Ravisloe Country Club was founded in 1901, when Theodore Moreau and James Foulis laid out a course for the members within what had previously been known as the Briggs Farm in Homewood, Illinois. Within a decade, another fifty-five acres of adjacent land was acquired, allowing the club to commission a William Watson redesign of the layout.
Following advice received from a number of top professionals such as Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, when it was suggested the course lacked a sufficient number of “traps and pits,” the club called in none other than Donald Ross to carry out a major renovation which lasted several years.
Approaching the club’s centenary celebrations, David Esler was called in to restore the course to its former glory and the results of this work received much critical acclaim. Unfortunately, falling membership numbers forced the club to close soon after, only for it to reopen as a public facility the following year, in 2009.
The course is far from long at only 6,300 yards, playing to a par of 70, with back-to-back par threes at the 6th and 7th and par fives at the 2nd and 3rd. Water comes into play on occasion, with the pond in front of the 7th green and the creek wandering through the 14th and 15th holes as the only significant aquatic hazards.
The feature hole on the back nine is the slightly right doglegged par five 13th, which is carved from dense woodland, with bunkers alternately lining either side of the fairway as it heads to an elevated green. The layout concludes with three par fours, the last of which is laden with more than a dozen fairway and greenside bunkers en route to the home green.
While visiting Chicago I made a point to play the now public Ravisloe Country Club after seeing it featured on “No Laying Up” social media. Those particular bloggers argue that it may be the best public course, architecturally speaking, in the greater-Chicago area. While Donald Ross was not the primary designer, his influence on the strategy of bunker placement is pretty evident throughout the property.
Arriving at Ravisloe, the player is treated to early views of the course (as the driveway cuts through the 10th) and an impressive, unique Spanish Mission style clubhouse. The staff were very friendly, and the round was reasonably priced.
Ravisloe had a number of thought-provoking holes, especially among its collection of par threes. Some standouts for me included:
• #2: This long par five is made interesting by cross-bunkers. On the tee shot, one must content with a left-hand bunker either by playing short, or by playing a fade (lefty-draw). As the hole bends to the left, and a bunker protrudes from the right, the opposite shot type is then required. The green features a massive false front, so laying up to your best yardage is imperative.
• #5: This marvelous par four was a stunner. Three bunkers cut the fairway off into distinct islands. Players who can move the ball left-to-right may be able to gain a 20-30 yard advantage. Longer players with that same shot type may even be able to put their drive near the green! The closer the better, too, as this subtlety tiered putting surface was a doozie to read.
• #6: The very short par three 6th refreshingly only requires a wedge, but bunkering again creates interest. Depending on the pin placement, one may wish to hit a slight draw or fade; should those be overcooked, a difficult up-and-down awaits.
• #7: While playing quite long, the 7th hole offers some relief with beautiful short-grass collection areas short and to the right. The pond and bunkers create visual intimidation when in fact, there are options.
• #8: This same pattern is featured on the length par four 8th hole. The tee shot is blind and must contend with a large fairway bunker (filled with islands of grass). A large cross bunker in front of the green creates the perception that it abuts the putting surface, when in fact, players can easily run a ball up through a tightly mown collar.
• #11: The par three 11th is a fascinating one-shotter. The left portion of the green connects perfectly to the rough, which is a rare sight and daunting characteristic. The right seems far more appealing, as there is at least 10-15 yards of fairway to bail out. Be warned, though, as the up-and-down over a small ridge to a green which runs away in places is not nearly as easy as it might seem.
• #12: With perhaps the widest fairway on the course, the 12th created interest with a centerline bunker. Playing short leaves a lengthy approach, while playing over the trap tightens the fairway. Laying up may be the better option for some players since there is a generous roll-up area short of the green.
• #16: The green at Ravisloe’s 16th hole is absolutely splendid. In the roughly 3,500 holes I have played, I have only seen greens which run away from the player 4 times, and one of them lives at this par four. It is also by far the most severe that I have experienced. Playing an approach into this green could never lose its charm. With tricky collection areas around almost all sides, a player must be mindful about bouncing the ball into the green and not accidentally running off.
Despite a few standout features, I would argue that some basic restoration work holds Ravisloe back from being a top tier classic course. A simple Google Earth aerial makes it pretty clear that at one point, hole corridors were significantly wider. So many of the cross bunkers should be surrounded by fairway, but today live in seas of rough. This detracts from strategy. The chutes required to play many holes, like #3, were very constricting for long-hitters.
According to the “No Laying Up” video, the new owner of Ravisloe who saved the course is not actually a golfer, but actually is just a lover of trees. This made me think that a full restoration would never occur. Apparently, this is not the case, and the owner has been open to removing many non-native species which hurt the older trees. Kudos to their openness to such important work. Someday, I would welcome the opportunity to return to Ravisloe and play in drier conditions (thunderstorms had soaked the course prior to my visit) to see if other features emerge.
Ravisloe has an interesting history going all the way back to 1901. People like to claim that it is a Donald Ross design, but the majority of his contribution was the bunkering. About 15 years ago another redesign by Esler occurred and sadly the club folded shortly thereafter. It was reborn about a year later as a public course. It is not very long, but fairly tight and is a par 70.
The first few holes are not exactly welcoming, handicaps 5, 1 and 7 respectively. The first leans a little to the left. On the tee you see a fairway bunker left and right. The left you should clear easily and the right you cannot reach. There is a large greenside bunker left. The 2nd is a par five and the number one handicap hole. Possible to get home in two, but you will need to favor the right side of the left fairway bunker to have a chance as the hole slides left. Greenside bunkers front right. Surprisingly, the 3rd is also a par 5. Another pretty straight hole, to clear the fairway bunkers right from the tips is about 225 yard carry. There are three greenside bunkers, 2 right and one left that protect the front of the green. The first par 3 has 7 bunkers, 4 greenside. Not sure what the purpose of the other three are. The 5th is a short par four dogleg right that you either love or hate. There are three fairway bunkers in the middle of the fairway right behind each other. The pro shot is a high fade to set up a flip wedge. Mortals need to decide, lay up or do I feel lucky? The 6th is kind of a so what par 3 and the 7th is much tougher. From the tips it is over 200 yards, while there is a water hazard to clear, it is only claiming really bad tee shots. Right is better as there are three staggered greenside bunkers left. The 8th is a pretty straight par 4 with a large fairway bunker right that is about a 220 yard carry. On your approach there is across bunker right and a large long greenside bunker left. The 9th is a tough hole. The fairway bunker left is about 20 off the tee. There are left and right cross bunkers about 90 yards out and two large, albeit narrow bunkers on each side of the green.
The back starts with a pretty narrow par 4 with a fairway bunker right about 250 yards out. The green is well protected with two bunkers right and one left. The 11th is interesting, from the tips 225 yard par 3. There is a bunker about 100 yards out on the right, for whatever that is worth and two greenside bunkers left. The 12th-14th is probably the toughest stretch on the course. The 12th has a fairway bunker in the middle of the fairway. From the tips it is about 240 to the front and 260 to clear. As I can attest, not an easy to hole to par from this bunker. There is a cross bunker left and what appears to be a greenside bunker left, but it is a good ten yards short of the green. The 12th is all about the drive. The 13th is the longest hole on the course and looks significantly different depending upon what tees you are playing. The back tees are way right and the front tees are way left. It is a fairly narrow hole that is compounded by a long 40 yard fairway bunker on the right side that is absolutely in the landing zone. Left is better and will give you a better layup angle. There are four small bunkers that cross the fairway about 110 yards out. My recommendation is play it as a 3 shotter. The 14th is a slight S. There are two fairway bunkers in the lading zone on the left. Left is better, but tough to clear both bunkers. Preferred line is the right hand side of the right bunker. The green is protected by two bunkers on the right. The 15th is rated the easiest on the course with several bunkers for affect. Not a lot of trouble on 16. Bombs away off the tee. There is a large fairway bunker left, if you find yourself in it, then you have hot at least one really bad golf shot. The 17th is another bombs away hole. There is a pot bunker about 100 yards off the tee. Go pin seeking on the approach, the only trouble is a greenside bunker right. The 18th is another good birdie oppty, but it is all set up off the tee. The hole has over a dozen bunkers, of various sizes, designs and flavors. The holes leans left and has a gaggle of bunkers on the inside elbow. There is also a weird shaped bunker through the fairway on the right side. Preferred line is the right side of the furthest right left bunker. This should set up a short iron into a green that is surrounded by bunkers.
Interesting course, I found the bunkering a little peculiar. For many holes the bunkers were where you would expect them, tightening landing zones, making you think about which side to favor, ball flight, wind etc . Some bunker placement struck me as random and arbitrary.
Ravisloe is as a classic Donald Ross design that was private for nearly 100 years. It maintains many of the Ross design elements. I only wish I had been able to play it when the greens would have been running at speed during its days as a private club. Now they tend to run slower due to the amount of public play. Nevertheless, this is one of the better public course options in the Chicagoland area.
As a big Ross fan, this course has long been on my list to play. I finally was able to make it happen. While Ravisloe is now public, it is clear as you enter the property, you are pulling up to a place that was once very special, and the course still is. Gone are the tennis courts, the locker room, caddyshack and one of the halway houses, but the course remains and it is in good shape.
The course has an old world feel. I will say there are an awful lot of good golf holes at Ravisloe, but I can't say any of them are more memorable than the other. I would say the early part of the back nine was most enjoyable. Its kind of secluded for being on a property in the middle of a city. I can also say there are a couple of holes that need some trees trimmed. I don't think its a huge problem, but some angles can get pretty quirky due to overgrown trees.
The greens were in great shape, but fairly slow, I'd imagine that back in the day when the greens were running fast, the course presented quite the challenge. The bunkering on this course is very well done and the green complexes are impressive. The fairways were very plush bent grass.
Overall, Ravisloe was what I expected, I just wish I had the chance to play it about 30 years ago when it was still a thriving club. I'm not sure how many people on here are from Chicago, but if I lived up here and was without a home club, I'd play Ravisloe all the time. There just aren't many opportunities to play courses like this in our country. They are virtually all private. So kudos to the owner for making it a public destination and it seems to me they are doing quite well, the parking lot was full.
Made a trip out to play this Ross course as it is now public. Overall it is a fun course that is a bit over treed. Solid green complexes and good bunkering throughout. The land itself is not too severe. One was a nice gentle handshake that forced the golfer to deal with some bunkers. I thought 8-13 was the strongest stretch on the course and 13 through 15 being the toughest. The trees definitely meant there was a decent amount of quirk to deal with throughout the course. Overall the place has some good bones but could do with some tree removal. My understanding is the the current owner loves the trees so don't expect any big changes in the near future.