Chicago was one of the cities that caused some concern for me when I started the Top 100 quest. At the time I did not know one single person that lived in Chicago and six of the Top 100 courses are in the Chicagoland area . . . That made me more than a little worried that this was going to be difficult. I slowly started asking around and eventually stumbled onto a couple of leads. Hayes, my roommate from college and friend since the 7th grade had grandparents in Chicago so I contacted him to see if they might know anyone who belonged to any of the clubs. Unfortunately they did not. However, he did mention that his boss, Blair, lived in Chicago and that he would check with him. As luck would have it Blair knew someone that was a member at Butler National and he arranged for the three of us to have a game with his friend.
Butler National is one of the places that I was unable to research much on the internet. I knew that the course had been designed by George and Tom Fazio and that it had been the host of the Western Open (1974-1990). Beyond that the only other things I knew were that club was an all male membership and that the course was supposed to be incredibly difficult. I guessed I’d find out more when I got there.
On Friday night Hayes picked me up at the airport and drove me back to his grandparents house where we’d be staying for the weekend. His grandparents may not have known any members at Top 100 clubs but his grandmother sure knew how to cook up some pot roast, mashed potatoes and apple pie. It was nice to get some midwestern hospitality and great home cooking. Thanks Grandma and Grandpa!!
The next morning upon arrival to the club the parking attendant directed us where to go to change shoes. In the locker room, the attendant had us all set up with with lockers and as we were changing our shoes Joe, our host, arrived. We took a quick look through the clubhouse and pro shop and headed straight out to the practice tee to get warmed up.
As with many of the Top 100 courses there are no tee times. Today we had to wait until 10AM to go off because Joe is currently classified as a junior member and one of the restrictions on junior members is that they cannot play before 10AM on weekends. I’ve run into similar rules at other clubs regarding both junior members and groups with guests in them. I found that its not uncommon for many clubs to restrict guest play until after 12PM on weekends. I even run into some places where they prohibit guest play all together on holiday weekends. We killed time waiting for 10AM to roll around by hitting balls on on the practice tee, meeting our caddies and rolling some putts on the practice green. Fortunately for us things were pretty slow and the caddiemaster went ahead and let us go off a just a little before 10AM.
As we arrive at the first tee I looked at the scorecard to see the distance options. Thankfully Joe had us playing from the “Member” tees which are 6,712 yards. The next step back which they call the “Tournament” tees are 6,989 yards and then there is yet another step back to the “Butler” tee which is a 7,523 yard death march. When I commented on this Joe pointed out that the course could be set up even deeper than beyond the Butler tees if the club was hosting a special event. Yikes.
The 1st hole starts the round out nicely with a short par 4 of 360 yards (from the Member tees) with a dogleg left. A good drive here will make the turn and leave a nice short shot into the green. The photo below is taken from the tee box.
The photo below is of the approach to the 1st green. Note the creek that fronts the green. Shots that fall short are definitely going to get wet.
The 2nd hole is a 534 yard par 5. This was my first experience with the rough at Butler. Had I been sensible I would have just gotten back to the fairway, but I elected not to do that and the photo below is where I ended up hitting my approach shot from. It was actually a fun shot to hit and I came up just barely short of the green. Sadly, I did not learn my lesson here and this was only the first of many tangles with the Butler National rough where I would emerge considerably less than victorious.
From the Member tees the 3rd hole plays as a 408 yard par 4 dogleg right. The photo below was taken from the tee box and shows what kind of drive must be hit. A straight shot will go through the fairway and anything too far right will tangle with the tree. The very best line is to aim right where the caddie in the middle of the fairway is and put a little cut on the ball. I aimed my ball right down that line but it didn’t cut as much as I expected and my ball barely stayed in the fairway.
Below is another photo of the 3rd hole taken from the dogleg. As you can see it is a long way to the green from the turn.
The 4th hole is a par 4 dogleg right that we played from 384 yards. There are bunkers strategically placed at the far side of the fairway right at the dogleg that will catch any drives that go a little too far. Three of the four drives in our group ended up in or beyond the bunkers. The photo below shows the approach to the green and you can see some of the bunkers from the corner of the dogleg as well as my caddie getting ready to do some raking.
The 5th hole is a 156 yard par 3 that is all carry over the lake. In the photo below it looks a LOT longer than just 156 yards, but the photo is deceiving. The Butler tees here play 227 yards. Now thats a long carry.
The 7th hole is a 580 yard par 5 from the member tees. Not reachable in 2 shots for me and I can’t imagine that it would be for many players who didn’t have a tour card in their bag. The hole goes straight out and then turns sharply to the right. The photo below was taken where my drive landed. From there I had to hit my second shot across the water and get clear of the trees in order to have a look at the green for my 3rd shot. A really fun hole that I wish I had taken better photos of.
The 8th hole is a fantastic par 3. From the member tees it plays 167 yards. The chute is every bit as narrow as it looks in the photo below. Not an easy shot when it is a mid to long iron for most players.
Due to the hole location and the wind it was playing long and my caddie recommended a 190 yard shot . . . the dreaded 4 iron. I got rid of my 3 iron a few years ago but still do carry a 4 iron. Not my favorite club, but when I hit it well it feels great. I nutted it here but still came up just a bit short. Below is a shot of the 4 iron in action.
The 9th hole is a 409 yard par 4 that again is pretty narrow. it doesn’t take much movement to the left or right to get in trouble. Blair’s caddy left him some club options and walked ahead to forecaddie. We found it rather humorous that his caddie had removed the cover from his 3 wood and left the cover on his driver . . . subliminal coaching. No it didn’t work . . . Blair hit driver and ended up in the woods. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The approach on the 9th hole pictured below plays a little up hill and the fairway remains tightly lined with trees until around the green.
The 10th hole is another par 4 playing 376 yards from the member tees. The drive is fairly straight forward with the approach shot being a little more difficult. Fronting the green is a creek and again, shots left short are going to end up getting wet. The photo below is of the approach shot. Joe rolled in a huge birdie putt on this green.
The 11th hole pictured below is nice par 3 that plays 150 yards. The water does not come into play and the green is the real trick on this hole. It runs pretty severely from back to front. Joe poured in another birdie putt in on this hole for two in a row!
The 14th hole which is a par 4 369 yard hole is an interesting one. In the photo below you can see the tee boxes clear over on the right side of the photo. The drive must be hit over the lake and then the 2nd shot hit over the lake coming back to the green. A fun little hole. I also thought it was interesting to see the buildings in the background. This gives you an idea how much Butler National sits right in the heart of Oak Brook. It is not out at a remote location at all.
The 15th hole is a great par 5 that plays 560 yards. Among the caddies the hole is often referred to as the 30 minute hole because thats how long it takes to play it. Its pretty long, but some distance can be cut off with a well placed drive. The hole curves around to the right, so a fade can be a benefit here. The photo below is of the green from over 200 yards out.
The 17th hole is a long par 4 at 420 yards from the member tees. Its plays straight and is not that tight of a hole. As you can see in the photo below there are number bunkers that can cause some problems.
I did not remember to take a photo of the 18th hole but for those of you who are wondering, yes it is true that the infamous trees in the middle of the fairway were indeed removed a couple of years ago. That certainly changes the way the hole plays and I would suspect makes it a little easier.
When we walked off the putting green at the beginning of our day we all were feeling pretty good and Joe had announced that he was hoping to break his personal best score in this round. I was keeping the scorecard for the group and I noticed on the 17th tee box that Joe was having a great round. Stupidly I made a comment and then immediately realized that I’d put my foot in my mouth and prayed that I didn’t jinx him. Thankfully I didn’t and he finished the last 2 holes in fine order and beat his personal best score by 5 strokes. The funny thing is that when he went to enter the score into the handicap computer it gave him a message that said something to the effect of “This score is far below your normal scoring average. Are you sure this is correct?” I thought that was hilarious!
We had a great day at Butler. The weather was warm but we only really noticed it in a couple of spots on the course with no breeze. I really enjoyed the course and I definitely agree with the assessment that it is a difficult course. The rough just killed me here. In looking back at the scorecard I only had 4 bad holes. The problem was that those bad holes were triple bogeys. The cumulative effect of a single bad shot is clearly one of the elements in play here at Butler, so its best to not be foolish when you find yourself in trouble. Once you get in the rough you had better find your way out ASAP. I wish I could go back and take my own advice. I also missed a LOT of greens here and I found myself trying to hit delicate touch shots from buried lies around the greens all day. That usually does not make for great scoring.
Between the length and the set up, Butler National is clearly a championship quality golf course that will test the best players in the game. I loved the course and had a great time in spite of my poor play. Its a shame that the Western Open is not here anymore as it would be fun to see today’s pros make their way around this one. If you get a chance to play here, just remember that the rough is not anything you want to tangle with. If you get off track, just get it back to the fairway!