Pine Hills Country Club: Big Things on the Horizon

GolfCourseArchitecture.net’s Richard Humphreys posted an article last month about upcoming renovations at one of my favorite golf courses, Pine Hills Country Club in Sheboygan.

Link to article:
Drew Rogers Begins Work at ‘Extraordinary’ Pine Hills in Wisconsin

USGCA Architect Drew Rogers, also on the back end of a terrific restoration project at the Donald Ross designed Kenosha Country Club, is partnering with Pine Hills to help enact a series of small projects they anticipate will have long-lasting positive impacts.

Tree removal, bunker placements, tee boxes, drainage and green surrounds are all on the docket to be addressed.

Some lighter aspects of the renovation work have begun, and deforestation is set to begin this Fall on the course’s closing hole. Rogers’ plans for the 18th should take it from being Pine Hills’ weakest hole to potentially being one of its best (a bold statement on a property like PHCC!).

The 18th already has an excellent green complex, but its current layout doesn’t fit the rest of the course – especially to end the round. As it is, the 18th features a tight, restrictive right-to-left tee shot between trees that leaves a mid-iron approach to a really tough, elevated green.

It’s a very penal hole on a course that’s much better characterized as fun and imaginative.

By removing the woods inside the dogleg, repositioning the tees and making other small adjustments, the new 18th will open up views of a deep hillside ridge that lines the hole’s entire left border and in effect creates a thrilling right-to-left risk/reward opportunity.

This new Cape Hole (a CB Macdonald template design that originated at the National Golf Links of America) will urge players to bite off as much as they can of the ridge to leave a shorter approach shot to the green.

Like the rest of the course, it will be beautiful and dramatic – adjectives more befitting a great finishing hole than penal and restrictive.

Pine Hills’ / Drew Rogers’ plans for the renovated 18th at Pine Hills:

Plans for renovating the 18th hole at Pine Hills, to be started this Fall
(Graphic by Drew Rogers and courtesy of Pine Hills Country Club)

The new Cape will become the second half of a unique and dynamic back-to-back risk/reward left-to-right then right-to-left combination of holes.

While the 17th requires a risky faded tee shot to leave wedge in, the 18th will set up for a draw. Both will demand execution and will put golf balls, and high scores, in jeopardy.

Pine Hills is already a really special golf course, and I’ve flip-flopped on it and Milwaukee being my number one private course in the state for years, to the point that I basically consider them 1-A and 1-B.

So what will high-impact renovations mean to a course that’s already as ‘extraordinary’ as Pine Hills?

For one thing, I think we’ll finally start hearing about this exceptional 92-year-old Sheboygan golf course outside of post-round discussions at the bar or fire pit. I think it should also get a shot in the arm from golfers traveling to Sheboygan for next year’s 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

But will these changes and more attention be the catalyst that elevates the club toward the state and national notoriety a course of its caliber deserves?

I’ll examine that in an upcoming post, including where I think Pine Hills can and should fit in to state and national rankings as well as how I think it compares to and against Wisconsin’s perennially top ranked private club, Milwaukee CC.

Golf Club Review: Black Sheep Golf Club (IL)

Located just 45 miles west of Chicago, outside of Aurora, is a little slice of Heaven developed by attorney and real estate developer, Vince Solano, Jr.

One of four men’s only clubs in the state of Illinois (which makes up about a fifth to sixth of the total in the US), Solano developed Black Sheep to provide its membership a true home-away-from-home, with a comfortable but well-appointed, functional open clubhouse with a locker room, pro shop and a great room / bar area. It has everything it needs, and little it doesn’t.

There is no pool. No tennis courts. No dining room. No dress code.

There are no menus and no kitchen. The dining options are burger or chicken sandwich from the grill out back, or their famous peanut butter and jalapeno sandwich (there may have been a few pre-made options in the refrigerator that I missed).

There is no waitstaff. In fact, there are very few employees, in general, although those who are there including PGA Head Golf Professional Kevin Healy are tremendously helpful and accommodating, and will help throughout the clubhouse.

Black Sheep: One of the best logos in golf

All of this adds up to an intimate experience with low overhead. That means members get an elite, top-100 club with the lowest dues of any private course in the Chicago area (just over $7k/year, although initiation is ~ $35k), no food and beverage minimums, and no reliance on outside cash flow. With no need to host outside events on Mondays, for example, the course is open to membership seven days a week.

Black Sheep has 27 holes of fantastic David Esler designed golf that ebbs and inhales across a vast 285 acres of Illinois prairie land.

The holes Esler laid out will test every club in the bag, and will reward players who can pull off drawn and cut shot shapes while allowing for straight and steady play down its forgiving fairways.

The golf course at Black Sheep is one of the best competition courses I’ve ever played.

In fact, it played host this day to our 2019 Illinois vs. Wisconsin Writer’s Cup match.

An early morning view of the remote Black Sheep Golf Club from high above the clubhouse
Aerial view of the par four tenth at Black Sheep Golf Club

The first and tenth holes tee off adjacent to the clubhouse, but while the first hole heads west, the tenth leads players downhill and to the north.

A look back at the clubhouse from beyond the tenth hole green site

One of my favorite holes on the course is the lightning bolt shaped par five 11th. The fairway runs out from the tee, and helped turbo-charge my 275-ish yard drive well over 300.

Tee shot on the long, three-shot par five 11th at Black Sheep

Any 200-yard shot at the green in two, though, will need to carry a ton of greenside bunkers and would be ill-advised, at best. There is a ton of room short and left of the green for laying up and leaves a great angle in.

A look at the fairway transition on the par five 11th, from around 260 yards out

The course uses elevation well, especially on the par threes. My favorite is the short 25th, measuring just 135 yards to a postage stamp sized green that slopes hard from back to front.

Continue reading

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
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.

IMG_7079

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

IMG_7080

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.

Continue reading