Within ten years of its foundation in 1915, Olympia Fields Country Club had no fewer than four 18-hole courses available to its membership, supported by the largest and grandest clubhouse in the world.
Shortly after the end of World War II, what were then known as course No. 2 and No. 3 were sold off for property development, leaving the North course (the old No. 4) and South course (the ex-No. 1) to form the new 36-hole facility.
Feature holes on the Tom Bendelow-designed South layout include the uphill 365-yard 6th, played to creek-protected green, and the tight, 460-yard doglegged par four 17th.
A Steve Smyers upgrade in 2008 – when he reworked greens and bunkers, as well as adding more than 500 yards of extra length – sharpened the teeth of the South layout to the extent that it’s now one of the best “relief” courses in the country.
After the club unearthed images dating back to the 1920s, Andy Staples drew up a master plan for the South course which also addressed drainage issues and tree growth. “We’re going to compare the current course to those original course photographs to see where we can bring back the best parts of Bendelow’s original design,” said the architect during an interview with Golf Course Architecture.
“Bendelow placed much of his attention on the approaches to the green, and how the slope and contour of the putting greens can give a hole its strategy, and we’re hoping to reintroduce much of this philosophy.” Construction is due to begin in 2021.
Most folks favor the North, but the South is not to be trifled with. Originally, the 4th course it is a Tom Bendelow original and a Steve Smyers redesign about ten years ago. However, it really is an amalgamation of the number 2, 3 and 4 courses. If you get off to a rough start, do not be discouraged, in my opinion, the front is much longer and tougher than the back.
The first hole is a dogleg left with a bunker on the inside elbow. A high draw is the preferred shot. This is a very large undulating green with a false front. The 2nd hole is a killer, long, tight and with multiple hazards. The tee shot is out of a chute and if you do not hit a good, do not even think of getting on in reg. A creek bisects the fairway about 20 yards short of the green with bunkers front right and left. A par here is awesome. The 3rd hole is a mid-length uphill par 3. There is a BAB left and the green is multi-tiered and shaped like a rectangle. The 4th is a par 5 with trouble right, OB and fairway bunkers. Favor the left off the tee. There is a huge fairway BAB about 30 yards short of the green on the left side. The 5th is a long demanding par 3 with no hazards. However, this green is extremely demanding. The 6th was my favorite hole and I didn’t even birdie it. Another tight driving chute with fairway bunkers on the right. Big hitters can opt to fly these as the right side gives a better angle into the green. The approach must carry the creek that then continues down the left side. There are a couple of greenside bunkers left, but if you miss right you will end up in a deep drop off called Hell’s Kitchen. The 7th is a par five and the number one handicap hole. It is extremely tight and I recommend playing it as a 3 shotter. There are 3 green side bunkers right. Tough hole. For the 8th distance control off the tee is critical as a stream bisects the fairway about 200 yards out. The approach is uphill, so take an extra club. A greenside bunker right and if you miss left you may end up in the woods. The 9th is another long difficult par 4. Off the tee the best ball flight is right to left and for the approach, left to right. You can see the challenge.
The back starts with a dogleg left par 5. Two perfect shots can get you home, but the fairway is bisected by the creek about 150 yards out. Also, it is an uphill green with two bunkers left. The 11th is a fun hole, yes, I did birdie it. Slight dogleg right with a tree right center of the fairway with a fairway bunker short and right and one right behind the tree. The best play is right off the tee which should give you a short iron into the green. This has a very narrow green with bunkers on both sides. The 12th is a long uphill par 3, surrounded by bunkers with the green sloping front to back. The 13th is a fun hole. Dogleg left sloping towards the fairway bunkers and the water hazard on the inside elbow. Favor the right off the tee and on your approach. The 14th is a Florida par 3 with a large bunker short of the green and bunkers left and right. The 15th is another tight driving hole. If you hit trees either side you can pretty much kiss par goodbye as the creek comes into play short of the green. This is a redan green that is protected on both sides. The 16th is a good birdie hole. The semi-blind tee shot actually has a pretty wide landing area, which should give you a short iron into the green. The 17th is a mcgilla. A dogleg right with no hazards except lots of trees right and left. I hit a decent drive and did not reach the corner. Favor the left off the tee. The par 5 18th is a good finishing hole. A dogleg right, favor the left off the tee. The creek once again does come into play, but the green is reachable. Another tiered green, albeit this one going to the front right.
A fun and challenging course.
The South Course at Olympia Fields is much different than the North. If I were a member, this would be my choice for daily play. The layout features a variety of holes across heavily undulating terrain. The routing is done so well, as you move up, down, left, and right for the entire 18 holes.