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 Golf Club 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.
Charles Blair Macdonald redesigned the course with advice and guidance from Seth Raynor in 1921. 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 Golf Club 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 you to write a review.
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.
Chicago Golf Club has hosted three U.S. Opens, but that was many years ago. The course has one set of men’s tees at 6,574 yards par 70, so its length prevents it from hosting any major tournaments these days. There are no plantings either: What you play is what you get. There is minimal service in the clubhouse, and the snack shack at the turn is self-serve on the honor system: Take what you want and write it down.
The summer of 1995 was unseasonably hot and humid, and the weather took its toll on CGC. The course lost many of its fairways and some of its greens, which were just growing back. The day started with a 450-yard par 4 into a screaming wind, and it was a challenge from there. On much of the course, we played on dead grass, nearly on dirt. I shot 89 that day and was damn proud of it. I didn’t get to see CGC anywhere near its best. This is one course I would love to play when it’s in optimal condition, but I doubt I’ll ever get another invitation to play. Larry Berle.
The holes are defined by the rough, excellent bunkering, and some of the most magnificent green complexes I have ever played. We played in slightly atypical conditions, as the fairways were soft from recent rains and there was a stiff 2 to 3 club breeze throughout the day. The par 3's are magnificent. #3, Biarritz, was 220 yards into the wind and has a devilish drop in front of the green and a wicked bunker surrounding the left side of the green. The Redan hole, # 7, is as good I dare say as the original at North Berwick.
On the back nine #10 is a tricky short hole over a pond, and Eden, hole # 13, is protected by an elevated mounded green that repels all but the best struck shot. The course plays to par 70 with only 2 par 5's, so the length of 6846 yards from the back tee and 6571 from the middle tees is somewhat deceiving. There are two fairly short par 4's (#5 at 320 yards and #14 at 350 yards) with the remaining par 4's playing between 400 and 465 yards.
The course is very strategic along the lines of Muirfield. The bold line off the tee will reward the player with the easier approach, while safe areas to play the tee shot can be found but lead to the more difficult approach. The greens are magnificent. They are very large, and have an infinite variety of false fronts and run offs that require precise approaches to get the ball close to the hole. The club itself redefines understated and old school in the best of ways. Needless to say I was totally enamored by the course and experience. We had great young caddies who knew the game and were received with the utmost kindness by the staff. If the opportunity to play the course ever comes your way it is an opportunity worth taking. Richard Smith Knoxville, Tennessee