Golf Course Review: Medinah Country Club, Course No. 3 (IL)

Medinah CC No. 3 Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #48 US, #3 Illinois
GolfWeek: #85 Classic #44 US
Architect: Tom Bendelow; Rees Jones

This past May, I had the good fortune of being invited to the unveiling of Rees Jones’ newly renovated Course Two at Medinah Country Club. Since the course was not yet ready to be played, we were treated to a round on a championship course that I’ve dreamed of playing for years: Medinah No. 3.

Most recently the site of the 2012 Ryder Cup, No. 3 has played host to a plethora of golf championships, including that Ryder Cup, three Western Opens (now the BMW Championship), the 1988 US Senior Open, three US Opens (1949, 1975, 1990) and two PGA Championships (1999, 2006).

Currently ranked the 48th best golf course in the country (public or private), No. 3 has a heritage that is unmatched in the Midwest.

The course starts out with a relatively straight-forward par four. Tee it high and let it fly – anything that flies the hill should get a good roll forward down the hill, leaving a short iron or wedge in.

From the first green on, players are introduced to some terrific Tom Bendelow designed greens. The back-right pin location we had moved a ton.

Hole 1: Par 4 (433/383/357/357)
Hole 1: Par 4 (433/383/357/357)

The first in a fabulous set of par threes, the second hole plays entirely over water. While all the tee boxes are adjacent to the lake, the required carry and especially the angle in changes dramatically depending on tees.

Hole 2: Par 3 (192/172/151/151)
Hole 2: Par 3 (192/172/151/151)

A mid-range par four, the third hole has a demanding tee shot that needs to work right-to-left.

Prior to Rees Jones’ renovation of Course 3, the approach shot here was blind. Jones’ team leveled out the approach area to make this hole much more get-able. The green remains small, though, and is flanked by traps both left and right.

Hole 3: Par 4 (412/386/365/365)
Hole 3: Par 4 (412/386/365/365)

On most courses, the fourth hole would be a long par four. At Medinah No. 3, though, I’d say it’s pretty tame!

At 463 from the tips, or 432 from the first tees in that we played, the fourth hole is still long, especially as it plays significantly uphill to the green.

The ideal tee shot here is to the right side of the fairway.

Hole 4: Par 4 (463/432/401/337)
Henry teeing off on the fourth (463/432/401/337)
Hole 4: Par 4 (463/432/401/337)

The fifth is the first, and shortest, par five on the course. It’s beautifully framed from the tee with Jones’ gorgeous white sand bunkers. A good drive here can get long players home in two.

Hole 5: Par 5 (536/503/488/488)
Hole 5: Par 5 (536/503/488/488)
The risen fifth green (Par 5 (536/503/488/488)

The number one handicapped hole on the course, the sixth is a long par four that stretches out to 509 yards from the tips. A cut drive starting out on the left side of the fairway is best, but either way it’ll be a long way in on two.

The fairway on six runs along the property line, and toward a fairly busy road. When I asked one of our caddies about balls heading toward traffic, he was telling me the club actually insures members potentially hitting shots in to traffic up to a pretty high amount. I don’t think that’s a standard thing at most private clubs.

Hole 6: Par 4 (509/454/432/353)

Bending left-to-right, the par five seventh is an absolute beast – 617 yards from the tips and 585 from the first tees in.

I hit a good tee shot here, then yanked my second shot left in to no man’s land… Then a miracle shot even close… Then a short-sided flop shot that didn’t quite make it… All this to say that playing this hole safe might have been a better option – not like I had any chance of getting home in two.

This was one of those moments that (if you know me, you know this is my “on the road motto”) I said, “I didn’t drive all the way down to Medinah to lay up with five-iron on the longest par five.

Some day, I’ll learn to keep my three- and five-woods at home with these exact situations in mind.

Hole 7: Par 5 (617/585/571/460)
Hole 7: Par 5 (617/585/571/460)
Hole 7: Par 5 (617/585/571/460)

The eighth is an interesting par three! It’s slightly downhill and there are traps to worry about; the green is active from left to right and it’s just one of those holes where it’s easy to talk yourself in to making a lazy swing.

Our group included Jason Kauflin (owner of Wisconsin Golf Trips and a 4-handicap – he was -2 through 3, by the way), Glen Turk of Midwest Golfing Magazine (3-handicap), Dr. Henry Dominicis (Vice Chairman of Golf at Medinah – and an awesome guy), and me (at the time an 11-handicap and not playing well, but now down to an 8).

None of us got close to this green. All of our tee shots were well left, leaving flop shots over a mound to a putting surface that runs swiftly away.

So… my recommendation: Don’t do that!

Hole 8: Par 3 (201/177/153/153)
A slightly closer look at the eighth (201/177/153/153)

The ninth is a crazy hole, and if I had to pick a least favorite on the No. 3 course it would probably be this one. The reason why is the tee shot, which plays right of a tall tree line that is too near to fly from the tees we were playing. A six-iron off the tee made it past the bend in the fairway, leaving a long approach shot in from the rough.

For a hole that’s , I’m just not a fan of having a tee shot that can only be hit 175 yards. I think if the tees were a little further right, or the trees not as imposing, it would be a cool road-style hole, but hitting an iron off the tee to set up a second shot well over 200 yards is a lot to ask of the average golfer.

Hole 9: Par 4 (432/415/397/397)

A long par five, the tenth stretches out to 578 from the tips, or 567 from the first tees in. Straight away down the eastern property line, the ideal drive here is drawn in from the right-side fairway bunkers.

The second shot will be long if going for the green in two, but the green is receptive as the most heavily canted back-to-front putting surface on Course 3.

Hole 10: Par 5 (578/567/555/463)
Hole 10: Par 5 (578/567/555/463)
Hole 10: Par 5 (578/567/555/463)

The eleventh is another par four playing over a left-side treeline, but offers more opportunity to cut the corner [and cut off distance] than the ninth.

I hit a beautiful high draw over the trees here to the center of the fairway – literally could not have placed it any better – leaving a wedge in. If you guessed that I failed to take advantage of position A, you’re right – my approach [obviously] came off the toe and hit one of the front-right bunkers. I couldn’t catch a break all day, but it’s hard to complain when you’re out on one of the country’s most legendary golf courses.

Hole 11: Par 4 (440/389/374/374)
Hole 11: Par 4 (440/389/374/374)

Make sure to grab a drink and some crackers with cheese spread (anyone who knows me from work knows how I love my cheese spreads) at the halfway house before heading to twelve. You may need some liquid courage on this course, and especially when you get to this hole which is one of the toughest [and coolest] golf holes I’ve ever come across.

The twelfth tees off from outside the snack shop toward a fairway that looks rather docile – bent from left to right with plenty of room to hit driver. Past the trees on the right side, though, is where this hole gets treacherous.

The approach area runs hard downhill toward a pond on the right side, and all the grass is mowed to fairway length. Any second shot hit short or right of the green – which if I had to guess is probably the smallest and one of the most elevated on the course – will either collect in this lower area or roll all the way down the hill and in to the drink.

Holes like twelve are what makes championship golf so great.

Hole 12: Par 4 (476/463/452/383)
Hole 12: Par 4 (476/463/452/383)
Hole 12: Par 4 (476/463/452/383)

A tremendously challenging par three, the thirteenth at Medinah No. 3 is the longest of the course’s one-shotters. At 245 yards of mostly carry from the tips, the winds off Lake Kadijah would make this an absolute beast. 189 from the first tees in is more realistic for guys like me, but the tee shot needs to be somewhat accurate to avoid any of the three greenside bunkers that protect the green.

Hole 13: Par 3 (245/189/151/151)
Hole 13: Par 3 (245/189/151/151)

The tee shot on fourteen is a thing of beauty, with four terraces of elevated tee boxes lined up – as seen from the fairway:

Hole 14: Par 5 (609/550/531/495)

Right of the fairway is a deep ravine that leaves a nasty recovery shot, so accuracy off the tee here is key.

Hole 14: Par 5 (609/550/531/495)
Henry’s recovery shot on 14 – you can make out the top of his hat

A good look at the beautiful rolling fairway on 14:

Hole 14: Par 5 (609/550/531/495)
Hole 14: Par 5 (609/550/531/495)

The fifteenth is a fun risk/reward hole, measuring just 331 from the first tees in and 308 from the whites. With the right side submerged in water, club selection will depend on whether or not you think you have a chance of hitting the green under regulation.

If not, hit whatever’s most reliable and set up an easy approach shot.

Hole 15: Par 4 (390/331/308/308)
A look back from the green on 15
Kauflin lining up a short par putt with his [cheating] long putter

Teeing up beside the pond, the sixteenth is another famous hole at Medinah No. 3:

Hole 16: Par 4 (482/434/413/348)
Hole 16: Par 4 (482/434/413/348)

A plaque in the trees right of the fairway commemorates Sergio Garcia’s legendary shot from a tree root during the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship. How could anyone forget this running leap in the fairway as it somehow cozied up to the green!?

Sergio 16th hole 1999 PGA Championship leaping
Sergio leaping in the air to see his approach shot [somehow] safely on the green

Sometimes pictures don’t do justice to elevation changes on a golf course, and this is one of those cases. The approach shot on sixteen is really elevated – the second shot here shows the false front that players will watch their golf balls roll down if they don’t quite catch it clean.

Hole 16: Par 4 (482/434/413/348)
Hole 16: Par 4 (482/434/413/348)

The penultimate hole on the No. 3 Course at Medinah Country Club is the shortest hole on the course, and also features one of its flattest greens.

The putting surface, while long from left to right, is narrow from front to back and drops off short toward the water.

Hole 17: Par 3 (193/156/132/132)

I love the attention to detail at Medinah: The bridges and retaining walls along the water, for example, are beautifully done.

Hole 17: Par 3 (193/156/132/132)
Hole 17: Par 3 (193/156/132/132)

Course 3 at Medinah finishes as you’d expect it to… Gloriously.

The ideal tee shot is toward the right side of the fairway, just left or short of the traps adjacent to it to set up a clear approach to this elevated green.

Hole 18: Par 4 (449/421/398/398)

A massive American flag guides players toward the center of the green, and deep traps protect the left and right sides of the 18th green. Probably more challenging than the sand traps is a run-off collection area in the back-right. With a green that runs from back to front, this area is no bargain at all.

Hole 18: Par 4 (449/421/398/398)

Simply put, Medinah No. 3 is parkland golf at its absolute best. While it can stretch out to a beefy 7,657 yards from the championship tees, it is much more than a ground-and-pound, hit-and-spray kind of track. Players hoping to score will need every club in their bag, will need to roll the flat stick on some fast and curvy greens, and will need to be strategic about shot targets.

The fact that Tiger Woods won the 1999 PGA Championship here at -9 (one stroke better than Sergio), and then in 2006 at -18 (!!!) is incredible. The inherent challenge in all of the shots the course requires is ridiculous, and to be able to keep up such a high quality of play over 72 holes blows my mind.

Immaculate conditions, fantastic caddies and a terrific overall golfing experience make Medinah No. 3 one of the best golf courses I have ever had the privilege to play.

While it was not my day for scoring, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to play it and would go back in a heartbeat.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Medinah, IL
Yardage: Gold-7657, Silver-7007, White-6629, Green-6113
Slope/Rating: Gold-152/78.3, Silver-142/75.3, White-73.6, Green-137/71.2
Par: 72
Weekend Rates: N/A (fully private)

Medinah Country Club, No. 3 Website

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