My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
So, here's my final verdict on Medinah. First, I can see why the powers that be host major golf tournaments here. It has plenty of land for the staging of a modern tournament, it's a strong golf course, and even better, it sits outside of Cook County. Medinah is a mile or two into DuPage county, which means you can avoid some of the Chicago political head-winds by keeping a tournament out of Cook. Regarding the golf course....I liked it. I did not love it. It deserves a place in the Top 100, but I'd say it should be in the bottom half. There just weren't enough holes that gave me a "wow" response, to be deserving of a Top 50 ranking, in my opinion. However, if you give bonus points for a really cool clubhouse, a nice secondary golf course, and a great practice facility, then perhaps I'd pump Medinah into the Top 50. Regardless, it was a really nice day in the Western suburbs of Chicago and I'd happily go back if the offer came again. Thanks to N.I. for making this one happen!
#18, Par 4, 421 Yards
One last chance to battle with Medinah on this, the final hole on the course. It's a soft bend to the left where a drive as close as possible to the fairway bunkers will yield the best angle into the green, which has a huge flagpole behind it. On the right side of the green is a large chipping area of closely mowed grass. The long runway tee box extends back into the lake. I'm assuming it's been extended over the years. A strong and reasonably difficult finisher.
#17, Par 3, 156 Yards
As it got closer to sunset, the shadows were getting longer, and there was even more deception out there on the golf course. #17 is the last short hole on the course, and also the last time you have to tangle with Lake Kadijah. This one is shorter than the 13th, but equally downhill and plays to a green that sits right on the edge of the lake rather than having a bit more room, and a bunker, in front of the green. A pin on the right side of the green needs to carry even more water than one on the left. The hills behind the green are perfectly suited to spectators watching a beautiful hole at the end of a round. I can see why it was such a "scene" out here during the Ryder Cup. Oh yeah, and I have to mention that I particularly liked this hole because it was my only birdie of the day.
The Sergio plaque, and what he saw from it:
Your view from the fairway with the hill blocking the green complex. Then, the view from the top of the hill.
#16, Par 4, 434 Yards
This hole is known for Sergio Garcia's ridiculous shot with his eyes closed from the base of a tree and his sprint up a hill to see where it went. That hill is the only thing that separates this good hole from being a great hole. I think that because it blocks what is a gorgeous green complex with beautiful bunkering built into the hill that it sits on. It's really a cool look, but you can't see any of it from the landing area, which is too bad. The hole is a hard bend to the left, and Garcia's tree is not there anymore, but a plaque sits in its place. While it was one of the more famous shots because of how TV cameras captured his eyes closed and the run after it, I thought it was odd to honor the shot of a non-winner that didn't go into the hole or anything. Just my opinion.
#15, Par 4, 331 Yards
While the scorecard says this hole plays 390 yards from the back tees, that's really only if they use the 12th tee box. It certainly CAN play that long, but this hole was recently re-built by Rees Jones, and the intent is to play it as a driveable par 4. It was essentially built for the Ryder Cup to be an exciting made-for-TV dramatic hole right near the end of most matches. From the Silver tee (which is where the back tees usually are when the intent is for the hole to be driveable), it's 215 yards to reach the pond on the right side that lines the hole the rest of the way. For a guy like me, this isn't a driveable hole from 330 yards, so I just hit it out there and took my chances with my wedge game. If you're going for the green, a bunker is on the left side of the green, with a chipping area in the back. The chipping area seemed to be quite soggy, so I'm not sure whether they've had issues with drainage back there. It definitely makes the shot more challenging and probably wasn't the intent of that area.
#14, Par 5, 550 Yards
This is the last three-shotter on the course, and it presents a reasonable chance to score. The tee shot needs to carry the lake. It's not a massive carry, but it does require you to hit a decent shot. I didn't measure the shot, but I'm thinking it's around 200 yards or so to reach dry land. From there, it's a blind second shot, but there really isn't any trouble, other than trees and rough between you and the green. Five amoeba shaped bunkers guard the front half of the green. If you can keep your first and second shots in the fairway, this should be a pretty easy par. If either shot gets a bit errant, then a recovery isn't necessarily as easy.
#13, Par 3, 189 Yards
With the back tee way behind us and up the hill, we couldn't resist trying some shots from the Gold tees, where the shot is 245 yards with all carry to the green. For what it's worth, nobody hit the green, and if I remember correctly, all four of us ended up wet. For anything other than the pros, it's a silly hole from that far back. Form the Silver tees, it's still plenty tough. Three bunkers surround the green, which sets over Lake Kadijah, and downhill from the tee. I remembered Webb Simpson during the Ryder Cup getting a little too much hosel on his ball. My shot wasn't much better, as I hit the proverbial big ball before the little ball. Luckily enough (or embarassingly enough), the shot was bad enough that I didn't end up on the water. The first picture below is from the Silver tees. The next one is from the Tips.
#12, Par 4, 463 Yards
#12 is probably the signature hole at Medinah, and boy, is it a tough par. The drive is blind with a fairway that slopes hard from left to right, and that's important because it tends to direct your drive into a flatter portion of the fairway that has a reasonable angle into the hole. Miss that flat area and you're almost assured of being blocked into the green by a huge tree on the left or a prison of trees on the right side. Around the green, there is rough on the left side (which is hard to get to with the tree blocking it) and shaved grass on the right slde which slopes downhill into a pond. We tested out throwing some balls up onto the hill to see if they'd roll all the way down into the water. Luckily, the maintenance staff left a foot or two of rough between the edge of the water and the shaved area. From our sample size of tosses, on various angles, nothing actually made it all the way into the pond. However, we didn't actually hit any balls from 200 yards out with a slice, which likely would have come in harder and faster and ended up wet. This hole screams of some of the famous bunkerless par fours built by Donald Ross. It's a fantastic hole on a great piece of land.
#11, Par 4, 389 Yards
Like the 9th hole, this one bends pretty hard to the left. Unlike the 9th hole, most people will want to hit driver here. Hit it too far and you run the risk of going through the fairway and into the bunker that guards the outside corner of the dogleg. However, don't go far enough and you'll be blocked by trees on your approach into the green. I'd say you need a shot of about 250 yards to get a good look at the green. Depending on the angle, you can hit it about 270 yards before reaching the bunker. On a line toward the left side of the bunker, you can hit it even further.
#10, Par 5, 567 Yards
The 9th hole at Medinah does not return to the clubhouse. In fact, it finishes at basically the furthest point away form the clubhouse. To start the inward nine, you're faced with a long and difficult par five. Bunkers pinch the fairway on either side in the driving area of most players. I'm sure pros wouldn't even notice them, as it's about a 290 yard carry to get past them both. From the Silver tees, it's about 225 yards to clear the bunker on the left and 260 yards to clear the one on the right. From there, the next shot needs to avoid bunkers that pinch the fairway again in the landing zone for most second shots. This hole runs alongside Route 20 / Lake Street, and it's LOUD! Hit it too far left and you might do some damage on Route 20. Avoid hitting it into traffic or the bunkers and you might have a chance at making par.
#9, Par 4, 415 Yards
I made a mess of this hole, and the pictures that I captured during the process suffered because of it. It's a tough driving hole. If you can't hit a pretty hard draw, it's probably not a driver hole. Hit your drive too far without a draw and it runs the risk of running through the fairway into the rough, or even worse, into the trees. After the drive, the hole doglegs to the left to a green with bunkers on either side of it.
#8, Par 3, 177 Yards
Critics of Medinah #3 will note that there is a lot of similarity in the par 3's, with all but one of them requiring a carry over Lake Kadijah. The 8th is the exception. It plays slightly downhill to a triangular green. The narrowest section of the green is upfront and flanked by two bunkers. Attack a front pin at your own risk.
#7, Par 5, 585 Yards
This one is long, narrow, and tough, with bunkers down the left side most of the way. Those bunkers are on the outside of the dogleg, as this one bends to the right. The 7th hole plays nearly 620 yards from the tips, I can't imagine many people getting onto the green in two on this one, though the way the pros hit the ball these days, it's probably been done. The second shot is blind, but the line is still fairly obvious with the lines of trees on either side.
#6, Par 4, 454 Yards
This is the only par 4 on the course that stretches past 500 yards from the tips. I'm glad we didn't have to play it from there, but it was still plenty of length for an average player. The hole is shaped with a slight bend to the right with bunkers on the left side, and O.B. left of that. From the Silver tees, it's about 275 yards to get to the first bunker on the left, which leaves nearly 200 yards to a green with ample room in front that allows for a run-up shot. On the last picture, you can see some of the contour of the green, so even if you make two nice shots to get onto the surface, there's plenty of challenge left to make your par.
#5, Par 5, 503 Yards
This has to be an easy hole for the pros. It's only 536 yards from the Gold tees, which is just a long par four for them, though it does play uphill. The bunker on the left side of the fairway didn't exist in the yardage book I purchased, so I'm assuming it's rather new? Without that bunker it was a fairly wide landing area until over 350 yards from the tee when a bunker on the right side tightens the fairway. With the bunker on the left, it creates more trouble that may cause a pro to hit less than driver, which would make the hole more than a driver/wedge to the green. For the regular player, there isn't much of a challenge on the second shot as long as you can carry that bunker on the right side. Definitely a possible birdie on this one.
#4, Par 4, 432 Yards
Playing straight away, and back toward Lake Kadijah and the shooting lodge, the 4th is the first of many long par 4's. The drive goes downhill and then the hole goes back uphill into the green. No trouble on either side of the fairway (at least no bunkers).
#3, Par 4, 386 Yards
The 3rd hole bends slightly to the left, with fairway bunkers on the outside of the dogleg. This is the second of four par fours that are less than 400 yards long, so take advantage while you can. After teeing off, you'll get your first look at the 12th green, across the pond to your right as you're walking to the fairway. It's a great hole, and seeing it from the 3rd is a cool angle.
#2, Par 3, 172 Yards
Medinah doesn't take long to bring out the big guns, and that has nothing to do with the fact that the club's skeet and trap shooting lodge stands on the opposite side of the the Lake from the 2nd tee. This hole is quite a test as the 2nd hole of your round, and there's no choice but to stand up and make a good swing with an iron, lest you lose your first ball of the day. Water is short and left, with a bunker right. No place to bail out. Make a good swing and you can get off to a nice start with this hole coming after the scoreable first. Make a mistake and it might be the beginning of a long day on a mostly relentless golf course.
#1, Par 4, 383 Yards
Stepping up to the first tee, I couldn't help but remember how cool a scene it was when the Ryder Cup was here. Grandstands were set up surrounding the tee box to make the players feel like they were entering a gauntlet of pressure. Then there was the memory of Rory McIlroy getting a police escort to the first tee when he was late to the course on the final day. There isn't much to Medinah's opener. It goes straight away and isn't terribly long. A fairway bunker on the left is the lone obstacle, aside from rough and trees. A variety of clubs could be played from the tee, with long irons, hybrids, fairway woods, and driver all as viable plays. You get your first view of Lake Kadijah on your second shot, which lays behind the green, but doesn't come into play just yet.
Course One was fun. It didn't have all the teeth and challenge of the neighboring championship course that I'd face later in the day, but it was a fun members' course that I'd have no problem playing on a daily basis. After finishing our round on #1, we hit the lunch buffet in the grill room, took some time in the pro shop, and then warmed back up to take on the famous Medinah #3 at 2:24.
Medinah #3 makes no excuses about being a tough and nasty test of golf. It's long, narrow in spots, and has penal rough and tricky greens. The greens weren't kept overly quick when I was there, but they still offered sufficient contour to keep things interesting. From all the way back, the Gold tees measure a brutish 7,657 yards, and play to a rating and slope of 78.3 and 152, which is nearly identical to the slope and rating of the famously difficult Bethpage Black. Those Gold tees weren't even set up on the day we played, and for good reason, because there probably aren't many people that play Medinah on a daily basis who have any business playing from back there. Assuming you want no part of playing the course from the tips, there are three other tees to choose from (Silver = 7,007 yards, 75.5 / 147; White = 6,629 yards, 73.6 / 142; Green = 6,113 yards, 71.2 / 137). It's pretty ironic that a course that was originally built for the ladies of Medinah wouldn't have a set of tees that play shorter than 6,100 yards! My host and I had no business playing from the Silver tees, but we got paired up with a pair of guys who were pretty good players. So, we decided we'd give it a shot and see how much of a kick in the teeth Medinah could be from 7,000 yards. After rolling a couple of putts on the gorgeous clock-style putting green (see above), it was time to put the ball in the air. As I usually do, I'll quote the tees I played, the Silver Tees, below:
Upon arriving at the club, I drove through the iconic gate, got a friendly wave from the security guard, and was on my way to the bag drop. I turned down valet service because it was early in the day and there was a parking spot available right by the bag drop. I grabbed my shoes, and was off to the locker room to get ready to go. A few swings on the practice range, and putting green, and it was time to go.
My day at Medinah started with an 8:00 AM tee time on the recently re-designed Course #1. This Tom Bendelow track got a major face lift from one of today's most prominent architects, Tom Doak. The course opens up with a drive over the "Camel Bunker" which honors the club's Middle Eastern heritage. Apparently this bunker slowly-but-surely lost its shape over the year and starting looking more like a bear than a camel. Doak fixed that:
Before digging into my review of the golf course, I'd be remiss not to make mention of Medinah's famous clubhouse. It's unlike anything I have ever seen, at least for a golf clubhouse. From the club's history, as posted on the wall of the clubhouse:
"While the golf courses were being constructed, Richard G. Schmid was hired to plan and design the clubhouse. Schmid had a flair for blending the classic lines of Byzantine, Oriental, Louis XIV and Italian architecture characteristic of many Masonic structures. His design gave Medinah's clubhouse the taste, style and elegance still evident today."
"Schmid's plans were carefully executed with Schmidt Brothers Construction Company as general contractor. The Schmidt brothers (Otto, August, and Ernest) were Shriners and charter members of Medinah. The rotunda and murals were the work of another club member, Gustav A. Brand, and German-born artist. Shriners were familiar with Brand's work on the Chicago Medinah Temple and other historic sites."
Artifacts from one of Tiger Woods' two PGA Championships he won at Medinah:
Nestled just outside the City of Broad Shoulders, Medinah is a big country club. There are three golf courses, a large practice facility, a huge clubhouse, a shooting lodge, tennis, swimming, all on a sprawling property with ample acreage to be a comfortable host for major championships. The club was founded in the early 1920's by a group of Shriners who wished to build a country retreat. The first golf course opened for play in late 1925, with the crown jewel #3 course opening in 1928. That #3 course was originally intended as the ladies' course, which is ironic given its place in the game as a host of men's championships. By the late 1920's, Medinah had 1,500 members, all of them Shiners, but this would change once the Great Depression hit, and the club fell on hard times. At that point, the requirement to be a Shriner to qualify for membership was waived. During World War II, the #2 course was temporarily closed, and the club relied on its membership to maintain the other two golf courses.
Today, the club seems to be in good position, bolstered by the cash flow from hosting major championships and an active membership. The club just completed a re-design of Course One, which was done by Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf Design firm. Course Number Two is rumored to have a re-design in the works as well. The bucket list course, Number Three, has essentially been through a never-ending redesign since the day it opened. The first of many tweaks to the original Tom Bendelow layout occurred in 1931, just three years after it opened, when a major redesign was conducted. Since then holes have been moved, built from scratch, and adjusted to result in what stands currently. Rees Jones was the last of designers to put his fingerprints on Medinah's famous championship course, in advance of the 2012 Ryder Cup.
That Ryder Cup is one of countless championships that the club has hosted over the years. Beyond the Ryder Cup, those tournaments include three US Opens, two PGA Championships, one US Senior Open, and three Western Opens, among other regional championships. This is very evident when walking through the clubhouse where artifacts from past tournaments are omnipresent. While there are spots that honor the US Opens and PGAs, the club is clearly most proud of the recent Ryder Cup. In the mixed grill, pillars are painted with past Ryder Cup teams and highlights. Beyond that, there are several cases of memorabilia elsewhere in the clubhouse, which are a great deal of fun to look through:
In 1987, the great Chicago-based film writer/director/producer, John Hughes, released "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," a film staring John Candy and Steve Martin that told the story of the twosome traveling from New York to Chicago. After spending the day at the club, I'm convinced (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that the story was conceived at Medinah. On the north side of the property lies Chicago's Metra train line, with a station about a block from the club's edge. Wheels on tracks and train whistles can be heard every hour or so when the train goes by. On the south side of the property, and immediately adjacent to holes on the #3 course is the busy thoroughfare of Route 20 aka Lake Street with steady traffic all day long. However, it's the third and final prong of the noise trifecta that is most evident, coming from the planes that fly over the property non-stop. Medinah is right on the line of the final approach for two runways into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. With that said, regional jets, 727's and 747's will be flying a couple thousand feet over your head all day. There are many adjectives that I would use to describe Medinah: beautiful, tough, lush...peaceful would not be one of them.
#44, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2015)
#85, Top 100 Courses in the World (2015)
#39, America's Greatest Golf Courses (2015-2016)
#2, Best in the State of Illinois (2013-2014)