Medinah CC Course 2: The Unveiling

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to visit a property I have always wanted to visit: Medinah Country Club.

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A grand entrance to Medinah Country Club, just outside of Chicago IL

The lore of Medinah’s No. 3 course is well-documented, having hosted numerous majors and professional tournaments, including:

  • The Ryder Cup (2012)
  • The US Open (1949, 1975, 1990)
  • The PGA Championship (1999, 2006)
  • The US Senior Open (1988)
  • The Western Open, now the BMW Championship (1939, 1962, 1966, 2019)

All three courses were originally designed in the 1920’s by Tom Bendelow. Course Two debuted in 1925 and was the last of the three Medinah layouts to undergo renovation.

Ten years ago, a struggling golf industry and ultra-competitive high-end private club market in the Chicago area forced the Medinah membership to make a big decision: Either make significant capital investments to elevate the entire property to a level that supports their mission of being the area’s elite private club, or allow the competitive environment and state of the game and economy to steamroll it in to lowering dues and expectations.

The membership voted not only to hold tight to the mystique that has enveloped their club over the past century, but to enhance it to the tune of $46 million in capital expenditures.

While the most significant of those investments was $10 million on the clubhouse (WOW what a clubhouse and dining experience!), millions were also spent to update their three courses. No expenses were spared as the club brought in world-class designers Tom Doak to renovate the No. 1 course, and Rees Jones for the No. 3 and soon-to-be-reopened No. 2.

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A view of the central practice green in front of the clubhouse’s roundabout

Jones’ $3-million renovation of the No. 2 course included extensive tree removal, re-turfing with 007 creeping bent grass (now the same on all three courses) for greens, tees and fairways, Kentucky Bluegrass for the rough, the addition of storm drainage, a sand mix basin for subsurface draining, and a wall-to-wall cart path… That’s an impressive start…

Where I think Course Two will prove to be really special is in the plans Jones, Director of Golf Marty DeAngelo, Director of Golf Operations Curtis Tyrrell and others have for beginners’ programs.

Medinah has always been on the forefront of bettering the game of golf, from hosting major championships to being the state of Illinois’ standard-barer for the Evans Scholar program.

Their exciting new initiative to better the game of golf is Marty DeAngelo’s pilot program, “Golf for Life.” An adaption of the acclaimed Longleaf Tee System, Golf for Life is a graduated skills program that allows beginners to progress from three holes to six, six to nine, and so on.

As their games develop, players graduate from sets of tees ranging from the seventh furthest back set (orange) to the longest set (gold). Different skill levels play to different pars – while a par four may play as four to a gold player, it may play as an eight for an orange one.

Program participants’ initial tee boxes are determined by the distance they can drive the ball and their general skill level, factors that are supported by top-of-the-line technology and PGA Professionals’ expertise.

The concept of changing par allows players to hone their skills in a safe environment. Different scorecards can even be used for different “courses” within the same course. Medinah then tracks progress and creates programs to combat weaknesses, all meant to lead to an elevated feeling of comfort and growth. With tees ranging from 1,978 to 6,400 yards on the No. 2 course, Golf for Life aims to get kids, especially, in to the game and keep them.

It’s about “not feeling defeated before you tee off,” Rees told us. “I played with Jack Nicklaus, and he said to me, ‘Are you going to play up there at the ladies’ tees, or are you going to come back here with me?'” Rees joined Jack from the back tees and said he “was already defeated.”

The game needs to grow, and if I know anything about golfers it’s that love [and addiction] for the game comes through development and that fleeting feeling of doing something just right. New players can’t expect to go out and shoot par, but they can expect a process of learning, and along that path to grow a love for the game that keeps them coming back.

More than anything, Rees Jones’ redesign of Medinah Course Two is a restoration project that returns much of the original 1925 architecture of Tom Bendelow.

The trend in golf following World Was II was to shrink greens and eliminate sand traps. Seeing green contours as a form of hazard, Jones restored many of Bendelow’s original intentions for the course, including green shapes and sizes, based on aerial photos from 1938.

Over 600 trees were supplanted to restore the architect’s original intentions, and closely mowed areas now run in to and around sand traps, recovery areas and the walk-ups to adjacent tee boxes. This natural lead-up is an old-school feature I’ve come to appreciate, and one I’ve noticed at other upper-echelon Golden Age clubs including Milwaukee , Shoreacres and others.

“Bunkers are the personality of golf courses,” Rees told us, and the trick is to make sand features “Challenging, everlasting and interesting.”

Rees considers the traps on Course Two to be the simplest of any of the three layouts. Their depths are modest, allowing for manageable egress by both players on foot and for their sand shots. Position is still key, but the lack of brutally deep bunkers and high lips is intended to keep from discouraging players.

While many trees were removed from the course, most tree lines were maintained – they still provide a natural barrier to the fairways but should not allow for lost balls.

The overall fairway acreage on Course Two was expanded from 21 to 34 acres on a course with just 110 total acres of terrain. Comparatively, the great Merion Golf Club lies on 126 acres, and my beloved home course of North Hills is just 126.5. Sometimes the best things come in small packages, and Course Two at Medinah qualifies.

My overwhelming feeling while touring Course Two with Rees Jones, the staff of Medinah and other members of the golf media is that this course will be a ton of fun. No. 2 was not designed to beat players about the head, and its key defenses against par are its magnificent, large and undulating greens and what will undoubtedly be fast and furious conditions.

Rees incorporated fun and aesthetically pleasing features in to other areas of the course’s design, too, including one of my favorites here: A shared hazard and fairway area between the par four fifth and par three sixth:

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The sixth is the longest par three on the course, measuring 207 yards from the tips with a small green surrounded by Ohio Fairmont Minerals Best white sand and closely shorn runoffs. Grass cut to fairway length encircles the entire green complex, requiring precision on shots around the green.

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The par 3 6th hole on the new Course Two at Medinah Country Club (207 yards)

The eighth is another great looking par three, uphill to a large putting surface with fantastic undulations. First a look at the hole from the tee boxes, taken by Nick Novelli, then a view of most of the putting surface – these greens look amazing!

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Medinah Country Club, Course Two, Par 3 – photo credit to Nick Novelli

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One of Rees Jones’ beautifully constructed greens on Course Two at Medinah Country Club – large, well-contoured and will require a great tee shot – or spectacular two-putt

Eighteen is a great looking finishing hole on the redesigned Course Two at Medinah, and again what makes it special more than anything else is its spectacular greens complex: What looks like an infinity green from the approach shot actually has a bit of room to work with in back. However, a closely mowed and recessed collection area to the left should lead to challenging recovery shots.

Medinah’s world-class clubhouse looms as the backdrop:

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During our tour with Curtis, Rees and Marty, it was exciting to see and hear about everything that went in to Course Two’s redesign, but more than that it was great to witness the pride they have in the work they’ve put in to both restore and renovate what is sure to be a course that, like No. 3, will stand the test of time and provide a third track at Medinah that new and long-standing members alike will enjoy for generations to come.

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Medinah Director of Golf Operations Curtis Tyrrell, architect Rees Jones, Director of Golf Marty DeAngelo and me on the 18th green of the newly redesigned Course Two at Medinah Country Club… Yes, I know I wore the wrong shoes for a course tour

Medinah Country Club, Course Two Website

Great Golf Traditions: North Hills CC Annual Thanksgiving 1-Club Tourney

Each Thanksgiving, a good sized group of guys from North Hills Country Club meet up at 9 in the morning for a great annual ritual: The Thanksgiving morning one-club championship.

The tournament always starts out at the bar for bloody mary’s, followed by a jaunt to the tenth tee for opening tee shots.

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9:00 arrival to the club bar


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Phil making bloody mary’s


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Tee shots on the tenth during the 2016 Thanksgiving one-club tournament at North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

The buy-in is $5 a guy, and friends and relatives are welcomed. I won last year’s event and came away with $55. We played ten and eighteen for that event. For this year’s tournament we had 20-25 players, started on the tenth and finished on nine.

I’ve played a bit of one-club in my time, and my weapon of choice is the six-iron. I can hit it a decent distance (170-185), it’s accurate, lofted enough that if I do get in the sand it won’t be impossible to get out, and of course it’s low enough lofted that putting and chipping can be played low to the ground.

I had little choice this year if I wanted to get any distance, as in the past three weeks both my four- and five-irons snapped at the hozzle, creating an unfortunate gap between my six-iron and three-hybrid.

The best score on the tenth hole was a six, and I was one behind at seven. The ninth was playing tough, but I nearly holed out my fifth shot and tapped in for six. I refrained from announcing what my upcoming putt was for as I was stimied and would have otherwise had to pitch over the ball in front of mine to stay in contention.

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The putting situation on the ninth green – my ball is the second one underneath the hole for 6. Lots of stimies!

Four of us were in a playoff with a score of 13. We dropped balls around 75-100 yards out, and closest to the pin took all. I went last and never gave it a chance, leaving my chip shot just short of the green.

I didn’t win this year, but like every year it was a great time with great guys. On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so incredibly much, and somewhere in there is golf and everlasting traditions, in general.

What’s your favorite golf tradition?

Also, North Hills is nearing our optimal membership level of 300 golfing members, but they are still running a new member promotion for 2017. This past year brought about 70 new members – the majority of whom are under 40 – and next season looks to be a great one, too. 

If you are interested in joining or checking out the club, please send me an email at wiscosportsaddict@gmail.com so we can connect on the opportunity.
Wishing you and yours’ a very safe and Happy Thanksgiving,

Paul

MCC Takes Back #1 Spot

Even though I was very impressed with the course the first time I played Milwaukee Country Club, I then played Pine Hills a handful of times since then and in my mind moved Pine Hills ahead of Milwaukee.

It had been a few years since the last time I played Wisconsin’s most prestigious private golf club until last week. We had a beautiful Friday afternoon to enjoy the Colt and Alison gem, and I was excited to be invited out by my boss along with one of his MCC golf buddies, our co-worker Preston, and for nine holes his son.

The thing that hit me immediately was the conditions at Milwaukee Country Club. Everything near the greens is shaved to first-cut length, and there was not a blade of grass out of position.

Our caddies were attentive and enjoyable to spend the day with, and I loved the updates that have been made to the course over the past year. The added bunkers nearing the green on three and the remastered putting surface there fit beautifully, and I think having the opportunity to play it without photography enhanced my overall golfing experience.

The back nine is absolutely sensational over and along the Milwaukee River, and the front nine is an excellent test of golf, as well.

In addition, I think the ninth and eighteenth holes are two of the best finishing holes in the state – the ninth is quite simply a tremendous golf hole.

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Hole 9: Par 4 (332/300/262)

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Hole 18: Par 4 (444/391/362)

I played pretty well there, shooting an 83 that could have been considerably lower. I hit most fairways and greens and putted well. I just had a hard time getting out of the green-side bunkers that are a bit heavier than the ones I have become used to.

Another factor that enhances the MCC experience is the food and beverage. Their daily buffet in the beer hall-like men’s locker room is fantastic, featuring carving stations, brats, burgers, sides and desserts.

For the quality of the course and the overall golfing experience, I have decided to move Milwaukee Country Club back to the number one spot in my rankings of the top private golf clubs in Wisconsin.

Private Golf Club Review: Milwaukee Country Club (October 2013)

Golf Course Review: Racine Country Club

Let’s start out by saying that I (and my fellow buddies from North Hills Country Club) loved the Racine Country Club experience.

The course is classic with small, lightning-fast greens, and the clubhouse and facilities are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve seen a club in Wisconsin with better amenities, in fact.

The food was fantastic. I got a dozen chicken wings before our round (I’m not a warm up on the range kind of guy), and a massive fish filet afterwards. The wings were meaty and the buffalo sauce was perfect. The fish was delicious, as were the sides and drinks.

The clubhouse sprawls. It looks nice from the front, but amazing from inside and behind. It actually reminds me of the clubhouse at Blackwolf Run when viewed from the course, which I consider to be the prettiest clubhouse in the state.

The club’s facilities are plentiful and tastefully done. The pro shop is adequate, and the locker room is world-class. Each locker is dark wood with the RCC inscription engraved. There is a bar in the men’s locker room – a feature I always like – and it is manned by Gene who is a bit of a celebrity, himself. Gene retired from Case more than fifteen years ago, and took the job as the men’s locker room assistant for something to do. He has been there ever since, and provides the experience every country club strives to find someone to deliver.

We were told to make sure we get a drink from Gene, who makes a solid concoction but more than anything provides customer service that is second to none.

After getting to the club, Scott and I went to the bar upstairs and I ordered my wings. Kyle and Nick texted us that they were at the locker room bar downstairs, so we made the journey to the men’s locker room and I told the bartender upstairs and he had them delivered there. When we made our way back to the upstairs bar, my wings were already delivered downstairs. I made my way down there and Gene said, “No, sir I will carry them for you,” to which I told him I was happy to carry it. He gave me every excuse why it would be better for him to carry them, including that it will look better to my friends, and we were on our way back to the upstairs pub. I tried giving him five dollars for his inconveniences, but he wasn’t having it.

Private golf clubs are all about the golf, followed by customer service and experience, if you ask me. Racine Country Club excels on all fronts.

Enough about buffalo wings – I didn’t even mention the huge game room downstairs including a billiards table, four bowling lanes, tons of card tables and lounge areas. I also didn’t mention the awesome lounge in the men’s locker room, the beautiful upstairs bar and numerous dining areas, the fitness center, pool or tennis courts… Let’s just say I was jealous and wish my club had the space to catch up!

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Two of the four bowling alleys in the basement at Racine Country Club

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Billiards table in the downstairs game room at Racine Country Club

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Fitness center in the basement at Racine Country Club

We had a great foursome for Saturday’s round, including my friends Kyle, Nick and Scott, who are all 4-handicaps. I got 6 total strokes on the day, and our game du jour was wolf. In wolf, foursomes keep a rotation where the last player to tee off has to decide after each tee shot if he/she wants to partner with that person. If passed, that player cannot be picked. Sometimes it ends up that they pass on the first two and the third player to tee off duck-hooks one in to the water – in that case, they can choose to go alone and risk losing two points, but also have the opportunity to earn three.

I was chosen several times because of great drives. After the majority of those, I hit green-side bunkers next. Normally that’s not a big deal since I pride myself in my sand game, but the traps at Racine Country Club are nothing like the ones I’ve become used to. The traps at Racine are deep and with heavy sand, very similar to the sand at Bandon Dunes. It’s the kind of sand that feels like it was taken from a beach, and swinging with arms will not get the job done.

The course at Racine Country Club starts out in glorious fashion, with steeply elevated tee boxes adjacent to the pro shop and overlooking a narrow but short opening par five. There is a little more room to the left than it looks, and none to the right.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The fairway bends hard right at about 400 yards, so the second shot will either have to carry out-of-bounds to the right or else be played safely left toward the elbow.

The first hole initiates players to the greens at Racine Country Club, which are… Fast. And small. I was told putting here is like putting on concrete more times than I can remember leading up to our round, and the actual experience did not disappoint.

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Hole 1: Par 5 (473/459/445/432)

The second hole is a little intimidating from the tee, as the left-to-right dogleg par four is mostly hidden and the river that runs through the fairway mostly blends in to the playing surface. A solid drive over 200 yards should carry the water with ease and leave a manageable approach.

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2016 Lombardi Classic Follow-Up

As I wrote in a previous post, the Vince Lombardi Golf Classic at North Hills Country Club is a huge ordeal, and we had an unbelievable amount of fun at this year’s event.

My fiance, Kelly, and I had a wedding downtown on Friday night, and I had a golf outing on Sunday morning at New Berlin Hills (Terry Fritz Memorial Golf Outing), so Saturday was our opportunity to experience the action.

Our new house is off the sixth hole at North Hills in Menomonee Falls, which is quite convenient for the event. I was given a media pass to wander and take pictures, tweet to #LombardiClassic and do media-y things, in general.

One of the cool aspects about the Lombardi is that when you go year after year you start to develop little friendships with the participants. Some are more friendly than others, but guys like Micah Hyde, Mason Crosby, Jarred Abbrederis, Lynn Dickey, Greg Matzek, Jerry Kramer, Tim Masthay and Gorman Thomas are really nice, genuine people. It makes cheering for the ones still playing professional sports really easy.

Just a few photos from Saturday at this year’s event:

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Ex-Brewer Greg Vaughn, Norm and Dan on the 6th tee

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Packers TE Casey Pierce with Sam, Keith, Ken, Doug and Tom

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620 WTMJ sports anchor and talk show host, Greg Matzek, tees off on 6

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Green Bay Packer Micah Hyde with my friends’ Jim and Mandy’s kids

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Mandy and Hailey with baseball legend Bob Uecker

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Lombardi Golf Classic chairman Mason Crosby speaking to the crowd on the patio

There are few $10 sports experiences I can think of that rival spectating at the Lombardi. Put the first Saturday of June, 2017 on your calendar early, and make sure to stop by North Hills Country Club for next year’s 47th annual Vince Lombardi Golf Classic.