Medinah Country Club is one of the courses in Chicago that ended up being a real struggle for me. In my previous trips to Chicago in 2009 and 2010 I tried to get Medinah on my itinerary, but it never quite worked out. In 2011 I even had a trip planned with a plane ticket and rental car booked but ended up canceling at the last minute when my Medinah contact fell through. I was beginning to wonder if this course might be my own personal great white whale. With the Ryder Cup is coming to Medinah this fall I was not overly optimistic about getting out there in 2012 as they would surely be limiting guest play leading up to the event.
After a couple of false starts and changed plans in May of this year I received an email from my friend Al who had hosted me at Olympia Fields asking if I was planning to come to Chicago this summer and did I want to play Medinah and Rich Harvest Farms. The proposed dates worked out and I went about making my travel arrangements while he lined up the golf.
Medinah Country Club was founded by a group of Shriners from Chicago’s Medinah Temple in the early 1920s. Medinah is one of the very few clubs in America with 54 holes of golf. The club hired Scottish golf course architect Tom Bendelow to design all three courses. The first course, creatively named #1, opened in 1925 and then the following year #2 opened for play. The #3 course, which is the championship course today, originally opened in 1928 and was intended to be for the ladies of Medinah. Bendelow’s original design on #3 only lasted a few years before it was completely redesigned in the early 1930s. Another redesign was completed in 2002 by the golf course architect Rees Jones. Over the years the #3 course at Medinah Country Club has hosted a number of significant and important professional golf tournaments including five majors consisting of three U.S. Opens (1949, 1975, 1990) and two P.G.A. championships (1999, 2006). Of course the 2012 Ryder Cup will be hosted here as well adding to the club’s already long legacy. It it worth noting that after the 2012 Ryder Cup is completed that the #1 course will remain closed for a redesign to be completed by 21st century golf architecture messiah Tom Doak.
I’m not sure its possible to talk about Medinah Country Club without mentioning the clubhouse. I don’t know if it is the biggest in America, but I think its safe to say that there no others like it. With its middle eastern look, this incredible structure could easily be mistaken for the mansion of an Arabic oil sheik rather than a golf clubhouse. I’m not overly familiar with the history of Shriners organization, but I do believe that there is some kind of tie in with the the middle eastern culture so the architecture style is quite fitting for the traditions upon which the club was founded.
When I arrived at the club I checked in with the gate guard and then proceeded to the bag drop where my clubs were removed from my trunk and the Kia Rio I had rented was valeted amongst the array high performance sports cars that filled the parking lot. After meeting up with Al, his brother, and their friend who was hosting us for the day inside the pro shop we hopped in carts and headed over to the practice tee to warm up with a few balls. From there we zipped back over to the starters shack by the 1st tee and met our caddies. As always I have to say what great caddie programs the clubs in Chicago have. Thanks to the Evans Scholarship Foundation these kids not only have an opportunity to be gainfully employed and learn about golf but they also have a shot at earning a college scholarship. Chicago is already a great golf town and the caddie programs at these clubs make it even greater.
As we waited for our turn to tee off we decided that the white tees playing 6,600 yards would provide a sufficient challenge. As we were disucussing our tee options our host noted that he normally plays his weekend games from the 7,000 yard silver tees. That is a ton of golf course to take on every weekend!
Hole 1 – 357 yards – Par 4
The course starts out with a fairly straight forward and friendly par 4. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Here we have a look at the approach shot into the 1st green. There are bunkers surrounding the green so inaccurate approach shots can be punished.
Hole 2 – 151 yards – Par 3
No time is wasted in getting right down to business with the 2nd hole. Players need to have shaken any jitters off on the 1st hole if they want to have any chance at being comfortable on the 2nd. From the white tees this plays right at 151 yards which isn’t terribly long, but any shots that come up short are going to be rinsed in Lake Kadijah. There is not much of a bailout either, so this is pretty much a “do or die” type of hole.
Here is a little closer look.
Hole 3 – 365 yards – Par 4
Here we have a shortish par 4 with a tree lined fairway. There are fairway bunkers along the right hand side so slicers of the ball need to beware.
Large bunkers flank both sides of this green so the optimal miss here would be short.
Hole 4 – 401 yards – Par 4
After a couple of shorter par 4 we come to the first of the longer holes. This one is a stout 401 yards with an undulating fairway that can provide some extra roll for players who can bomb it off the tee.
Depending on where a player’s drive lands the approach shot can play a bit uphill and require a little extra club. With a hole location at the front like it is in the photo below an approach shot that comes up short may be subject to a little backward roll down the fairway if the ground is dry and firm.
Hole 5 – 488 yards – Par 5
The first par 5 on the course is a short one and although it plays uphill it is still very reachable in two for players who hit it 260+ yards off the tee. The drive is crucial here as the best angle into the green comes from the right side of the fairway which is heavily guarded with fairway bunkers.
Below is a view of the pitch into the green after a layup on the second shot.
Hole 6 – 432 yards – Par 4
This hole is the longest of the par 4s in the first nine holes playing just 56 yards shorter than the preceding par 5 hole. Grip it and rip it in hopes of getting it as far up the fairway as possible is the only thing to do here.
Fortunately, the approach into this green is wide open which means that shots coming up short will have a chance of bouncing onto the green. Since the average golfer will be hitting a long iron or utility club into this one its not a bad idea to play the shot a little short of the green in firm conditions.
Hole 7 – 571 yards – Par 5
Here we have a very healthy par 5 of 571 yards. This is a 3 shot hole for mortal golfers and playing the drive out towards the left side of the fairway will provide the best angle for the second shot.
There are a lot of trees at Medinah and they have removed an extraordinary number over the last few years in preparation for the 2012 Ryder Cup. Some of the trees that have been spared are amazingly old like the one that sits along the left side of the fairway on this hole.
Here is a photo of the plaque on the tree that states its age at nearly 350 years old. Wow.
Here is a look at the approach into the green. Plenty of bunkers up there.
Hole 8 – 153 yards – Par 3
This par 3 is the only par 3 on the course that does not play over water. It runs just a touch downhill so a little less club here is not a bad idea.
Hole 9 – 397 yards – Par 3
This long par 4 is just the kind of hole that I like. Its a sharp dogleg to the left that rewards a bold drive with a short approach into the green. The daring line is to take a driver up the left side hugging the trees as tightly as possible with a little draw on it. The safe play is a 3 wood down the middle. The further right a drive goes the more likely it is to run out of fairway.
Here we have a look at the approach into the 9th green.
Hole 10 – 555 yards – Par 5
At the 10th hole we have another long par 5 that plays as a 3 shot hole for most amateurs. A drive down the middle or up the right side will provide the best angle for the layup shot.
Here is a look a the pitch to the green after a layup second shot.
Below is a view of the 2 tiered green.
Hole 11 – 374 yards – Par 4
This hole is a mid-length par 4. I played this hole from way left and in the woods so I didn’t get very many good photos. Below is a look at the 11th green.
Hole 12 – 452 yards – Par 4
I rarely come away from a course with a long tough hole as one of my favorites, but I really enjoyed the 12th hole at Medinah. The photo below was taken from tee box and the best line for the drive is up the middle or even a little bit to the left side of the fairway. The hole falls off to the right and balls that hit the fairway are likely to get a kick that will throw them to the right side of the fairway.
Below is a view of the green at the 12th hole. A hole location on the right hand side can be particularly troublesome as the hill running down to the lake is closely mowed and will pose a serious problem for shots that miss to the right of the green.
Hole 13 – 151 yards – Par 3
Here we have another par 3 that plays over water. From the white tees this is a shortish 151 yards, but from the back tees where the Ryder Cup will be played the hole is a brutal 245 yards. The photo below was taken from the back tees.
Here is a much more friendly view taken from our white tees.
Hole 14 – 531 yards – Par 5
This par 5 is a longer one that plays as a three shot hole for most amateurs. Something in the fairway is all that is needed here.
The green is fronted by numerous bunkers and is wider than it is deep, so even if a player has the length to go for it in two, it would be difficult to hold the green.
Hole 15 – 308 yards – Par 4
This short par 4 is sure to be the site of some drama during the upcoming 2012 Ryder Cup. I hemmed and hawed so much on the tee box about whether I should hit driver or a utility club that I forgot to take a photo from the tee box. I ended up hitting driver and had an easy pitch to the green. Note in the photo below that there is water on the right side of the hole. This is a recently added feature and is in play for players attempting to drive the green. The back tees have the hole playing at 390 yards but our host felt confident that the hole would be used as a driveable par 4 on at least one day of the Ryder Cup.
Hole 16 – 413 yards – Par 4
This hole is the site of 19 year old Sergio Garcia’s eyes closed miracle shot off of a tree root where he ran up the fairway and jumped like an antelope to see the result. Sadly that tree was removed during Medinah’s recent chainsaw procedure, however, I suspect that the removal improved pace of play as every guest who plays the hole is no longer trying to recreate the shot. The photo below was taken from the tee box and as can be seen the hole doglegs to the left. Sergio’s tree was off to the right of the cart in the fairway below.
Below is a look at the green from about 140 yards out.
Hole 17 – 132 yards – Par 3
For the final par 3 on the course we cross back over Lake Kadijah for a final time, this one being with a pitching wedge or short iron. Being short is not advisable and there isn’t much of a bail out on the left, so as Harvey Penick would say “take dead aim”.
Hole 18 – 398 yards – Par 4
The closing hole is a par 4 with a slight dogleg to the left. Note the fairway bunkers in the photo below. These are in play from the tee box so the proper line or shot shape needs to be played in order to avoid them.
The approach shot into the green is not an easy shot to finish the round. Nearly every hole location on this green will require the carry of the two deep bunkers that front this green. Shots that come up short will make par a challenge.
After we finished the 18th hole we headed back to the clubhouse for a beer and to add up the damage. I was pleased to have finished the round with the same ball that I started with. Having to traverse Lake Kadijah a total of four times makes this an act of a higher power as far as I’m concerned. Overall the course plays fair and I thought it was very manageable from the 6,600 yard tees. I found there to be a number of really excellent holes and I had a great time playing. With the Ryder Cup being just a little over three months away the course was already in fantastic condition which is always nice. I can’t wait for September to arrive so I can see how the pros attack this course from a match play standpoint. It’s going to be fun to watch!