Among the improvements planned at Riverside Golf Club is an expanded al fresco dining area south of the swimming pool, covered by a trellis with louvers that can be closed when it rains. | PROVIDED

The COVID-19 pandemic may have had a negative impact on many food, entertainment and leisure businesses, but one industry that appears to have come through it even stronger is golf.

Locally, there’s no better illustration of that trend than at Riverside Golf Club, 2520 Desplaines Ave. in North Riverside, where they’re set to embark on a $5.6 million project that will mark the first major improvement to the clubhouse and related amenities since it was built following a catastrophic fire in the mid-1980s.

Thomas McHugh, general manager of Riverside Golf Club, said new memberships at the club spiked in 2020 when many other recreation options were off limits for months at a time.

“We’ve had newer members of younger age, which has brought the average age of the membership down,” McHugh said. “In the past year we’ve taken in 60 members, which is two times or three times the normal rate.”

With golf seeing a surge in interest, the club has topped out at its capacity of 275 golf family memberships. There is now a waiting list for people who seek golf memberships, though the club still has a few openings for those wanting non-golf social memberships, which are capped at 100, McHugh said.

“It’s off-the-charts popular now, so we’re trying to provide the right level of services and amenities,” McHugh said. “The reinvestment is due to the influx of newer members.”

The club will seek bids for the clubhouse improvements next month, and McHugh said he hopes to have a general contractor hired mid-January so indoor construction can commence in late February.

“We’d like to have as much as possible done by Memorial Day, but for sure we’re hoping for it to be done by the Fourth of July,” McHugh said.

A long overdue improvement will include a new women’s locker room while one of the biggest changes to the clubhouse will be moving the golf shop from the north side of the building to a new addition that will be built just south of the main entrance.

The new location will put the golf shop next to the practice area and close to the first tee and 18th green. The golf shop will also now have direct interior access from the main entrance of the clubhouse.

“From a member and guest perspective, the experience will be drastically improved,” said Karl Bollnow, the club’s golf professional, who runs the shop and oversees the caddie program. “You’ll be able to get to the shop without going outside on bad weather days.”

A golf shop addition on the main floor will also create a new second-floor veranda accessible from one of the two dining rooms. A matching second-floor veranda north of the main entrance will be built above a new office addition that will also be available to members who want to get some work done while at the club.

The existing golf shop building on the north side of the clubhouse will be converted into a golf simulator, indoor practice space that will likely house other amenities to encourage year-round use of club facilities.

With outdoor dining becoming a more popular option during the pandemic, the club also plans to build a new roughly 4,000-square-foot al fresco patio area that will be covered with louvers that can be closed to allow the patio to be used on rainy days.

The new outdoor eating area will also have its own new kitchen area so food won’t have to be routed through the clubhouse as is the case now. The al fresco dining area will be located immediately south of the outdoor swimming pool, where the pool deck is also being expanded. 

Also in the plan for the area north of the clubhouse is construction of a sport court that can be used for basketball and configured for other games, including pickle ball. Inclusion of a bocce court is being debated by the golf club’s renovation committee, McHugh said.