Odyssey Country Club in Tinley Park opened in 1991 and had been out of the limelight since the Illinois Women’s Open, which it had hosted in its first few years, was moved to Mistwood in Romeoville by tournament founder Phil Kosin.
Now Odyssey, which has always been a public course, has found a niche which may be unique in American golf.
The Halikias family, which built the course, created a charity foundation and gave it the golf course. Odyssey now hosts veterans and special-needs groups and individuals at greatly reduced rates, along with the general public at regular prices.
The family still owns the clubhouse, which has the usual array of weddings, lunches and dinners.
“We have a whole new mission, a whole new heart,” said Lisa Halikias, the executive director of Odyssey Charities. “We asked ourselves, what can we do that’s different?
“We would always be donating to local causes, but five years ago we took the golf course and donated it to charity. All the money the golf course earns goes back into the charity.”
The family is heavily involved in the charity. Aristotle Halikias is president and two family members are directors. Odyssey Charities is approved as a 501(c)3 charity by the IRS, and is the first, and perhaps only, such course foundation.
“My family and I wanted to do something with our golf course to enrich the lives of others,” Aristotle Halikias said on the foundation’s website (www.odysseygolffoundation.org). “Veterans have done so much to protect our peace and tranquility. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. We wanted to give something back to these unsung heroes. We hope the golf course can bring them some peace and tranquility.”
The original mission was to cater only to veterans, but recently special-needs people have been taken under Odyssey’s wing.
“Right now, that’s mostly free lessons, but we’re trying to be a qualifying site for the Special Olympics as well, and want to work with the CDGA Foundation,” Lisa Halikias said.
The veterans groups who have played in the course-organized tournaments have had an impact in return, she said.
“They’re together as brothers,” she said. “The spirituality is amazing. If the whole world treated each other like they do, the world would be in a better place.”
For head pro Ed Staffan, a Vietnam veteran who has been at Odyssey from the start, there’s been little difference in day-to-day operations, but one change is significant.
“Yesterday I sent out an e-mail at 9 a.m. for a veterans tournament, and this afternoon I already have 70 people signed up,” Staffan said. “They all fill up to 144 people. They’re of all ages, from “22 to 82.
“We have a couple of guys in their 90s who were complaining because they were competing in the 80-and-up age group against guys 12 years younger,” Staffan added, chuckling. “I said, ‘As soon as you comprise more than two percent of the field, you get your own category.’ ”
The entry fee is only $15, including breakfast, lunch and prizes. There’s also a nine-hole Veterans Golf League on Tuesdays, and free clinics for veterans on Wednesday mornings.
(subhead) The Bucket
(bullet) Cog Hill, with a Palos Park address since the village annexed it last year, has delayed the opening of Dubsdread, the fierce fourth course on the property, until April 22. A renovation project featuring the installation of Augusta National-style sand should be completed by then. In the course of the season, one hole at a time, a handful of fairway bunkers on several holes are being grassed over. Whether that takes any teeth out of Chicagoland’s most testing public course is yet to be seen.
(bullet) The Stony Creek Spring Scramble is Saturday at the Oak Lawn course. Entry fee is $45, and includes lunch and range balls. Call 708-857-2433 to enter or for more details.
(bullet) Seniors, mark down May 10 for the Senior Spring Scramble at Silver Lake in Orland Park. Entry fee of $80 per player includes dinner, entry in the hole-in-one contest and on-course refreshments. Players and teams will be assigned to flights based on total age of each group. For more info, call Silver Lake at 708-349-6940, ext. 4.
(bullet) Palos Hills native Tony Frandria, who got his start in golf working behind the counter at the Palos Hills municipal layout, is the new superintendent at Canal Shores in Evanston following a long stint at posh Glen View Club in the tiny north suburb of Golf.