Golf Course Review: Cog Hill No.4 Dubsdread (IL)

Cog Hill No. 4, Dubsdread Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #53 US public, #11 Illinois
GolfWeek: #134 US modern, #1 Illinois public #34 US public, #1 Illinois public
Designer: Dick Wilson (1964), Rees Jones (2008 reno)
The top-rated course in the state of Illinois, Cog Hill Number Four Dubsdread is a big-time golf course with the reputation to match.
The entrance to Cog Hill Golf Club
Host to dozens of PGA and USGA events throughout its storied history, Number Four Dubsdread opened in 1964 as the beloved brainchild of Joe Jemsek, who was widely dubbed the “Patriarch of Chicago Golf.”
Most recently, Dubsdread played host to the Western Open from 1991-2006, and then the 2007 and 2009-2011 BMW Championships on the PGA Tour. It is also the third course I have played that at some point hosted the US Amateur (the others were Erin Hills and Chambers Bay). Matt Kuchar won the prestigious event here in 1997.
Because of last week’s Ryder Cup being held at nearby Medinah Country Club, the 2012 BMW Championship was moved to Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana, but may be back to Cog Hill in 2013.
In 2008, a $5.2-million Rees Jones renovation was performed on Number Four to “Put the dread back in Dubsdread.” The rework was received with mixed reviews. Some players, most notably Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, were not fans of the redesign and were quite vocal, while the majority of the course’s regular players [and professionals] loved it, even though 80 percent regularly shot higher than they typically did on the original course.
The bulk of the renovation resulted in drastically improved bunkers and green complexes, and made the course more suitable for long hitters. An underground SubAir system was also implemented to manage the subsurface moisture levels and provide favorable turf growing conditions – the results of this endeavor are obvious in the course’s pristine fairways and greens.
A great example of the results of Rees Jones’, also known as the “Open Doctor,” work at Number Four can be seen here (from the Rees Jones website):
Before and after photos of Rees Jones’ renovation of hole 6 (par 3)
Jones added significant structure to Number Four’s renowned sand hazards, which are placed strategically in nearly every possible location that a non-fairway drive can land. The greens are tough. They are kept at a ten on the stimp meter, I was told by long-time PGA Head Professional Jeff Rimsnider, but they honestly felt much quicker. This lightning fast perception was aided by significant undulation and dubious Sunday pin locations. I kept telling myself I was happy we got to play Dubsdread the weekend before the course aerates.
Recently ranked the 18th toughest course in the country by Golf Digest, I personally rank Dubsdread as the second most difficult course I have played. The only track to give my game more trouble was Erin Hills, primarily because of the day’s strong, swirling winds, and its narrow fairways and deep fescue.
The practice facility at Cog Hill resides along the entrance to the course’s facilities, and is huge. Range is included in the $155 greens fees, and Kentucky bluegrass rough is provided with a wealth of target greens to hit out at. I would have liked to see their beautiful bentgrass fairway grass to hit from, but that would not have been relevant to what was to come, anyways, as I would hit only three total fairways during my round. One of them was an adjacent fairway on the front nine. I was happy with the result of that drive, though, as the short grass was very nice to approach from.
Practice range at Cog Hill
All Callaway Hex range balls at the Cog Hill practice facility

Tiger Woods holds the course record with a 62 in the third round of the 2009 BMW Championship en route to a -19 victory. Don’t worry, Tiger, your record is still intact.

Following the driving range, we spent a lot of time at the chipping and putting greens, and finished our warm-up regimen with what I am told was voted the Chicago area’s best hot dog. I haven’t had many in this great city, but certainly concurred with the nomination.

As an aside, I would not recommend spending much time in the practice bunker at Cog Hill. The course is perhaps best known for its 98 sand traps, but they are drastically different from this one – the sand there is shallow and tarp-lined within an inch, forcing wedges to strike the bottom and oftentimes blade the golf ball. The bunker experience on the course is far different, with sand that is soft and much more playable. The well-fortified high lips on Dubsdread’s sand traps, though, and especially the short-sided outs that often result, make them a tremendous test to the layman’s golf game.

Sunday was cold and a little windy, but mostly sunny. We each donned Nike golf mittens with hand warmers in them, helping us keep our fingers functional between shots (Eric and I both have right hand ulnar nerve damage from past sports injuries, which makes the pinky and ring fingers stiffen and numb in cold weather). I sported an Under Armor top and similar collared overshirt, Tiger Woods pants and heavy socks, which helped keep me relatively comfortable throughout the round.

While the pros tee it up at Number Four from a distance around 7,550 yards, my friend Eric and I played from the blues, which we hoped would be a more manageable 6,750.

The first hole is a great example of what to expect on the front nine: A 425-yard dogleg left par four with bunkers surrounding both sides of the fairway, the green is risen and drops off in every direction to even more sand. Finding the front-right trap on my approach, it was quickly made evident how important it is on this course to aim for the middle of the greens. With a front-side hole location, the green on one rises sharply from the front to the back.
Hole 1: Par 4 (458/442/425/407/385/382)
Hole 1: Par 4 (458/442/425/407/385/382)
Two is the first of Dubsdread’s par threes, and plays to 182 yards from the blue tees. The left and right sides of the putting surface are separated by a substantial drop-off, and as is the case with all holes at Number Four, has virtually no green bail-out areas.
Hole 2: Par 3 (224/208/182/161/158/141)
The third hole features a tight driving area that plays to a narrow fairway that runs left and uphill to one of the most challenging green complexes I have ever played. The right side of the green area has very little sand, so the bailout area is found there. With a back-right hole location, though, the green raises in tremendous fashion to a plateau that must be held for any chance of a two-putt.
Hole 3: Par 4 (443/427/407/389/386/308)
Hole 3: Par 4 (443/427/407/389/386/308)
Four is a beautiful par four that plays to 397 yards from the blue tees. Large bunkers are found in the rough area on both sides at around 250 yards, and the raised green is fronted by two very tough traps.
Hole 4: Par 4 (462/427/397/367/348/285)
Five is an awesome par five. Short by most standards at 479 yards, the fairway rounds from left to right and must be hit for any chance of hitting the green in two. A long approach shot, though, will flirt with a bevy of greenside traps.
Hole 5: Par 5 (507/495/479/463/433/414)
A downhill one-shotter, the sixth hole at Number Four Dubsdread is a deceptively long par three. With a deep hole location, the hole played to about 205 yards into the wind, and required a normally 215-yard shot to hit. My three-hybrid hit the front-right false front and caromed sharply right in to one of a handful of traps that surround the putting surface.
Hole 6: Par 3 (240/216/194/173/137/117)
One of the most intimidating tee shots on the course, the seventh hole has one of the front nine’s only water hazards. A large pond makes up the right side of the driving area, and must be played left of to have any chance of hitting this green in two. Trees left of the fairway, and bunkers long, force players to hit less than driver off the tee to stay safe. The green complex is risen high and falls toward the front-right, which is heavily defended by some of the course’s most extreme greenside bunkers.
Hole 7: Par 4 (431/399/385/363/304/277)
Hole 7: Par 4 (431/399/385/363/304/277)
At 341 yards from the blue tees, the eighth hole tee shot should be played just right of the left-side fairway bunkers for the least impeded approach shot. I had a different plan in mind, as my drive actually went so long and left that I had a clear approach from the fifth hole fairway. The right side of the actual fairway forces players to carry about fifty yards of sand on the way uphill to the green.
Hole 8: Par 4 (379/360/341/319/316/296)
At 569 yards and tree-lined on both sides, the ninth hole is one of the toughest par fives I have ever played. Find the fairway off the tee and hit your longest club that you can hit straight. A back-left hole location makes for a tricky approach, as the rise fro the front to the middle of the green drops off toward the back-left of the putting surface.
Hole 9: Par 5 (613/600/586/550/521/486)
Hole 9: Par 5 (613/600/586/550/521/486)
The back nine begins with a short par four of 353 yards from the blue middle tees. While the left side is lined with tall trees, the right side is heavily bunkered and leads to a green that is tough to hold. I hit the middle of this green on my approach, only to find myself in the back-side trap with a delicate out that was next to impossible to hold on its way downhill.
Hole 10: Par 4 (383/369/353/336/333/306)
Crossing the street to the eleventh hole is, to me, where Dubsdread gets really special. The elevation found on the remainder of these holes, and the incredible variety of the layouts, provides one of the most awe-inspiring golf experiences anywhere.
A long par five of 547 yards from the blues, the eleventh plays between parallel sand traps that line the fairway, then softly fades left and uphill to one of the most beautiful green areas on the course. While the back side of the risen green complex falls off to a depressed fairway basin, the view of the surrounding Lemont area on the horizon is absolutely breathtaking.
Hole 11: Par 5 (607/565/547/525/483/436)
Hole 11: Par 5 (607/565/547/525/483/436)
A long downhill par three, the twelfth hole is a magnificent par three. The prevailing left to right winds helped our tee shots, and left Eric and me with our most make-able birdie putts to this point. Neither of us made them, unfortunately, but the tee shot on this hole sets up awesomely. Long on this hole is dead, with a deep bunker that is unseen from the tees on the back side of the green that precludes a sharp drop-off in to the woods.
Hole 12: Par 3 (216/202/194/178/154/151)
The sixth handicapped hole on the course, the 383-yard par four thirteenth is for my money the toughest hole on the Number Four course. The fairway is mercilessly surrounded by angled sand traps, while the right side is one of the only true out-of-bounds areas on the entire course. The approach sets up much like the approach on the fifteenth hole at the Bull at Pinehurst Farms: A deep ravine leads to greenside bunkers and an uphill approach to a small green that is hard to hold. The ravine is deep, as can be seen below, and ends in a small creek that is unplayable from.
Hole 13: Par 4 (480/446/383/371/368/312)
Hole 13: Par 4 (480/446/383/371/368/312)
One of the most popular sites for fans during championship events, the par three fourteenth features a large hill that can be used for spectator seating, and a long tee shot to a huge green that appears almost as an island in a sea of sand. The approach area to the green is clear, but must then be played significantly uphill to a green that ascends in the front to one of the deepest greens on the course. Stay below the hole on this green complex to keep from one of the most delicate downhill putts on the course.
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
A 482-yard par five, the tee shot on fifteen plays between woods to a fairway that has sand traps on both sides, while a strategically placed tree cozied to the right side of the approach area can make this short par five very difficult to hit in two.
The short right side of the driving area is more open than it appears from the tees, and the fairway approach area before the green is found well left, leaving a short pitch that will take the surrounding bunkers out of the equation.
Hole 15: Par 5 (523/509/482/462/425/410)
Hole 15: Par 5 (523/509/482/462/425/410)
Sixteen is one of the prettiest holes on the course, and plays downhill and left to a wide fairway. The left side should be favored for a shorter approach to an elevated green that is nestled in to the tree line. The left side of the fairway, and left of the green, falls off the playing surface to out-of-bounds.
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Seventeen is finally a hole that plays nicely for my faded drive. With sand traps built in to the hillsides left, and trees right, the fairway doglegs right and leads to a green that is backed by woods, and again surrounded by sand hazards.
Hole 17: Par 4 (423/407/399/381/378/299)
Eighteen is one of the most gorgeous and intimidating finishing holes in golf. The hole runs straight ahead, but narrows considerably around 300 yards where the pond comes in to play on the left. The hole finishes over this pond, with a severely undulating green that plays to the edge of the water. A front-left hole location would be extremely exacting, while the back-right location we had on Sunday presented a tabled pin that resided opposite of a sizeable crest running midway through the putting surface. Two angled sand traps built in to the rough just right of the green would present an even bigger challenge, as hitting out and actually holding this downhill pitch on the green would be a huge test.
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Following my round, I received a handful of text messages asking about the course, which promotes intrigue to golf enthusiasts around the country. I can best describe it like this: The front nine is like a supercharged version of Milwaukee’s Brown Deer (former site of the US Bank Championship and Greater Milwaukee Open), with more substantial sand traps and less water.

The back nine is much more difficult to classify: It has a bit of everything, and everything is done really well. While some elements still remind me of Brown Deer, the most similar on-course experience I can relate is Torrey Pines. Elevation is used generously on the back nine, with risen green complexes that are surrounded by some of the deepest traps I have ever seen.

I loved the squared bentgrass tee boxes, too, and especially the visual they provide when looking back from fairways and par threes.

Having played Cog Hill Number Four Dubsdread for the first time, my appreciation for the unbelievable talent of the PGA Tour’s top players is certainly heightened, and it is easy to see why Golf Digest would name it as one of the twenty toughest courses in the United States. I hope the PGA’s penultimate tournament, the BMW Championship, will make it’s way back to this historic location in 2013, as I’d sure love to see now how these difficult holes are best approached.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Lemont, IL
Yardage: Black-7554, Gold-7144, Blue-6750, White-6382, Green-6033, Forward-5441
Slope/Rating: Black-151/77.8, Gold-144/75.8, Blue-138/73.9, Combo-136/72.9, White-134/71.9, Green-130/70.2
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (with cart): $155

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2 thoughts on “Golf Course Review: Cog Hill No.4 Dubsdread (IL)

  1. Played Dubsdread a few weeks ago in wet conditions. I found the course to have that classic old style feel with obviously interesting but forgettable bunkers. I can honestly say I wouldn’t go back as there are far too many great courses in Chicago to experience.

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