Illinois (IL) 60187,
- +1 630 665 2988
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20 miles W of downtown Chicago
Members and their guests only
It’s possible that Chicago acquired its “Windy City” nickname thanks to the cooling summer lake breezes, which funnel their way through the city streets, and it’s also feasible that the great World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893 was the catalyst for the formation of Chicago Golf Club. After all, the city needed a golf course for the visiting VIPs.
Founded in 1892, Chicago Golf Club was initially located at Belmont. In 1894 it moved to its present location at Wheaton and it became the first 18-hole course in America, designed by the daddy of American golf course architecture, Charles Blair Macdonald.
Chicago Golf Club has a number of firsts to write home about. In 1897 it was the first club outside the Northeast to host the US Open and it was also the first club to employ bent grass greens. Chicago was also one of the five founder members of the American Golf Association, which was subsequently renamed the USGA. The other four charter members were: Newport Country Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, St. Andrew's Golf Club (Yonkers, N.Y.), and The Country Club.
George Bahto commented as follows in The
Evangelist of Golf : “Macdonald’s original design was not dramatically
altered for over 20 years with the exception of a few suggestions by famed
British architect Harry Colt. With new and better courses popping up all the
time, the architect of Sunningdale, at the club’s request, tweaked the design
to help keep the quality of the course competitive with some of the more modern
layouts. Ultimately though, Chicago Golf Club’s design became antiquated and
the club voted in 1922 to retain Macdonald’s legendary protégé, Seth Raynor, to
assist Macdonald in completely remodeling the layout.”
The club staged many early championships, including the US Amateur, US Open and the Walker Cup. In 1928, Bobby Jones was the Walker Cup playing captain and he posted an amazing course record 66, which drove team USA to an emphatic 11-1 victory. The Walker Cup returned to Chicago for the second time in 2005.
Chicago Golf Club is one of America’s most exclusive golf clubs and today it is still intensely private, but if you’ve been lucky enough to play this famous course, we’d love to read your review.
Chicago Golf Club is a fantastic experience and a walk one does not want to end. Upon holing out on 18 I was immediately tempted to walk back to 1 and stick another tee in the ground. It is the rare golf course where I remember every shot and every position I was in (good and bad) with absolute fondness.
The stretch from 1-4 is absolute golf nirvana. Difficult, strategic and tone-setting, the course plays out like a symphony with high notes contrasted by mellow overtures. If this isn't the perfect routing then the perfect routing may not exist.
The club is golf obsessed and it's clear that preservation of the game and stewardship of an important piece of its history is its only passion. The nondescript entrance and parking lot are augmented by a small but well stocked pro shop and absolute minimalist (in a great way) locker room and tap room. Upstairs in the clubhouse is a virtual golf museum of well preserved memorabilia and a completely different vibe.
Chicago Golf Club sets the example for every true "golf club." As it sets the pace, there is a difficult time for even the most elite of clubs in the USA keeping up. It is impossible to give an experience so special anything less than a 6* review, as Chicago Golf Club needs no improvements or changes, only to keep up what it has been doing well for over 100 years.
I made a return visit to Chicago Golf Club. We had the first (and one of only three tee times on the day due to the weather forecast of rain) and our foursome played in 2:56.
I have said before that I think Chicago GC is the finest "flat" course in the world. After seeing the restoration work by Tom Doak, which is nearly completed, I think even more highly of it. I am now beginning to believe it is likely the best of Seth Raynor's work, surpassing Fishers Island. Obviously, what sets Fisher Island apart is the many magnificent holes on the water, as well as holes three to five and eleven to fourteen. Yet Chicago manages to create interest on every hole, regardless of the plain that it was built on. It does this through a magnificent routing of holes that are long and short, that are straight or bend, a fabulous placement of bunkers and interesting greens.
The recent work by Tom Doak has added fourteen bunkers, four of which are on the difficult second hole as well as a well-placed center line bunker on fifteen. Many of the faces of the bunkers have been raised. Unlike newer courses being built by today's most in-demand architects, where the bunkers often are only "eye candy," the bunkers at Chicago are nearly always in play.
Many of the green surrounds have been changed, with run-offs added. The run-offs replaced taller grass at the edges of many of the greens, which would stop a ball from traveling too far away for a shot that came into the green with too much pace. Now, the edges of the greens must be avoided. These fall-offs are rarely severe where one's ball could run more than twenty feet away, and the slopes are generally more gentle allowing the possibility of utilizing a putter for recovery.
The rough has been allowed to slightly thicken, or at least it appeared thicker where I missed a fairway than on my previous visits. And yet, it is only mid-May; it makes me wonder what the course looks and plays in the height of summer.
Chicago GC is one of the best walks in all of golf, despite not having views of water. The only interesting non-golf course view from the course is the clubhouse. Yet the views across the course are amazing where one can see some of the higher points of the course for a few tees and raised greens.
It is a special places.
Since many people have already given a hole by hole description of the course, I'll go ahead and tell a different story. Chicago Golf is undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences one can have in the game of golf. The history of the place itself is captivating, having hosted 3 US Opens and 4 US Amateurs. It was one of the five founding clubs of the USGA and even had its own train stop for members on the Aurora-Elgin Railroad.
The original course on the property was laid out in 1894 by CB Macdonald. His routing attempted to mimic the fishhook style and double greens found at the Old Course. Over the years the course underwent several changes by club pro James Foulis, winner of the 1896 US Open. The course had changed so much that prior to the 1912 US Amateur, CB Macdonald himself wrote the club a scathing review of the current state of the course. He sent Harry Colt, who at the time was working on nearby Old Elm Club, to create a master plan for the course. Ultimately, Macdonald opted to have Seth Raynor redo the course, which began in 1921.
Of the original design, six holes were kept with only minor changes, those being 1, 10, 14, 15, 17, and 18. While Colt's plan was never implemented, Raynor did use his routing to create the 11th and 12th holes.
Today's course skews very little from Raynor's original design. Over time, trees were planted, greens shrunk, and fairways narrowed. Tom Doak was brought in as a consultant prior to the 2005 Walker Cup, which has seen much of the course restored, culminating in 2021 with a full restoration project. 13 bunkers have been restored and fairways and green surrounds have been widened.
Bonus tip: The original site of Chicago Golf is currently the Downers Grove Golf Course, a really fun little nine on a dramatic piece of land. Its a must play for golf geeks in the area.
Beautiful Course. You could tell you were playing at a special place. No carts, only caddies. No range-finders. It was not a long course but the layout and views were spectacular
Playing Chicago Golf Club is one of the coveted invitations in all of golf. In a suburb of Chicago called Wheaton, Chicago Golf Club is the first 18-hole course in America with a very small membership. The course was built in 1894 and is one of the five founding clubs of the USGA. Chicago Golf is home to some of the best original “template holes” in the USA that are the signature of Charles Blair Macdonald & Seth Raynor architecture. The original course was renovated and improved in 1912 to its current design by Seth Raynor, Macdonald’s protégé under routing instructions provided by a combination of Harry Colt and Macdonald. When all is said and done, Raynor was the on the ground master of executing the plans for the course as it plays today.
Now that we have the history covered, we can talk about the golf course. Is it possible that a course consistently ranked in the top 15 on nearly every list could be underrated? YES, it is not only possible, but it is indeed the case with Chicago Golf Club. Chicago keeps a very low profile and with such a small membership it doesn’t get a lot rounds played annually (less than 5000) and as such if often undeservingly left out of the conversation of the top 10 courses in the USA, where is surely belongs.
Chicago’s opening hole is well-known to be the best opener in Illinois and is a very challenging uphill par-4, where you need to hit two solid shots to start your round off on the right foot. The 2nd hole offers no let-up at all, it's another par-4 and stout test of 481 yards that played into the wind, for which I did not reach in two shots. Many of the original template holes in America were put into play at Chicago Golf. The Biarritz 3rd, is a wonderful hole at 219 yards. The classic Redan 7th hole which at 211 yards is no bargain, and not nearly talked about enough as a fabulous Redan. The “short” 10th at only 149 yards has the trickiest and most contoured green on the course, where a 3 is just as hard to come by as the longer par-3s on the course. The punchbowl 12th is hands down my favorite hole on the course. Finally, you have the short Cape hole short 14th at 356 yards which has plenty of challenge in it. This all equals tremendous interest and variety on a balanced course flows beautifully. One unique feature I noticed at Chicago Golf Club is that at a par-70, there is no sequence of more than 2 par-4s in a row, a key feature supporting the tremendous balance held throughout the round. Another feature of note is that there are hardly any trees on the course, but plenty of fescue to penalize shots hit well off line. A beautiful thing about a links style course like Chicago Golf is that the incredible design is guaranteed to remain timeless as you don’t have to fight overgrown and encroaching trees altering the design of each hole. Plus, the wide open views of the course bring you back in time to old style links golf. Another unique aspect of Chicago Golf Club is the square shaped greens and unique looking bunkers.
The 12th hole at Chicago Golf rivals some of the best par-4s I have ever seen. It’s a 465 yard slightly uphill straightaway hole with strategically placed fairway bunkers that define the hole. The view off the tee is beautiful. Navigate the fairway and the approach shot is uphill and semi-blind to a classic punchbowl green. If you are lucky to find the pin in the punchbowl, a well-struck shot will likely find its way funnel towards the pin for a makeable putt either for birdie or to save par. This particular punchbowl is moderate and far less deep and dramatic than others I have seen and fits a 465 yards uphill hole perfectly.
No matter how you analyze your round at Chicago Golf Club, you’d be hard pressed to find a single negative take away from your experience and the course. You’ve undoubtedly just played one of the best courses in the world that has everything to offer and checks every single box for a pure gem; regardless of what boxes you may have on your list of criteria for a great course. The shorter holes have just as much challenge and intrigue as the longer ones, yet all 18 holes are very playable. The two par-5 present nice birdie opportunities but slip up and a double bogey awaits. The routing is superb with holes going in every direction imaginable and the balance of holes is captivating for the entire round with no let up. You could argue that there are far more “beautiful” courses than Chicago Golf Club and you would be correct if you are referring only to the natural land where other top rated courses either have the ocean with regards to Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, National Golf Links, or some of the best land in the world for golf such as Augusta National or Shinnecock. The land for which Chicago Golf sits is mediocre at best which only further evidences the genius architecture.
In conclusion, Chicago Golf Club is unquestionably a top 10 course in the USA on my overall list. In terms of “my favorite courses to play”, Chicago Golf is comfortably in my top 6 along with Cypress Point, Friar’s Head, National Golf Links, Fishers Island, and Sand Hills. You’ll note that each of my top 6 has a common theme, playability balanced with challenge, fun, and superb architecture. If you just take the design comparing apples to apples, Chicago Golf is better than Fishers Island. Why you ask? Because Fishers has one of the most special pieces of land in the entire United States. Peninsula greens that seemingly were meant to be exactly where they reside. A flowing and tumbling topography at Fishers that generates majestic views with water in the backdrops. The Long Island Sound surrounds the entire course. Need I say more? What does Chicago Golf have? An old farm land that’s relative flat and boring with 18 of the finest holes in the entire United States. These 6 “favorites to play” courses are all part of my overall top 10 list of best courses in the USA. Three of my top six favorites to play are Raynor/Macdonald designs. Their design features are timeless. Chicago Golf is one of the very few courses that does not have a single bad hole nor any hole that stands out as much better than any other; thus, tremendous balance and consistency throughout, without ever feeling boring. Having played over 600 courses worldwide, rarely does one captivate me in a way Chicago Golf did where I could comfortably say I’d be privileged and honored to play there day in and day out.
I have been fortunate to play Chicago Golf Club numerous times, most recently on May 3, 2019. On that day the course was wet due to a spring of heavy rains and my host was unsure if it would be open. Thankfully it was. I have also played it when it was hot and running fast. I have played it with shorter rough as well as knee-high rough. The members that I know there are both essentially scratch golfers and hit the ball off the tee typically over 300 yards. The course plays very differently for them versus my game as this is a course that a visitor or short hitter is not likely to score well if playing the member tees.
In other reviews I have referred to Chicago Golf Club as being the best course in the world built on a flat piece of land. Others would perhaps call out a few courses in Scotland such as the Old course or Carnoustie while others might mention Kingston Heath. I consider both the Old course and Kingston Heath to have a change in elevation on each of their famous par 3’s. I will stick to my opinion.
Chicago Golf Club is a delight but also a real test of golf. It is the rare course that I could play everyday and never tire of it.
Before I begin my review, I will offer a “commercial” for acquiring a book from the pro shop that provides a history of the club. These books are usually found only in the best clubs but are well worth the price. Following a trip together to Scotland to my club and neighboring clubs, one of my hosts of Chicago Golf Club thanked me by sending me a book published in 1991 by Chicago Golf Club. It is truly interesting to read of the beginnings and major events of a club, particularly one as historical and significant to the beginnings of golf in the USA. In this book there are some very interesting facts including: the club once had corn on the land, in 1918 the sale of corn raised $1000. The club recognized in 1913 that it needed to improve the second golf course (first one was built in Belmont). As H.S. Colt was in the Chicago area in 1913 he looked over the course and submitted a plan of which little was implemented. He was paid $511.56. Building the new course was delayed by WWI. Later, C.B. Macdonald, now an honorary member after relocating to New York City, pushed for Seth Raynor to do the renovation, primarily using the plans drawn up by Mr. Macdonald who rejected Colt’s routing as having too many similar holes. The original budget for the new course was $70,000 but eventually the club spent $212,653.09. Of the final fee, the cost of the acquiring, freighting and spreading manure was four times the cost of Mr. Raynor’s fees. The new course eventually opened on July 4 following its first tournament on June 30, 1923. It was built at 6545 yards, par 70 and is essentially the routing and holes used today. For that day and with that technology, it was a very difficult test of golf and winning scores were often several over par.
Other interesting items in the book are that one member, previously a 3 index, essentially gave up the game while middle-aged and was granted approval to ride his horse at any time on the course. The course was once used by the Wheaton College for their cross-country team races. Finally, the book includes an overhead photo of the original routing (also hanging inside the clubhouse) which was very much along the boundary of the club in a clockwise manner going out and then counter-clockwise coming back in. This routing appears to have utilized not quite half of the available land; even the polo field (now the practice range) looks small in comparison to the unused land.
The land the course sits on is almost a perfect rectangle, similar to the shape of numerous greens.
The book also includes an overhead of the routing in 1991. Other than lengthening the course to 6710 yards, it is amazing how nearly all of the bunkers and greens are both in the same place and in the same shape and length. Only a few bunkers have been added since then – a fronting bunker on #4 and #7, tree removal on the right fairway of #8 with a bunker added, a tree removed to the left of #15 with additional bunkers, and five small bunkers on the right side of #17. Two bunkers have been removed from the front of #8’s green. The edges of the greens have been sharpened and made slightly bigger such as #8, #9, #13, #17 and #18. Basically the “rounded” greens have been removed. There is room on the course to add another 300 yards if the members desired it but I would question the need. So essentially the course is the same as it was when it opened in 1923. How many golf courses can say that? It is a testament to the members as well as the brilliance of the Macdonald routing and Raynor build.
The template holes are very evident on the course and they are nuanced given the flat land, yet amongst the best conceived and built by Macdonald/Raynor. For example, the redan par 3 seventh hole at 207 yards does not have the benefit of a natural change in terrain that one will find at North Berwick West, Plainfield, National Golf Links of America, Yeamans Hall, or Somerset Hills. Building the redan at Chicago required one to build a green that is elevated and then make the required slope to the hole. It is an immensely difficult and fun hole, almost amusing to try to solve the puzzle. You simply must hit the right side of the green far enough on the green and let the slope do the work. It is a very large green so choosing the right club to allow the ball to release and run is critical.
Among the holes I like at Chicago…..well, nearly all of them. There are not many courses I make that statement. Augusta National, Royal Melbourne West, Oakmont, Shinnecock Hills, Trump Turnberry and a few others come to mind. I rate all of these courses more highly than Chicago because their land is better and they have a higher number of superior holes.
The course kicks off with four very difficult holes for the average length player. The first hole is 450, the second hole is 440, the third hole is 219 and the fourth is 536. The third hole is the #17 index which is surprising.
The first hole reminds me of Oakmont in its difficulty. While the fairway is wide, if one misses they are in taller grass. One hits over a very small rise with the land falling away slightly to the left. There is a bunker on the right side of the fairway pinching in which only comes into play for the longer hitters. A series of bunkers are on both sides of the fairway as you near the green which come into play if you have missed the fairway and do not hit an appropriate recovery shot. The large green sloping right to left has deep bunkers on all sides but the left side is the deepest that one must avoid. The green has a section on its left that is much smaller and if the flag is there only the bravest will go for it. My long hitting friends usually par the hole whereas I simply do not want to start with a double bogey. The green depth is 33 yards.
The second hole has out of bounds to the left although the hole moves away from the fence line. Four bunkers go up the left side with the third one coming into the fairway. There is a bunker on the right but its early and should not be in play. A smaller mound on the right side can lead to an uneven lie. At the green which is angled away to the left there are two long bunkers on the right and a very nasty bunker on the front left. This large green is angled right to left around that front left bunker. My member friends say this is the toughest hole for them on the golf course because of the angle and the green depth at 39 yards.
The third hole is the first par 3 playing to the farthest point from the clubhouse. There is a fronting bunker short of the area where one can try to run their ball onto the green yet a swale in front of the green can prevent that. The green is surrounded again on all sides with deep bunkers to a green sloped back to front with depressions in it. It is not the typical “Biarritz” hole due to the location of the swale but it is still a very good test of golf. The green depth is 34 yards.
Four has the tee shot playing as a slight dogleg left. I have played this hole when the grass is very high and it changes the look completely to where the fairway appears as a ribbon/island before you. On the right are trees and a small bunker while the left side has a long bunker almost like the curved blade of a knife. Going down the fairway is another bunker on the left and right. The green is once again surrounded by bunkers with the exception of the opening. The green is steeply banked and crowned. One simply cannot tempt the front edge of this green because rolling back down the slope leaves a recovery shot even more difficult as it is delicate to a pin you cannot see the bottom. The green depth is listed at 31 yards but actually less due to the false front so it has clever deception to it.
Five is a par 4 of 320 yards and the first chance to breathe. If one can avoid the large bunker on the right and the smaller one of the left then a short club can be used for the approach. There is a small pot bunker on the front left but it is actually about 30 yards short of the green. A small bunker is on the left and right while once again a bunker is placed at the entire backside. There are small mounds in front of the green that will not allow a shot hit short to advance onto a green. The green has a ridge in the middle with various smaller depressions in this green.
Six is another shorter hole of 395 yards but with one of the cleverer greens wich has a depth of 37 yards. The fairway is angled off to one’s left but the hole is straight. A “principle’s nose” bunker is 75 yards from the green so it should not be in play. The front of the green is open once again and this time there are two bunkers on both sides and one at the back of this “beaker” shaped green. The green is plateaued in several areas.
Seven is the redan hole and it is outstanding at 207 yards. The green is 49 yards in depth! There are two fronting bunkers before the chipping area that provide eye candy but should not be in play. Deep ten feet bunkers run along the entire left and right side of the green although there is not a bunker behind the hole. The green is tilted upwards at the front and then substantially right to left. You have now played to another corner of the course similar to the third hole.
Eight is a par 4 of 443/413 that plays as a dogleg left. The longer hitter can easily carry the large fairway bunker pinching into the fairway from the left. The longer hitters concern is a smaller bunker on the right at the end of the fairway 275 yards out. There is another bunker on the left 100 yards from the green with two bunkers on the right front of the green. Missing the fairway to the right will result in being in thick, tall grass. The green is elevated with the right pin position being the most challenging due to those fronting bunkers. Going long over this green is discouraged due to the tilt away from you.
Nine is a par 4 of 403 yards and is one of two holes to incorporate a pond. The better side to approach this hole is from the left but one has to clear a large bunker hitting 190 yards. The bunker on the right is 214 yards out. The water begins at 319 yards off the tee. The green is very squared with only a lonely bunker well behind the green that belongs to the eighteenth hole. From the book, two bunkers fronting the green have been removed. This green is 37 yards in depth and is the easiest green to read.
The halfway house comes next and it should be enjoyed.
Ten is the second hole to have water as a feature. This short par 3 of 139 yards has a raised green sloped back to front. The green is 25 yards in depth with a spine in the middle creating two sections. Bunkers surround the entire hole. The wind is usually in one’s face on this hole so another club (or two) is often required. I have hit as much as a six iron on this hole on a very windy day…..which only made it to the front bunker.
Eleven is a par 4 of 410 yards. This dogleg left has a bunker on either side both about 175 yards out. Two bunkers approximately 100 to 75 yards out from the green create a cross-bunker effect. Due to the angle of the green off to the left, the green appears shallow yet has a depth of 39 yards. It is a fantastic illusion. The plateaued green has a substantial fall-off to the left. This is the hole that I find requires the most thinking on the course based on the quality of one’s game on the day.
Twelve is a par four of 440/414 yards reversing the direction of eleven. Like my member friends, this is my favorite hole on the course as the tee is set amongst trees on either side with a handful of trees scattered up the fairway. There is a single bunker on either side about 170 yards out that again act almost as cross-bunkers as they come into the fairway. Another bunker is on the right 260 yards up the fairway with three smaller ones as you near the green, all of which are near or in the center of the fairway. This punchbow-likel green of 41 yards is thrilling to play although not as pronounced as many other punchbowl greens.
Thirteen is another short par 3 of 149 yards to an elevated green as you play close to Charles Blair Macdonald’s former home on the other side of the boundary. The green is basically surrounded by bunkers. The green is perhaps the quickest on the golf course. There are undulations throughout the green. It is a fabulous short hole.
Fourteen is the final short par 4 of 351 yards ending at the road behind it. There is another long “knife-like” bunker on the left from 180 to 225 yards out with a smaller bunker on the right at 220 yards. There is a bunker on the right 60 yards short of the green which is surrounded on all sides except from the front by additional bunkers. From here through eighteen the greens are basically 31 yards in depth. This one that has very subtle undulations to it. It is a classic short hole.
Fifteen is a mid-length par 4 of 393 yards but often plays directly into the wind. This dogleg right has two fairway bunkers right and one left that is 250 yards out. The green once again is squared. A tree to the left of the green was there in 1992 but is now gone and a single bunker on the left has been replaced by bunkers on all sides.
Sixteen is the final par 5 at 525 yards and is the opposite of the only other par 5 on the course as a dogleg right with trees going down the right side all the way to the green. There is a short bunker left but the more dangerous bunker sits on the right at 255 yards. There are separated cross bunkers farther up the fairway about 50 yards apart. The green has bunkers that are the length of either side and is slightly raised sloped back to front with a ridge line nearer the middle. I really like this hole.
Seventeen is either a long par 4 or shorter one at 465/382. From the back tees the large fairway bunker at 240 yards out on the left is in play as well as the large mound on the right at 220 yards out. It is very narrow to thread one’s ball between the bunker and mound. A series of five smaller bunkers have been added to the one larger bunker on the right side. Fronting the rectangular green are two bunkers prior to the chipping area with bunkers left and right. The plateaued green is very speedy back to front. This is a very difficult hole from the back tee.
Finally one arrives at the finish. The eighteenth is a par 4 of 425 playing to a squared green. Three bunkers are on the right ending at 180 yards off the tee with a single bunker left at 225 yards. Eight smaller bunkers are located left and right before the green and narrow the fairway. I have always found this green to be one of the easier ones on the course but perhaps that is because I realize I am about to go to the wonderful clubhouse. It is a terrific finishing hole where someone is likely to either win or lose their match if arriving tied at the tee.
I note that some current architects/reviewers only rate Chicago as an 8. In my opinion, they are wrong. Chicago Golf Club offers everything one would want in a golf course in terms of the combination of fun, interest, strategy, difficulty, great golfing corridors, exacting green contouring, and excellent placement and shape of bunkers. For me, it ranks just behind Fishers Island and National Golf Links despite both of these courses having far superior land and views. I have it ahead of the rest of Mr. Raynor’s/C. B. Macdonald’s other designs despite most of those courses having superior land and a few superior holes. There simply is not a bad hole here. Perhaps there are a few less interesting holes to the eye, but the course presents the right mixture of execution and joy.
Very close to absolute perfection. It’s amazing what McDonald and Raynor did with a largely nondescript piece of property. Template holes abound. Personal favorites include the par 3 seventh Redan, and the punch bowl 12th. I am a big Biarritz fan but prefer when it is incorporated in the putting surface. The par 3 third Biarritz at Chicago golf uses Raynor’s alternate design placing the feature in shaved area in front of the green. The biggest difference between Chicago golf club and the other Raynor courses I have played, was the speed of the greens. Chicago golf takes it up a notch. In my group which included three guests, all three of us putted off the first green and into a bunker. If you miss your line on your putt, be prepared to go back to your bag to retrieve a wedge! Of course, the history here is amazing and the clubhouse is full of many wonderful golf artifacts worthy of the oldest course in the country.
A common cliche is saying how it feels like you are back in the 19th century when playing a course this old, but that is truly the case at Chicago Golf Club. It's something about feeling all alone with nothing to worry about that makes it so special. Even if the holes were not some of the best in the world, the setting would make it an amazing place to spend your day. But that's not the case. The holes are magnificent, and are quintessential Macdonald/Raynor.
Holes 1-4 are very difficult, and I am usually happy if I can bogey those. The Road hole, #2, and the Biarritz, #3, are hard but wonderful golf holes. Template holes fill the course, including the Leven (#5), the Redan (#7), the Short (#10), punchbowl (#12), Eden (#13), and Double Plateau (#17), which are some of my favorites. I know I listed a lot of favorites, but that is how good the course is.
You often get a great view of the clubhouse from the course, one of the nicest looking clubhouses in golf, which a nice perk. You can see CB Macdonald's old house from the 14th tee, and his presence is felt throughout the course. The condition is always perfect, fast and firm, adding difficulty to the course. My favorite course in Illinois, is always a treat to play, and I never have any complaints.
Consistent with Macdonald's design philosophy, Chicago Golf Club doesn't have many trees. Macdonald didn't think trees made a good hazard. He was heavily influenced by his love of the game as it was played in Scotland and preferred firm and fast conditions without trees. The primary defense of the golf course is the wind, which can blow quite strong here without any trees protecting it. It is a different sensation you get standing on the first tee at Chicago Golf Club. It doesn't really look like most other American courses, most of which are tree-lined (unless they are links-style and near the water). Chicago is a links-style golf course, but it was not built on classic links-style land. Thus, it is a bit of an enigma in the world of golf.
Chicago Golf Club offers a difficult start. The first four holes contain the one, three and five handicap holes. The third hole is a "Biarritz" hole and plays over 220 yards to a green with a false front and swale in front. It's a very good and demanding golf hole. The fourth hole is one of the two "Cape" holes, the other being the 14th. This hole has a high elevated green with a green that is difficult to hold as it has a false front that feeds balls back onto the fairway. The 7th Redan hole is a very good rendition of a Redan hole. Probably because Chicago Golf doesn't get as much play as other world-class courses with Redans like Shinnecock, National, and North Berwick, it is often overlooked as a good Redan hole. Consistent with Chicago's big greens generally, it probably has the largest green of all the classic Redans.
I found the defining characteristics of Chicago Golf to be: a links-style feel due to the absence of trees, large greens and the distinctive horse-shoe bunkers. There are many "deceptions" present also, such as the false fronts on many greens and bunkers placed so that they look to be closer to the green than they really are. The general feel at Chicago Golf Club is intimate but not flashy. Like at Pine Valley, there are no frills. This is just about golf. The clubhouse is comfortable and not extravagant. It is all very understated and remains a treasure of American golf.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Last Thursday I had the great fortune to spend the day playing Chicago Golf Club. I’m sold. Chicago Golf is one of the all time great days that exist in golf. The course is laid out across rolling fields and has a look not too different from courses like The Country Club, Garden City, Shinnecock or even Oakmont to a certain extent. It has wonderful wide-open vistas with adequate width, full of strategy dictated by the days pin positions. Note I’m not suggesting these courses are similar just that they have this very old school feeling, very few trees and tons of width and wide open spaces.
As far as I’m concerned CGC gets everything right. From the understated clubhouse to the superb conditioning of the course. They understand what 99% of US golf courses don’t which is that golf is meant to be played in firm and fast conditions.
It’s very easy to understand why C.B. Macdonald built a home bordering the course, one of his masterpieces.
CGC ought to be part of an educational program in the US to teach new and experienced superintendents what they should be striving for.
It’s unfortunate that this amazing course is so difficult to play but with 125 members it will remain one of the America’s best-kept architectural secrets.
If you ever have a chance to visit, jump on it, it’s well worth an overseas flight to see.