Shoreacres (ranked #51 in the world) is located in Lake Bluff, Illinois, north of Chicago on Lake Michigan and was designed by Seth Raynor in 1919.
In a happy coincidence, I bumped into The Itinerant Golfer, who happened to be playing Shoreacres the same day I was. For some reason, probably because I’m psychotic, my first thought was, “Criss Cross,” which is the phrase used in the wonderful Alfred Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train, where Guy Haines and Bruno Anthony meet coincidentally.
What are the odds that two golf lunatics will meet crisscrossing the planet playing their top 100 lists? Pretty slim. Steve and I played together at Galloway National a couple of years ago as part of his journey, and we both hosted the crazy kiwis this summer. An amazing coincidence and a stroke of good fortune. Small world.
If you’ve never seen the movie, it is one of Hitchcock’s best, particularly the tennis scene played on grass at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York where the US Open used to be played.
The Golf Course
My experience at Shoreacres was very rewarding. We had an 8am tee time on a lovely summer morning and were the only ones on the course. When I stepped to the first tee to hit my drive, the Star Spangled Banner started playing. I thought, "Hey, this is pretty cool," until my host politely pointed out that it wasn't in my honor but was the daily ritual at the Great Lakes Naval Station, which is located across the street from Shoreacres. Throughout the round we heard our nation's bravest marching, chanting and doing drills.
The defining characteristic of Shoreacres is the way Raynor routed the course around, over and through the ravines that dominate the landscape. The majority of holes play over a ravine on either the tee shot or the approach shot, sometimes both. The ravines are so prevalent that the scorecard features a local "Ravine Rule," allowing you relief under various penalty strokes if your ball ends up in one.
Like the golf course itself, the halfway house behind the sixth green is classic and refined. They have a nice selection of finger sandwiches stacked on a three tiered serving tray. The edges of the bread are nicely cut off the salmon, chicken salad and egg salad sandwiches. Her Majesty would approve of the halfway house at Shoreacres. Call me a ponce if you'd like, but I get off on this kind of stuff. It's the little things in life that count!
Shoreacres has the usual polish of a Raynor course, and the front nine was a joy to play. The course really picks up steam, though, on the back nine: Holes eleven through fourteen really get your heart racing. The tenth is a great rendition of a "Road" hole with only one bunker protecting the green, but when the pin is on the left side, one is all that's needed.
Not only do you have to carry the massive ravine off the tee, but also once again as you approach the green. The hole is seen from the green looking back below:
The approach to the 13th green
Shoreacres is not a long course; it measures 6,530 yards from the tips, but remember, golf is supposed to be a game we play to have fun and not a place to prove our manhood by demonstrating how far we hit the ball. Besides, holes like the 449 yard par four fifth and the 438 yard par four sixteenth provide plenty of opportunity to use muscle, if that's your cup of tea. Raynor routed the entire course to take advantage of the ravines, and even though the property abuts Lake Michigan, there are no holes where you can see the water.
Shoreacres is a tremendous place to play golf and I am a lucky man indeed to be invited to experience a place such as this, although as I approach the end of my journey, I wish I could slow the whole thing down and make it last longer. Shoreacres also represents the 52nd course I have played where you have to be hosted by a member. I've really become spoiled playing courses without a lot of people on them and with great caddies.
In addition to a world-class golf course, Shoreacres also has one of the stand-out clubhouses along with Shinnecock, Loch Lomond, National Golf Links and Cypress. There are few places better to enjoy an after round refreshment, overlooking the beautiful and cooling Lake Michigan. The clubhouse is set on the top of the bluff overlooking the lake. Of the 95 courses I have played, eight stand out as places I would like to join if I had unlimited money and better manners. The other seven are Maidstone, San Francisco Golf Club, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Sunningdale, Yeamans Hall, Somerset Hills and Camargo Club.
Some of the best golf courses in the world such as Pine Valley and Peachtree are located in average neighborhoods. Shoreacres is no such animal. Lake Bluff and the adjacent town of Lake Forest are one of those elite suburban areas where everything is perfect and the people are at the highest echelons of wealth in the country.
The view from the clubhouse overlooking Lake Michigan
I have now completed playing all of Seth Raynor's courses ranked in the top 100. I think his best is Yeamans Hall (1925), followed by Camargo (1921), then Shoreacres (1919) and Fishers Island (1926). Yeamans, Camargo and Shoreacres have all been renovated by Tom Doak and seem better because of it. Perhaps Fishers can hire Tom and his firm to refresh the course to be more in line with its peers and for it to live up to its true potential.