My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#6 Gold, "Lake Katherine," Par 4, 468 Yards
A pretty, but extremely challenging golf hole, primarily due to the yardage and the fact that reaching the green in regulation requires a carry over a lake. There is an option to play around the lake, as there is fairway to its right, but of course, you won't be getting onto the surface with a birdie putt if that's your strategy. With that said, it still might be the best strategy for many, as this one is probably a par 4 1/2. The scorecard lists this hole one of Chicago's 18 best holes. When the staff wants to mix things up, there is a tee box on the left side that gives the option to set this one up as a 236-yard par 3. It has to be fun to play the course as a member when the setup uses some of these alternate teeing grounds.
After taking some time to walk around the car museum, it was time to change back into my regular shoes and drive back home. On my five-hour drive home, I reflected a bit on the day's experience, and determined that the word experience was probably the best word to describe the day. While the golf course was a fun and fairly unique track with dozens of tee boxes throughout the course to potentially mix up the experience on a daily basis, I wouldn't consider it a course that necessarily stood up to some of it's peers in the Top 100. However, from the exceptional service that coddles you from the moment you arrive on property, to the incredible "campus" that surrounds the golf course, to the cars and other memorabilia that awaits, there's something about Rich Harvest Farms that leaves you just as satisfied as when you leave other more golf-heavy properties. While I wouldn't make the trip to the Chicago area just to see this golf course, there's no question I would make the trip to experience everything that a day at the Farms includes. If you get an invite to spend a day at The Farms, don't say no! Thanks to our host, and TT who graciously included me on this special day.
#6 Silver, "Bunker Hill," Par 4, 342 Yards
With the countless tee box options at Rich Harvest, the yardage book is among the most confusing publications I've ever seen. The book shows carry distances from tons of different starting locations. The book even measures a yardage from the 5th tee box, where you can play the 6th hole as a par 5. This hole got more complicated when Mr. Rich took a hole that played straight, and started adding tee boxes to the left. These tees are called the "Wolf Tees" due to the wolf statue that stands guard on the way to the tee box farthest back. The good thing about the Wolf Tees are that they create a more natural routing with a shorter walk from green to tee. However, they also create an awkward tee shot into a fairway that was intended to be hit from a completely different angle. You can see it in the first picture below. It just doesn't feel right from that angle. Navigate the tee ball correctly, and it's a short pitch up the hill to a well-bunkered green.
After hitting some irons, woods, chips, and putts, we met up with our host, and it was time to tee off. As I said, when you're a guest at Rich Harvest, you're just as much a house guest of Jerry Rich as you are a guest at a golf club. The carts are stocked with water, soda, and Gatorade in their coolers, and the staff will come out to check on you more than once during the round to see if you need any refills.
The two nines at Rich Harvest are called the Gold and Silver nines. The Gold nine is the typical first nine for member play, because it starts closest to the clubhouse/locker room. However, for tournaments that the club hosts, the nines are reversed, and play starts from the Silver. Perhaps that's because the Silver nine starts closer to the West practice facility, which is the larger of the two practice areas. On our day at The Farms, we'd start off like the tournament players do, taking on the Silver nine first. That meant a long drive meandering through much of the course from one side to the other. Thank goodness we had a member who knew the way!
Rich Harvest is built for tournament play and to be tough. With that said, the Pro Tees stretch all the way to 7,715 yards, and play to an absurd slope and rating of 155 and 79.1. I've never seen anything like 79.1, and I sure didn't have any interest in seeing it that day either. The Championship Tees are still a meaty 7,078 yards, with the Member Tees in front of them measuring 6,721 yards. From those member tees, it was still a nasty slope and rating of 145 and 74.7, with a par of 72. That would be more than enough challenge on this day in late May. I'll quote those tees below.
Additionally, one of the unique aspects of Rich Harvest is all the alternate tees that exist. Being in Mr. Rich's backyard, he started out by building a few greens with many tees, which added variety on each hole, where a par 4 one day could be played from a different tee box and play as a par 3 the next day, or vice versa. When you make your way around the course, you'll see alternate tee boxes, and fairways for that matter, all over the place. That aspect could make it a blast to be a member there, and to get different looks each day.
One last thing I'll say before I get started, which requires me to repeat the club's mission statement of "Crowds have no place there, and waiting between shots must be almost unknown, for the membership is limited." With a membership of only 60, the course is typically not very busy. However, when there are people out there, the protocol is to skip around rather than waiting for a group in front. With that said, we didn't play the course in order, in fact quite a bit out of order. If I consider the first tee of the Silver nine to be the 1st hole, we played the course in the following order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 14, 13, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 12, 16, 17, 18. With all the skipping around, it was tricky to get a feel for the routing and natural progressions from one hole to the other. That unnatural routing, in some spots, is one of the main criticisms of Rich Harvest, since it was built in many segments over the years. Since I didn't play it in order, I can't really opine on that. Regardless, on we go with my review, starting with #1 Silver.
Whenever I have a Top 100 opportunity on the horizon, I always do my best to read as much as I can, and to ask advice from others who have had the experience already. From doing that, I consciously try to avoid developing any opinions before stepping foot on to the property, but instead try to learn what unique aspects about a course I need to experience. Sometimes that's a food/drink item that I need to try, or a special artifact that I need to see in the clubhouse. Sometimes it's a plaque on a tree or in a fairway. Sometimes it's a hidden bottle of booze somewhere on the course. With Rich Harvest Farms, the most frequent back-handed compliments I read are that it's a good golf course with a world class car collection. Before I knew anything about the adventure that is playing the Top 100 golf courses, I would have never expected to see remarks like that. I expected to see great golf courses, not multi-million dollar automobiles. Rich Harvest Farms attempts to give you both!
When I pulled through the security gate at "The Farms," as the members seem to call it, it felt just like driving into most clubs. However, as the day went on, I felt more like I was a guest at someone's home, than a guest at a country club. In the case of Rich Harvest Farms, that's even more true than you might think, as you are indeed a guest on the residential property of multi-millionaire, Jerry Rich. Mr. Rich, who made his money developing software for the stock market, lives on these 2,100 acres, and built this course over time, piece by piece. It all started in 1989 when Rich built three greens on his property, and a number of tee boxes to be able to play a makeshift nine holes in his backyard. As time went on, he built another hole, and then another hole, and after ten years had passed, there were 18 holes on his property, ready to be shared with his friends and guests. While Rich clearly wanted the course to get national recognition and to host major tournaments (and it has), he wanted to keep it mainly for his closest friends. This is obvious in the club's motto:
"Crowds have no place there, and waiting between shots must be almost unknown, for the membership is limited."
Since the club has only about 60 members, several of whom are well-known professional athletes, this was going to be a tough nut to crack. As luck would have it, the same individual who graciously invited me to join him at Shinnecock would invite me to join him for a game at Rich Harvest as well. So far in the Top 100 quest, it almost seems like I've had more luck with out-of-the-blue invites than I've had in setting up my own games. I guess that's the benefit of having a website and getting the word out!
Upon arrival at the club, the security guard made me sweat a little, almost as if I wasn't on the guest list. However, once he acknowledged that I was indeed a welcomed guest, I drove through the gate and toward the parking area. From there, I continued on to an area no bigger than a parking area for a small strip mall. Attendants took my clubs and insisted on parking my car. Since it was early in the morning and we were one of the first groups there, it seemed kind of silly for them to park my car in a spot that was literally 5 steps away, but that's the kind of service you get at Rich Harvest. After I left my car with them, I was shown to the men's locker room. We walked through the door and were immediately met with a beautiful sitting area with a bar that felt like a wealthy person's finished basement or "man cave." I was directed to a collection of snacks on the bar and told to "take whatever you want." After passing the bar, I walked back to my locker for the day to change shoes and get ready to go. For a club with 60 members, the locker room is surprisingly large and extremely well appointed.
Before taking our tour, we had a quick lunch in the Plantation House, which sets near the final hole of the Gold Nine. From there, it was a long cart ride back to the locker room area, at which point we'd head to the pavilion for our tour. Just beyond the cars, the pavilion houses an indoor swimming pool, a carnival area, and other collectible of note. A few pictures below:
The wolf leads you to the tips (another artificial turf tee box). Check out the view from there:
#4 Silver, "Devil's Elbow," Par 4, 430 Yards
Beyond the unusual routing, another common criticism of Rich Harvest Farms is that it has a few tee boxes where grass cannot be grown. To mitigate that issue, the club installed artificial grass "mats" to hit tee balls from. Obviously, I can't say I was a fan of that. Setting that aside, the fourth hole is extremely difficult and arguably straddling the line of fairness. The drive must thread an extremely tight needle (the first picture shows the view from the back tees), and since the hole is quite long (467 yards from the back tees), most players will need to hit driver to have a reasonable chance to get to the shallow green in regulation. The green is mostly fronted by a bunker, with a small opening for a run-up shot on the right side. A seriously demanding hole. I was able to hit the fairway and walk off the hole with a bogey, but I'd hate to have to do it again, not to mention every day!
#1 Silver, "Golden Vane, Par 4, 393 Yards
After a long and winding drive out from the clubhouse, it was time to tee it up at The Farms. Most obvious on the first tee is the large "CROWN" written in hedges through the fairway. This was built to honor the International Crown, an LPGA event that was scheduled for 2016. Mysteriously, the club announced in the fall of 2015 that it would no longer host this event. The line off the tee is right down the middle of the fairway, with a target line just to the right of our forecaddy in the white jumpsuit. The hole bends softly to the right on the second shot to a green with a bunker on the right, but an open line into the green on the left. The green slopes from left to right, so a shot into the left side will ease a bit toward the middle.
#8 Gold, "The Cottage," Par 4, 429 Yards
From the tee, it is key to get your ball into the fairway because the second shot is very tricky and you don't want to have to execute it from the rough or a bunker. The green, and Lake Clyde which fronts it, are not visible from the tee. The primary obstacle is the bunker on the right. Once you're out in the fairway, bring an extra club on your approach to the hole. It's all carry and plays longer than the yardage suggests. For those without the moxie to go after the green in regulation, there is fairway to the left of the lake to play safe.
After checking out the locker room, it was time to loosen up a bit. However, before walking outside, I picked up a course guide that included a map of the property. While this seemed ridiculous at first, I understood its importance by the end of the day, as the course weaved through hundreds of acres of land, with different buildings, lakes, and roads throughout. Rich Harvest is almost more of a campus than a country club. The map even listed what fish were present in each of the three named lakes on the property.
#2 Silver, "Chance," Par 5, 474 Yards
With a good drive, the second hole becomes a nice risk/reward par 5, with a good chance of reaching the green in two. However, to achieve that goal, you must hit a heroic second shot that is all carry over Rainbow Lake and a bunker, and then stop it softly on a shallow green with a collection area beyond it. Not exactly an easy task from 200 yards or so. Ample fairway awaits all the way down the left side and a safe layup in that direction would leave an easier pitch into the green that is long and narrow from that angle.
#8 Silver, "Burn," Par 4, 380 Yards
A keen observer would notice other players on a couple of the holes above...a rarity at The Farms. As I said above, we were told that the member protocol when faced with a wait on a golf shot is to skip around to find an open hole where you won't be held up. So, after finishing the 7th on the Silver Nine, off we went to find an open hole. Luckily for us, a convenient option was readily available. From the 7th hole, if we had gone to the left, we would have ended up at the 8th, but we went to the right and ended up on the 5th hole of the Gold Nine. Later on, we went back to the play the 8th of the Silver Nine. The 8th is a fairly narrow dogleg to the right with loads of sand up by the green. Keeping it in play is the key on this one.
#3 Gold, "Snead's Crotch," Par 4, 352 Yards
The third hole on the Gold Nine is probably the most notorious hole on the golf course. As far as narrowness, this hole is on par with the 4th on the Silver Nine. However, this one is different in that it is shorter and has a tree right in the landing zone. That tree carries a story of its own, which comes from the first official round played when the course opens. The sign says it all, though I'm told that the language was cleaned up a bit!
#9 Gold, "Covered Bridge," Par 5, 504 Yards
The last hole on the championship routing provides a chance to finish strong. A long drive might catch the down slope in the fairway and leave a reasonable shot to get to the green in two. Keep it on the left side, as a shot missed to the right is in jail. When thinking about going for the green in two, be aware the the green is very shallow and tough to hold with a long club. Welch Creek sits at around 125 yards from the hole, in the perfect position to make you think about a laid up second shot. After you cross the covered bridge over the creek, make sure you focus hard on getting your ball into the hole rather than letting your mind wander about the car collection you're about to see!
Even though you've finished your round of golf, there is more fun and excitement ahead of you. As I mentioned before, Jerry Rich has a massive car collection that he keeps near the East Practice Facility. When you walk into this car museum, a pamphlet is available to explain some of its highlights:
#2 Gold, "Eagle's Eye," Par 5, 525 Yards
Two sets of tees are present on this hole. The left tees make the hole a bit longer, but also a bit straighter, and make it easier to avoid the five bunkers on the right side of the fairway. From the right tees, it's a pretty hard dogleg to the right and those bunkers tighten the landing area a bit more. There are 14 bunkers on this hole, along with lots of rough and tall grass. Rich Harvest Farms is a course that tries to be a strong test, and one of the details that aids in its difficulty is the fact that the rough is double-seeded 150 yards from the green and in. With that said, shots that land in this zone better be in the fairway, lest your recovery shot will be from thick and dense rough.
#7 Gold, "Valley of Sin," Par 3, 187 Yards
The heroic carry onto this green is only the starting point of making par. The green is very difficult and keeping it below the hole is critical not only to two-putting, but in some cases in to keep your first putt on the green. Putts from above the hole are tough to stop.
#4 Gold, "Hickory," Par 3, 188 Yards
Whenever I think of the word Hickory, I think of the movie Hoosiers where an underdog group of overachievers wins the Indiana State Basketball Championship. You better not be an underdog to have success on this hole. It's a relatively long one-shotter into a well guarded green. Missing right is trouble. There is even a tee box on this one that's back and to the left, making it 272 yards, carrying right over the front bunker. Good luck with that one!
#3 Silver, "Clyde," Par 3, 175 Yards
The first one-shotter at The Farms features an undulating "L-shaped" green that sits neatly on the banks of Lake Clyde. The shape of the green and mounding surrounding it makes for some potentially interesting putts if the pin is in certain locations and you miss on the wrong section of the green. The second picture below attempts to show that.
#1 Gold, "Heavens Beginning," Par 4, 411 Yards
Typically, after the 9th hole would come the 10th hole. However, at Rich Harvest Farms, they're careful to consider these two distinct nines, and number each set 1-9. Therefore, I'll stay with the club's intent and number the back side 1-9 as well. On the Gold Nine's opening hole, the key off of the tee is to avoid the three large fairway bunkers on the left side, which pinch the fairway in the landing zone. From there, it's a mid iron into a very large green with four bunkers guarding it. Stay out of the sand and this hole can be conquered.
It probably shouldn't have been surprising at a 2,100 acre piece of property that there are two ranges at Rich Harvest--one on either side of the property. We would warm up at the East Practice Facility, which is closest to the locker room, but the West Practice Facility is even larger and more impressive.
#5 Gold, "Old Oaks," Par 4, 373 Yards
The ideal drive here is over the tree on the right, though a fade around it is probably safer for most players. From there, several large and intimidating bunkers surround the green. There isn't much of a ground game option on this one...a carry onto the putting surface is sort of the only way to go. It's pretty clear from the picture so I probably don't have to say it, but a drive to the left is trouble.
#7 Silver, "Beauty & The Beast," Par 5, 532 Yards
No less than 12 tee boxes litter this hole, which allow it to be set up as a par 3, 4, or 5. The typical setup is as a par 5, but even then, there are tee boxes on the right and left side of a line of trees that change up the angle. The typical setup calls for a drive between fairway bunkers. From there, it's a downhill shot to a generous landing area for a layup, or a heroic carry over Duffins Drain to the putting surface. The first picture below shows the typical setup as a par 5.
There is also this tee box to the right of the tree line shown above. It creates a weird shot that almost needs to carry the trees. Just doesn't feel right.
#9 Silver, "The Road Hole," Par 4, 396 Yards
Another hole with two sets of fairways on either side of a line of trees with tee boxes set up to play it on one side of the other. From the left side (where we played it), it's a dogleg to the right that splits bunkers on either side of the fairway. I couldn't figure out why a small plot of land right in front of the tee was maintained as fairway, except maybe for aesthetics?
#5 Silver, "Amen - Holy Stone," Par 3, 162 Yards
Another tee ball on a par 3 that is all carry over a water, then a rock wall, then a bunker to a shallow hourglass shaped green. Missing to the right is the best place to make par, outside of firing right at the stick.