While Course 3 gets all the pub, I think No. 1 is the best golf course at Medinah Country Club.
Course 1 features great design, terrific routing and the best of all worlds: A lot of wide, forgiving fairways with strategic playability, great par 3’s and 5’s and a little bit of tree-lined parkland style thrown in for good measure.
Redesigned by Tom Doak and his team in 2015, Course 1 has amazing Tom Bendelow green complexes and beautiful, signature Doak bunkering. Its par threes are varied and fun, standing in contrast to the penal one-shotters on its sister course No. 3.
While the par threes on Course 3 are plenty beautiful, they will beat players over the head for even slightly errant shots, especially if the wind is blowing.
Doak’s big on strategy, providing options for players of all skill levels, and lets them build a level of comfort off the tee.
One great example is at Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Florida. Coore and Crenshaw’s Red course, while maybe more visually appealing than Doak’s Blue course, rarely lets players feel comfortable.
The general feeling on tee shots – at least for me – is more angsty on Red, while on Blue I can swing away. Letting it rip is obviously more enjoyable, and while not every shot goes straight they’re almost always findable, and playable.
Rather than giving everyone the exact same challenge [from the tee] to hit a certain target, each player’s tee shot sets up their unique challenges that are found in the angles of approach and the putts they’ll face for being in or out of position.
Comparing Courses 1 and 3 at Medinah is similar in that respect to the Blue and Red courses at Streamsong. Medinah’s Course 3, like Streamsong’s Red, is big on target golf and penalizing errant shots, while Course 1 and Streamsong Blue allow for a higher degree of error and letting that error increase the degree of difficulty from its fairways, rough and green complexes. To me, it’s a more enjoyable brand of golf.
Course 1 is a top ten course in almost any state. Illinois is not “almost any state,” though. Like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California, Illinois is top-heavy with world-class private courses, and when you share a property with a track that’s hosted multiple US Opens and PGA Championships, a Ryder Cup, 3 Western Opens and a US Senior Open, you’ll face an uphill battle when it comes to rankings.
I would bet that if you polled the membership at Medinah, a majority would say Course 1 is their favorite on the property.
Tom Doak design characteristics at Medinah, Course 1
A Doak design characteristic I’ve come to love is his bunkering, especially cross-bunkering. The par four 16th on Course 1 has a really nice example of this. I had to point it out to my playing partners.
A few examples from other Doak-designed courses I’ve played:
Medinah’s Course 3 has a very famous cadre of par threes. Three of them require full carries over water, while the other – the 8th – is a nice little downhill shot to a well-protected green.
They’re all great holes, and perfect for the major competition Course 3 garners, but they present a maybe-too-major challenge for a more pedestrian (barely single-digit) player like myself.
Course 1’s par threes are much less intimidating off the tee, but present more challenge on the putting surfaces. That’s a strategic element I’ve come to expect and love on courses in Tom Doak’s portfolio, whether on par threes or any other hole.
My favorite of the par 3’s on Course 1 is the 15th.
A short one-shotter, the tee shot is just 148 yards but requires daft precision to find and hold the putting surface.
The short-right trap is interesting to me. From the tee, it looks like it would run up to the front edge of the green; on the other side, though, is run-off before a nasty false front. Very cool design element.
Tom Bendelow design characteristics on Course 1
The feature on Bendelow-designed courses that I’ve come to appreciate most is his greens. Bendelow designed some magnificent putting surfaces, and a lot of that is evident still on all three courses at Medinah.
The other feature I love about Bendelow-designed courses is their walkability. While we took carts, his courses always have short walks from green to tee, and the overall routing makes good sense.
Course 1 starts similarly to Course 2, adjacent to the colossal Medinah clubhouse. The tee shot plays over the famous “Camel bunker” across the river, and between one of the course’s narrower tree lines.
The third hole is a great, short par four that’s reachable for long hitters. Tipping out at 311 yards, or 299 from the silver tees, the fairway bends softly to the right, with the river not coming in to play.
The par three 7th has a beautiful little green complex with a ridge running from front to back. It plays long, over 200 yards from the two back tee boxes, and over water about 20 yards before the green.
Many of the finishing holes at Medinah close out by the clubhouse, like the 9th on Course 1. The 9th is a long par five – 616 yards from the tips or 603 from the silver tees, and has a challenging uphill approach over water.
Maybe the most interesting green on the entire course is on the drivable par four 13th. At just 303 yards from the silver tees, the green is a narrow, miniscule target with a spine running front-to-back. The left side is shaved down to first-cut length, with the right side leaving a tough recovery shot over protective mounding.
With out-of-bounds lining the left side of the entire hole, the 14th is a challenging hole that can only be bailed out right.
Maybe the most scenic hole on the entire course, the par five 17th is another long par five, measuring over 550 yards from both back tees.
The initial fairway area looks restricting but is not. Feel free to swing away here as long as it doesn’t go left or right.
The second fairway is then across the bridge, leading to a nicely elevated green surround toward the clubhouse and tee boxes of the par 3 18th.
It’s rare to play a par three 18th hole, and I’ll admit I enjoyed it.
The 18th on Course 1 is a beast! Featuring a 180-yard shot over water, staying beneath the tree branches, this hole is a stern test to close out an awesome round.
Course One at Medinah is a great golf course. It has excellent playability, is beautiful to the eye and has interesting design features. There’s so much to like about it.
If I could play 10 rounds of golf at Medinah, I would play 6 at Course 1, 2 at Course 3 and 2 at Course 2. They’re all terrific, but I’d make sure I’m dialed in for Course 3 and would play Course 2 when I need a bit of a confidence boost (it’s a really cool course that’s on the shorter, easier side).
After the fact, it’s crazy to me that several of my friends turned down the opportunity to be our 4th at Courses 1 and 2 (without Course 3). Granted, it was on a Tuesday and not cheap, but I’m pretty sure they would have changed their schedules if Course 3 was in the itinerary.
Course 3 is a treat. Your golf game will rarely be tested like it is on Course 3, and it’s always cool to walk the same fairways you’ve seen the best in the world play on and make such memorable and iconic moments on (queue the Sergio hop).
Play at Whistling Straits, Erin Hills, Blackwolf Run or other courses that have ridiculously high slopes and ratings and you won’t face near the challenge you will on No. 3… But if you’re so blessed as to have the opportunity to spend a day at Medinah, don’t scoff at playing one of the “other” courses, especially Course One.
You won’t find many more enjoyable golf experiences.
Location: Medinah, IL
Yardage: Gold-6895, Silver-6667, White-6213
Slope/Rating: Gold-136/73.3, Silver-134/72.3, White-129/70.2