“Love reading your blog. Now is the time to go to Kohler for Blackwolf Run and the Straits courses with the rates being very, very low. I’m a member at Olympia Fields so if in town give me a buzz. Best wishes on your quest.”
Back in April of this year I received the above email from Al, a visitor at my website. As I have mentioned in other posts about Chicago courses, when I started this quest I did not know a mortal soul in the Chicago area and playing the six Chicagoland Top 100 courses was something I was concerned about. This email was as good as striking gold as far as I was concerned! This was my first good contact for a Chicago club and I hoped I could build a trip including another course or two. Obviously I emailed back to him and stayed in touch over the next couple of months until we ultimately made arrangements to have a game together in July.
Olympia Fields is another one of America’s great historic clubs. In addition to 12 significant tournaments, including five Western Opens, it has been the host to four of golfs ‘major’ tournaments – the PGA Championship two times and the U.S Open two times. The most famous and dramatic of these majors is certainly the 1928 U.S Open where Johnny Farrell defeated the great Bobby Jones by one stroke in a 36 hole playoff.
The club was chartered in 1915 and between then and 1922 there were four golf courses built. Eventually the club slimmed down to the two courses that are there today – the North and the South. Much like many clubs that have two courses, there is one that is the famous championship course and the other is often the sporty fun course that is loved by the members. At Olympia Fields the North designed by Willie Park Jr. is the championship course where the PGA Championships and U.S. Opens were contested and the one rated on Golf Digest’s Top 100 list. The South course, while I have not played it, is supposed to be a very fun and challenging course in its own right and from what I hear a member favorite.
So when we arrived at OFCC it was immediately clear that this was a full service, family friendly country club that sees a lot of use and not a small membership golf club. There were tennis courts, swimming pools and an enormous clubhouse. Hayes and Blair were with me again today so once we got parked we headed to the locker room to find the attendant and be directed to the lockers they had prepared for us. The locker room was huge as you would expect for a club of this scale. When we found our lockers they were outfitted with nifty little OFCC cards that had our names written on them and inside each locker there was a plastic bag with scorecards, tees, ball markers and a pencil. How handy!
From the locker room we went to the pro shop to check in and then hopped in carts to go down to the range and meet our host. At the range we found Al, officially introduced ourselves and commenced to warming up. After knocking a few balls around we hopped back in the carts and drove up to the first tee of the North course where we unloaded our bags and met our caddies. There were four of us playing and we had 3 caddies, a captain who would be carrying two bags and two young guys who were newer to the caddie program and would each be carrying one bag. One of the young guys was just 11 years old and when he stood next to the golf bag it was nearly tall as he was! Coming from the east coast where a vast majority of the caddies are “pro jocks” who are adult men looping for a living it is refreshing to play in the midwest where there are a number of young kids who are learning the game, able to earn money for the first time in their lives and are eligible to earn a spot as an Evan’s Scholar.
Olympia Fields, as many of the clubs in the Chicago area, has a very strong caddie program and is a big supporter of the Evans Scholarship Foundation. For those who do not know the Evans Scholarship Foundation was started by famed Chicago golfer Charles E. “Chick” Evans. Since 1930 the Foundation has provided college educations for almost 9,000 caddies and made scholarship tuition payments in excess of $100 million. It is one of the nation’s largest privately funded scholarship programs and one of the best examples of the game of golf giving back to the community. Caddies who earn an Evans Scholarship will receive a fully funded education, including room and board, at one of the 14 universities where the Foundation owns and operates a Scholarship House. Its an absolutely fantastic program that is well worth supporting. Click here if you’d like to learn more or make a donation.
Now that we’ve met our caddies and waited until 10AM when guest play is allowed, we were off. We are playing the 6,605 yard tees today. There were two other tee options behind ours which were the 6,959 yard Championship tees and the U.S. Open tees which played 7,205 yards.
The photo below was taken from the tee of the 1st hole which is a 542 yard par 5. Interestingly this is the only par 5 on the first nine. The course plays as a par 71 for members and a par 70 for the pros.
The photo below is taken from roughly where the 3rd shot would be played from after a lay up 2nd shot.
The 3rd hole is a fantastic par 4 that plays 409 yards. The tee shot is blind so the caddies went out to the fairway to forecaddie. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Over the hill the hole runs down hill to a flat area and then back up an incline to the green. The photo below, taken while walking down the hill towards the flat spot gives an idea of how the hole looks.
The 5th hole is a short par 4 that plays 347 yards. It is pretty tight so unless your driver is reliable it might be wise to consider teeing off with a 3 wood here. The photo below is of the 5th green.
It was after we teed off on this hole that I realized fellow golf blogger, Jim Colton, was playing in the group behind us. Jim lives in Chicago and we’d been in touch via email but never met in person. I knew that he was playing Olympia Fields that day and was on the lookout for him, but didn’t realize until the 5th hole that he was directly behind our group. His blog is a very entertaining read and can be found here.
The 6th and 7th holes here are interesting. The 6th is a downhill par 3 that plays 164 yards and the 7th is a downhill par 4 that plays 400 yards. The two tee boxes are virtually right next to each other. The way that the course is laid out, players have to walk back up the hill to the 7th hole tee box upon finishing the 6th hole. The members here have eliminated that problem by teeing off on the 6th hole, then teeing off on the 7th hole. After teeing off for both holes they will walk down and finish the par 3 6th hole and then walk over and continue play with their approach shots for the 7th hole. A great way to keep the pace of play moving.
The photo below is of the 6th green. To the left of the cart path you can see the 7th fairway. As you can see it makes a lot more sense to tee off on 7 early so that you can just walk from the green over to the fairway rather than back up the hill.
The 8th hole pictured below is a fairly long par 3 at 197 yards. Its a pretty straight forward hole with the rough being the main protection for the hole. If a player misses the green they will find some pretty gnarly rough to deal with.
The 9th hole is a very long par 4 at 433 yards with a number of fairway bunkers. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The photo below is of my approach shot on the 9th hole. As you can see I was still a long ways out.
The 11th hole is a mid length par 4 at 375 yards. Its a dogleg left and a fairly straightforward hole. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
I loved the 12th hole pictured below which is another mid length par 4 at 377 yards. A good drive on this hole will fly down the center of the fairway between the trees and then fade around the bend leaving a short iron into the green.
The photo below is of the approach shot on the 12th hole.
As pictured below there is a creek fronting the green on the 12th hole which shouldn’t really come into play but it gives the hole part of its good looks.
The 13th hole is a neat little par 3 that plays 150 yards. With the flag location for today the ideal tee shot here is a high draw. You cannot see it in the photo below, but the green has a number of deep bunkers in front of it that can wreak havoc for players who come up short.
The 14th hole is another one of Olympia Fields North Course’s great par 4 holes. This one certainly makes my personal favorites list. The drive is from an elevated tee box and which gives players a little extra length for this 420 yard hole. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The 14th hole approach pictured below is another one where the shot is to an elevated green. Here the player not only needs to have enough club to account for the uphill, but they also must be sure they carry the scrub area in front of the green.
The 17th hole is a pretty 369 yard par 4 that is relatively flat. As you can see in the photo below wayward tee shots will find trouble in the trees. If you can put it out there in the fairway it should be a fairly easy par.
I had a great time at Olympia Fields. Its always a treat to play a U.S. Open course and this one happens to be from my favorite time period of golf course architecture. The tree lined fairways and undulating topography makes an ideal setting for a golf course. What a great guy Al was to contact me out of the blue like he did. I’m definitely grateful for that and we’ve already put plans in motion to play some more golf together.