US East North Central Division Best in State Rankings 2018
Our Best in State biennial re-ranking exercise for the United States of America continues unabated, with the revision now focussing on Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. These states reside in the eastern half of the Midwest, within the East North Central division, which is a geographical area that encompasses a large proportion of the Great Lakes region.
In this update, we’ve added another ten layouts to both Illinois and Michigan, bringing the total number of courses featured across all five divisional states to two hundred and thirty. Eighteen of these courses also claim a slot within the US Top 100, which gives a fair indication of the strong golfing prowess of this territory.
Four of the five charts below are headed by the same course that has topped the state listings since we began compiling Best in State rankings six years ago but one state has a new number 1, with an old Seth Raynor jewel replacing a modern Jack Nicklaus design at the summit… but more on that development later. First of all, we turn to Illinois, the most highly populated of these five states with around thirteen million inhabitants.
The course at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton remains the number 1 track in the Prairie State. Recognized as the first 18-hole layout in the whole country, this original Charles Blair Macdonald design from 1895 hosted the inaugural US Senior Women’s Open just two weeks ago, an event won by Laura Davies with an incredible winning margin of ten strokes over her nearest rival, Julie Inkster. Template holes abound here, thanks to a redesign by Seth Raynor in the early 1920s, when he introduced the likes of a Redan at the 7th, a Punchbowl at the 12th and a Double Plateau at the 17th.
Our International Correspondent David Davies likes this course a lot: “Chicago Golf is one of the all-time great days that exist in golf. The course is laid out across rolling fields and has this very old school feeling, very few trees and tons of width and wide open spaces. As far as I’m concerned CGC gets everything right, from the understated clubhouse to the superb conditioning of the course. They understand what 99% of US golf courses don’t which is that golf is meant to be played in firm and fast conditions.”
Near the top of the new chart, the century-old layout at the all-male Old Elm Club in Highland Park jumps an impressive six places to number 6. Described by a reviewer a couple of months ago as “one of the best courses in the Chicago area… an extremely fun course that has the opportunity for players to go low if they manoeuver the greens well,” this layout is thought to be the only Harry Colt and Donald Ross design collaboration, with Ross constructing the course from plans drawn up by Colt back in the day.
In 2010, the club commissioned J. Drew Rogers to restore Old Elm, which initially centred on a tree clearance programme to widen playing corridors and open up sight lines. Fairways were subsequently widened and greens returned to their original sizes. Several cross-bunkers were also recovered during the restoration, and in 2013 the club extended focus to include fairway and greenside bunkering.
Adam Lawrence, editor of Golf Course Architecture, visited Old Elm during the restoration and commented as follows: “The results are dramatic, with the bunkers now more closely resembling something that Mr Colt himself might have done. I can honestly say that I have NEVER seen a course like Old Elm in the US, and in a description that I gave to several people at the recent ASGCA meeting, I referred to the club as the American equivalent of Swinley Forest or Morfontaine.”
Also entering the Top 10 for the first time, the course at Flossmoor Country Club (up seven to number 10) is a Herbert Tweedie design dating back to 1900 which was substantially modified by the club professional Harry Collis when he was at the club between 1905 and 1929, during which time the club hosted the US Women’s Amateur (in 1910), the USPGA Championship (in 1920) and the US Amateur (in 1923). Ray Hearn completed an upgrade in 2008, rebuilding several holes, restoring historic bunkers and removing trees (on the back nine in particular) to open up vistas that were previously blocked.
Another two 18-hole layouts each advance six places to just outside the Top 10: the course at the men-only Bob O’Link Golf Club in Highland Park (at number 13) is a 1916 Donald Ross track that was renovated by C. H. Alison eight years after the club’s formation but it’s been altered quite a bit since then, and the Onwentsia Club course in Lake Forest (at number 17), where the quartet of James Foulis, Robert Foulis, H.J. Tweedie and H.J. Whigham, fashioned the layout in the late 19th century with revisions by Tom Doak a hundred years or so after the club's formation..
Host to the US Amateur in 1899 and the US Open in 1906, Onwentsia was recently visited by Paul Rudovski, one of our US contributors, who had this to say about the course:” I loved the layout…wide open with wonderful vistas. Similar to Quaker Ridge and Muirfield, it has nine holes around its circumference surrounding the other nine. The course was superbly firm and fast and in simply perfect condition. Interestingly, there are three pairs of greens so close to each other that they seemed ideal candidates for double greens (#1 and #8, #3 and #6. and #7 and #11). Apparently, this was voted down by the membership due to the fact that Shoreacres, also located in Lake Forest, has several double greens and the members did not want to be seen as “copying” that club.”
The highest new entry for the Illinois chart emerges at number 28 and it’s the No.2 course at Medinah Country Club, which many golfers will best remember for hosting the Ryder Cup in 2012 on the No. 3 course. Rees Jones and associate Steve Weisser restored the original Tom Bendelow layout last year, using aerial photographs from 1938 to help establish the exact size and shape of tees, greens and bunkers which were being rebuilt. They also converted the fairways to bentgrass and made storm drainage improvements.
|4||Butler National||No change|
|5||Olympia Fields (North)||Down 2|
|6||Old Elm Club||Up 6|
|8||Black Sheep (1st & 2nd)||Down 2|
|9||Medinah (No.3)||Down 1|
|11||Olympia Fields (South)||Down 2|
|12||Medinah (No.1)||Up 1|
|13||Bob O'Link||Up 6|
|14||Conway Farms||Down 3|
|15||Cog Hill (No.4)||Down 5|
|16||North Shore||Up 2|
|20||Rich Harvest Farms||Down 5|
|21||Bull Valley||No change|
|22||Shepherd's Crook||No change|
|25||TPC Deere Run||No change|
|26||Highlands of Elgin||Up 7|
|27||Chicago Highlands||No change|
|28||Medinah (No.2)||New entry|
|29||Merit Club||Down 9|
|31||Ivanhoe (Prairie & Forest)||Up 9|
|33||Butterfield (White & Blue)||Down 7|
|34||Preserve at Oak Meadows||New entry|
|37||Glen Club||Down 13|
|38||Glen View||Down 1|
|39||Kemper Lakes||Down 3|
|41||Kankakee Elks||Up 7|
|42||Prairie Landing||Down 4|
|43||Indian Hill||Down 1|
|44||Cantigny (Woodside & Lakeside)||Down 5|
|45||Eagle Ridge (The General)||Down 10|
|47||Mount Prospect||New entry|
|48||Orchard Valley||Down 4|
|49||Barrington Hills||New entry|
|50||Pine Meadow||Down 7|
|52||Stonewall Orchard||New entry|
|53||Ruffled Feathers||Down 6|
|55||Sunset Ridge||New entry|
|56||Harborside International (Starboard)||Down 15|
|57||Big Run||Down 8|
|59||Oak Park||New entry|
|60||Bowes Creek||Down 14|
Click this link to see full details of all courses in our latest Illinois Best in State rankings
Only five courses retain the same position in the Hoosier State chart and one of them is the state number 1, Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh. Located less than half an hour’s drive east of downtown Evansville, this Tom Fazio layout is set within 418 acres of reclaimed mining land, with water coming into play at almost every hole. Venue for the US Senior Men’s Amateur Championship in 2006, the club changed ownership four years later and it now offers on-site accommodation for up to thirty-two visiting guests.
With the late-1980s Steve Smyers design at Wolf Run Golf Club in Zionsville closing at the end of last year, it now drops out from the runner-up slot in our 2016 state listings, allowing several courses to make strong upward moves towards the top spot in the new 2018 edition.
The first of these is the century-old Donald Ross course at the French Lick Resort (up three to number 3), where Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley embarked on a major restoration project in 2005. Our regular US contributor M. James Ward had this to say about the layout only a few months ago: “The Ross course at French Lick is a most special place and, when combined with the sheer majesty of the overall resort itself, is one every true die-hard golfer had best schedule at some point”.
The next strong climber is Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s Warren Golf Course at the University of Notre Dame (up five to number 4), which hosted the US Women’s Amateur Public Links Championships in 2010 and it’s now set to become the first collegiate course to hold a US Senior Open Championship when the event is played there next year.
Progressing four to number 6, the 18-hole layout at The Fort Golf Resort is one of the best public facilities in the state, re-designed by Pete Dye and Tim Liddy in 1997, with Dye charging a nominal one dollar fee for their services. It’s built on the now peaceful site of the Fort Benjamin Harrison Military Reservation on the outskirts of Indianapolis.
One spot adrift at number 7, the 9-hole course at Culver Academies soars thirteen places up the new table. An old William Langford design, it was restored a while back by Bobby Weed who, when he first visited the property, said: ”I felt like I had opened up a barn door and found a vintage Porsche 356 underneath dust and hay.”
|1||Victoria National||No change|
|2||Crooked Stick||Up 1|
|3||French Lick (Donald Ross)||Up 3|
|5||French Lick (Pete Dye)||Down 1|
|6||The Fort||Up 4|
|7||Culver Academies||Up 13|
|8||Brickyard Crossing||Down 1|
|9||Prairie View||Down 1|
|10||Harrison Hills||Up 5|
|12||Trophy Club||Up 12|
|13||Country Club of Indianapolis||New entry|
|14||South Bend||Down 2|
|15||Sycamore Hills||Down 10|
|16||Birck Boilermaker (Kampen)||Down 5|
|19||Rock Hollow||Down 6|
|22||Sultan's Run||New entry|
|23||Chariot Run||Down 2|
|24||Otter Creek (North & West)||Down 2|
|25||Bridgewater (Championship)||New entry|
|27||Sand Creek (Creek & Lake)||New entry|
|29||Chatham Hills||New entry|
|30||Swan Lake (Black)||Down 1|
Click this link to see full details of all courses in our latest Indiana Best in State rankings
The top four slots in the Wolverine State chart remain as they were when we re-ranked two years ago which means Crystal Downs in Frankfort holds onto top billing in the listings. Set out on hilly, wooded terrain between Lake Michigan and Crystal Lake, it’s a demanding course to walk with occasional blind shots to play along the way. Designed by Alister MacKenzie and Perry Maxwell in the late 1920s, the layout features a “series of unconventional but spectacular holes” that “make Crystal Downs a unique challenge”. Renaissance Golf Design has made several improvements here recently, most notably involving the greens on the 2nd, 11th and 13th holes.
In Volume 3 of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses , author Tom Doak (who’s a member at the club) commented: “Like all of Dr. MacKenzie’s work, it makes the absolute most out of the landscape, with bunkers placed to highlight the drama of the terrain and the shots required. It is also one of the most challenging courses I know: though it’s only 6,500 yards, par is 70, the rating almost 74, and the combination of windy days, gnarly native roughs and heavily contoured greens ensure that there are only one or two scores a year below par.”
Three Golden Age courses from the mid-1920s make a little headway near the top of the Michigan standings.
The Donald Ross-designed course at Franklin Hills Country Club (up two to number 5) lies within a relatively small property to the northwest of Detroit, with little space wasted when setting out the fairways in 1926. The layout was renovated by Ron Pritchard in 2004 and Paul Rudovski played there a short time ago, commenting: “the course was in superb shape, even though it was too green for my taste …but even as green as it was, the turf was very firm, healthy, as reasonably fast with good run out. There’s a wonderful use of the land to reward taking on tee shots with clear views of greens and punish layups unless they are very accurate and well thought out. Typical Ross greens were superb…unless you’re above the hole, and then you’re dead!”
Paul also visited another course an hour’s drive north of Franklin, which Wilfred Reid laid out in 1925. The Old course at Indianwood Golf & Country Club (up three to number 7) hosted the US Women’s Open in 1989 and 1994, as well as the US Senior Open in 2012, so it’s still capable of testing elite professional players in the modern era. Paul’s thoughts were: “I loved it. Wide open with very few trees, it is built on a glorious piece of property and was in excellent condition. The course was very wet but played firm. Greens were tough with big slopes from back to front so best not be long on your approaches. Best holes were punch bowls at #4 and #9, long par fours at #12 and #16. A true hidden gem that’s very much worthy of a visit.”
The 18-hole layout at Orchard Lake Country Club (up six to number 11) is a C.H Alison course that was built in 1926, when the architect fronted Harry Colt’s Detroit design office. Unfortunately, some of the original design intent had been lost over time so Keith Foster was called in to restore the course to its former Golden Age glory in 2013. The original plan was to rebuild the bunkers (using a synthetic fabric to hold the sand on steep faces) and this work was done, but mounding associated with a previous renovation was also removed, greens were taken back to their original size, then the putting surfaces were re-seeded with Pure Distinction bent grass.
Five courses drop out of the old Top 50 and fifteen new courses make an appearance in the new state Top 60 chart. The highest positioned new entry crashes in at number 6 and it’s The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon. Designed by Tom Doak with Brian Slawnik of Renaissance Golf Design, the layout comprises eighteen sets of tees, fairways and greens that can be played in one direction one day then in the opposite direction the following day. It’s a project the architect had been considering for many years but it just needed the right site and the right client for it to happen.
Our Canadian Correspondent Dave Finn visited Forest Dunes Golf Club last year and had this to say: “The Loop has long been a passion of Tom Doak to create the only reversible golf course ever built in North America… It’s hard to fathom that one day you play clockwise where you are approaching a green that is wide and shallow with plenty of bunkers and the next day on the counter clockwise track you are faced with a skinny green with no visible danger. Doak was ingenious in laying out a minimalistic design using expansive fairways, gentle elevation changes and thorny evergreen gorse-like shrubs to re-create a Scottish heathlands-style course.”
|1||Crystal Downs||No change|
|2||Oakland Hills (South)||No change|
|3||Kingsley Club||No change|
|4||Dunes Club||No change|
|5||Franklin Hills||Up 2|
|6||Forest Dunes (The Loop - Black)||New entry|
|7||Indianwood (Old)||Up 3|
|8||Forest Dunes (Weiskopf)||Down 2|
|9||Marquette (Greywalls)||No change|
|10||Lost Dunes||Down 5|
|11||Orchard Lake||Up 6|
|13||Arcadia Bluffs||Down 1|
|14||Point O'Woods||Down 6|
|15||True North||Down 1|
|16||Barton Hills||No change|
|17||Country Club of Detroit||Down 6|
|18||Gull Lake View (Stoatin Brae)||New entry|
|19||University of Michigan||Down 1|
|21||Battle Creek||New entry|
|22||Bloomfield Hills||New entry|
|23||Birmingham CC||New entry|
|24||Oakland Hills (North)||Down 4|
|26||Wuskowhan Players||Down 11|
|27||Eagle Eye||Down 8|
|28||Pilgrim's Run||Up 5|
|29||Radrick Farms||New entry|
|30||Grosse Ile||Up 17|
|31||Warwick Hills||Up 3|
|33||Black Lake||Down 10|
|34||Detroit (South)||New entry|
|35||Boyne Highlands (Heather)||Down 5|
|36||Treetops (Signature)||Down 4|
|37||Detroit (North)||New entry|
|38||Treetops (Premier)||Up 5|
|40||Indianwood (New)||Down 1|
|41||Bay Harbor (Links & Quarry)||Down 20|
|42||Treetops (Masterpiece)||Down 7|
|43||Red Run||New entry|
|44||TimberStone at Pine Mountain||Down 19|
|45||Plum Hollow||New entry|
|46||Lakewood Shores (Gailes)||Down 15|
|47||Flint GC||New entry|
|48||Boyne Highlands (Donald Ross Memorial)||Down 8|
|49||Shanty Creek (Cedar River)||Down 12|
|51||The Mines||Down 10|
|52||Western G&CC||New entry|
|53||Angels Crossing||Down 24|
|54||Grand Traverse (The Bear)||Down 18|
|56||Shanty Creek (The Legend)||Down 8|
|57||Country Club of Lansing||New entry|
|58||Shepherd's Hollow (10-27)||Down 16|
|59||Boyne Highlands (Arthur Hills)||Down 15|
|60||Coyote Preserve||Down 11|
Click this link to see full details of all courses in our latest Michigan Best in State rankings
Seven courses in the Buckeye State occupy positions in our US Top 100 so, at the top end of the table, that’s a very powerful line-up which is now led by Seth Raynor’s Camargo Club (up 1 to number 1) in Cincinnati. Set out across heavily rolling terrain, the course displays the full range of Raynor replica holes, from an Eden and Alps at holes 5 and 7 to a Biarritz and Short at the 8th and 11th. Pete Dye thinks it has the best set of par three holes in the country, which is certainly high praise for any golfing layout in the United States. In recent times, Tom Doak has rectified bunker work done during a “bad facelift in the 1960s” to return Camargo to its very best. .
Our International Correspondent David Davis had this to say when he visited: “Most certainly one of Raynor’s best efforts. This property may well be one of the best suited pieces of land for Raynor’s style, in my opinion… Camargo is a treat for any lover of golf course architecture. Not a repetitive or mundane hole at the place. It’s understandable why it’s known for its par threes as they are indeed fantastic.”
Only two other courses inside the Top 10 move upwards and both rise three spots in the new standings.
The first one is Moraine Country Club in Dayton (at number 6), where Keith Foster has just completed the restoration of the old Alex “Nipper” Campbell layout, installing new drainage lines, removing nearly two thousand trees, widening fairways and re-establishing bunkers that had been lost over time. The second course is The Country Club in Pepper Pike (at number 7), which our US Consultant Fergal O’Leary says is “the most historic and significant club in this part of the nation” with notable changes in elevation making it “one of the best walks in golf”.
Our coverage of courses in Ohio still extends to a Top 50 chart but new data sources have allowed us to refresh the state listings by bringing in no fewer than fourteen newcomers, with the highest placed of those new entries arriving at number 13. Located next door to The Country Club, the course at the Pepper Pike Club shares both the same location and the same architect, William Flynn. The layout opened for play in 1924, six years before its near neighbour was founded, and it’s currently enjoying a makeover by Ian Andrew, who’s working on bunkers and the aboreal inventory on the property.
|2||Muirfield Village||Down 1|
|3||The Golf Club||No change|
|5||Inverness Club||No change|
|7||The Country Club||Up 3|
|10||Brookside CC||Down 3|
|11||NCR (South)||Up 1|
|12||Double Eagle||Up 1|
|13||Pepper Pike Club||New entry|
|14||Fowler's Mill (Lake & River)||Up 6|
|15||The Virtues||Up 1|
|16||Firestone (South)||Down 2|
|17||Springfield CC||New entry|
|18||Firestone (North)||Down 3|
|20||Ohio State University (Scarlet)||Up 4|
|21||Mayfield Sand Ridge (Mayfield)||New entry|
|22||Hyde Park||New entry|
|23||Westwood CC||New entry|
|24||Mayfield Sand Ridge (Sand Ridge)||Down 13|
|26||Sleepy Hollow||Up 3|
|28||TPC at River's Bend||Down 10|
|30||Little Mountain||Down 9|
|32||Shaker Heights||Down 9|
|33||Brookside G & CC||Up 1|
|35||Westbrook CC||New entry|
|36||Stonelick Hills||Down 4|
|37||Quarry GC||Down 12|
|39||Congress Lake||Down 4|
|40||Chagrin Valley||New entry|
|41||Shaker Run (Woodlands & Lakeside)||Down 19|
|43||Denison at Granville||Up 4|
|46||Columbus (Championship)||New entry|
|47||Boulder Creek||Down 14|
|48||NCR (North)||New entry|
|49||Cooks Creek||Down 10|
|50||Sugar Bush||New entry|
Click this link to see full details of all courses in our latest Ohio Best in State rankings
Once again, the Straits course at Whistling Straits is number 1 in the Badger State, a ranking it’s held since we began compiling Best in State listings in 2012. Laid out on the shores of Lake Michigan, this late-1990s Pete Dye design was built for owner Herb Kohler on the site of an old airfield, with many hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of earth and sand moved to fashion the two 18-hole courses that now occupy the site. The Straits course has already hosted three USPGA Championships and a US Senior Open in the twenty years it’s been in operation but, with the greatest of respect to those particular tournaments, it’s finest hour might yet be the arrival of the Ryder Cup matches in 2020.
M. James Ward posted this only a few months ago: “Dye’s finished product is meant to replicate the famous dunes lands of Scotland and Ireland. The vistas provided by Lake Michigan are akin to being adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean or Irish Sea when playing across the pond and there are days when the fierceness of the wind – hence the name “whistling” as coined by Kohler – is more than apt… Those who venture to play The Straits” had best move up one tee box because the course does not suffer fools gladly.”
Two of the four new chart entries hurtle into the state standings in very prominent positions and they’re both 18-hole layouts which have just been unveiled at Mike Keiser’s Sand Valley Golf Resort near Nekoosa.
The Sand Valley course (new at number 3) opened in 2017 and it’s a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw layout that uses fescue grasses for the tees and fairways, with bentgrass putting surfaces. The fairways are beautifully routed around a totally natural landscape which is easy to walk and there’s already a competent caddie program in place to assist visiting golfers. A recent reviewer feels the co-designers have “once again shown a gifted touch in allowing the land to be the true story – not forcing man’s hand upon it” and his advice is “if you see yourself as a core golfer who embraces classical golf elements then make plans to get there soon”.
The Mammoth Dunes course (new at number 4) opened only two months ago and already this David McLay Kidd design is attracting rave reviews from those who have played the brand new layout. Wide, rumbustious fairways and huge, heaving greens characterize a distinctive course that has been built with the main aim of bringing fun back into the game. First time visitors will be taken aback by the sheer scale of the course as it winds its way around and over massive sand hills and, with every hole isolated, the feeling of solitude and escape is one that many will want to experience again and again with repeat plays.
|1||Whistling Straits (Straits)||No change|
|3||Sand Valley||New entry|
|4||Mammoth Dunes||New entry|
|5||Erin Hills||Down 2|
|6||Blackwolf Run (River)||Down 2|
|7||Lawsonia (Links)||Down 2|
|8||Blue Mound||Down 2|
|10||Whistling Straits (Irish)||Down 1|
|11||Troy Burne||No change|
|12||Blackwolf Run (Meadow Valleys)||Up 2|
|13||Pine Hills CC||Down 1|
|14||University Ridge||Down 4|
|15||Bull at Pinehurst Farms||Down 7|
|16||Strawberry Creek||Up 2|
|17||West Bend||Down 4|
|18||Oneida G&CC||Down 3|
|19||Wild Rock at the Wilderness||Up 1|
|20||Grand Geneva (Brute)||Down 4|
|21||Green Bay||Down 2|
|22||Horseshoe Bay||Down 1|
|24||North Hills||New entry|
|26||Geneva National (Gary Player)||No change|
|27||The Bog||Down 10|
|29||Geneva National (Arnold Palmer)||New entry|
|30||Trappers Turn (Lake & Canyon)||Down 6|
Click this link to see full details of all courses in our latest Wisconsin Best in State rankings
We’re always happy to hear what you think about our re-ranking process so feel free to let us know your opinion of our five newly updated US Best in State charts. Which courses have we overlooked or maybe there’s one or two that really shouldn’t be listed? Perhaps a particular layout sits too high or lies too low in the listings? Whatever your thoughts are, please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top or at the bottom of this page if you’d like to contact us.
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