Packers vs. Bears. Brewers vs. Cubs. Badgers vs. Fighting Illini. Tollways and terrible traffic vs. free highways and backroads.
Wisconsin and Illinois folks don’t always get along, but we do all love golf.
For the past twenty years, golf writers from Wisconsin have contested golf writers from Illinois in the annual “Writer’s Cup,” a 27-hole Ryder Cup style tournament that pits golf media from each state against one another.
Last year’s tournament was at Blackwolf Run’s River course, and was won by team Illinois. The venue switches between Wisconsin and Illinois each year, and team captains Gary D’Amato (Wisconsin) and Teddy Greenstein (Illinois) work feverishly to get their best twelve on the course in hopes of bringing home the Reid Hanley Trophy.
Illinois would sweep all but one of the morning best ball matches, and dominated the majority of the others during yesterday’s tournament, but a great time was had by all at the Chicago Highlands Club in Westchester, Illinois.
GolfWeek’s number 149-ranked modern golf course in the country, the Arthur Hills designed Chicago Highlands Club opened to rave reviews in 2009 and has continued to grow in both membership and facilities.
A true family-oriented club, Chicago Highlands has one of the best practice facilities I have ever seen, complete with a kid’s course and free lessons to children, basketball and tennis courts, and in the winter cross country skiing, sledding (ninth hole, I’m assuming?) and an ice rink.
The clubhouse is very nice, but on the smaller side. A new one is slated to open in the coming years, although the facility now used will I am sure stay busy especially in the summer time to take advantage of their wonderful pool and outdoor lounging areas.
With temperatures in the low to mid nineties for our round, I was salivating at the thought of spending some time around there. I wish my club had that!
Overall, I was very impressed with the Chicago Highlands Club, as well as with the level of service and food and beverage.
The course is in spectacular condition, too. I know that pictures are not supposed to be taken in the locker room area, but I just had to get one of this:
You won’t find many faster green speeds than at Chicago Highlands, and the same goes for the course. It plays fast and furious, with great run-out and added emphasis on hitting the right spots on greens.
The first hole at Chicago Highlands is a shorter par four that shares a fairway with the eighteenth, making the fairway area one of the widest around. While there is a ton of room to miss right, there is fescue left and the right side drops to the eighteenth fairway that is well below the first hole’s green.
The fairway on one slopes toward the right side, and especially toward the traps found on that side. A drive down the left side of the fairway leaves the best, most visible approach.
The second hole looks really long from the tee, but plays downhill the whole way. The fairway slants toward the right, and will lead to many shots down the right side ending up in the fescue.
Unlike Erin Hills (for example), most of the fescue at Chicago Highlands is playable, and most balls are findable.
The hole location on two for our tournament was one of the most diabolical on the entire course: Back-left just past a ridge on the left side.
Maybe it is because the entire area is so highly contoured, but even when standing back from the green on different sides I still could not see how some putts went the directions they did!
For example, approaches from the right side went way right and off the green in back. Approaches from off the back of the green rolled hard left, and overall it was very confusing. This is a track that can provide a tremendous home course advantage, obviously!
The third is a short, demanding par four. At just 334 yards from the white tees, there is plenty of room in the fairway but very little around the green.
Most approach shots are almost blind here, with the green being a slanted pea pod from front-left to back-right. Massive mounding hides the green, itself, so make sure to check it out before hitting an approach shot.
Just over the mounding is a large area of rough, so just clearing the mounds will result in a second approach, and our back-right pin on three – while not quite as tough as the pin on two – was a huge challenge to attack.
The first par three on the course, the fourth has maybe the narrowest target area at all of Chicago Highlands! This strip of a one-shotter has a false front, and is lined on both sides with fescue. The hill right of the green will help carom some shots on, but proximity to the pin is crucial.
The winds that blow over Chicago Highlands play a huge factor on this hole.
The fifth is a beautiful golf hole, and sets up a lot like the eleventh at Arthur Hills’ Washington County Golf Course in Hartford, Wisconsin. A comparison of the two holes:
The eleventh has a fairway that runs forward and to the right, toward the green. The longer the tee shot, the further right the player can hit it. Anything too far right will land in rough or sand, though, just as anything too well hit to the left will find the same.
Long drives will be rewarded with a better chance at hitting this green in two, although the climb in the fairway around the green area certainly adds a club or two.
The green on five is heavily risen and has sand to the left, along with a steep false front.
The sixth is a challenging par three, especially with a two- to three-club wind in your face! From the white tees that we played, this hole was only 165 yards but played like 195!
I pure a four-iron during my singles match on this hole, and was pin high right about 10 feet. I of course then completely misread the back-right green slope and three-putted to lose my match five and four. I was really off during that third round, but had a great time nonetheless.
The seventh is a bit confusing the first time it is played. The tee boxes do not show much, other than a sand trap on the left side of the fairway, another on the right and a tall hillside. It shows as a long par five – 615 yards from the tips and down to 507 from the white tees – but plays much shorter.
The perfect line off the tee is over the left-side fairway bunker, which will run out and provide all kinds of options. There is a short fairway to the right (which is shared with the eighth hole), and there is a semi-circular fairway to the left that is used solely for the seventh hole.
Longer hitters can aim straight over all the sand traps and mounds to this tremendously long [from left to right] putting surface, and anything short will just find rough.
Anything long is likely to bound down the hill behind the green, so err on the short side, if necessary.
The eighth is one of the prettiest golf holes I have seen in a while, and honestly reminded me a TON of the sixth hole at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington. The mounding around the fairway that leads to the green complex – a tremendously difficult green complex, at that – is beautifully framed.
The ninth at the Chicago Highlands Club… Wow.
Coming off a beating on the eighth green, players write down their score (likely 3-4 strokes within 20 yards of the putting surface) and breathe a sigh of relief that nine is a short, probably drivable par four.
Round the corner and pull up to the tee boxes. Whoa.
276 yards from the white tees, seemingly straight up toward the heavens lives the ninth hole green. An intimidating principal’s nose bunker is situated half-way between, but everything else is fairway and it all rolls in one direction: Down.
The entire hole might as well be a false front, although the actual false front on this green is as dramatic as any other on the course.
Hit driver as hard and as far as you can here – just don’t expect it to stay close.
The back nine stands in stark contrast to the front. The front is much more forgiving, and more linksy. The back features several water elements and also constricts noticeably.
Both nines are fantastically designed, fun to play and incredibly challenging, but I was glad for my singles match against Chicago area photographer Chuck Cherney that we would be playing the front. Why? Because the back is considerably more difficult off of the tee, and while I tend to spray my drives from time to time, Chuck almost never misses fairways.
The tenth has a landing area from the tee that can go 150-plus yards from the left-side mounding to the water on eleven. The only area players can not hit their balls on ten is left of the tenth fairway (the mounding).
To start our second nine, which was a two-man alternate shot contest between Pat McCabe and me versus Chuck Cherney and Barry Cronin, my tee shot went left of left and found the hillside in an awful lie. It took us two shots to get off that hill, then five more to get in the hole for an eight. That score will sound pretty good compared to what we did on twelve.
The green on ten is a very interesting one. It almost appears to hover against the landscape that surrounds it, and looks almost tilted to its surroundings. Very confusing to get close to, but very attractive in appearance.
It was Pat’s turn on the tee on eleven, and his long tee shot hooked toward the end in to the water. I would have to drop on the next tee up, hitting three. My three-hybrid found the water, too, as did Pat’s subsequent three-wood. My next hybrid went well right, followed by Pat’s next shot going in the fescue well right of the green. We would then find the green and miss the next two putts. Lining up for a crowd-pleasing twelve, Barry told us, “There’s no quit in team, guys,” then told us to pick it up.
Down two in the match early. Ouch.
The eleventh plays over water on the left, which borders the entire fairway and green complex. It is a very attractive hole, and one we saw all of yesterday.
With water lining the left side of the fairway again, the twelfth is a long par five, and one that is probably not reachable for many in two. The tee shot has to find the short grass, as anything left is obviously wet and anything right will find fescue or sand.
The second shot is where things get really interesting. While the principle fairway veers slightly toward the right, another fairway emerges beyond the pond that leads up to a more direct shot toward the green. Finding this fairway will make for a much easier third shot, while being on the right (safer) side will mean a short approach over water and to a very, very narrow green.
Pat and I were able to get a hole back on twelve with an efficient two-putt par, and we were back to just one down.
Personally, thirteen might have been my favorite par three on the entire course. Straight out of Europe, the thirteenth features a rather large green that is almost completely hidden from view from the tees.
Mounding shrouds the putting complex, allowing only a glimpse of a sand trap beyond it. Hills’ manipulation of depth perception on the thirteenth is really nicely done.
It was Pat’s turn on the tee, and he hit a beauty that got us back to even in our alternate shot match (two-putt par):
A look back from beyond the green on thirteen, showing how spacious the landing zone actually is:
The shortest par four on the course, the fourteenth played from just 232 yards from the white tees directly in to a strong wind. It was my turn on the tee, and although my driver will typically go longer than 232 yards the wind made it easily a 260-yard shot.
I hit the green-side bunker right, and Chuck’s tee shot was well above the hole left.
Pat chipped out to the fairway, and Barry was up with a delicate downhill pitch on to this cool punch bowl green. Cronin dropped it for eagle, and the match was back to one down.
A tremendously long par four, the fifteenth plays from 519 yards from the tips, and still 432 from the white tees. Dead in to the teeth of the wind, this was a three-shot hole for most.
The fairway on fifteen is a dogleg left that leads to one of two greens, depending on the day. We were using the longer, right-side green for our round, which is considerably larger and more well protected.
The second, unused green on fifteen:
Both teams made five on fifteen, leaving Team Illinois up one hole.
Sixteen played long, too, although obviously not as long as the hole before it. My tee shot went right of the cart path and in to the fescue, but sat up well in a true flyer lie.
Pat’s approach sailed the green and we watched in horror as it bounded hard left and forward off the backside of the green. We found it literally on the out-of-bounds line, leaving a third shot that would have to be played with fescue in my backswing to a tight pin on an elevated green complex.
Why not go for it? I hit a 52-degree wedge with a short takeaway and it hit perfectly on top of the hill, bounced in the air and rolled toward the hole, stopping less than a foot away for a gimme par. We somehow won the hole and got things back to even.
The seventh is a visually beautiful golf hole, although intimidating given the minute size of the green and the massive false front that dominates it.
Sand traps abound before the green, looking to ruin the round of anyone who misses short, and anything that does not fly the false front is bound to roll all the way down and leave a long, long uphill putt.
Pat’s tee shot got three quarters of the way up the false front, and rolled down at least 25 feet to the front, leaving an uphill putt of maybe 40-50 feet. I hit it about as hard as I could, and it made it about eighty percent of the way there.
Both teams would bogey this hole (both three-putts), and we entered the eighteenth hole still all square.
For match play, there is nothing better than a strong par five finishing hole, and the Chicago Highlands Club has just that.
There is a ton of room to drive to off the tee, as the fairway on eighteen merges with the fairway on one to provide short grass for almost any miss [that does not go left].
The most challenging part of the eighteenth hole is the green complex. A large mound leads up to it, and the green is risen well above the playing level and runs hard from back-left to the front and front-right.
We got a big tee shot on eighteen, and Pat hit a huge three-wood just shy of the green. A delicate 60-degree wedge got us within ten feet, and two decent putts got us in for par.
Illinois had a chance to tie and halve the match, but managed to just miss a four-footer with a whole lot of wiggle in it.
This would be the only match I would win all day, but it was a great match and very well contested – other than the eight and twelve to start the nine, of course!
Location: Westchester, IL
Yardage: Black-7490, Gold-7066, Blue-6580, White-6146, Green-5646, Orange-5049
Slope/Rating: Black-141/76.4, Gold-136/74.2, Blue-132/72.1, White-128/70.1, Green-123/67.8, Orange-121/70.3