A major $6.5 million renovation by Tom Doak got underway on the No.1 course at Medinah immediately after the conclusion of the Ryder Cup on the No. 3 course in the autumn of 2012. Designed largely to address drainage issues on the course, the work involved tripling the size of a pond on the 15th and removing hundreds of trees from the middle of the course, which allowed the creation of six new holes and the alteration of twelve other holes.
Commenting on the project, the architect said: “It’s not just a change in the sequence of the holes, but the fact that we had to start going diagonally between some of the old hole corridors and knock down trees in the middle; that’s the biggest change on the golf course. Now, when you get out in the middle of the course, it’s very open as opposed to very narrow and north and south and tree lined.”
Doak had the honor of the first ceremonial tee
shot on the No.1 course when it reopened on 13th June 2014, following the
ritual of a traditional ribbon-cutting and lighting the fuse for a celebratory
cannon blast on the 1st tee. “Tom Doak's innovative renovation and ceremonial
reopening signals the beginning of a new era in the history of Medinah Country
Club,” said president Matt Lydon. “Medinah's stature as the host of the world's
most prestigious championships now is elevated by the addition of a new and
different style Course One.”
I played Medinah #1 in September of 2018 in a corporate outing. We all actually decided to play our own ball. The course was in fantastic shape as expected, however, I came away with the feeling that some of the holes did not blend well together as intended by Bendelow years ago. The restoration to me felt a little artificial. The greens rolled great and the clubhouse was a sight to see although it was so big; it felt like a resort as opposed to a historic golf club. I enjoyed the experience and there were several great golf holes, but I do feel that this course may be slightly overrated based on its name.
Medinah #1 is a marvelous course at a scenic and historic venue. It is about 30 miles west of Chicago. As such it has a classic Chicago pedigree, including chicanery, real estate speculation, embezzlement, fraud and perseverance. In the early 1920 four Shriners from Chicago’s Medinah Temple decided to make a retreat in the country. Thus, the distinctive Medinah logo. Medinah CC has sanitized their early history. A long standing member shared the following with me. The founding four bought acreage for 25 cents per acre. They then locked in their profit be selling the acreage to the club at 50 cents an acre. Tom Bendelow was hired as the architect for all three courses and Number 1 was christened in September 1925. However, $500k had gone missing and two of the founder members ended up spending time at the big house. Keep in mind this was during Prohibition and the Al Capone era. Then came The Depression. I was told that they have struggled with cashflow for years. The membership gambled on hosting the Ryder Cup and that turned out to be a huge financial success.
Some folks think the clubhouse is iconic, to me it is a little bit of everything, which results in sensory overload. It was built by Schmidt Brothers Construction, Otto, August, and Ernest, who were Shriners and charter members. Gustav Brand, also a member, was the painter for the rotunda and murals were the work of club member.
For those of you who think Medinah is 1% club, I was told otherwise. The membership ranges from teachers to billionaires. As one can imagine this can create conflict and supposedly the club has struggled financially for years. (when I was there the parking lot had an impressive display of high end cars, new and antique). The recent Ryder Cup proved to be a huge financial success and Medinah continues to reap the benefits. However, there is still plenty of controversy. When the decision to redesign #1 was made two noted architects were vying for the job, Rees Jones and Tom Doak. The biggest issue was that when there were heavy rains several holes were underwater for an extended period of time and the course was unplayable. Ultimately, Doak was chosen by one vote. The selection committee person who cast the deciding vote says some members still do not talk to him as a result. He, to his credit, stands by his decision.
To the course, number one is fairly benign par five. On the tee box one can see the silhouette of a camel shaped bunker on the other side of the creek.
The second hole has a long redan green with a big slope downhill. Unless you are a high iron hitter, land your approach short right and it will run away from you. One of the design features Doak used was what he called par 31/2 and par 4 1/2s. The third hole is 299 yards and big hitters can get there. Enjoy your respite as the 4th is a monster par 4 at 467. This green runs left to right. The par 4 6th is a long, uphill dogleg right. Off the tee you can see a communication tower, aim ten yards left. I was five yards left and partially blocked out. The 9th is as straight forward as a 600 yard par 5 can be. For the best approach shot favor the left side of the fairway. Oh, I forgot to mention the creek in front of the green. The 444 yard 12th is designed to push your approach shot right. Do not do it, favor the left side. The 16th is another long par 4 uphill. Take 2 extra clubs on your approach, the false front is extremely deceptive. The 17th is a par 5 that is counterintuitive. Shaped like an S water comes into play on the first two shots. Stay left off the tee and then decide how big your appetite is for cutting off yardage for your approach shot, The par 3 18th is the exclamation point to a wonderful course, all carry over water to a well-protected green.