It’s successfully served a generation, this 150-acre parcel of land along Orchard Road and Galena Boulevard – a quaint nook with easy access tucked on the western edge of Chicagoland’s golf scene.
The Fox Valley Park District’s Orchard Valley Golf Course turns 30 this year, and in what Executive Director Jim Pilmer labeled a “holistic approach to golf,” District officials spent much of 2022 developing a blueprint to ensure Orchard Valley remains a reliable – and relevant – option for future weekend warriors and aspiring state champs, alike.
“Our mission is to build the brand of golf for the Fox Valley Park District and set Orchard Valley up as a premiere destination for playability, instruction, and social engagement for the next 20-25 years,” said Pilmer.
Here are the notable upgrades that members and visitors can expect at Orchard Valley this spring, summer, and beyond:
New management under Troon, LLC
The FVPD in January entered a five-year golf facility management agreement with Troon, LLC – the world’s largest golf course management and hospitality company. Troon management (headquartered at Orchard Valley) is led by General Manager Ben Nachtwey, whose team includes the head golf professional, golf course superintendent, food and beverage director, and executive chef. Staff such as starters, bartenders, cooks, servers, and pro shop attendants are hired locally and employed by Troon.
Nachtwey oversees operations of both the golf course/pro shop and Orchards Restaurant, which is set to open on April 10.
Although the Orchard Valley property remains under contract, the difference is “we’ve moved from a 100% lease agreement with our previous tenant to a management relationship with Troon,” said Pilmer.
“The Fox Valley Park District is now responsible for paying the bills and collecting the revenue to provide a product and brand that’s consistent with everything we do. We’ve gained more local control over a taxpayer-owned property and all its assets.”
With more than 160 golf courses located within 25 miles of downtown Chicago, Nachtwey, who’s had previous local stops at Fox Bend Golf Course in Oswego and Seven Bridges Golf Club in Woodridge, is no stranger to the competitive market and the differentiators required to ensure a facility thrives.
“We’re committed to the overall service element at Orchard Valley, as well as reinvigorating the restaurant,” Nachtwey said. “Our focus is to be golf-centric, but also community-centric. We want Orchard Valley to be considered a worthwhile destination for golf enthusiasts and the community as a whole.”
Joe Fritz, a 2014 graduate of Marmion Academy, was recently hired by Troon as head golf professional.
All Orchard Valley golfers – members and guests alike – are eligible to participate in the Troon Rewards program, which is free to join. Troon Rewards members earn one point for every dollar spent on greens/cart fees at Troon courses. Accrued points can be used at more than 150 Troon properties worldwide, including at Orchard Valley, where 650 points equal a free round of golf at any time on any day.
Fox Valley Golf Academy
As part of Orchard Valley’s holistic approach, FVPD officials are implementing golf-specific programming – the Fox Valley Golf Academy – designed to develop players of all abilities through camps, leagues and a rolling curriculum dedicated to youth golf.
Beginning in June, Fox Valley Golf Academy programming is intended to provide opportunity for young players to embark on a “golf journey” beginning at age 6 through 14 with progressive instruction at every stop along the way. The Golf Academy welcomes youth players of any age new to the game with the end goal of building a District-run program like FVPD’s existing brands, such as tennis, swimming and gymnastics. The District also will offer camps and clinics for more experienced players at the high school level.
“Like most of our programs, we want the Golf Academy to be a series of progressive programs that develops into a league format,” said Jaime Ijams, the FVPD’s director of recreation, who noted Golf Academy programming is scholarship-eligible through the District’s Fox Valley Park Foundation for families who qualify.
“What’s nice about us offering it through the Fox Valley Park District is we’re able to provide more affordable programming for youth, for beginning players. Some think golf is overpriced and not for everybody, but we’re making it affordable for kids interested in learning the game.”
From early June through mid-August, the Golf Academy will offer six instruction-based programs designed for kids ages 6 through 14. The summer season ends in August with a Back-to-School Minicamp for high school-aged players seeking to fine-tune their game before team tryouts or upcoming tournaments. Golf Academy offerings will be announced in the 2023 Summer Adventure Playbook, which will be available on April 27. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 29.
Justin Wyeth, named the FVPD’s first Director of Golf, will oversee the Academy’s day-to-day operations and player development. Wyeth holds the same title at Aurora University, where he serves as head coach of both the men’s and women’s golf programs. A 12-time Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) Coach of the Year, Wyeth has three times swept the men’s and women’s awards in the same season. Born and raised in Aurora, Wyeth graduated from West Aurora High School (2001) and AU (2006), where he’s coached eight NACC players of the year; three all-region players; two regional freshmen of the year; and one All-American.
Wyeth’s first summer job during high school was at Orchard Valley “doing anything and everything,” he said, 25 years ago.
“My focus is to provide a welcoming, high-energy culture to teach and promote the game of golf to our community’s youth, no matter their skill level or experience,” Wyeth said of the FVPD Golf Academy. “Our instructor-to-student ratio will be kept low to create more opportunity for individualized attention and positive feedback. Our goal is to build the Fox Valley Golf Academy into a destination for kids interested in learning, growing, and thriving through fun activities, repetition, and meaningful instruction.”
“A country club that everyone belongs to.”
That’s how Frank DiBrizzi describes Orchard Valley, specifically the reinvigorated Orchards Restaurant, where management is shifting its dining room focus from banquets and weddings “to more of a full-service restaurant that everyone knew back in the 1990s,” Nachtwey said.
Employed by Troon as Orchard Valley’s food and beverage director, DiBrizzi brings local knowledge to the Fox Valley’s dining and hospitality scene. A 1996 graduate of Marmion Academy, DiBrizzi previously worked as general manager at Giordano’s, Nella Pizza e Pasta, and Luigi’s House & Julian’s Piano Bar.
DiBrizzi and Executive Chef Robert Sajdak have created a menu with “lots of undertones of comfort foods,” DiBrizzi said. “Fine-dining food and fine-dining hospitality at a mid-range price.”
The bar and patio at Orchards Restaurant are set to open Monday, April 10, and feature an all-day menu from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. The refurnished main dining room is scheduled to open later in April, and official hours of operation will be announced soon.
The all-day menu includes sharables, such as wings, pub sliders, and onion rings; a lighter fare section with soups and flatbreads; burgers (beef and turkey); and sandwiches, such as ribeye steak, grilled vegetable, lobster roll, chicken and more.
An impressive selection of entrees including seafood risotto, herb-crusted chicken, and meatloaf, along with a creative selection of side options, highlight the dinner menu.
Nachtwey and DiBrizzi said live entertainment will be incorporated into the Orchards Restaurant experience throughout the year, along with featuring a series of themed dinner evenings (whiskey, tequila, as examples) during the winter months.
“We want to create an experience where guests can come and enjoy the evening opposed to grabbing a quick bite just to get in and out,” DiBrizzi said. “We also want to give the community something to look forward to in January and February when there’s not usually much going on at a golf course facility.”
Potential near-term renovation
Since opening in 1993, time has exposed deficiencies along Orchard’s 6,800-yard championship layout, which played host to 36,000 rounds of golf during the 2022 season as the game, in general, continued its rebirth in the pandemic’s wake.
In the spirit of preserving and expanding the venue “for the next generation to call home,” District officials engaged Sugar Grove-based Martin Design Golf to identify and prioritize more immediate capital repair projects. During the discovery process, officials also uncovered opportunities for potential near-term renovation initiatives “to create a more wholesome end-to-end golf experience,” Pilmer said.
“We want to ensure that the Orchard Valley property – the golf course, practice areas, restaurant – serves as a community gathering hub, a place for the next generation to call home, as so many others have done during Orchard Valley’s first 30 years.”
The District will announce plans for future initiatives at Orchard Valley in the coming months.
For more information about Orchard Valley Golf Course, Orchards Restaurant or Troon, LLC, visit www.orchardvalleygolf.com or call 630-907-0500 (golf shop) or 630-907-0600 (restaurant).