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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Taking Advantage of Aeration at ThunderHawk (IL)

As all of my golf buddies know, maybe my favorite course within an hour of the Milwaukee area is ThunderHawk, located within minutes of the Wisconsin/Illinois border in Beach Park.

It seems like every time I have the opportunity to play ThunderHawk, it is either early Spring or late Fall, so being a little earlier in Fall this time I was able to refresh the pictures on my original review. Make sure to check it out here:

With a nice forecast in the works for this past Monday, one of my friends and I took the day off to head down to Beach Park, finding the course in awesome shape. The weather was perfect, but we had one complaint: They recently aerated their greens. Probably 90% or more of Midwest courses have aerated by now, so it’s not like it’s unusual, but it would obviously be better putting on smooth surfaces.

ThunderHawk Hole 11: Par 5

Because of the recent aeration, we played with a two-putt maximum. Initially, that was kind of a bummer, but we then realized that there is probably no better way to condition yourself to really go after putts than to feel like it doesn’t matter if you roll it a few feet by. One of the biggest issues I have in my short game is leaving putts short and not being aggressive enough – it was nice to use the day to turn those tables.

Surprisingly, I don’t think either of us had more than one hole that would have been three-putted, even with the aeration marks kicking putts around like Plinko. Lesson learned.

Golf Course Review: Cog Hill No.4 Dubsdread (IL)

Cog Hill No. 4, Dubsdread Course Rankings:
Golf Digest: #53 US public, #11 Illinois
GolfWeek: #134 US modern, #1 Illinois public
Golf.com: #34 US public, #1 Illinois public
Designer: Dick Wilson (1964), Rees Jones (2008 reno)
The top-rated course in the state of Illinois, Cog Hill Number Four Dubsdread is a big-time golf course with the reputation to match.
The entrance to Cog Hill Golf Club
Host to dozens of PGA and USGA events throughout its storied history, Number Four Dubsdread opened in 1964 as the beloved brainchild of Joe Jemsek, who was widely dubbed the “Patriarch of Chicago Golf.”
Most recently, Dubsdread played host to the Western Open from 1991-2006, and then the 2007 and 2009-2011 BMW Championships on the PGA Tour. It is also the third course I have played that at some point hosted the US Amateur (the others were Erin Hills and Chambers Bay). Matt Kuchar won the prestigious event here in 1997.
Because of last week’s Ryder Cup being held at nearby Medinah Country Club, the 2012 BMW Championship was moved to Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana, but may be back to Cog Hill in 2013.
In 2008, a $5.2-million Rees Jones renovation was performed on Number Four to “Put the dread back in Dubsdread.” The rework was received with mixed reviews. Some players, most notably Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, were not fans of the redesign and were quite vocal, while the majority of the course’s regular players [and professionals] loved it, even though 80 percent regularly shot higher than they typically did on the original course.
The bulk of the renovation resulted in drastically improved bunkers and green complexes, and made the course more suitable for long hitters. An underground SubAir system was also implemented to manage the subsurface moisture levels and provide favorable turf growing conditions – the results of this endeavor are obvious in the course’s pristine fairways and greens.
A great example of the results of Rees Jones’, also known as the “Open Doctor,” work at Number Four can be seen here (from the Rees Jones website):
Before and after photos of Rees Jones’ renovation of hole 6 (par 3)
Jones added significant structure to Number Four’s renowned sand hazards, which are placed strategically in nearly every possible location that a non-fairway drive can land. The greens are tough. They are kept at a ten on the stimp meter, I was told by long-time PGA Head Professional Jeff Rimsnider, but they honestly felt much quicker. This lightning fast perception was aided by significant undulation and dubious Sunday pin locations. I kept telling myself I was happy we got to play Dubsdread the weekend before the course aerates.
Recently ranked the 18th toughest course in the country by Golf Digest, I personally rank Dubsdread as the second most difficult course I have played. The only track to give my game more trouble was Erin Hills, primarily because of the day’s strong, swirling winds, and its narrow fairways and deep fescue.
The practice facility at Cog Hill resides along the entrance to the course’s facilities, and is huge. Range is included in the $155 greens fees, and Kentucky bluegrass rough is provided with a wealth of target greens to hit out at. I would have liked to see their beautiful bentgrass fairway grass to hit from, but that would not have been relevant to what was to come, anyways, as I would hit only three total fairways during my round. One of them was an adjacent fairway on the front nine. I was happy with the result of that drive, though, as the short grass was very nice to approach from.
Practice range at Cog Hill
All Callaway Hex range balls at the Cog Hill practice facility

Tiger Woods holds the course record with a 62 in the third round of the 2009 BMW Championship en route to a -19 victory. Don’t worry, Tiger, your record is still intact.

Following the driving range, we spent a lot of time at the chipping and putting greens, and finished our warm-up regimen with what I am told was voted the Chicago area’s best hot dog. I haven’t had many in this great city, but certainly concurred with the nomination.

As an aside, I would not recommend spending much time in the practice bunker at Cog Hill. The course is perhaps best known for its 98 sand traps, but they are drastically different from this one – the sand there is shallow and tarp-lined within an inch, forcing wedges to strike the bottom and oftentimes blade the golf ball. The bunker experience on the course is far different, with sand that is soft and much more playable. The well-fortified high lips on Dubsdread’s sand traps, though, and especially the short-sided outs that often result, make them a tremendous test to the layman’s golf game.

Sunday was cold and a little windy, but mostly sunny. We each donned Nike golf mittens with hand warmers in them, helping us keep our fingers functional between shots (Eric and I both have right hand ulnar nerve damage from past sports injuries, which makes the pinky and ring fingers stiffen and numb in cold weather). I sported an Under Armor top and similar collared overshirt, Tiger Woods pants and heavy socks, which helped keep me relatively comfortable throughout the round.

While the pros tee it up at Number Four from a distance around 7,550 yards, my friend Eric and I played from the blues, which we hoped would be a more manageable 6,750.

The first hole is a great example of what to expect on the front nine: A 425-yard dogleg left par four with bunkers surrounding both sides of the fairway, the green is risen and drops off in every direction to even more sand. Finding the front-right trap on my approach, it was quickly made evident how important it is on this course to aim for the middle of the greens. With a front-side hole location, the green on one rises sharply from the front to the back.
Hole 1: Par 4 (458/442/425/407/385/382)
Hole 1: Par 4 (458/442/425/407/385/382)
Two is the first of Dubsdread’s par threes, and plays to 182 yards from the blue tees. The left and right sides of the putting surface are separated by a substantial drop-off, and as is the case with all holes at Number Four, has virtually no green bail-out areas.
Hole 2: Par 3 (224/208/182/161/158/141)
The third hole features a tight driving area that plays to a narrow fairway that runs left and uphill to one of the most challenging green complexes I have ever played. The right side of the green area has very little sand, so the bailout area is found there. With a back-right hole location, though, the green raises in tremendous fashion to a plateau that must be held for any chance of a two-putt.
Hole 3: Par 4 (443/427/407/389/386/308)
Hole 3: Par 4 (443/427/407/389/386/308)
Four is a beautiful par four that plays to 397 yards from the blue tees. Large bunkers are found in the rough area on both sides at around 250 yards, and the raised green is fronted by two very tough traps.
Hole 4: Par 4 (462/427/397/367/348/285)
Five is an awesome par five. Short by most standards at 479 yards, the fairway rounds from left to right and must be hit for any chance of hitting the green in two. A long approach shot, though, will flirt with a bevy of greenside traps.
Hole 5: Par 5 (507/495/479/463/433/414)
A downhill one-shotter, the sixth hole at Number Four Dubsdread is a deceptively long par three. With a deep hole location, the hole played to about 205 yards into the wind, and required a normally 215-yard shot to hit. My three-hybrid hit the front-right false front and caromed sharply right in to one of a handful of traps that surround the putting surface.
Hole 6: Par 3 (240/216/194/173/137/117)
One of the most intimidating tee shots on the course, the seventh hole has one of the front nine’s only water hazards. A large pond makes up the right side of the driving area, and must be played left of to have any chance of hitting this green in two. Trees left of the fairway, and bunkers long, force players to hit less than driver off the tee to stay safe. The green complex is risen high and falls toward the front-right, which is heavily defended by some of the course’s most extreme greenside bunkers.
Hole 7: Par 4 (431/399/385/363/304/277)
Hole 7: Par 4 (431/399/385/363/304/277)
At 341 yards from the blue tees, the eighth hole tee shot should be played just right of the left-side fairway bunkers for the least impeded approach shot. I had a different plan in mind, as my drive actually went so long and left that I had a clear approach from the fifth hole fairway. The right side of the actual fairway forces players to carry about fifty yards of sand on the way uphill to the green.
Hole 8: Par 4 (379/360/341/319/316/296)
At 569 yards and tree-lined on both sides, the ninth hole is one of the toughest par fives I have ever played. Find the fairway off the tee and hit your longest club that you can hit straight. A back-left hole location makes for a tricky approach, as the rise fro the front to the middle of the green drops off toward the back-left of the putting surface.
Hole 9: Par 5 (613/600/586/550/521/486)
Hole 9: Par 5 (613/600/586/550/521/486)
The back nine begins with a short par four of 353 yards from the blue middle tees. While the left side is lined with tall trees, the right side is heavily bunkered and leads to a green that is tough to hold. I hit the middle of this green on my approach, only to find myself in the back-side trap with a delicate out that was next to impossible to hold on its way downhill.
Hole 10: Par 4 (383/369/353/336/333/306)
Crossing the street to the eleventh hole is, to me, where Dubsdread gets really special. The elevation found on the remainder of these holes, and the incredible variety of the layouts, provides one of the most awe-inspiring golf experiences anywhere.
A long par five of 547 yards from the blues, the eleventh plays between parallel sand traps that line the fairway, then softly fades left and uphill to one of the most beautiful green areas on the course. While the back side of the risen green complex falls off to a depressed fairway basin, the view of the surrounding Lemont area on the horizon is absolutely breathtaking.
Hole 11: Par 5 (607/565/547/525/483/436)
Hole 11: Par 5 (607/565/547/525/483/436)
A long downhill par three, the twelfth hole is a magnificent par three. The prevailing left to right winds helped our tee shots, and left Eric and me with our most make-able birdie putts to this point. Neither of us made them, unfortunately, but the tee shot on this hole sets up awesomely. Long on this hole is dead, with a deep bunker that is unseen from the tees on the back side of the green that precludes a sharp drop-off in to the woods.
Hole 12: Par 3 (216/202/194/178/154/151)
The sixth handicapped hole on the course, the 383-yard par four thirteenth is for my money the toughest hole on the Number Four course. The fairway is mercilessly surrounded by angled sand traps, while the right side is one of the only true out-of-bounds areas on the entire course. The approach sets up much like the approach on the fifteenth hole at the Bull at Pinehurst Farms: A deep ravine leads to greenside bunkers and an uphill approach to a small green that is hard to hold. The ravine is deep, as can be seen below, and ends in a small creek that is unplayable from.
Hole 13: Par 4 (480/446/383/371/368/312)
Hole 13: Par 4 (480/446/383/371/368/312)
One of the most popular sites for fans during championship events, the par three fourteenth features a large hill that can be used for spectator seating, and a long tee shot to a huge green that appears almost as an island in a sea of sand. The approach area to the green is clear, but must then be played significantly uphill to a green that ascends in the front to one of the deepest greens on the course. Stay below the hole on this green complex to keep from one of the most delicate downhill putts on the course.
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
Hole 14: Par 3 (215/194/184/174/171/108)
A 482-yard par five, the tee shot on fifteen plays between woods to a fairway that has sand traps on both sides, while a strategically placed tree cozied to the right side of the approach area can make this short par five very difficult to hit in two.
The short right side of the driving area is more open than it appears from the tees, and the fairway approach area before the green is found well left, leaving a short pitch that will take the surrounding bunkers out of the equation.
Hole 15: Par 5 (523/509/482/462/425/410)
Hole 15: Par 5 (523/509/482/462/425/410)
Sixteen is one of the prettiest holes on the course, and plays downhill and left to a wide fairway. The left side should be favored for a shorter approach to an elevated green that is nestled in to the tree line. The left side of the fairway, and left of the green, falls off the playing surface to out-of-bounds.
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Hole 16: Par 4 (456/419/381/362/359/342)
Seventeen is finally a hole that plays nicely for my faded drive. With sand traps built in to the hillsides left, and trees right, the fairway doglegs right and leads to a green that is backed by woods, and again surrounded by sand hazards.
Hole 17: Par 4 (423/407/399/381/378/299)
Eighteen is one of the most gorgeous and intimidating finishing holes in golf. The hole runs straight ahead, but narrows considerably around 300 yards where the pond comes in to play on the left. The hole finishes over this pond, with a severely undulating green that plays to the edge of the water. A front-left hole location would be extremely exacting, while the back-right location we had on Sunday presented a tabled pin that resided opposite of a sizeable crest running midway through the putting surface. Two angled sand traps built in to the rough just right of the green would present an even bigger challenge, as hitting out and actually holding this downhill pitch on the green would be a huge test.
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Hole 18: Par 4 (494/459/431/401/374/371)
Following my round, I received a handful of text messages asking about the course, which promotes intrigue to golf enthusiasts around the country. I can best describe it like this: The front nine is like a supercharged version of Milwaukee’s Brown Deer (former site of the US Bank Championship and Greater Milwaukee Open), with more substantial sand traps and less water.

The back nine is much more difficult to classify: It has a bit of everything, and everything is done really well. While some elements still remind me of Brown Deer, the most similar on-course experience I can relate is Torrey Pines. Elevation is used generously on the back nine, with risen green complexes that are surrounded by some of the deepest traps I have ever seen.

I loved the squared bentgrass tee boxes, too, and especially the visual they provide when looking back from fairways and par threes.

Having played Cog Hill Number Four Dubsdread for the first time, my appreciation for the unbelievable talent of the PGA Tour’s top players is certainly heightened, and it is easy to see why Golf Digest would name it as one of the twenty toughest courses in the United States. I hope the PGA’s penultimate tournament, the BMW Championship, will make it’s way back to this historic location in 2013, as I’d sure love to see now how these difficult holes are best approached.

Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Lemont, IL
Yardage: Black-7554, Gold-7144, Blue-6750, White-6382, Green-6033, Forward-5441
Slope/Rating: Black-151/77.8, Gold-144/75.8, Blue-138/73.9, Combo-136/72.9, White-134/71.9, Green-130/70.2
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (with cart): $155

Golf Course Review: ThunderHawk (IL)

Just across the Wisconsin/Illinois border is a fantastic Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course that over the past two years has been rated as a top twelve municipal course in the country, ThunderHawk.
To those who know it, ThunderHawk is the best kept secret in the Milwaukee/Chicago area. The question is: How do golf enthusiasts in our area not know about it? Just an hour from Milwaukee, ThunderHawk is located in Beach Park, Illinois.
Now in its thirteenth year of golf, the course is run by the Lake Country Forest Preserve and has matured very nicely over the years. With a gorgeous clubhouse and accommodating staff, ThunderHawk is the perfect location to spend a Friday off of work, and is very reasonably priced. Our round today was $53, including cart, and greens fees get up to $85 for weekends in-season.

The feel of ThunderHawk is much like that of University Ridge (another Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course), with perfectly rolled fairways and an excellent blend of golf course and nature. Also like University Ridge, ThunderHawk features one of the best collections of par fives around.

The front nine begins with a blind tee shot straight away and over the crown of a very wide fairway. It’s bombs away on this 394-yard par four.

Hole 1: Par 4 (414/394/369/298)
The first of ThunderHawk’s awesome par fives is the 554-yard second hole. A huge oak tree stands directly between the tee boxes and the farther of the two fairways. The smartest play is a hybrid or long iron to the initial fairway left of the tees. ThunderHawk features huge, forgiving fairways, or else options to test the player’s metal. This tee shot is a terrific example of just that.
Hole 2: Par 5 (573/554/534/453)

The third is a 187-yard par three to a wide green. About 175 yards of this tee shot needs to be carried to avoid the wasteland that lies in between. The raised green will otherwise deflect anything short and right back in to the fescue.

Hole 3: Par 3 (212/187/153/95)

Following the long par three third hole is a very tough par four fourth. Sand litters the driving area, and the tee shot is uphill to a very small green amidst a tight squeeze of trees.

Hole 4: Par 4 (446/424/394/309)
The fifth is another tough par four. With woods on both sides, any errant tee shot is good as gone. The approach is over a small creek, and is again heavily wooded.
Hole 5: Par 4 (416/391/379/326)
The greens at ThunderHawk are large and read fairly. The par threes are classic Trent Jones, Jr. holes – huge greens with a lot of break, and almost all feature water and significant carries. My favorite of the par threes here is the 168-yard sixth hole. With water short and left, the massive green is slightly risen above a bevy of sand traps. This is a gorgeous par three, especially when seen from the putting surface.
Hole 6: Par 3 (178/168/138/90)
Following this excellent par three is the second of ThunderHawk’s wonderful par fives. With a fairway sloping heavily from right to left, this hole seems to have sand everywhere. At 501 yards from the brass tee boxes, this is a reachable par five in two, but the best bet is to avoid the beach and target shots one by one.
Hole 7: Par 5 (522/501/470/422)
Hole 7: Par 5 (522/501/470/422)

The eighth is a very interesting par four. Short and over water, the wind was directly in to the tee boxes on this hole. With 333 yards to the green, it was difficult to tell how far the carry is to fly the water hazard, but with the right side tight and full of sand, there were few other options! If you’re a big hitter, go for it. Otherwise, lay up right and hit a short wedge in.

With the wind heading out, this green is actually very reachable from the tee. We had a slight wind at our back the last time out (Monday, October 15, 2012), and my tee shot was pin high left of the greenside bunker.

Hole 8: Par 4 (338/333/302/254)

The ninth is the number one handicapped hole on the course, which I think should probably be numbered 1.5 along with the eighteenth. Both nines at ThunderHawk finish in similar fashion: Extraordinarily long, heavily wooded with sharp doglegs left. The ninth is the one hole at ThunderHawk where hitting less than driver can really hurt. I played a three-hybrid to the fairway, and found myself completely closed out from the dogleg by the trees. A par four over 450 yards, the ninth finishes strongly uphill, and is well guarded in front by greenside bunkers.

Hole 9: Par 4 (481/452/417/378)
Hole 9: Par 4 (481/452/417/378)
Hole 9: Par 4 (481/452/417/378)
The tenth is a welcoming site: Fairly straight and “only” 409 yards. With a slight skew left, the traps around the green here are deep and plentiful. In typical Trent Jones, Jr. style, they are primarily clover-leafed in style, and these juts can leave very uncomfortable sand shots.
Hole 10: Par 4 (429/409/362/299)
The eleventh at ThunderHawk is another beautiful par five. The driving area is downhill and runs slightly right. A massive tree blocks out the left side from a good approach in two, so if you find yourself there then just look for the approach fairway on the opposite side of the fescue.
Hole 11: Par 5 (517/512/503/444)
Hole 11: Par 5 (517/512/503/444)
Hole 11: Par 5 (517/512/503/444)
The twelfth is probably the most heavily wooded holes on the course. At just 363 yards, play whatever club you’re confident will go straight.
Hole 12: Par 4 (385/363/331/241)
Hole 12: Par 4 (385/363/331/241)
One of the most interesting par fours at ThunderHawk is the fourteenth. At 317 yards from the brass tee box, the green is absolutely unreachable and requires a short iron to set up the approach. Seven iron off the tee put me right at the 150 marker with a perfect shot at the highly elevated green. A huge marsh area lies between the two fairway areas, and from experience you can spend time in here and literally find dozens of Pro-V1’s in just minutes.
Hole 14: Par 4 (363/317/276/246)
Hole 14: Par 4 (363/317/276/246)
Maybe the most magnificent of the par fives at ThunderHawk is the sixteenth. At 568 yards, the tee shot has to be less than 3-wood. Draw a long iron right of the trees on the left side of the fairway to keep your second shot from having to go directly over water. Anything hit too long is destined to find the waste area, or water, that cuts in to the fairway. Hitting the second half of the fairway leaves a border of water on the entire right side of the hole, as well as in front of the green. This is a tremendous, tough par five hole.
Hole 16: Par 5 (578/568/558/401)
Hole 16: Par 5 (578/568/558/401)
Hole 16: Par 5 (578/568/558/401)
My other favorite of the par threes here is the seventeenth. The wind was blowing in and towards the pond, and mercilessly the pin location was all the way on top and on the right side of a green that was probably the largest green on the entire course. I had about a 75-foot putt for par, which obviously resulted in double-bogey.
Hole 17: Par 3 (182/154/130/106)
Hole 17: Par 3 (182/154/130/106)

Just as the front nine finishes with a huge challenge, so does the back. The left side of the fairway is covered with sand, while the right side is out of bounds. The fairway is quite wide for the drive, but the dogleg left tightens up significantly. A three-shot par five, the eighteenth finishes over a large rock pile and well above the level of the fairway. This is another great hole to play target golf on for any chance at birdie or par.

Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
Hole 18: Par 5 (600/559/514/498)
What else can I say about ThunderHawk? This course gives a first-class golf experience in one of the most secluded settings you will find anywhere. Wonderfully laid out and maintained, I certainly agree with those who call this track “The best kept secret in Midwest golf.”
Course Wrap-Up:
Location: Beach Park, IL
Yardage: Black-7,031, Brass-6,631, Silver-6,124, Auburn-5,046
Slope/Rating: Black-137/74.1, Brass-133/72.3, Silver-128/69.9, Auburn-123/69.5
Par: 72
Weekend Rates (riding): $85