Golf Course Review: Medinah Country Club, Course No. 3

Medinah CC No. 3 Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #48 US, #3 Illinois
GolfWeek: #85 Classic
Golf.com: #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.

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

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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.

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Wisconsin’s 18 Toughest Par 3 Holes: The Long Holes

The Beasts (> 185 yards from the first tees in):

1. Blackwolf Run, Meadow Valleys #15 (227/196/189/150/103):

Depending on the distance, this is the hardest par three maybe in the world! From the back three tees, this signature par three on the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run tees up from well over 180 yards usually straight in to the wind and over a massive prairie with one of the widest multi-sectioned greens outside of Lawsonia’s Links course!

From 227-plus yards from the tips, this is as hard of a par three as it gets.

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Hole 15: Par 3 (227/196/189/150/103)

To make the challenge of hitting 3-wood or more off the tee more palatable, the forward tees have probably the most breathtaking view of any hole in the state of Wisconsin to look back on:

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A look back from the forward tees on the 15th at the Meadow Valleys course at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, WI

2. Whistling Straits, Straits #17 (249/223/197/165/131):

This hole has decided the outcomes of PGA Championships!

At over 240 yards from the tips, and with Lake Michigan bordering the entire left side, there is nothing simple about this Alice Dye created hole – a large mound protects the right side of the green and one of the most ridiculous volcano bunkers outside of the Pete Dye Course at French Lick means absolutely anything errant is punished to the enth degree.

Dead zone lies between the tee and green, and anything other than hitting the green leads to bogey or worse.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (249/223/197/165/137)

3. Blackwolf Run, River #13 (231/205/192/150/101):

Blackwolf Run’s River course boasts one of the most demanding tee shots in the entire state of Wisconsin: From over 200 yards, it’s all carry over the Sheboygan River with a draw, or else one hell of a high fade over the tall oak trees that front the green on the thirteenth hole.

To add to the difficulty level, fly fishermen regularly fish this stretch of the river and pay little to no attention to golfers, making players hopeful that if their tightly drawn shots are miss-hit that they’ll at least not hurt anybody.

Fortunately for us during the below round, there was only one fly fisherman in the river, and none of us hit him (see below photo).

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Hole 13: Par 3 (213/205/192/150/101)

4. University Ridge #17 (250/192/164/130):

The seventeenth at University Ridge tees up from 250 yards from the tips (one of the most popular tournament courses in the state, as well as the University of Wisconsin’s home course and site of the PGA Champion’s Tour American Family Championship), and plays directly over a pond that not only includes all-carry, but also has out-of-bounds directly left and right.

There is literally nowhere to miss on this hole, and even from the first tees in is a ridiculously challenging one-shotter.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (250/192/164/130)

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2015 Golf Season in Review

For the first couple of years I wrote my blog, I did a write-up at the end of each year to put the season in to words, and to commend the courses I felt were the best that year in multiple categories.

As my site has continued to grow, this has become less academic, especially since I joined a private club a few years back and am obviously playing a much smaller sample of different courses each season.

It doesn’t hurt to write a little review, though, especially for my own pleasure to look back at in the future at what was the golf season of 2015.

The winter of 2015 extended a little longer than normal, with most golf courses opening in early April. This was a couple weeks earlier than in 2014, but months behind some years. I am already praying that 2016 will see course openings back in the February timeline again… Fingers crossed.

With last night’s first snow of the Winter, I figure this is as good a time as any to wrap things up… Not that I won’t be out there if/when the weather warms up and the grounds are healthy enough to play!

Most of my rounds this year were played at my home course of North Hills Country Club, which under the tutelage of Randy DuPont was in exceptional shape again all year round. My season was a roller coaster of sorts, starting out with an index of 12.1 and getting down to 9.0, shooting consistently for a while in the low 80’s.

Then I became a bad nine, right around September first, shooting 87-89 and losing money in my Saturday games. In games where the total monetary payout ranges from $3-5, I actually lost $45 one day. Ouch.

That is enough about my game, though – what about the courses from 2015?

2015: Best Public Golf Course Played

1. Pacific Dunes (OR)

Rated the number two public course by Golf Digest, number two modern course by GolfWeek, and number one public course in the country by Golf.com, Pacific Dunes is coastal golf at its very best. Designed by Tom Doak and opened in 2001, Pacific Dunes blends perfectly rugged Bandon landscape with ingenious hole layouts and execution.

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes hole 4

Pacific Dunes Website

2. Streamsong, Red Course (FL)

Just a few years old, the Red course at Streamsong has already amassed an incredible number of accolades, including the number 18 public course in the United States.

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Wisconsin’s 18 Toughest Par 3’s: Mid-Length Holes

In a very discussion-intended way (imagine being on GolfWRX’s course forums pages), I think it’s fun to rank courses and holes in a way that lays out my reasons, and asks users to respond in the way of both agreement and disagreement.

For my list of the state of Wisconsin’s toughest par threes, I decided to lay them out as follows, each in their own post:

The Mid-Range Holes (160-205 yards from the first tees in):

1. Pine Hills Country Club #5 (195/182/175/167/165):

It is not enough that the fifth at Pine Hills is a visually intimidating tee shot, but it also features one of the largest, most undulating green complexes on the entire course. A massive ridge runs laterally through the green’s surface, and a swale is created toward the middle/back-left.

The fifth is on the border of mid-range and long par threes – the uphill tee shot adds at least one to club selection.

Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)

Hole 5: Par 3 (195/182/175/167/165)

2. Blackwolf Run, River #4 (219/195/185/146/117):

Like most holes on the River  course, this par three at Blackwolf Run takes guts. From the tee, it appears you have a 200-yard tee shot with about five yards of room to miss from left-to-right. In actuality, it’s more like fifteen.

Just don’t miss right in to Swan Lake, or left in to the fescue. Other than that, nothing to worry about.

Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)

Hole 4: Par 3 (219/195/185/146/117)

3. Whistling Straits, Irish #11 (208/193/177/169/125):

The eleventh on the Irish course is a great golf hole. With a tremendously long green, there is very little room to miss from left to right without being in sand or some other precarious situation. The wind typically howls on this hole and the others that abut the Straits course and Lake Michigan, playing havoc with club selection.

Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)

Hole 11: Par 3 (208/193/177/169/125)

4. Wild Rock #15 (179/166/134/130/118):

One of my favorite golf holes in the entire state of Wisconsin, the fifteenth at Wild Rock can play as easily or challenging as you want it to. The tee box shown here has more of a direct line toward the green, while the others are set to the right of it with longer carries directly over the quarry.

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Hole 15: Par 3 (179/166/134/130/118)

5. The Bull #6 (193/183/173/163/153):

Part of a great and challenging stretch of holes on The Bull at Pinehurst Farms, the sixth plays over a ravine that protects the green from the front and left side.

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Hole 6: Par 3 (193/183/173/163/153)

6. Washington County #14 (197/175/147/92):

A perpetual tournament course for the Wisconsin State Golf Association (and one of the top 40 county courses in the country), chances are that anyone who plays competitive golf in Wisconsin has gotten to this golf hole and stood over the ball thinking: “Don’t miss left.”

The small pond left pushes tee shots right, which is the right miss, but this long green from front to back provides little relief as it slopes left toward water.

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Hole 14: Par 3 (197/175/147/92)

7. North Hills Country Club #7 (183/167/152/125):

With a new, deeper tee box added in 2015, the seventh at North Hills is no pushover from start to finish. About a one-club difference from the back tee boxes, and two from from the lower ones, the seventh requires a climb up the steep hill beyond the Menomonee River, and then a prayer to be on the right portion of the green.

Legend has it that Ben Hogan was tied for the lead in a 1940’s tournament at North Hills when he got to the seventh. His putt for bogey broke opposite of his read, leading to a three-putt and losing the tournament by one stroke. At the dinner and party that night, he guaranteed people that putt would never break that way again. A crowd ventured out to the [then sixteenth] green with drinks and lanterns, and putt after putt broke the same way. For probably the largest green on the course, it’s also very tricky.

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Hole 7: Par 3 (183/167/152/125)

8. Bishop’s Bay Country Club #17 (217/193/171/134):

This hole destroyed me in last year’s WSGA Mid-Amateur event, scoring a seven during one round and an eight on the other.

Wind plays a factor at all times at Bishop’s Bay, and the main miss is left to stay as far away from the pond as possible.

Hole 17: Par 3 (217/193/171/134)

Hole 17: Par 3 (217/193/171/134)

9. Geneva National, Palmer #16 (218/204/177/156/141):

With Lake Como on the horizon, this 200-yard par three asks for a long iron or hybrid, and penalizes anything left or right with sand while anything long is likely to find the lake.

Hole 16: Par 3 (218/204/177/156/141)

Hole 16: Par 3 (218/204/177/156/141)

10. Westmoor Country Club #14 (184/167/158/153):

The fourteenth at Westmoor seems to always play dead in to the wind. While it shows 184 or 167 from the tees, it seems to always play 200-plus with water in front (which can be completely ignored) as well as right to the shared green on ten.

The safest play here is toward the sand traps left of the green.

Hole 14: Par 3 (184/167/158/153)

Hole 14: Par 3 (184/167/158/153)

11. Fire Ridge #8 (197/190/169/137):

The eighth at Fire Ridge seems to always play straight in to the wind. From the highest point of the course’s property, the small trap front-left begs golfers to club up while anything long is gone in to the woods beyond the green complex.

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Hole 8: Par 3 (197/190/169/137)

12. Castle at the Bay #3 (194/170/164/160/158):

A replica of the sixteenth hole at Augusta, the third at Northern Bay plays over a long pond to a heavily canted green from back to front. While flying the water is mission A, still staying below has got to be mission B.

Especially finding the traps above the hole will make for an almost impossible par on this mid-length one-shotter.

Hole 3: Par 3 (194/170/164/160/158)

Hole 3: Par 3 (194/170/164/160/158)

13. University Ridge #3 (242/174/170/135):

Playing at 242 yards from the tips, the third at U-Ridge has one of the widest greens in the state of Wisconsin. The tee shot has to carry a vast wasteland and bunkers front-left.

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Hole 3: Par 3 (242/174/170/135)

14. Hawks Landing #17 (200/177/157/137)

One of the best designed mid-range par threes in the area, the fourth at Hawk’s Landing requires a perfectly struck tee shot to carry the front traps and stay on the right portion of the green.

Hole 4: Par 3 (200/177/157/137)

Hole 4: Par 3 (200/177/157/137)

15. Morningstar #14 (222/207/169/159/136):

Downhill all the way, the pond right and sand traps long make the fourteenth at Morningstar a par three that requires perfect club selection for any chance at par.

Hole 14: Par 3 (222/207/169/159/136)

Hole 14: Par 3 (222/207/169/159/136)

16. Fox Hills, National #11 (173/158/148/141/114):

All carry over water, the eleventh on the National course at Fox Hills in Mishicot has Pete Dye-like railroad ties protecting the front of the green area, followed by sand and a well-contoured green.

Hole 11: Par 3 (173/158/148/141/114)

Hole 11: Par 3 (173/158/148/141/114)

17. Kettle Moraine #7 (178/168/153):

A tremendous false front and trees right work in harmony with this mid-range par three at Kettle Moraine Golf Course to create an incredibly challenging par three hole.

Hole 7: Par 3 (178/168/153)

Hole 7: Par 3 (178/168/153)

18. The Bog #13 (195/175/157/142/110):

Carrying a wasteland, this par three on one of the most popular tournament courses in the state of Wisconsin plays slightly uphill and has traps front, left and long. On one of the highest points on the property, wind can play a key factor on the thirteenth.

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Hole 8: Par 3 (195/175/157/142/110)

Wisconsin’s 18 Toughest Par 3’s: The Short Holes

In a very discussion-intended way (imagine being on GolfWRX’s course forums pages), I think it’s fun to rank courses and holes in a way that lays out my reasons, and asks users to respond in the way of both agreement and disagreement.

For my list of the state of Wisconsin’s toughest par threes, I decided to lay them out as follows, each in their own post:

The State of Wisconsin’s Toughest Short Holes (< 160 yards from the first tees in):

1. Erin Hills #9 (165/150/143/138/135):

Previously billed as the course’s “Bye hole” for settling bets, the ninth at Erin Hills is a tremendously challenging downhill par three that plays between a multitude of green-side bunkers and a false front that protects the entrance to the putting surface. Deep rough abounds, the craggy sand traps are hellish to play out of, and in case that is not enough the contours of the green make it very difficult to hold.

Hole 9: Par 3 (165/150/143/138/135)

Hole 9: Par 3 (165/150/143/138/135)

2. Lawsonia, Woodlands #3 (168/156/145/105):

With the beautiful Green Lake just right and downhill from elevated tee boxes, the third on the Woodlands course sets up well right of the green, which is fronted by sand traps and presents only one option – hitting and stopping on the putting surface.

Anything hit left of the green will stay in the woods that direction, and anything hit right will bound well down the hill out of bounds.

Hole 3: Par 3 168/156/145/105)

Hole 3: Par 3 168/156/145/105)

3. Pine Hills Country Club #9 (170/145/135/117/114):

Even when playing in the 120-yard range, this is a hellishly tough par three! The ravine between the tee boxes and green is nothing too crazy to carry, but the green itself on nine is as heavily sloped as any in Wisconsin.

The first time I played Pine Hills was a few years ago with a couple of other golf writing friends. When a member caught up to us on nine, we let him play through what we thought was a pretty simple looking par three. He hit his tee shot left of the green, then over the right side, then toward the middle of the green which fell off the front… With our group watching, he took an eight on the hole and picked up, never getting near the hole.

Hole 9: Par 3 (170/145/135/117/114)

Hole 9: Par 3 (170/145/135/117/114)

4. West Bend Country Club #8 (159/138/130/126):

The eighth at West Bend Country Club is one of the most well thought out par threes in the entire state of Wisconsin.

The mounds in the fly zone before the green hide some of the contouring of the front and the deep C-shaped sand trap that protects it. The green is sloped hard from back-to-front, and a defined ridge will usher anything right off the front-right section in to a collection area.

William Langford was an absolute genius with golf hole designs, and this is a fantastic example of how to make a short par three a tremendous challenge through forced targeting.

Hole 8: Par 3 (159/138/130/126)

Hole 8: Par 3 (159/138/130/126)

5. Ironwood, Meath #7 (149/144/129/97):

At under 150 yards uphill, the tee shot on the seventh at the Meath course is not tremendously long or difficult. The green is long from left to right, and rather simple to hit. A deep bunker protects the front, and another in the back-right, but what makes this green so challenging is the ridge that runs vertically through the middle of it.

In one tournament I played in a few years back on this hole, I somehow made a 20-foot putt for par on this hole then watched the other three in my group all take at least three putts to hole out. One guy five-putted, and another four-putted. Each time the ball would get near the hole, it would come back down twenty feet.

Hole 7: Par 3 (149/144/129/97)

Hole 7: Par 3 (149/144/129/97)

6. Whistling Straits, Irish #6 (160/149/135/123/97):

There is no water on this mid-range par three on the Irish course, but the sand might as well be! One of the smaller greens on the course is surrounded by shallow sand, and anything overly errant is likely to find one of Pete Dye’s raised traps built in to the hillsides.

There is a little more room to miss left on this deep green that it appears from the tee.

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Hole 6: Par 3 (160/149/135/123/97)

7. Lawsonia, Links #7 (161/146/140/109):

Langford’s prowess with par three holes is again on full display on the “Box Car hole,” the signature hole of Lawsonia’s Links course. I did a more formal write-up on it here, which I urge you to check out:

Great Golf Holes: Lawsonia, Links #7

Hole 7: Par 3 (161/146/140/109)

Hole 7: Par 3 (161/146/140/109)

8. Milwaukee Country Club #8 (174/158/106):

The meticulously kept Milwaukee Country Club’s front nine is highlighted by this gem of a par three – a well-risen green complex surrounded on all sides by sand. The traps are so deep around this green that players will need to make sure they have a good line on their target before entering the traps.

Hole 8: Par 3 (174/158/106)

Hole 8: Par 3 (174/158/106)

9. SentryWorld #12 (161/139/123/86/76):

One of two new par threes at SentryWorld, the twelfth plays to a peninsula and is all flight. The green runs toward the water, so the left side (from the tees) is preferred. One of the things I love about this hole is the way the tee boxes are set up – there is not a big difference in length, but instead the tee boxes are situated laterally from one another.

Hole 12: Par 3 (161/139/123/86/76)

Hole 12: Par 3 (161/139/123/86/76)

10. Hawk’s View #17 (169/153/136/120/91):

Sitting atop the former Mt. Fuji ski hill, the seventeenth at Hawk’s View plays downhill all the way. Most of the Lake Geneva area can be seen from its plateau’ed top, and club selection is tricky and highly dependent on wind direction because of the steep drop in elevation.

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Hole 17: Par 3 (169/153/136/120/91)

11. Geneva National, Player #4 (148/132/118/104/90):

When you walk up to a tee box and it looks like a straight-forward 115-yard tee shot, chances are something’s going on. That is the case with this short one-shotter on the Gary Player course at Geneva National. The small hill to the left side hides a swale and a tremendously long green, messing with the player’s depth perception in the process. The hill on the right also plays tricks, hiding a deep collection area just right of the green.

Hole 4: Par 3 (148/132/118/104/90)

Hole 4: Par 3 (148/132/118/104/90)

12. Strawberry Creek #4 (147/131/115/100/90):

Members say this is the trickiest green on the entire course, and I do not disagree. At under 150 yards and relatively level from tee to green, the putting surface has some intense contouring and sharp drop-offs, especially on the right side.  Find the correct level on this green for any chance at par.

Hole 4: Par 3 (147/131/115/100/90)

Hole 4: Par 3 (147/131/115/100/90)

13. Trapper’s Turn, Canyon #7 (176/158/126/93):

One of the most unique par threes in the state of Wisconsin, the tee shot on seven is downhill and between the bluffs that surround its green complex. Deep rough protects some areas of the approach area, but other parts of canyon’s side walls can be utilized to carom errant shots greenward.

Hole 7: Par 3 (176/158/126/93)

Hole 7: Par 3 (176/158/126/93)

14. Big Fish #9 (129/123/104/86):

Pete Dye’s design on the ninth hole of Big Fish Golf Club is for a short par three that anyone can reach off the tee – but finding the right part of the green is absolutely necessary! Some of the deepest traps on the course surround this massive green that runs hard from back to front, and anything above the hole will be tough to stop.

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Hole 9: Par 3 (129/123/104/86)

15. The Oaks #10 (174/148/144/125/108):

While the distance – 148 yards from the first tees in – is not a big challenge while making the turn at The Oaks, the precision needed on this tee shot is. Club selection is always tricky on downhill par threes, but err on the long side as anything short, even by a few feet, will be swallowed up by the wasteland that fronts the green complex.

Hole 10: Par 3 (174/148/144/125/108)

Hole 10: Par 3 (174/148/144/125/108)

16. Castle at the Bay #10 (146/132/127/95/81):

A replica of the seventeenth at TPC Sawgrass, the tenth at Northern Bay is a simple, short shot that requires a confident shot off the tee. All that water just seems to have a way of playing with golfers’ minds, though.

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Hole 10: Par 3 (146, 132, 127, 95, 81)

17. Tuckaway Country Club #5 (164/142/101):

The fifth at Tuckaway is perhaps their signature hole, and is a gorgeous par three over water, complete with a water fountain and everything. What is not seen from the tee, though, is the degree of incline on the green that slopes down toward the front and water. Anything above or to the side of the hole location on five will make for a huge challenge.

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Hole 5: Par 3 (164/142/101)

18. Whistling Straits, Straits #12 (163/138/118/99/89)

Maybe my favorite par three at the Straits is one very rarely talked about: The twelfth. This green is massive from front-left to back-right, allowing for all kinds of variations on length and pin placements. A back-right pin location brings this short par three to a mid-range or potentially even long par three length, and requires a long carry that takes on Lake Michigan to the right.

Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)

Hole 12: Par 3 (163/138/118/99/89)