CRYSTAL LAKE – More than a 150 people, many provisioned with ample amounts of beer, took to the ice on the city’s namesake lake Saturday to golf on a par-32 course that has been notoriously stingy with tee times in recent years.
Thirty-eight foursomes registered to play in the first Doc Haznow Chili Open Golf Classic that has been able to be held on a frozen Crystal Lake since 2014.
“I think you can see the guys. They’ve just been waiting for it for years,” said Crystal Lake Park District Recreation Supervisor Joe Davison, the event organizer. “I’d say it’s like 70 percent people that sign up every year; even though they know there’s the possibility that it’s not gonna run.”
Crystal Lake residents, firefighters, beer lovers and other golfers gathered on Crystal Lake Main Beach, 300 Lakeshore Drive, to try to spot a white ball flying across the snow and spend time with friends.
“This is a time that they get together with their buddies. You see a lot of man hugs going on,” Davison said.
The golf classic once was played every winter, but it had been canceled multiple times in recent years because of poor ice conditions. Participants teed off from mats and tried to land shots on greens made of artificial turf. Holes were drilled in the ice, and Christmas trees were used to mark the fairways and greens.
Although golf experience was not required to participate, the Crystal Lake foursome made up of Brice Spreitzer, Scott Voorhees, Bill Kearney and Jason Kobylanski felt like they knew what they were doing. Saturday was the group’s first time participating in the event, and they had placed extra clubs, beer and other supplies in a toboggan-like apparatus to act as their caddy.
“It’s ridiculous! You’re golfing on a lake!” one said.
“You can tell we’re first-timers. There’s some professionals among us,” another added.
The four stood in awe as two groups behind them pushed “sleds” – small bars with kegs atop skis – toward the first hole.
Still, Spreitzer, Voorhees, Kearney and Kobylanski said they had always wanted to participate in the golf classic and were excited for “beer and snow.”
“When can I go golfing in February?” one concluded.
The first foursome teed off at 8 a.m., and golfers would be on the lake until 3 p.m., according to the park district’s website. The course had nine holes and a par of 32. All participants received a giveaway and a chance to win prizes for longest putt and the “Greens in Regulation” raffle. Painted golf balls, prizes and side games were provided to all golfers.
Everyone got a bowl of chili 3 Chefs Catering of Crystal Lake specifically made for the event.
“It’s a tradition for a lot of guys,” Davison said.
Temperatures remained in the teens Saturday, with a high of 19 and a low of 12.
The first Chili Open was held in January 1970. It was the brainchild of the late bar and restaurant owner Francis “Doc” Haznow and Jim Oerkfitz. Doc Haznow’s, a once-popular eating and drinking establishment in Crystal Lake, hosted special chili nights on Tuesdays. As Oerkfitz and Haznow discussed the lack of winter activities after having a few beers, they hit on ice golf with a side of chili. The idea stuck. Oerkfitz served as Crystal Lake Park District director for more than three decades; he died in 2011.