Review of the Month October 2020 – Canyata
It’s always been a bit of an enigma, this random yet supposedly amazing golf course out in the middle of nowhere in Illinois about two and a half hours away from my hometown. It’s been on the Golf Digest Top 100 in the US list since 2009, but so few people play it there just is not much information about it on the Internet. It was so odd knowing that this mysterious place was out there, but I had absolutely no way of getting on… until a couple of years ago, their website started advertising that outside guests were welcome, for a very high price. A hefty tax refund and a COVID stimulus check left me feeling flush this year, so I figured it was time to splurge. A simple call to Rodems Golf, the course manager, was enough to get my day at Canyata set up.
After arriving, checking in, and signing the guestbook, I was informed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic I was the first guest of 2020 on June 12th. The year! Unfortunately, unlike other reviewers, I was forced to share the golf course on that day with a whopping twelve additional golfers; they said that was one of the busier days they’ve had in recent years, although every now and then groups of 30+ show up and take over the course for a day. The clubhouse/pro shop is exactly as described in other reviews; fully stocked, but nobody there except for the superintendent and one or two other staff. To buy merchandise, you sign a sheet and they bill you later. I received a bill in the mail on nice Canyata stationery a couple of weeks later for my hat and bag tag.
The course is clearly designed for playability for all skill levels, with wide fairways and large greens, but has enough undulations on those surfaces and visual deception with the holes to create a true challenge for low handicap players. The routing is ingenious, as no two holes feel similar. An odd hole here and there features a very narrow shot, but most are fairly forgiving.
The most incredible part of playing Canyata, however, was the utterly perfect course conditions. Standing on the first tee knowing that nobody had set foot on it other than maintenance workers for months is a feeling I can’t really describe. I’ve never in my life felt so guilty taking divots or leaving pitch marks in greens – even after repairing them all! It was as if I’d ripped my wife’s wedding dress; no amount of repair could hide the guilt of ruining something so pristine. I’ve read that this is what playing Shadow Creek feels like, and I think that’s an appropriate comparison, except instead of being in the desert, you’re in the middle of Illinois. The artificially built-up mounds bordering some of the holes on the back nine (presumably to hide them from view of the adjacent farm fields) also adds to that feeling.
I was slightly disappointed with the fact that the routing in its current format does not allow for a dramatic finishing hole. In my opinion, the current #9 would make a fantastic finisher, but simply switching the nines would require the player to begin their round on a difficult par five, the current #10. I gave potential course routings way too much thought and came up with the following, more optimal routing: holes #1-#7, then holes #11-18, followed by #10, #8, and #9 to close out the round. That’s a small gripe but in my opinion the biggest thing holding this course back – the last two holes are two of the weakest ones on the course.
Like any proper born-and-raised St. Louisan, pretty much anything about Chicago makes my skin crawl a bit, but I admit they have some great golf courses up there. Unfortunately, nearly all of them are very exclusively private, thus I’ve not personally played any of the best in the state of Illinois. On this site, the highest ranked in the state I’ve played other than Canyata is Wynstone, which is #24 in the current rankings. Frankly, Canyata blows Wynstone out of the water. We’ll just have to see what the 2020 rankings bear for this obscure but magnificent facility. To me, it should easily be within the top ten in the state.
Review of the Month October 2020 selected by Editor-in-Chief, Keith Baxter, and sponsored by TaylorMade – click to read Jeff's full review and more about Canyata. Photos by Jeff Kissel.