more growth at all of the district’s golf venues.

“When we talk to folks who have golf courses that are public golf courses elsewhere, and they see our golf courses, they're amazed by the quality golf courses, both in layout and in their condition. We strive always to make sure that the experience that people have on the golf course, whether it's from the staff or the quality of the facilities themselves, is top notch,” Bertschy said.

“Frankly, the golf courses – from what people have been telling me – are in the best shape they've been in years. So we look forward to a very bright future for the game of golf in Peoria.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.