The North Shore of Chicago is home to an area of wealth, luxury and outstanding beauty that would comfortably stand alongside anything any of the other lavish US suburbs have to offer. From Glenview, up towards Northfield, Lake Forest and finally Lake Bluff you are well aware you are in the presence of real money, the homes along places such as Sheridan Rd are mind blowing, the beaches on Lake Michigan Immaculate and the quaint classy little towns a throwback to the good old days. A throwback is definitely a word I would use to describe Shoreacres golf club, for when you drive along the majestic entrance road passing the second green and up to the clubhouse there is a feeling you are stepping back in time. The Clubhouse is a majestic structure, very reminiscent of Somerset Hills, maybe slightly bigger. Snow white wooden structures, with dark green shutters and neatly slated roofs, make up the main clubhouse which sits atop a terrific perch with a resplendent view overlooking Lake Michigan below. Interestingly the locker rooms, pro shop and men’ grill/patio are located in a different building of (equal beauty) 1st tees and 9th and 18th greens around 100 yards from the main clubhouse.
As the name might suggest Shoreacres is located on the shore of the lake, but the view from the clubhouse, is the only closest you will get to it during your day at the club. The course is laid out completely on the inland side of the clubhouse and is as you would expect of Mr Raynor an utterly genius routing. Some of my fellow golfing scribes are extremely critical of Raynor’s prototype approach to golf courses, whereby he attempts to impose certain model holes upon the landscape. At most Raynor courses you will find a certain number of holes in common, namely a short par 3 called “Short”, a hole with a Biarritz green (a large long green with a deep swale in the middle), a Redan hole (stemming from North Berwick’s 15th), a Cape Hole (a dogleg with open trouble all down one side, risk/reward tempting the golfer to bite off as much as he can chew), a Punchbowl (one with a putting surface resembling a punchbowl), Eden (a green modeled on the par 3 11th hole at St Andrews (severely pitched from back to front, guarded by deep bunkers), Alps (a homage to the 17th at Prestwick) and also a Double Plateau green (almost shaped like the letter L). Although not all of these prototype holes are present at all Raynor courses, you will always encounter a number of them. Raynor was a disciple of C.B McDonald, originally an Engineer from Long Island, he worked with McDonald on his layouts, learning from the master, and feeding on the knowledge he picked up while discovering the great Scottish Links. Upon McDonald’s death, Raynor, although not really a golfer turned his hand to design and has gifted us with some of the world’s greatest tracks (Yeamans Hall, Camargo, Fishers Island, Morris County, Shoreacres, The Creek, Chicago Golf Club).
As said above I believe the course created by Raynor, given the land at Shoreacres is remarkable. Although not the largest tract of land for 18 holes, it is the many Ravines which dot the landscape that were his biggest issue to contend with and he encompassed them tremendously into the layout. As a side note there is a local rule at Shoreacres called a ravine rule. If you believe your ball has finished in one of the ravines, you may drop another or replay the previous shot, under one stroke penalty, without having to find the ball. The course opens with a gentle par 5, a chance to get an early birdie on the card. On first glance the only real hazard I felt there was to contend with was a. A 25ft eagle putt did nothing to heighten my fear, however 3 putts later and a nearly broken putter, I was cursing I didn’t heed the advice of everyone I had spoken to of keeping below the hole at Shoreacres. The second sets the trend for most of your round, Raynor approached this place very much from the strategic stand-point, the course is not long (6500 from the back) but you must position your ball in the right spot in order to have a fighting chance of finding the right areas of the dance floor. Try and play this place from the rough and you will be playing a game of golf akin to a dog chasing its tail! This hole has a semi blind tee shot and the fairway turns sharply to the left, if you choose to take a shot on that carries further than past the apex of the dogleg you run the risk of catching the ravine, but are rewarded with a much shorter approach. The green on this hole takes the form of one of my favourite aspects of golf course design, that the normal shot for this instance is not always the best option. The green is defended long and left by a drain and by sand right. Due to you only having a short iron in, you almost feel obliged to get the ball high and airborne, however as at many of Raynor’s courses, the green is open in front and invites a shot played along the ground, no doubt a quality he picked up from old C.B’s knowledge of the links game. The second is one of my favourite holes anywhere!
From here the golf course heads out and skirts the edge of the property before turning back towards the clubhouse. The two par 3’s, 6 and 8 are great examples of different, but nonetheless great par 3’s. I have not played Yale yet but the 6th is definitely my favourite Biarritz hole, the green is 88 yards from front to back and the swale in the center of the green is incredibly deep, a great old school hole design that not many would even dream of nowadays. The 8th is a superb uphill par 3, with again a devilishly placed back to front sloping green, on the day we played the pin was in the easier back right location, I can only imaging the heartbreak stories of anywhere near the front. The par 4 fifth hole most definitely presents the toughest test on the front side. The ravine crosses the fairway at roughly 290 yards and must be avoided at all costs. From this point you are faced with a medium iron to a beautiful but lethal Raynor green. Played a pitch from the left hand side and turned away assuming it to be a pretty good shot, however my playing partner’s silence as if could the side of the middle tier and rolled tantilisingly onwards made me look rather clumsy. The 9th is a shirt par 4,where you can really give the driver a rip, as long as you miss the fairway traps, a birdie is a genuine possibility.
After 9 holes, unless you have been asleep and irreverent of how the course should be played, your score should be respectable. But what the course gives away with the front 9, one must be prepared for what it nastily takes away on the back. Although number 5 is the Index 1, in my opinion the tenth is definitely the most difficult hole on the golf course. The hole doglegs to the right, with a large old oak tree standing guard down the left side, the fairway falls sharply off from the right hand side and there is not much room left before the out of bounds. The tee shot is not terrifying but not exactly comfortable either. However it is the second shot which I feel challenges the resolve of the player most. Raynor modeled this green on the 17th at St Andrews and although it is not as elevated or severe, it is an equally stiff test. The front hole location leaves very little margin for error, while back left is most interesting requiring a soft landing shot to carry the trap and hold the green at the same time. The 11th is the second leg of Shoreacres amen corner. Voted one of the world’s 500 greatest golf holes, with the ravine having to be carried on both the drive and second shot, like the trend at Shoreacres, not a long hole, it was only a 4 iron and a gap wedge for me from the back tee, but it can catch out even the most talented player if he becomes lazy. The 12th exemplifies the genius of Raynor and s testament to the Engineer in him, getting the most out of his site. The location of the green in a natural valley is akin to anything Colt did in any of his work on the Surrey sandbelt, it sits well below the level of the tee and plays only 127 yards, surrounded by scrub and sand. Once down on the putting surface here, you sit stand in almost complete seclusion, with the only sounds you hear coming from the nearby navy base, which break up the silence with their chanting (something I quite enjoyed). As you play your tee shot on number 13 and rise out of the valley you embark on most the most enjoyable finishes to a golf course, this author has ever had the pleasure to experience. They somehow encompass all the aspects of all the holes that have gone before them. Birdie chances are available but double bogies are also not out of the question. The 14th is a semi Redan hole, with a bank on the right that the local golfer will use to his advantage to help work the ball towards the middle of the green. 15th is a par 5 with second shot having to carry the ravine, nowadays it is more the length of a long par 4, so birdie is most certainly an option! The 16th is a nice par 4, with the multiple teeing options vastly differing the shape of the hole, while the green contains the customary subtle Shoreacres hazards. While the short par 4 17th, with its risk/reward factor may well be my favourite hole on the golf course, beware the back left pin…it’s one for all the suckers out there! As my followers on this site will know I am a huge fan of finishing holes which offer the player a chance to pick up a stroke, the 18th t Shoreacres does this, bending to the left and running parallel to the entrance drive back towards the beautiful clubhouse with the waters of the Lake Michigan in full view behind.
Shoreacres is a tremendous golf experience, exclusively private but at the same time intimately personable and extremely welcoming to guests. The whole air and atmosphere of the place is something I really found very unique, almost a middle ground between our pure golf back in GB& I and the traditional US country club, a nice medium! I couldn’t help but draw a comparison to Somerset Hills, which although is a Tillinghast, reminded me very much of each other. The golf course is spectacular and in my opinion worthy of a place year in year out in any top 100 of the world list, it dwarfs some of its high profile, big membership north east clubs and is so much tasteful/real golfing experience than some of the newer additions to our list. As noted above I am a huge fan of Seth Raynor and this is one of his best. A club I would happily be a member of and play at the rest of my life and deserves much more of the acclaim it already receives.
P.S Shoreacres may have one of the nicest halfway houses anywhere; the Chicken Salad Sandwiches with the crusts cut off are amazing!
Date: July 14, 2011