Many golfers have surveyed the glacial pace of play ahead of them and fantasized about building their own courses. Few have acted on the notion, and fewer still have done so on the elaborate scale wrought by businessman and auto-racing magnate Gerald Forsythe.
Forsythe’s Canyata (a Native American word meaning “backwoods” and pronounced can-YAY-tuh) is a sprawling 18-hole complex set on his family’s 1,000-acre farm outside of Marshall, Ill. Forsythe built the course strictly for the use of family and friends, but he now intends to offer a limited number of memberships to the club.
This is not the first time Forsythe’s plans for Canyata have changed. The course began as a modest project on this stretch of pastureland in north central Illinois. “The original plan was for three holes,” Forsythe recalls of his early discussions with Michael Benkusky, who at the time was the lead project designer for Lohmann Golf Designs in Marengo, Ill. “I brought in the designer, and once he surveyed the land, the plan immediately changed to nine holes.”
The grass on Canyata’s nine holes had not grown in before Forsythe changed his mind again. “I decided to make two warm-up holes,” he recalls. Those holes later became numbers 10 and 18 once Benkusky, at Forsythe’s request, completed seven more.
Now a 7,258-yard championship course with five sets of tees, Canyata retains the ambience of a personal retreat. The course stretches over a 290-acre section of the family’s farm, playing through windswept pastures, forests, and ravines, some of which require daunting carries from the tees. In addition to his clever use of the natural landscape, Benkusky moved nearly 1 million cubic yards of soil, molding much of it into berms—some as high as 30 feet—that provide a sense of isolation from hole to hole. Because annual rounds number in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands, Canyata never suffers from overcrowding, and the course is in preternaturally good condition.
The principals are coy about the total cost to build Canyata, but Benkusky, who now has his own design firm, says that “money has not been an object.” Time, however, was a factor; Canyata required nearly four years to complete. “I was surprised at the length of time from beginning to end,” says Forsythe, “although I realize the fact that the project evolved definitely stretched the timeline a bit.”
The evolution of the project also led to Forsythe’s decision to open the course to members. “Because the amount of praise was so high, we decided to change the direction of Canyata from just a family-and-friends golf course and set out to complete the world-class facility that had, really, caught us by surprise,” he says. “We didn’t expect to be where we are today, but we’re happy to be here.”
Forsythe says he will begin accepting memberships to Canyata early this year, with initial plans calling for a limit of 100 members at $100,000 apiece plus annual dues. Of course, where Canyata is concerned, he has been known to change his mind.
Canyata Golf Club