By John Rice
Golf season is in full swing, so I lament the loss of Bushwood Driving Range. It operated on the west bank of the Des Plaines River at Madison Street from 2002 to 2010, literally a stone's throw from Forest Park. I assumed Bushwood closed because it was no longer profitable, but there was a darker reason for its demise.
Rick and Raffiella Hanson started Bushwood. Rick's brother, Craig, was also a key player. Craig gave me property tax documents that spelled out the real reason Bushwood closed. It's a shame because the Hanson family has deep roots in Maywood.
LL Hanson was a crane company that migrated from Chicago to Maywood in 1952. Richard L. Hanson Sr. operated the company and his sons, Rick and Craig worked there. They learned trades like welding and excavating and the company prospered for years.
After LL Hanson closed in 2002, Rick and Craig looked to launch a new family enterprise. They were avid golfers and thought this area needed a new driving range. They leased the property in 2001 and constructed the range.
It took them a year and a half to build Bushwood. Rick did the excavating and the brothers installed the sewers and put up 75-foot wooden poles to support the screens. They opened a single-level, summer-only facility but had bigger plans. In 2007, they purchased the 8 acre parcel for $10,000.
The site is a former landfill that contains ash from incinerated waste. A clay cap covers the refuse but the soil is not stable enough for building. Only the north end of the property was suitable. That is where the Hansons constructed a pro shop and added a second level of tees.
They also added "monster" steel poles, set in cement, after storms twice toppled their wooden poles. They installed putting greens and brought in teaching pros. The range had long hours, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., so they hired extra help during the summer.
The brothers practically lived at the range. Craig slept there during snowstorms to make sure the dome stayed intact. Raffiella worked the cash register, along with their daughter, Lauren, who practiced at the range and became the top golfer on OPRF High School's team for four years. Many local high schools practiced at Bushwood, including Proviso East.
Bushwood thrived as a community of golfers. Rick calls golf the "last honest sport" and admires the good manners and etiquette it teaches. For eight years, family members worked 12- to 14-hour days to make the range a success. Plus, Rick had invested $980,000. Then it all came crashing down, like poles toppled by a storm.
Bushwood's property taxes had initially been $10,000 to $15,000. In 2010, they skyrocketed to six figures. The owners filed an appeal and received a reduction but in 2017, the taxes were $301,783. That's the tax bill for a former landfill, situated in a flood plain, which the Illinois EPA has deemed only useable as a driving range.
The Hansons weren't the only victims of dramatic property tax increases. According to a spokesperson for Cook County, "The system was discriminatory to those who couldn't afford to hire attorneys annually to appeal their property taxes." To make up for tax breaks for the wealthy, the assessor shifted the tax burden to lower-income property owners.
Rick and Raffiella filed bankruptcy for the business. They still own the property but it's saddled with back taxes, so there are no buyers. The Village of Maywood may be considering developing the property but village officials didn't return my calls.
A successful family business — a haven for golfers — Bushwood once had it all.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com